The Barber Bullet
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Add the author’s homemade rattles to your flies and catch more fish.

Paraphrasing a line from the movie Apocalypse Now: “I just love to feel the strike of a big fish in the morning. It feels like—victory.”

I thought of that line while casting a chartreuse Barber Bullet rattle fly to a two-foot-long northern pike in Canada. As I stripped the fly to give it a quick jerking action, I caught movement in the water to my right. I could barely control myself as a much larger pike plowed the surface and charged my fly. I set the hook and was immediately sprayed as the pike turned and water exploded at my feet. It felt like—victory.

I have been lucky enough to catch billfish in Cabo San Lucas, salmon in Alaska, big channel cats in South Texas, and trout in Colorado. But nothing flips my switch like fly fishing for northern pike. My buddies say I’m a hacker because I will use any legal method to catch fish. Trolling for billfish with conventional gear is exciting, and I defy anyone say they do not get caught up watching the grandkids catch panfish with a worm and bobber. But for me, fly fishing for pike is personal: you tie the fly, spot a big fish, and make a perfect cast. The toothy fish looks and reacts, and it’s showtime!

Homemade Rattles

Many years ago, a friend and I were fishing for northern pike at Elevenmile Reservoir in Central Colorado. I caught only one pike from some muddy water, and it occurred to me that I needed something to help the fish locate the fly. Lures with rattles were becoming popular, and I wondered if I could add a rattle to a pike fly. I researched rattles but found nothing I liked. The glass and small brass rattles seemed too small; I wanted something big and noisy. After many hours of experimenting, I discovered that a steel BB—the kind used in a kid’s BB gun— fits nicely inside an empty .22 long rifle shell casing. I sealed the open end of the casing with hot glue, and was pleased to discover that this homemade rattle made a loud “thud.”

I added the rattle to a pike fly, and simply hot-glued some eyeballs in place and made a large head using quick-setting epoxy. I had a lot of success with this crude-looking fly, but when I discovered E-Z Body tubing, I created a pattern that was much more presentable and fishy looking. I have not been able to find a factorymanufactured rattle that duplicates the sound of my homemade rattle.

I have been making the Barber Bullet pike fly for more than eight years. My friends and I have used it to catch northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and channel catfish. I even caught a four-pound rainbow trout with a black version while fishing for pike in Stagecoach Lake near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Last February, the black version worked very well on channel catfish in South Texas; the biggest fish weighing 13 pounds.

Acquiring the materials to make these homemade rattles is simple and inexpensive. I pick up spent .22 long rifle shell casings off the ground at my local gun club, and purchase steel BBs at a neighborhood discount store. You’ll also need something to seal the open end of the casing; if you simply pinch in the mouth of the casing, the BB will wedge in the end and the rattle will be ineffective. I use a small disk made from a business card to seal the end of the casing. Simply set the card on a scrap piece of wood, and place the open end of the casing on the card. Next, lightly whack the casing with a hammer to punch out a small disk. To assemble the rattle, place the BB in the casing and seal the end with the paper disk and a drop of epoxy. If this seems like too much work, you can simply seal the end of the casing with hot glue, but sometimes the glue oozes into the rattle and sticks to the BB. If the BB gets stuck in the glue, just pry out the glue, remove the BB, and start over.

Try adding homemade rattles to a variety of your big-fish flies. These rattles are easy to make, and they’ll make your flies more effective.

To see the recipe and full tying instructions for this fly pick up the Autumn 2007 copy of Fly Tyer.

This is Dan Barber’s first contribution to our magazine. Dan lives in Colorado.

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