Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Voices from the Past: An Elementary Course in Fly Tying (1922)

I like vintage articles on fly tying like this April 1922 piece published in Hunter-Trader-Trapper. It's a nifty overview of fly tying with a great first sentence.


Fly fishing is an art in itself. It is the poetry of fishing. Fly tying is more or less of a cult. Many are the fishermen who play the game the year round. When not fishing they are creating patterns to experiment with. The thrill is complete when the big fellow is enticed by a dainty fly built for the purpose.

Fly tying may well be divided into three fundamentals—tools, materials, and the operations necessary to dress the fly. Each will be considered in the order of mention.

The tools necessary to successful fly building are not many nor expensive. A jeweler's pin vise may be purchased from any supply house that deals in such articles. This vise should be mounted on a small board by tapping out the end so a bolt can be passed through the board. The board may be clamped into position on the edge of a table by use of a small wood clamp. A small pair of scissors, a pair of tweezers, a safety razor blade mounted in a block of wood, a stubbing needle made by thrusting a large needle eye foremost, into a handle, a small clamp that opens when the sides are compressed and hold when they are released. The latter is necessary to use as hackle pliers. A snooding wax is convenient to coat the tying silks. This wax may be made by the following formula: Five parts Burgundy pitch, two and one-half parts white resin, one part mutton tallow. Melt together in water baths then pour into a basin of cold water. Work by pulling like candy until ready to shape into sticks.

Now we are ready to gather materials. We must sort of dissect a fly, or the fly to be patterned after, to know what material is necessary.

A fly is divided into the tail, the tag, the body, the heckle, the wings and the head. The tail is the few strands of feather that protrudes at the bend of the hook. Next to the tail or at its base is a narrow band of tinsel, silver or gold, or a bit of silk different in color from the body. Now the oval shaped body that extends about two-thirds of the distance of the hook from the tag. The body may be made of several materials: floss silk, or rope silk, yarn, dubbing (which is hair or wool teased out and twisted around a waxed thread), herls (which is the strips of the ostrich or peacock plume), and chinelle are all extensively used in body building. Combinations of color and ribbing may be worked out as in the drakes, palmer flies and the McGinty or bee.

The hackle is the legs of the insect. Hackle feathers are obtained from the neck and back of the barnyard rooster. Often, however, feathers from the hen are used but they are not so easily worked as they are softer and the strands or herl will not separate so easily. Grouse, guinea hen, quail, pheasant, all furnish some hackle feathers. Often it is necessary to resort to dyeing the rooster hackle. This works no hardship as a quantity of different colors may be dyed in a little while.

The wings are from many sources. It is best to use natural color wings and so a variety should be collected. All wild duck pelts for the feathers are especially desirable. The duck feathers have the oil in them that make them water proof. Domestic fowl and all wild game will supply some useful feathers. The gathering of a stock is fascinating and when you inform your hunter friends of your new hobby they will swamp you with feathers.

A small quantity of good shellac dissolved in grain alcohol and a spool of 000 silk completes the stock of material except the hooks.

Do not use the ordinary cheap hook. You are wasting time on them. A trout loses no time in expelling a fly after he discovers the deception and the hook must set and hold. The turned down eyed English hooks are not excelled. The shape depends on the angler's fancy. Stock in some from size twelve to fours.

Now let us tie a fly. A well known universal for trout or bass is the Professor. He is diagnosed as follows: Tail, red ibis; tag, gold; body, yellow ribbed with gold; hackle, brown; and wings, grey mallard.

Catch the hook in the vise at the bend. Cut a few inches of rope floss and untwist it. Smooth the silk strands into a solid mass. Wax well some fifteen inches of the 000 silk and fasten it with a few turns to the hook at the place where the tail is to begin. Now place the tail, the silk for the body and the gold tinsel for tag and ribs on the hook, ends toward the head and fasten with a few turns of the waxed silk. A half hitch or two will help hold these secure. Now wind the body loosely at first along for about two-thirds of the distance toward the head and then turn with other windings according to the size of body desired. The last wound tight to make the body solid. The tying silk is now hitched around the end of the body and the surplus floss chipped away. The tinsel is now wound a turn or two at the tag and then' around the body to the head where it is likewise tied off and chipped.

Now a couple of brown hackle feathers are selected. The down at the quill end is stripped off and holding the feathers by the tips they are stroked downward to separate the fibers and make them stand out They are now caught at the tips and fastened at the end of the body. Holding the fibers straight out from the hook wind slowly around, smoothing the fibers toward the tail to prevent the binding of them. When your judgment tells you the fly has enough legs tie off the hackle. Pick out all fibers caught underneath in winding.

There should be left a vacant space between the eye of the hook and the hackle for the wings. You may use a match wing as two feather tips that fit each other in shape and color or a piece of the web about one-half an inch long clipped from a mallard wing or tail feathers. If a web is used double it and hold by thumb and forefinger on edge just above the hackle. Bind securely with the silk that should have been carried through all operations underneath the work, and is now protruding from beneath the hackle. Place a bit of shellac at the tie on the head of the fly and lay aside to dry.

It will no doubt seem a hard job to,get the knack of fly tying, however, after a few attempts the operations will 'become easier and soon you can tie a dozen or more in a short while after dinner.

Confidence in a fly when fishing it will help catch the fish. The fish will rise to a fly well handled and no fly will be well handled unless the caster believes it will attract fish. Many are the variations you can work into your fly when tying it that the other fellow who designed a similar one never thought of. A study of any pattern will show its construction. You can tie them all, but do not be entirely a copyist, but, create for your own satisfaction.

-- Dr. Todd

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