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Artificial flies, and how to make them.


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Cheap as artificial flies may be bought, and experienced as the professional hands may be in their manufacture, every angler has felt, from time to time, the want of the special knowledge to make his own flies, or alter existing ones. If the angler practises when young, he soon acquires an expertness which he never forgets, and which will serve him in his need, and enable him to find an agreeable occupation on many a wet afternoon, when unable to pursue his favourite sport.

It is difficult to say anything that Is new on this subject, or even to clothe the old practice with new expressions; but I will endeavour to describe the process clearly and concisely.

The necessary implements are few. At first, a small hand-vice will be necessary, a small pair of brass nippers, a pair of fine scissors, curved at the points, and a pair with very sharp and fine points, a needle (which may be fitted into a small handle, for dividing wings and picking out dubbing.

The materials used by the fly-dresser of the present day arc somewhat more simple than was formerly thought possible - shape being more attended to and variety of material less. Feathers of various kinds arc not only the most suitable but last longer than almost any other substance that has been employed for the purpose, and they are supplemented with fine hair and silk. In selecting feathers, great care is necessary, and they should be plucked from birds when in full plumage, and every description of bird may be laid under contribution for this purpose. Hackles taken from the neck of the common cock are very useful when of a proper colour and shape. The fibres should taper gradually from the root, and where they should be longest, towards the point The dun or blue hackle is particularly difficult to obtain of the right colour, with the fibres of the proper length, which is about half an inch. The feathers of the cock-starling have a high repute in the north, as combining good colour with that medium strength which avoids harshness on the one hand, and softness on the other. Feathers of the landrail are also highly esteemed, taken from outside the wing, being of a reddish-brown colour. The dotterel feathers are also useful, but apt to get soft in the water. The gray-plover, golden-plover, thrush, partridge, grouse, woodcock, and snipe, are commonly used. Even a tomtit's tail docs not escape, while the peacock and ostrich tails, or single fibres of their plumes, are in common use, when dyed, for bright and variously-coloured flies. The wings of the flies are made from the wing-feathers of the corn-bunting, lark, starling, chaffinch, woodcock, landrail, and other birds.

Fur and hair are used for the bodies of flies, under the name of "dubbing." These are wanted of every shade, and are usually obtained at the furrier's. A hare's ear, the fur of the water rat, the fur of the bear, of various shades, badger's hair, the fur of the squirrel, and field- mouse, are also in request. Hog's down is the best hair, and should be obtained about Christmas. It may be dyed any colour. Mohair is sometimes used, and coloured worsted is only used for salmon and pike flies.

For tying the flies, fine marking silk of different colours is necessary, some hard shoemaker's or saddler's wax, some colourless wax, of which we give the recipe, a variety of hooks, with a little gold and silver twist, and the fly-dresser has all the materials for making flies of any pattern.

Before commencing to make your flies, arrange all your materials in the handiest possible way under your eye. Let your gut be of the finest description, the hooks adapted to the size of the fly, with the wings, hackles, dubbing, and silk assorted. The flies are generally divided into two varieties - hackles, variously called "palmers" or "spiders;" winged flies, dressed with dubbing, or with hackles, in imitation of gnats, midges, and other flies, while " spiders " represent caterpillars and other embryo flies.

The first process, that of " arming the gut," is thus performed. It is essential that every angler should learn to arm his gut and tie his hook, as it is the foundation of the bottom-fisher's, as veil as the fly-fisher's, art. The gut is first coiled, and the end flattened and softened between the teeth, so as to make it broad and prevent it slipping. The Book is then taken in the left hand between the forefinger and thumb, with the back upper most, and the barbed point downwards, so as to leave the shank bare. The gut is laid along the upper portion of the shank, and is secured by a slip-loop of well-waxed silk, about the middle of the shank, opposite the barb of the hook. The gut and hook are then whipped firmly and neatly together, in regular screw-like twists, until you come to the end of the shank, where a few turns of the thread will form the head, and a slip-noose fastens the silk. If well and neatly done, it will present the appearance of fig. This is the foundation of all flies.

To make the palmer-hackle, or spider, great care is necessary, but the operation is not a difficult though a critical one. Still holding the hook as before, you take the feather, lay it with the root towards the bend of the hook, wrap the thread two or three times round it, and then cut off the root end. Fig. will show the hook at this stage. There are two processes of forming the spider open to the student. He may wind the feather neatly round the hook, until he reaches the bend of the hook, where he may fasten off, und release any fibres that may have become entangled during the winding. He may then clip away any long rough points, the end of the feather, and the silk, and his fly will represent fig. Another process, and a better, is to run the thread, after tying the hackle on, (as fig.) along the centre of the feather, and with the forefinger and thumb of the right hand twist them together until the feather is rolled round the thread, and in this state wrap it round the hook, taking care that the fibres stick out well to represent the legs of the insect, until you come to the bend of the hook, when it may be fastened off with the whip-fastening, or a succession of hitch-knots. The feathers must be long enough to hide the hook, as shown in fig.

To make a palmer-hackle, representing a luscious caterpillar, (fig.) the latter process cannot be followed. When the hackle-feather is fastened on, (fig. 37,) some floss-silk, peacock or ostrich-tail, or dubbing is used, twisted round your waxed thread, and wrapped round the shank of the hook to form the body; but beware of getting it too bulky. Fasten at the head, then wind the hackle, as first described, and fasten at the tail. It dubbed with either gold or silver twist, it must be attached to the shank of the hook with the hackle, and wound over the dubbing and body before the hackle is brought down. The ends must be cut away and the silk fastened. It is better not to cut the hackle feathers, but they must be neatly released with the needle, so as to approach the regularity of the engraving, fig. Occasionally, hackles are made from the bend, and wrapped towards the slunk, or reversely to the plan above described; and this plan is adopted when wings have to be added on small hooks. The hackle, in this ease, will have to be tied first by the tip, and not by the root.

The great difficulty in dressing a winged fly is to put the wings on neatly. It is thus done. The hook is armed as in fig.; but the whipping is not continued to the end of the shank, it stops some three or four turns off, and the feathers are added which are to form the wings. These wings are generally composed of a few fibres of some appropriate feather, those taken from the wing of some small bird, those lying on the inside of the wing being generally the longest, lightest, and most esteemed. To whip these fibres on neatly, and make them lie properly, is a difficult operation. You take these feathers firmly between the forefinger and thumb of the right hand, and lay them on the bare shank of the hook with the roots towards the bend, as shown in fig. 2. The thread must be whipped three or four times firmly round the butt-cuds of the fibres, as shown above, and the remainder of the butt-ends cut off. It is necessary now to divide the wings, by passing the silk between them, and crossing it as you bring it up, bend the fibres back and form the head. The fly may now be finished in two or three ways, principally dependent on whether it is to be dressed with hackle, dubbing, or have a tail. If with dubbing, a little is twisted on to the thread until it is rolled completely round it. It is then wrapped round the hook, so as to form the body of the fly, and the thread fastened off as in fig. 2. A few hairs of the dubbing must be picked out round the head to give it the feathery appearance represented.

If dressed with a hackle, the wing should remain as in fig. 2, and the root-end of the tackle attached, and wound to the bend as described in the spider, and the end of the thread should be fastened off with a slip-knot. The wing fibres must then be taken between the forefinger and thumb of the left hand, reversed, and bent down over the back of the fly. This done, pass the thread behind the wings, and twist it two or three times close and tight over the base of the wings. The fibres must be divided exactly in the middle, with the dubbing-needle. Pass the thread between them, and wind it round the bottom of one of the wings, crossing it as you bring it round under the oilier. Now whip the silk behind the wings, form the head, fasten off the ends, touch it- and all knots with a little varnish, and you have an excellent fly complete, as in fig. 2, without the tail, which, appendage is added before the body is attached or the wings reversed. It is formed of two hairs or fibres, which can be added w hen the gut is armed, or immediately after the wings are attached. If necessary to wind gold or silver twist round the body of the fly, first tie on the tail, and then the gold twist, spin on the dubbing, wind it up to the wings carefully, fasten with a slip-knot and leave the end of the thread hanging. Take the gold twist and wind it with regular intervals up to the wings, fasten it, and cut away the loose twist. The hackle may then be wound for a couple of turns over twist and dubbing, and then fasten down, cutting away the loose end. The thread may then be brought through the wings, and the fly finished as before.

A good fly should have both wings equal it should be well proportioned, and should sit easily on the water. In arming your gut, see that it is done with silk the colour of the body of the fly, and it should be waxed with colourless wax. If the body of the fly is to be of silk, you may make it whilst arming the gut, and tie on the hackle and wings, bring the hackle down two or three turns over the body, (fig. 2,) fasten off, reverse the wings, tie them neatly, and always varnish the knot. If the wings are tied on last, they often sit better, though they may not last so long as those tied in the manner above described. If the beginner fails at first, he, by perseverance, will find his difficulties disappear. Let him get good models as ho progresses, and he will find our directions sufficiently explicit to enable him to make any useful fly. The illustrations, fig. 2, showing a dun-fly and the May-fly, are shown as roughly made by a tyro in the art.

Artificial caddis-worm for bottom-fishing is thus made: wings full, and a brownish-red hue, which should slant over a yellow floss silk body, covered with goldbeater's skin, and ribbed with brown silk; a lap or two of bronze peacock tail will finish the head. On warm windy days it will be found very attractive.

At first the beginner may fix the bend of the hook in a table or hand-vice, and use the nippers to twist the hackle under the wings, particularly when the wings are placed on the natural way at first, lie will, if moderately handy, soon dispense with these impedimenta.

Now with respect to the colour of the flies. A wide range of material fails to give the fly-maker every tint he requires, so that he is obliged to have recourse to the dyer's art.

With respect to the dyeing of materials for fly-making, I. have found Judson's simple dyes easy of application, and giving nearly every variety of tint, by judicious admixture. In order, however, that the ambitious fly-fisher should have every convenience at command, I give a few tried recipes for making the dyes themselves.

The green drake dye. - To make the famous Mayfly well is the acme of the fly-dresser's art, and one of the great difficulties is the proper colour for the wings, which are generally formed of the dappled feathers from the under side of a mallard s wing, dyed yellow green, which is somewhat difficult to imitate. Mr Placker's method is as follows: - " Boil two or three handfuls of yellow wood one hour in a quart of soft water; wash the mallard hackles in soap and hot water, then boil them a short time with a large spoonful of alum and tartar in a little pipkin with a pint of water, take them out and immerse them in your yellow decoction, and simmer them slowly for an hour or two. The shorter the simmering the paler the yellow of the feathers; take them out and wash them in clean hard water." When there is occasion for dyeing yellow green, add a little blue, more or less according to the shade of green you wish to give to the yellow. If Judson's dyes are used, the feathers must be washed and prepared to receive the colour as above, and a green can be mixed easily to the exact tint. Mr Ronald, the great authority on dies, gives, however, another method. He makes a mordant by dissolving about a quarter of an ounce of alum in a pint of water, and then to slightly boil the feathers in it to get the grease out of them, after which to boil them in an infusion of fustic to procure a yellow, arid then subdue the brightness of the yellow by a little copperas.

Dun feathers, - Feathers may be dyed any shade of dun and yellowish dun by this means, which is the foundation of all good dyes. The feathers are placed in a sauce-pan with a quantity of soft water, and when thoroughly wetted, a small quantity of copperas (sulphate of iron) is added, and the whole simmered gently for a few minutes. This gives the mordant a base. The liquor is then removed, and the feathers are covered with a small quantity of soft water, and when simmering a small quantity of powdered Aleppo galls is added. Of course the tint will depend on the quantity of each material used, for by increasing the quantities the colour changes to almost every tint of dun. Logwood, madder, walnut peels, alder tree, bark, and other astringent dye-woods may be used instead of galls, always using Soft water, and obtaining the light colour before the dark. The fixing liquid is made from copperas, sulphate of alum, acetate of alum, or acetate of copper; it they are then well washed and simmered in a strong decoction of woad or weld, (Reseda luteola,) dyer's weed as it is commonly called, they will acquire a brilliant yellow colour. While feathers maybe dyed dun, by first simmering them in alum water until thoroughly soaked, and then boil them in water with fustic, shumac, and a small quantity of copperas.

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