Ready to Wrap

Frank Matarelli made the bobbin at lower left long ago, but many manufacturers have copied it. When a tool is so widely copied, it’s a powerful recommendation. This design is basic, efficient, simple to adjust, holds different sizes of spools, and if you don’t pay for a name brand, you can find one easily and cheaply.

Bobbins come with an array of different tubes. Stick with the standard or regular size, and don’t bother with the rest. Narrow-diameter or “midge”-sized tubes have no advantage that I can ascertain, and they are a nuisance to thread. Bent tubes and ergonomic designs don’t do a thing to make tying more comfortable, and long tubes are awkward to use. Unless you’re planning to tie really big flies, the same is true of larger diameter and flared tubes; they’re far too clunky for general use.

Bobbins with ceramic tubes, like the white one in the photo, are neat for tying massive quantities of flies. I’ve heard that thread will wear grooves in a metal tube and roughen it over time. I’ve worn out bobbins without this happening and have had two ceramic tubes break when they fell to the floor.

Consider buying two bobbins. Most of us use at least two thread colors for most of our tying, and it’s pleasant not to have to continually rethread.

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No Points for Looks

Far too much fuss is made over hackle pliers and bodkins. A bodkin is no more than a needle in a handle, yet I’ve seen handles made of stainless steel, brass, silver, precious woods, and even inlaid with ivory, turquoise, and who knows what else. This is plain silliness.

My dad made his bodkin by gluing a needle into a wine cork he crudely whittled down. It worked just fine. I used the same sort of bodkin quite contentedly for years until a buddy decided it had no class. He made me the one seen at top left (and in the opening photo) by forcing a big brass bead onto a large needle, and epoxying the back end inside a long bone bead. This is a great bodkin with perfect weight and handle size, but I haven’t begged for another. Instead, I knocked together the two seen below using sections of wooden dowel for handles, but you don’t have to go to even that much trouble. A needle taped to a pencil will give you a working bodkin less apt to roll away, and if it tried to hide in plain sight, the bright color would give it away!

My advice regarding hackle pliers is short, sweet, and is going to sound repetitive: Ignore the gazillions of fancy models you come across. Oh, they’re ingenious—with handles, hinges, offset jaws, jointed rings, push-button clips, and more—but ignore them. My all-time-favorite hackle pliers (also made by Tiemco and seen at the lower right) are as basic as breathing. They’ve wound a flock’s worth of chicken feathers, have thin jaws, clasp firmly without slipping, don’t cut hackle stems (as the three poorly made pliers above do), and cost about the same as a single packet of hooks. They also have a large finger loop. If I stick my finger through it, the pliers spin freely as my hand whirls around the fly. The result is a neat hackle wrapped in moments.

These pliers came with a little piece of plastic tubing on one jaw to better grip feathers, but I quickly lost it. For years, I’ve simply wrapped a bit of masking tape in its place.

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Plain and Practical Stuff

Keep some flat-jawed needle-nosed pliers close at hand. They’re great for pinching barbs, altering hooks, flattening nymph profiles, and for all sorts of small random chores. You must have a spare pair in your fishing vest or floating somewhere around your house.

What do you think of my fancy dubbing brush? It’s nothing more than the disposable shaft from an electric toothbrush that has been jammed onto a whittled-down pencil. I also clipped the bristles shorter so they seem stiffer.

Do you really need a hair stacker? I use mine often, but then I wouldn’t be caught on any stream without a gray Elk-Hair Caddis in my fly box. Actually, almost all my down-and-dirty dry flies have hair wings, even if they’re mayfly imitations. Don’t you think you should get a stacker? There are only a couple of things to know.

Many manufacturers offer two—maybe three—different sizes. You’ll appreciate a large stacker if you’re going to tie big flies, otherwise, stick with the middle size. Most have barrels that are a bit wider than a centimeter in diameter. The stacker you see here is also hex-shaped so it stays put and doesn’t roll around.

And finally, you’ll eventually want some masking tape, if only to make a quick tool or help hackle pliers grip feathers better.

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What Matters Most

Let me tell you about my little bottle, and why I keep this fly in it.

In a meadow I am fond of, a line of willow bushes once crowded along a small, chattering brook. In one place, there was a hole in the bushes. If you thrust your head through the hole, you saw a boulder with a wee pocket cradled behind it, a scrape of scattered sunlight on the streambed gravel, and a hovering brown trout with bright red spots. You would have thought him an innocent, living so snug and forgotten, but he was actually very nervous and skittish.

I spent a lot of time trying to catch that little fellow. It became a game of the best sort. There was an impossible challenge to it, which I bet you have already guessed: I had to stand far enough back to cast through the hole. Pure foolishness, right? Even when I made it through, there was no control, hope, or second chance. I always hung up, and sometimes I lost flies.

One day, after snagging the bushes yet again, I reached in, and look at what I found: this rusted, discolored fly driven through the very twig, and it was mine, too! What are the odds of two flies becoming stuck beside each other in the same twig?

Long ago, the creek changed course and the poor willow bushes died. I never caught the brown that lived beneath them, but I remember how it was.

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We collect all kinds of treasures. We pick up bits of weathered wood or bone and rounded stones that look especially wonderful among the thousand others. We keep photographs of fishing buddies, departed friends we miss, and those we dearly love. One youngster I taught to fish made me a clay bear with a yellow vest. It was for my tying bench, he said. And then he made the madman with flame-tipped hair, which I think is supposed to be what I’m like when I’m fishing, although I’m confused about the saddle shoes. Now my buddy is headed to medical school and applying to be a Rhodes Scholar, so we don’t often fish together. But we just got off the phone after he called to ask about British trout streams. His childhood gifts mean the world to me and I know he will always look at running water differently and know something of it, wherever life takes him.

If the tools we use ought to be practical and kept to a minimum, the bits and pieces of the memories we treasure should crowd around. They’re more important than anything. Some remind us of where we once were and what we would like to see again. Tying flies is, from the very start, an act of hope. We plan on good days and prepare for them, wondering what we may find when we get there.


Bill “Bugs” Logan is indeed a fly fishing poet. He is also an artist, traveler, and one damn fine fly tier. He spends most of the winter and early spring holed up in his studio in New Jersey, and spends the rest of the year fishing. You can learn more at his new website, www.billloganart.com.