Category Archives: Fly Tying

Getting Organized.

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The messy old vice.

For several years now, I’ve done all my fly tying on the little travel vise you see in the image above. I picked it up at a Bass Pro in Las Vegas for about thirty dollars, and it came with some tools nestled in a nice, but cheap wooden case. I tie more now than I used to, but while I may one day, I’m not prepared just yet to splurge the few hundred bucks on a nice professional level vice. There is always a smarter way to use that money. Such as rods, lines, materials, beer…..

So far, this vice has been sufficient, but the drawbacks were mounting. For one, the base of this vice is just the box. It can move very easily when applying any pressure while tying. Secondly, because the vice lives inside the box, any clippings of fur, hackle, marabou or flash falls directly into the box, on top of the tools, and then – because of what I see as a flaw in design – sticks to the felt that lines the interior. In short, it became a hell of a mess. I find myself picking the materials out of the tools before I can use them. This will not do.

I decided on a simple plan to cure the lost tools, the mess, and the shifting vice. I picked up a couple of pieces of inexpensive wood from a craft store. One was a simple ten inch block for wood carving, the second a good sized, appropriately heavy plaque.

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Then, I attached the block to the base with a few nails, drilled some holes in the block for an organized tool keeper, gave everything a good sanding, and then began applying a light wood stain.

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Once the stain was dry, I removed the old vise from the travel box. Unfortunately, the box didn’t survive the abuse, but the vice came away, and after sanding down the dry glue that had attached it to the case, I was able to mount it to it’s new base with a few screws. What I was left with is a much more organized and functional tying station that actually looks pretty good, if I may say so. It took about an hour and cost less than twenty dollars for all the materials.

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I’d still like one of those fancy vises someday, but this will do just fine for now.


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Filed under DIY, El-Cheapo, Fly Tying, Gear

Catching Up.


Could it really be three weeks since I last posted here? I frown on other regular writers when they do that. But perhaps I can be forgiven. Things have been hurried, real life has been engaging, and I forgot the amount of work that spring requires.

Beach Trash

After Trout season was in bloom, I’d landed some nice freshwater fish, and was content to do some other things. The Henbit, after all, had arrived. This purple flower shows up on roadsides and turns the local fields purple each spring, and it’s always a solid bet that, with the arrival of the Henbit, the first flounder in the back bays will be caught. And so it was this year, on schedule.  The spring striper run was fair, and the fish are lingering with the warmer temperatures. That’s what I hear, anyway. When I shelved the fly rod and took out my beach rods last week, I caught absolutely nothing. Instead, I used up my time by collecting a stack of Mylar balloons off of the beach, and one large trash bag that had washed ashore that made me cross my fingers and hope I would find trash in it, and not something more gruesome. If the crime shows my girlfriend watches are any indication, one of these is going to be stuffed with a guy with a questionable background and some recognizable tattoos. Any day now….


Roadside Henbit



Praying Mantis Hatch

Yes, spring is all around and in full swing. Along with the appearance of the usual plants, I’ve almost tripped over a couple of turtles, and the other day, I had the rare opportunity to watch a Praying Mantis hatch in my back yard. I was just in the right place at the right time. The new-born mantis are almost tan in color at birth, but are very recognizable by the all the familiar atributes; the “praying” appendages, the large eyes. They emerge from what is called an ootheca, basically a frothy mess that an adult mantis deposits, in this case, in my shrubs. This hardens, and protects the growing young until they emerge.

So, in the mad dash between stringing up salt water rods one morning, and then grabbing my fly rod the next day, and with intervals of playing nature photographer, and the annual dusting off of the lawn mower, rakes and water hoses, there just hasn’t been a lot of time for fishing and writing. I caught a nice bass the other day on a brief local trip. He bit an olive and brown woolly bugger and was cruising shallow water. Carp are appearing in the shallows, too. On an impromptu trip out to Las Vegas last week to visit my girlfriend’s family and celebrate her birthday, the chance to fish did not arise, but I did sneak off to Bass Pro and pick up some flies and tying material for the coming saltwater expeditions. Crab imitations, shrimp and baitfish, and my old favorites, the Clouser. I think I’m ready to go. Time to catch some fish….


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Filed under Bass, Carp, Clouser, Fishing, Flounder, Fly, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Saltwater, Scenery, Seasons, Spring, Striped Bass, Sussex County Ponds

Occupy Dining Room.

The Garage is just too cold now. You can’t sit out there at the fly tying desk, teeth chattering and wrapped in a winter coat and expect to get anything done, and it would amount to self inflicted punishment to try in the first place. So, I gathered up my materials and boxes and set up camp indoors. I chose the dining table. All of it. Because that couldn’t possibly be in anybody’s way.

My goal was simple – I needed to stock up on some of my Zap Bugs; a simple fly of hackle and flash chenille in chartreuse or white, concocted with bass, bluegill and other panfish in mind. I was also looking ahead to an impending trip to White Clay Creek in search of winter trout. I plan on spending a couple of days fishing there, so I wanted to begin to stock up on local favorites.

I have always tied flies alone, and therefore don’t know for sure, but I have a hunch that almost everybody that sits down to tie flies at home approaches it, as I do, like an event. You don’t tie a couple of flies between paying the cable bill and fixing the leaky faucet. You announce you will be tying flies tonight in the same way you might announce that you are watching the ballgame tonight. The act has been allotted a significant block of your time, and you will make sure all other things are done, and you are comfortable when you begin. For me that includes lighting the fire, opening a bottle of cheap wine, and putting on some tunes.

By all accounts, this time of year on the White Clay is a great time to try, among other things, one of three particular types of flies, all that look entirely different from each other. The first is the nymph, a winter staple. While there is no particular nymph that jumps out as the obvious choice, you instead make your best educated guess from one of many. I managed to procure a nice collection of trout nymphs in the fall for pennies each, and so rather than tie any, I simply organized what I had; gold bead pheasant tail, gold bead hares ear, and gold ribbed hares ear, prince nymphs and the like.

Other staples of White Clay winter fishing include the Greenie Weenie and the golden retriever, so I set up to tie several of both. The Greenie is a simple fly, the kind that a lot of younger trout fisherman learn to tie first. The only real point of preference is the shape or design of the tail and if the fly will carry additional weight, or not. In my case, I tie them both ways. I like to experiment with a bead head, or with copper wire running along the hook shank, or as otherwise weightless flies. I’ve seen some variations of the preferred material, too. I tied mine with simple chenille and looped or single tails.

The Golden Retriever enjoys a great reputation amongst local winter trout aficionados. I’m not sure why, or what it imitates, but I’m not one to argue with facts. I’ve never fished one, but have had this fly suggested to me by far too many local resources for it to have been a coincidence.

The fly, essentially a modified woolly bugger, is usually tied with either root beer or gold estaz, but I had none available in local shops, and paying the five bucks for shipping for one strand of dressing is out of the question. Instead I tied them with yellow crystal chenille and red thread, as close as I could come. It remains to be seen how they will perform on the water, but I’m happy with them, and happy to have recently heard a report from the creek that included catching rainbow trout on a standard yellow chenille-dressed retriever.

As the bottle got lighter, the flies got a little more sloppy, but that was an observation I wouldn’t make until morning. With material and hooks left over, and time to kill, I managed a few extra woollies, saltwater streamers and a couple of poppers to join the fleet of trout flies. I’ll let you know how they perform…..


Youtube Video on tying the Golden Retriever.

Mossy Creek Fly Shop on the Golden Retriever. 

Youtube Video on tying the Greene Weenie.

Snap Dragon Wine.



Filed under Booze, DIY, Fly, Fly Tying

Give ’em Green.

Walking through the woods on a thick layer of crunching brown leaves last week, in the dying light of a rather unproductive afternoon of fishing, I came across two men at the make-shift boat ramp, red faced and soaked to the waist, attempting to remove their small Jon boat from the lake. It was particularly cold, but I was dry and well layered, and had been fishing from the shore in the lee of a small stand of woods that had kept me comfortable. These two exhausted looking gentleman had been skating across the lakes surface, in direct contact with the elements, and now were standing in lake water looking ever more as if they were about to croak. I walked down to the boat ramp and grabbed a free line and helped muscle the boat toward the waiting trailer. Without a word, one of the men, his beard collecting ice crystals, waded out of the water and around me, and into the truck. He lurched the trailer from the drink, and the boat transitioned from vessel to cargo.

The man climbed out from the truck and smiled at me, offering his hand, which was icy to the touch. Catching his breath, he thanked me for helping, and then looked at me with wide eyes, and said. “Chartreuse. It’s Chartreuse this  year. Bass, Crappie, whatever. Try Chartreuse”.

Of course, I knew what he meant. He had noticed my fly rod and the brown and olive colored woolly in the hook keeper. He was a spinning reel fisherman, but this was his home water, and he knew what the fish were biting at any given time, fly or Rapala, it didn’t matter. The way he relayed that information, though, made me think perhaps he didn’t give it away very often or very easily.

The next day, I once again found myself with time to fish. I considered my options, and decided that I’d go back to that same lake, and try some form of chartreuse fly on the frozen man’s advice. I looked in my fly boxes, and realized I didn’t even have anything in that color, other than a couple of poppers that weren’t the best choice for winter fishing when the fish are low and slow. With the truck warming up in the driveway, I sat down at my vice and very quickly tied up some flies; the kind I though might be of use. A small woolly worm, and a couple of my own creations I like to call zap bugs. Simple affairs; some pearl and chartreuse chenille wrapped around a size 8 hook, and tail tipped with a small, but sturdy piece of hackle. I find that, if tied well, this fly can stay on the surface and be fished dry, or can be retrieved and fished as a small streamer. In fact, I’ve often found that the transition from floating to the diving and swimming action it produces when retrieved is when most of the strikes take place.

I had ignored chartreuse, as the search of my fly boxes proved. I’d been relying on more natural colors of browns and olives, and the occasional white in my tying and fishing. Complacency.

I would soon learn that this was an oversight, as I went on to catch enough fish to lose count of, and four species; Bluegill, Calico Bass, Largemouth Bass and a Golden Shiner, a big minnow I’d never taken on a fly rod before.

Not big fish, but fish none the less, and that’s the point in the end. For a dark, cold day in late december, this was a treat.

The moral of this tale? Don’t forget to change something when what you’re doing isn’t working; advice I knew, yet foolishly neglected. If your local freshwater isn’t giving up fish, chartreuse and white with a sparkle have been the ticket for me. You can tie up flies in any number of ways with any number of materials and have a good day catching fish.

Oh, and always help a man with his boat……


Filed under Bluegill, Bug, Calico Bass, Crappie, DIY, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Places, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Winter, Woolly Bugger

Disorganized Chaos, Tying, Bugs.

This is ridiculous.

Yes, I was up until the wee hours last night fooling with flies and maybe enjoying a drink or so. But what the heck are   …are those channel locks?

My problem, besides the fact that I’m just messy, is that I keep everything stored on hooks or nails in the wall. This means I usually have to remove some other things to get the things I want. White deer hair? behind the red, black, and yellow deer hair. So now, all the deer hair is lying on the desk. Size 8 hooks? Behind the size 12,……you get the drift.

Containers, through which I can sort, and in which I can store materials, seemed the obvious choice, and also a portable one, which will come in handy when the garage gets too damn cold to sit in over winter. I commandeered an old tackle box and stole some tupperware, and before long things were looking a little more orderly.

I am, by no measure, a great, nor prolific fly tier. In fact, I’m still pretty new to it. I only try to keep the materials I regularly need for the flies I tie most often, and I don’t require a lot of space to do this, so being such a slob is just a simple case of poor form. I’ve seen people on the internet and in magazines who have built entire additions to their houses to accommodate the metric ton of hair and hackle they have at hand; every stretch of flash and marabou they could get their hands on. Certainly, if making flies is your business, that makes sense, but if you tie out of habit, enjoyment or necessity, I just find myself wondering if you ever get the time to go fishing. But they somehow manage to keep it clean and tidy, although it probably wasn’t until the guy with the camera showed up.

So, I cleaned up my space for the cameras, too. I don’t think I’ll be building an addition on my home any time soon. No, for me, just a simple, orderly space and enough of the materials I use most to make the flies I use most often. And now that my little corner of the garage is in a better state of organization and I’ve had some sleep, I might as well sit here and tie myself a poppin’ frog and a big ugly woolly.

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Filed under Booze, Bug, Fly, Fly Tying, Gear, Poppers, Woolly Bugger

Bass, Pickerel, Woolies and Perspective.


It’s another gloomy afternoon in light rain, and it’s a little cold and theres a breeze, but I have no complaints because fish don’t seem to care, and I have the afternoon to fish, and the water to myself, and it’s all about perspective.

I have been finding both bass and pickerel in deep water on the local grounds; pickerel in greater numbers, as they don’t mind the cooled water temperatures as much as the finicky bass. While I’ve caught several of both on a small collection of streamers this fall, the go-to fly has been the Woolly Bugger, and by significant margin. I’ve found a preference in these tan and olive colored ones; heavy from lead wiring around the hook shank and it’s bead head, and with an abundance of underwater animation provided by the light, stone-colored hackle. From the banks, I cast these into area I know to be deeper water, and let them sink before beginning a retrieve that is varied in depth and speed until I determine what the fish are looking for a on a chosen day. I don’t believe there really is a wrong way to fish a woolly, but finding the right way in a given situation is usually rewarded with plenty of strikes, even in the dwindling months of the year. Deeper water has been the preference of late, to the point that I’m allowing the woolly to sink to the lake bed before starting my retrieve.


Bass and pickerel tend to go after the same style and types of flies, but the bass are gentle on the fly, and the pickerel, with it’s rows of sharp teeth, is quite the opposite. There are more durable choices of fly when it comes to pickerel, but all the best ones: Woollies, Mickey Finns, muddlers and Spey types, can all be completely mangled in the capable jaws of a pickerel, as demonstrated in the picture above and the one below; a ‘before-and-after’ view of pickerel fishing with a woolly bugger.

I caught the fish, and he was a fine pickerel, full of fight and about fifteen inches long, and I can re-tie the fly. It’s all about perspective…..



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Filed under Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Pickerel, Woolly Bugger

Fall, Winter, Baseball, Fishing, and the promise of the Sweet Season….

The fishing is not yet over in my neck of the woods, and nor will it be completely over, but the writing is on the wall, the view from my back porch expanding as the leaves settle to the lawn, and the slow fishing and icy lake shores are definitely around the proverbial bend. That bush was a brilliant green just a month ago, and Thanksgiving plans are being made as I write. The alarm bells of nature and time are ringing.

So, it’s time to consider preparations for Spring, when baseball season and fishing season will come to life along with everything else. I’ll be organizing my tying desk, stocking up on materials, and filing fly boxes for next season while I keep abreast of the Philadelphia Phillies off-season moves. The birds and the striped bass are moving south, the foxes digging in. I’m thinking about that trip to Utah in March to chase rainbow trout with an old friend.

We are all, in our own way, preparing for the sweet season ahead.


Filed under Baseball, Fall, Fishing, Fly Boxes, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Gear, Scenery, Seasons, Winter