When You Tie Your Own Flies
By Ruth D. Jenkins
“For the man who ties his own flies the joy of fishing is never ending. It is then an all-year-around sport.” So says Dr. S. H. Chase, of Madison, Wis, dental’ surgeon, hunter and fisherman, who, has for many years tied not only all his own flies but those for his family—from his wife to the baby, and for some fortunate friends. When you tie your own flies and knee-deep in a June trout stream, the pleasure is doubled to catch a one-and’a-half pounder with the ‘Royal Coachman‘ his own fingers made; or in August to land a big black bass with a realistic ‘Palmer.’ In the early fall when he brings down a mallard, it means some choice feathers for his drakes and duns, or the deer and squirrel of a later season will supply needed fur for hackles. In mid winter evenings, when making flies for the next season, he experiences again the thrills of his sport with gun and rod. The fly angler puts away several gross of flies for the coming season.
“Besides all this the pleasure of fly-tying may be a real relaxation to the tired businessman who is an enthusiastic angler or even a diversion for one who has no real love of fishing. It takes patience, nimble fingers, and a certain accurate sense of color and shape to make an artificial fly look like the live insect, but with a little practice it becomes increasingly easy. “When did I begin to make my own flies? When I could not find one like a certain insect I had seen the trout devouring in a stream one season when my bag was empty. That fixed my determination to make my own. At first, like many another amateur, l blundered along, but I soon found my flies looking better, smoother, more like the real ciscos and moths. Finally when in Chicago one day, calling on Call J. McCarthy, the champion flycaster of the world. I was shown by Mr. McCarthy himself how to make a fly. and since then I have never used any that I have not tied myself.”
Dr. Chase’s work is exacting and tedious, and with operations often exhausting. yet he finds time in his odd moments—evenings at home, weekends and holidays—to tie several gross of flies each season. Every year in trout season he and his family— his wife, who is an expert angler also, his three children, and a niece—pack their duffle bags, rods and flies and go up into the Indian Reservation in Shawano County, in northern Wisconsin. Even the baby, a sturdy little fellow, can tug into his rubber boots and handle a rod. The whole family “go in” for the sport together.
“It is a fascinating hobby—fly-tying,” said Dr. Chase. “It makes the fisherman more observing. He learns to classify the insects he sees and to know their seasons and habits; he looks for color and markings; then notes what success certain flies have. If I find an insect I want to copy, I sit down by the stream-side and copy it immediately, noting any changes I might want to make when I have more materials with which to work. You need not be an entomologist to tie your own flies. Indeed, amateur flies are usually far more ‘taking’ than the commercial flies because they are more accurate in color and shape. Bugs, beetles and flies are not without variations.
It is a well—known fact that a fly a bit ‘mussed’ will bait fish better than a perfectly fresh one. The supremely important thing is that it should suggest the flies that are the food of the trout at that particular moment.
“It is far better to copy an insect than to imitate a picture or an artificial fly. One needs only a few tools—a vise, tweezers, stiletto, locking-tweezers, all bought at a jeweler’s supply store. And of course a pair of sharp scissors. If I do not find hooks to my liking, it is not difficult to reforge them; and to prevent rusting, to have them plated. I wind the body first. hackle or neck-feathers that make the legs next, and wings last. Wisps, tinsel. or other finishing touches are all bound down with strong, fine silk thread.
“Dr. Chase‘s workshop, or den, in his home, where he makes his flies, is a most interesting room. Its big south windows look out through gnarled oaks over Lake Wingra, a few feet away. The walls are lined with cases of rods, guns, reels, knives, and books.
On the- table near the windows is clamped a vise, with collar of various colored papers. This is one of Dr. Chase’s By means of this the finest silk threads may be tied over a background of contrasting color. so that even the darkest silk is clearly visible.
The drawers of the table hold silk and cotton floss, wire. raffia, WOOl, wax, horse hair (“plenty taken from wire-fences.” one was told). Envelopes carefully arranged hold feathers of all kinds and colors—scarlet. brilliant orange, spotted and striped. bronze and shimmering. Coils of home-dyed silkworm gut were wrapped in special paper to prevent fading; oiled lines had their own packages.
“There’s no end to it all.” said this enthusiastic angler, “the flies are only the beginning. Once the fisherman can make these, he wants to make all his own equipment. I made my own bamboo rods before I began to make flies. Since then I’ve dyed gut and feathers, forged hooks. tooled and sewed the leather for fly-books. I have made special knives for cutting a temporary vise of water birch, when I had to make an emergency fly at the water’s edge.” A vicious looking knife was drawn out of its pig-skin case. In witness to the last!
“In all this work the artist’s sense of color and shape is satisfied. The craftsman’s skill and touch, the naturalist‘s love of birds, fish and woodsy things. It’s a never-ending source of pleasure when you tie your own flies.”
“All fish can see and distinguish color, particularly trout, which are quick to notice and differentiate between objects in the water. That is why the flies must look as nearly like the real insect as possible. At the University here in Madison some trout were fed through colored discs. Later the blue discs were charged with electricity. After a. time the trout would only feed through the white discs. I have proved that trout have good eyesight many times to my own satisfaction; in fact, rather too. good when I have had to abandon a fly I was using without success for one made on the spot, with a touch or two the first one lacked!”
Dr. Chase‘s love of fishing has taken him into the waters of six states. From Washington to New York, and into the streams of northern Michigan and Wisconsin. He enjoys telling some of his experiences in making flies. They show the advantage the fly-tyer has over the angler who is entirely dependent on the contents of his fly-book.
“One May morning,” he said, “I Was fishing in a forest stream without success. I could see the trout rising, often several simultaneously. I could find nothing in my fly-book to tempt them. If I could have succeeded in getting just one. I could have examined the contents of the stomach and found what they were feeding on. Not a bite. Exasperated, I searched the sunken rocks in a shallow part of the stream and found the twiglike cases of the caddisfly. A grayish grub, or larva. I had nothing like it in my book. Taking the scissors I cut the wings, hackle and tinsel 0ff a large miller. It made a fair imitation of the grub. The trick worked like magic. My basket was soon filled with larger fish than any of us had caught on the preceding days.
“Another day my daughter, a small but enthusiastic angler, declared she had seen a trout in the pool ‘so long,‘ indicating fourteen and a half inches with her hands. The following morning with a dry fly I caught the very trout in this spot. He measured fifteen inches! So you see, we actually ‘made good’ on that fish story!”
In the opinion of this experienced fisherman every angler should try to make his own flies. Particularly every man who hunts as well. In that way the gun and the rod may be linked up in a delightful, profitable and altogether complete plan. It will become an endless source of satisfaction and pleasure.
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