In the course of five years' study of game-fish food and making artificial imitations of it, I entirely laid aside a profession I dearly love - that of an artist. I did so because I found this work even more attractive; indeed, so fascinating as to form in my mind, gradually, it is true, a wish and hope to change existing conditons for a better method in the art of fishing for the benefit of all anglers. At the beginning I thought if my projected improvement were sound and really better, I could then pass it along for others to do likewise - if they wanted. I am sane enough to be very sure I could not alone make a supply sufficient for what would be required if the baits, after tests, were found good; even supposing I turned the products of my brain into a commercial enterprise or business concern. But for such a project I have no taste or talent whatever. I shall therefore just briefly describe the rudiments and materials required in making several of the most important baits. It would take this entire volume to cover the subject thoroughly. As in all delicate handicraft, to do it well, patience and care are the main things. Those who have time, a deft hand at carving wood and cork, a delicate manipulation in working silk, fine wire, and a little artistic skill with a paint-brush - all these have a decided advantage to begin with - that much less to learn. But continued practice in the end brings skill, at least enough to make a lure which however crude may be good enough to capture trout and other fish, which many guides do. But it will not be wise to attempt to make some of my more complicated lures, unless considerable time is available. It will not be found easy work, even with a pattern taken apart, lying before the amateur bait-maker. One thing it will surely do will be to make him realize what labor has been spent to get so far, even though with great pleasure and delight. By far the greatest number of anglers who write me for advice are doctors and dentists who want to make their own baits. For the construction of floating lures, the principal materials are cork, used for backs of frogs and minnows, bodies of crawfish, hellgrammites, crickets, and grasshoppers. Next come hard, heavy wood for bellies of frogs and minnows, so as to balance and make the baits float without turning over and to swim upright; metal-sheets, tinsel, soft wire, varied colored raffia grass, a large variety both in size and color of hackle feathers; thread, silk, mercerized cotton, and worsted of many colors and thicknesses, eyed hooks of every description, oil-paints and artist's brushes, good spar varnish, white shellac, turpentine, alcohol, black wax, white wax, various grades of sandpaper - and an assorted variety of bristles, thick, thin, white and black. For my own requirements, I must keep a full stock of feathers, complete skins of game-birds, from turkey to quail, from wild goose to numerous species of ducks, and many other birds, also some remnants of furs, tails of deer, skunk, fox, squirrel, and hogs' bristles. These must all be kept in glass or tin-covered jars to be free from moths. It is well to know how to use Diamond dyes, and to keep selected packages of red, blue, yellow, green, and black - to dye white hackle feathers.
The tools required in fly-tying are very few compared to those required for making lures. Each material calls for different, very sharp knives, sharp-pointed, some very thin, others strong, files of every description, pincers, tweezers, sharp-pointed borers, and numerous scissors. A vise is in constant use, which should be stoutly fastened to the work-table; also various saws, mostly fine tooth, and small hammers of various weights. Of course, any angler who merely desires to fabricate a few lures would never dream of stocking up with the above list of things; but I give them in a general way, because each one may desire to make different baits. The great trouble will be found in procuring small quantities, which are far more expensive and difficult to get. The tackle dealer fights shy of an order for half a dozen No. 2/0 small hooks or the like - which, if ordered by the box of one hundred, are very different in price. Tackle dealers do not supply any material or tools required for making baits, except hooks. Wood-turners supply wood of any kind, cut to shape from patterns supplied them. Cork houses do the same; they furnish cork in pieces any shape or size required. Raffia grass in various colors may be purchased from large seedsmen; for special colors required, I buy the natural cream-colored grass and dye it to suit.
For the shining gold and silver metal-sheets I have had years of difficult work to get just the right thing. For the first of my minnows, the wood was covered with gold and silver leaf, which proved a failure. Then, in succession, I tried rolled sterling silver, tinfoil, sheet aluminum. After infinite trouble at last I succeeded in the present material used, and find it to be the perfect article for the purpose, that will keep its lustre and not rust in fresh or salt water.
This metal being my own invention, I cannot for obvious reasons at present divulge the method of manufacture. I can get a small quantity for those who require it. The different grades of wire I use are soft and pliable - what used to be called German silver, to be procured from hardware stores or wire dealers. The remaining materials can be had at the various dry goods houses. Hackle and other feathers must be hunted for, in all directions, at poultrymen, feather dealers, and millinery shops.
If the amateur bait-maker will look at the page of baits, he will at once get a general idea of the form and outline of what he wants to make. To best accomplish his object, he should procure a sample as a pattern and take it apart to start right. Take the green leopard-frog as an example to first experiment with. Those who don't know say that the finished objects look very simple and easy to make. The first raw separate parts cut are the back and thighs, of cork, the belly of hard wood. The thighs are tied with twisted wire looped, to connect the legs. The legs are made separate with pieces of cork wound over the small hook with raffia grass, and silk toes are reinforced with a thinner wire, the thighs being held in place by a heavy wire running through inside the body. After that the back and belly are put together after being painted with shellac, with the long shank hook between them; then wound tight with strong wire. The raw material is then ready for painting. First, a coat of common white paint on the belly and green on the back. When dry, the belly has a coat of white enamel; the white eyes and a stroke down the back are made at the same time. Black, yellow, and orange colors are then applied, and after being thoroughly dried, you are ready to varnish with two coats of spar. After the varnish is well dried, the eyes are pushed in the cork by a common short pin through a black bead. To get proper results, make tests before paint is applied by placing the raw frog in water to find out if it floats true, and the legs hang down to move at the slightest touch. The frog should float with its head just under water. To make the crawfish, the body is first carved out to shape from cork, and the separate tail likewise. From a turkey's tail feather, you cut an inch piece and wind it on the body, making the winds divide the legs and claws on each side, having the large hook placed over the feather legs. In all cases where hooks are fastened on cork or wood bodies, it is necessary to wind waxed thread along the shank in order to make the hook firm and not twist out of place. In most cases this is fixed with white liquid shellac, to hold it tight. The cork tail is made separate from the body and is tied around with light and dark brown mercerized cotton, covering over the feather tail, which is the top part of turkey's tail feather with a touch of squirrel's hair from the tail. Before winding cotton, a slit is made in the cork for the lesser upright hook, which is wound over very tight. The two parts are now ready for connecting, which is done by a brad put through the tail hook-eye; then thrust in the body. The bait is now ready for its coat of paint, which is done in various browns on the back and white paint under the body. The horns of thick fibre are tied on with wire, and the eyes are a pair of black beads stuck in with a pin. The whole bait is then varnished with spar, except the wound cotton on the tail. The cricket, grasshopper, hellgrammite, and others are all cut to shape from cork, and painted. The legs are formed of small feather-quills, the horns and tails being tied on the body with fine silk and then painted and varnished. The hellgrammite is cork body, wound over with raffia grass of black color for head and olive-green for body. The feelers are cut pieces of brown ostrich-feather fibres, which are wound along the body with black silk, and the belly is painted a dull cream color. The body is tied with wire at head and tail to hook, then varnished. The minnows are made in a number of ways, the largest having backs of cork, carefully cut to shape and then wound over with raffia on to the hook. The belly is cut to shape of hardwood, covered over with metal cut to fit; then both are held together with heavy wire. The horizontal side pieces of colored raffia are tied on close to the hook-eye for the purpose of hiding the open division of the two parts. The tail is tied on to the cork before the raffia is wound over it. The plume is a selection of feathers first bunched together, then tied on, near the eye, at the very last. The raffia on the minnows should be varnished, but leave the metal as it is. The smaller minnows are much more simple and it is advisable to make trials of them first. The smallest tiny minnows are merely wound with mercerized cotton round the hook shank to pad it thicker for the cut metal to be tied over with wire. The small mixed feather plumes are tied in separate bunches, then fastened on at the last. The terror and feather minnows have a thin piece of cork cut to shape tied to the shank, with the covering of metal wound over it, with plumes as before. Many Maine and Canadian guides send me crude, self-made minnows as specimens, asking me to tie a number for them like pattern, with improvements to be made as I see fit; and I have received several excellent kinks from them, which I have found most valuable as suggestions to improve on. I have had two very good ideas furnished me by doctors, who seem to particularly enjoy this interesting work. The difficult thing is to get materials for those who live away from cities and the stores which carry them, and for me to gather together small quantities. Coupled with considerable information, correspondence takes time and expense. With materials at hand, a number of different-sized minnows can be easily made with a little care and patience, for the principal thing is cutting and shaping, tying cork and wood to the hook, and covering it over neatly with the metal.