Monday, March 27, 2017

"Sector E2" - A Painting by Val Kropiwnicki

A fish, a fly, a river, a run

     I have a basement music studio I use for practice, teaching, and rehearsals. It's a bigger room than what I need so, a few months ago, I decided to make it a more comfortable place to hang out. I added a couch, a chair, house plants, and a couple of tables. It's a great little spot to relax and listen to music. The walls were too bare, though. I have a painting and framed fly by my fishing buddy, visual artist Val Kropiwnicki, as well as some other decorative odds and ends. I felt like the room needed another big piece, so I called Val and asked him to paint something else for me. I described the scene to him in great detail and told him to interpret it however he wanted. 

     Val's summary of the work is far more to the point than was my description. He called the painting "Sector E2" and said it's about "A fish, a fly, a river, a run." Below is Val's process, followed by the finished painting. As you will see, there was some editing involved, which implies improvisation...perfect for a jazz musician's practice studio. 

(click images to enlarge and view as a slideshow)

     The image below is the completed painting as it hangs on my wall. It's hard to capture the detail in a small, crude picture. The texture can only be fully appreciated in person. The close-up scales of the salmon are incredible. While I enjoy more traditional pieces of angling art, this is not a traditional room, at least not in terms of its use. Val's "Sector E2" perfectly complements the attitude of the space it's in. 

Sector E2

Monday, March 20, 2017

An Introduction to Tube Fly Tying Tools

The vast majority of my tube flies are tied on either a tapered
needle or a modified hook shank. 

     I've received a few questions about tube fly tying tools recently. Instead of writing a new article, I am going to post an excerpt from my ebook Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon: How to Tie and Fish Them. There is a plenty of information about tying salmon flies of all varieties, and not just for broodstock salmon fishing here in Connecticut. In fact, most of the flies are common Atlantic salmon patterns used in either North America or Europe. For those new to tying and fishing tube flies, rigging, tools, materials, fishing strategies, and fly recipes are covered in depth. The text below is a small part of Chapter 1: Tools, Materials & Salmon Fly Anatomy. 


Additional Tools for Tying Tube Flies

     Since tubes are not held directly in the jaws of a vise, a means with which to hold them is necessary. Most tube fly systems use either tapered mandrels or tapered needles. The taper is important because it prevents the fly from rotating under thread tension. Special tube vises can cost $150 or more. On the other end of the spectrum, objects found around the house might work as well as anything and they don’t cost a penny. I am not going to explain every brand and option. There are books and websites that can weigh all the options for you. Instead, I will tell you what works well for me. I take a sort of “middle of the road” approach. Listed below are the tube fly tools I use on a regular basis.

ProTube Flexineedle

     Tapered Needle - It helps to have a tapered needle with a flat profile. The flat profile helps prevent the tube from spinning under thread tension. My needle of choice is the Pro Tube Flexineedle. There are no additional tools required to hold the needle. It fits into the jaws of any conventional fly tying vise. The Flexineedle works best for medium sized tube flies, both plastic and metal. The vast majority of my tube flies are tied on this $17 item.

Blind eye and modified hooks for tying different size tube flies

     Modified Hooks - When tying very short tube flies, I prefer to use modified hooks. A short tube sits too far back on the Flexineedle to make tying comfortable. A hook shank is much shorter than a tapered needle. It’s easier to wrap thread on a short tube when there isn’t two inches of tapered needle extending from the open- ing of the tube fly. 

     In my experience, the most suitable hooks are large double hooks. Because the wire eventually splits to form both hook bends, a natural taper exists. A tube can easily be pushed back against the taper. Old blind eye hooks work well too, especially large, heavy iron hooks.

     Almost any large fishing hook will work, though. With a Dremel tool, I remove the eye and grind the side of the shank flat. If the hook doesn’t already have a taper built in, I grind one with the Dremel. Also, I cut the hook points off to avoid catching the thread. I had suitable hooks laying around, so these tube tools didn’t cost me anything.

HMH Standard vise with tube vise converter jaws 

      Tube Vise Tool or Converter Jaws - This is the least useful tool of the three, but it is the most expensive. I use the HMH Tube Vise Converter. It is a set of “jaws” that screw directly into my HMH Standard vise. The converter costs $65, but is only useful for those who already own an HMH vise. In lieu of buying new jaws or a dedicated tube vise, the most economical option is to buy what’s known as a “tube tool.” These tools come with pins or tapered mandrels and fit in the securely jaws of most standard vises. They can be usually be found for $20-$45.

     I only use my HMH tube jaws for tying one specific type of fly (the Snaelda/Frances, found in Chapter 4). The HMH converter works perfectly for those flies. If I didn’t need to tie either the Snaelda or the Frances, I would have no use for the HMH jaw. Other than those two flies, all of my Atlantic salmon tube flies are tied on the Flexineedle or on a modified hook shank.

     The only other tools needed to tie tube flies are a lighter (or candle) and a supply of single edge razor blades. If you use a whip finish tool, an extended-reach model is helpful. As you can see, making the leap to tying tube flies doesn’t have to cost much money.


The Frances and Snaelda (pictured above) are the only flies I don't tie
on either a tapered needle or modified hook shank. 

     As always, don't hesitate to comment below or  contact me with any questions you might have about tying tube flies or anything else. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Product Review: Loon Outdoors Ergo Bobbin

The Loon Ergo Bobbin fits nicely in hand.

     They say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Despite the recent influx of premium bobbins, I've used only basic bobbins since I began tying flies at age 13. The spectrum of premium bobbins is vast. A standard Rite Bobbin costs about $25, while an Ekich Ultimate Bobbin can set the tyer back over $100. I usually don't spend more than $8 or so on a basic bobbin, but I decided to give the new Loon Outdoors Ergo Bobbin a shot. 

     The Ergo Bobbins retails for $19.95. It doesn't offer any sort of fancy thread tension adjustment like the Rite or Ekich bobbins. In that sense, the Ergo Bobbin is more similar to a basic bobbin than what we consider a "premium bobbin." That's fine, I use my hand to fine tune thread tension when necessary (more on that later). What sets the Ergo Bobbin apart from other basic bobbins, as well as some premium models, is the shape of the handle. Instead of wrapping one's fingers around a fine metal tube, the tyer's fingers grip a wide yellow handle. 

     I wasn't sure how much I'd like the handle, but I wound up loving it. I was amazed at how much more control I had over my thread when my hand was gripping the bobbin in a more natural position. I felt like I could lay down wraps of thread with more precision than I could with a standard bobbin. The Ergo Bobbin was just the right size for my hand. My thumb and index fingers grip the handle, while my pinky finger can rest on, or next to, the spool. 

Only 1 inch of thread separates the hook from the pedestal. 
     There was one big "strike" against the Ergo Bobbin, however. Look at the picture above. Because the Ergo Bobbin is so long, there was very little room between the bottom of the bobbin and the top of my vise pedestal when the bobbin was perpendicular to the hook shank. This was a problem when securing materials such as an oval tinsel rib. After wrapping an oval tinsel tip or rib, I try to keep as much tension on the material as possible until I get about three tight wraps of thread over it. I tend to move the bobbin back and forth between hands to keep maximum tension on both the material and the thread. Because of this, I need more than 1" of thread out of the tip of the bobbin. Also, I need to be able to totally stop the spool from spinning, which I do by squeezing the spool between my pinky and my palm. Because of the length of the Ergo Bobbin, this was an impossible move when switching hands and trying to keep tension on the tinsel. The bobbin was too long and the vise's pedestal base kept getting in the way.

     This would cease to be an issue if I had more room between the vise head and the pedestal (or if I used a C-clamp instead of a pedestal). I've considered adding a 3" vise stem extension for a while, mainly to get the hook closer to my eye level. This should solve the Ergo Bobbin length "problem." However, it might be nice to have the option of buying a smaller, "midge" sized Ergo Bobbin for when I need more clearance. 

     In all, the positives far outweighed the negatives. The enhanced thread control was so noticeable, I figure I can devise a solution for the above problem. The Ergo Bobbin is noticeably more comfortable than any other bobbin I've ever used. The Ekich S-Bobbin looks quite comfortable, too. But for a quarter of the price, I think I will stick with Loon's Ergo Bobbin. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ernest Crosfield: His Salmon Flies and Fishing (C. Innes)

     Ernest Crosfield is one of those people who should be more widely known than he actually is. Of the anglers active in the late-to-post Victoria era, it seems like Arthur H.E. Wood gets most of the press. It is understandable, given Wood's contributions to fly fishing. A book about Wood's greased line technique has been widely available since it was first published in 1935. Crosfield's exploits, on the other hand, were not as well recorded as Wood's, despite being a very important contributor to the sport. 

     Ernest Crosfield: His Salmon Flies and Fishing, compiled and edited by Colin Innes, is a collection of the relatively few pieces written by or about Crosfield. Those of us who were previously aware of Crosfield have read most of the contents of the book already. Many of the pieces within the book can be found either online or in other books, such as Fly Tying for Salmon by Eric Taverner and  Greased Line Fishing for Salmon by "Jock Scott" (Donald G. Ferris Rudd). Prior to reading Innes's book, I had already done the research and read most of the pieces. There were a few that had previously escaped me, the piece from Fisherman's Pie being one of them. 

     In my opinion, the best part of the book were the pictures of flies actually tied by Crosfield. I hadn't seen most of them before. Crosfield had a very unique style of dressing flies, later emulated by luminaries such as Dr. T.E. Pryce-Tannatt and Syd Glasso. Crosfield's flies had one foot in the past and one foot in the future. His basic method came from the Rogan school of Irish fly tying, but with a slimmer, sparser, and more streamlined appearance, one that would eventually become the norm, paving the way for modern salmon fly tyers. Innes book has pictures of a dozen or so Crosfield originals and adaptations, as well as the dressings for each. 

     Ernest Crosfield: His Salmon Flies and Fishing is a good read. Like I said, most of it is already available. The beauty of Innes's book is that it is now available all in one place. I was on a Crosfield kick a few years ago. I went through a lot of trouble to dig up the information found in Innes's book and I didn't even find it all. It would have been much easier (and less expensive) to buy this book if it was available back then! For those interested in learning about Ernest Crosfield, his fishing methods, and flies, I highly recommend this book. It is a short, quick read, but contains as much information about Crosfield as any of us are likely to find on our own. 

Crosfield's Black Silk