The Mysterious Long Life Span of the Mickey Finn

Here's a bright Mickey Finn bucktail to enliven an otherwise dull winter day. This particular fly was tied and photographed by me for a magazine cover way back in one of my other lives. It's a fly pattern I've fished off and on since about 1955. What I find most surprising about this pattern is that sometimes it actually works.

First a little history. The following is adapted from my 1950 copy of Joseph D. Bates Jr.'s book Streamer Fly Fishing In Fresh and Salt Water. The fly was popularized during the 1930s by angling author John Alden Knight (of Solunar Tables fame). It was originally just called a red-and-yellow bucktail. In 1936, Gregory Clark of the Toronto Star re-christened it the Mickey Finn, in supposed honor of film star Rudolph Valentino--who was allegedly killed by mickey finns (meaning drugs, not flies) that were slipped into his cocktails.

But whatever the story, the fly pattern still persists. It's one of a small handful of old-time classic streamer patterns that can still be found in modern fly catalogs. It works very well on freshly stocked hatchery trout. I've also found it to be an excellent pickerel fly, and a fairly good--but not great--bass fly. It is--clearly--an attractor-type pattern rather than being imitative of anything.

But there are other, more effective attractor patterns. Woolly Buggers, Zonkers, and Marabou Muddlers come to mind, all of which have more inherent action than the bucktail in a Mickey Finn's wing. So why has the Mickey Finn persisted for more than half a century? Darned if I know....