Ralph Hanna – fly tyer

Ralph Hanna

Ralph Hanna

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.

Bicolor Walker

Bicolor Walker

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.

Parachute Michigan Hopper

Parachute Michigan Hopper

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.

12 Comments

Filed under Michigan, Trout flies

12 Responses to Ralph Hanna – fly tyer

  1. Very Cool!! Love learning and reading more about our rich fly history in and around the Grayling /TC area of Michigan’s great rivers. Thanks again for sharing!
    Tight Lines,
    Koz

  2. This is my Uncle Junior Ralph Hanna .. what a beautiful site n tribute to tieflying .. Thats one of his great passions .. I graduated from Grayling High in 1959 we lived next to his mom my grandmother Nellie Hanna n I talked to him occasionally on phone . I have lived in Houston the last 35 years.. was in Grayling in 2012 , He lived in UP .ty for this site .. Kay to see my father who passed at 95 ..

    • Paul Beel

      Kay, thank you very much for commenting. Your uncle has inspired my fly tying more than anyone. I’ve spoke with him on the phone but have not met him in person. I’ll be up by Traverse City this Summer, so maybe I can meet him then. I’m glad you found this website. Mr. Hanna deserves the recognition.

      Thank you,
      Paul

  3. Awesome- I happenstance ran into this site while researching legendary auable river fishing guides Earl madsen, Jay Stephan and Bernie Fowler. I truly have never given much fishing time to the Ausable because of my friends farm in Wolverine which is 1 mile from the Sturgeon. I fished the Boyne, Bear, Black, and Pigeon while ignoring the Aable. However this summer I am going to camp , hike and fish the ausable. Ny main interest in the area has always been Fred bear and I was surprised to learn that Bob smock said “Fred preferred fishing over hunting” I have one fly in the Michigan fly library which a fisherman I gave it to on the St joseph river entered it after having great success on small mouth bass, walleye and steellhed with it. you nght want to type in scarlet ibis streame Michigan streamer to see it, it is a adapted pattern of the 100 yr or more classic scarlet ibi dry tie wic I w on the front of a magazine- j bark III

    • Paul Beel

      James, sorry for the late response, but I looked at your fly and it is a real beauty! I’m glad you told me about this. I love the adaption you did with this old pattern. Great job!

      Thank you,
      Paul

      • Terry

        Paul
        Just to let you and your followers know that Chris Helm passed away last week in Toledo. The details are listed in the Toledo Blade. If there was one person to ask anything about deer hair, Chris was the man.

        Terry

        • Paul Beel

          Yes, I had heard the sad news Terry.
          Thank you for the information. He will definitely be missed.

          -Paul

  4. Linda Durga Ackerman

    hello my son just pulled this up for me this is also my Uncle Jr (Ralph Hanna) and my son posted this on fb for me asking if we were related to him ,,,yes was happy to see it again ,,,my uncle lived and breathed fishing and tyeflying i watched him do it many a time ,, my mother was Ralphs sister and Kay above me on a post is my older sister,,, thank you ,,,Linda

    • Paul Beel

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading this Linda and I really appreciate you commenting because I am honored to meet any of Ralph’s family. He has been a true inspiration to me.

      Thank you,
      Paul J. Beel