Did the Mickey Finn Help Win World War II

Art Mendez and I wandered aimlessly around the Tucson Parks and Recreation Randolph Center before we finally found the room hosting the “Lie and Tie” event.  A solitary figure sat patiently with his back to the door and his fly tying equipment spread out on the conference table in front of him.

“Lie and Tie” is a monthly gathering to socialize while tying fishing flies sponsored by the Old Pueblo Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

If you know anything about Tucson, Arizona in the summer months you understand the inhabitants have grown accustomed to dashing from their air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned offices and homes, spending as little time as possible under the unforgiving glare of the sun.  Trips are made during the daytime only if necessary. I believe our instructor, Alevin Nkhululu, was happy to see us when we walked into the room as he started to pull items out of a light blue, plastic tackle box and explained their purpose.

Alevin handed me a small tin of flies, “All of these were tied right here in this classroom.” A muted smile of satisfaction came to his face, “I have thousands of them.”

As I held each fly up to inspect it under the florescent lighting, Alevin would tell me about it. “That’s a Conehead Muddler Mino,” he said. “That is made with deer hair.”

He would pull another piece of equipment out of his tackle box and explain its use then notice what I had pinched between my fingers. “That’s a Flashback Prince Nymph,” he watched as I moved the fly back and forth to see the shine. “I added the shinny metal on the back. The fish like to bite that.”

I next held up a slender hook with an elegant stream of yellow and red hair perched atop a shinny wrapped shank. “That is a variation of the Mickey Finn,” his smile grew wider. “What is interesting about that is the Mickey Finn was part of the survival kit the Americans carried across Europe during World War II.”
I suddenly saw the fly I was holding quite differently. It felt like I was holding a piece of history. My Dad, now 95-years old, and his brothers were part of the greatest generation. Art’s Dad saw heavy combat during the WWII with major casualties suffered by his comrades. Somehow the heroism of the past seemed to manifest itself in this simple yet exquisite fly.

I did some quick research on the World Wide Web to see if I could verify the Mickey Finn’s value to the war effort, and though I saw it was first used in the late 1800s, then simply called a Bucktail, I saw only several un-substantiated references to it being part of the WWII survival kit and I could not pinpoint it in a legitimate periodical.
I did find an interesting fact about the naming of the Mickey Finn in an article by Willard P. Greenwood, II, on the American Fly Fishing website, “Newspaper writer Gregory Clark, in a 1936 article in the Toronto Star, named the fly Mickey Finn after Chicago bartender Michael Finn, known for drugging and robbing his patrons (circa 1896–1903)… That real-life criminal analogy seemed apt to describe the unfair power the streamer had over fish.” 1

I would like to know for sure if the Mickey Finn was part of the WWII survival kit. Maybe you can share this information. Maybe you know someone still with us who took part in WWII. He or she would be in his or her mid-nineties now. If you discover anything let us know by contacting me at bill@usfly.org.

For now, I am going to continue to believe the Mickey Finn helped us win the war.


William Ackerley

June 22, 2018




  1. Greenwood, II, Willard P. (2011, February 7). A Personal and Natural History of the Mickey Finn. Retrieved from: http://www.amff.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2014-Vol40-No4web.pdf