In my opinion Ralph Hanna is one of the last of the legendary fly tyers from around the Grayling, Michigan area. Ralph has lived in Traverse City for over 50 years, but when Ralph was younger and lived in Grayling, he met his wife to be, who just happened to be the daughter of Lacey Stephan. Lacey was a famous fly fishing guide and river boat builder on the Au Sable River. Ralph said the first thing Lacey Stephan did when he met him was take him down in the basement and teach him how to tie flies. From that point on, Ralph tied flies. Before long, Lacey and other guides were selling Ralph’s flies to their customers. Lacey then took Ralph under his wing and Ralph became a guide himself and became friends with other well known guides like Art Winnie, Jim Wakely, Jack Redhead, and Bernie Fowler. He was such good friends with Art Winnie that Art’s son offered his fly tying materials to Ralph when he passed away. Ralph still has them to this day. His flies became very popular and Ralph easily became a commercial tyer for many of the fly shops in the Northern half of Michigan. He is now over 80 years old and still ties flies for the Stream Side Orvis Shop in Traverse City, the Old Au Sable Fly Shop in Grayling, Jack’s Sport Shop in Kalkaska, and Skips Sport Shop in Grayling. His primary vise is still his old Thompson model A vise. Ralph said he used to tie over 350 dozen flies a year.
His most famous fly is his Bicolor Walker which he created in 1948. He mentions the red yarn wasn’t intentional. It was the color he had at the time and after fishing with the flies he created with it and being successful, the more he used it. The Bicolor Walker best matches the Brown Drake Hatch, but it can be used at any time. In fact, it’s said that Lacey Stephan mainly only used two flies, the Bicolor Walker and his Deer Hair Brown Hackle that most people now call the Lacey Stephan.
Ralph also took his good friend Art Winnie’s Michigan Hopper and made a parachute version of it. He was the first to tie the Michigan Hopper in a parachute style.
From studying his flies and talking with Ralph I’ve noticed he is such a prolific fly tyer and produces many variations of flies. He doesn’t give a name to all of his creations, but he has to some. One of the things that Ralph likes to do in his flies is use a small clump of deer hair tied trude off the back of the fly. He mentions that it makes the fly float better. The one thing that I noticed in many of his flies is his use of beautiful hen wings that are tied secure and well proportioned.
My information was gathered from talking to Ralph by phone and from Tom Deschaine who has visited Ralph many times and runs the informative website Michigan Dry Flies. Even though Ralph is known by many in the Northern Michigan area and has been included in the Lovells Museum of Fly Fishing History, he deserves a place among the legends. What a terrific tyer and such a nice guy. I have included more flies tied by Mr. Hanna below. I purchased some of these directly from Ralph and I also bought many when I was in Traverse City and Grayling in the places mentioned already. I’m thrilled I was able to obtain so many. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do and remember they are much better than my pictures show.