This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
In order to clear the ground as I go, it is now proper to speak of the waxes that are necessary to the fly-tier and general maker of tackle. The old-time wax was that used by shoemakers; and for stickiness and generally reliable endurance it is, without question, as good as any. But it sometimes becomes necessary to show the color of the tying silk, and especially does this natural color show to advantage on flies of delicate colors, and on light-hued rods. This being so, a colorless wax was the desideratum, and the following are recipes I have used with satisfaction. I give them in their order of excellence, according to my experience: i. One pound clean white resin; melt it over a slow fire. Four oz. diachylon; add to the resin and stir till thoroughly incorporated, then add two ozs. Bergundy pitch. Pour out into a vessel of cold water and pull till cold. The more it is pulled the whiter it gets. The wax is suitable especially for Salmon fly tying, where grease is likely to be detrimental to the fine shades of silk employed.
2. Two ozs. best yellow resin; one drachm white beeswax sliced; dissolve, then add two and one-half drachms fresh lard. Pour out into water and pull till cold.
3. Yellow resin, twenty-three draehms; beeswax, thirteen drachms; suet (without skin) two and one-half drachms; melt together and pour into water, pulling till cold as before.
Either of the above recipes may be rendered tougher and more sticky by the addition of say five per cent, of guttapercha-the sheet gutta-percha is the best.
With these formularies the tyro is well supplied. It will perhaps be necessary to keep all of these in moderately warm quarters, that they do not become brittle, but in summer they should be stored, either in clean water or in a cellar where the temperature is not liable to great change.
The most useful all-round varnish is that made from bleached shellac. It can be manufactured by the amateur without difficulty, from alcohol and pulverized bleached shellac; but it is better to buy it from some good varnish-maker, because there is the certainty of its having been matured, in that case, before it is offered for sale. This shellac varnish requires to have been made quite a long time, before it is at its best for use on flies, hooks, and whipping generally. When using it, it should occasionally be thinned with a little 95-per-cent. alcohol. It ought to penetrate- not simply lie on the outside of the whipping.
Here is a "wrinkle" worth knowing, in connection with all alcohol varnishes: Alcohol has a strong affinity for water, and extracts it from the atmosphere whenever the cork is out of the varnish-bottle. Of course the amount it attracts is infinitesimal, but "many mickles make a muckle," as the Scotch say, and the least amount of water in the varnish tends to render it less resisting to moisture. To cure this I place a few slips of gelatine in the varnish. This gelatine in turn attracts the water from the varnish, and the proof of this is the swollen and damp appearance of these strips when one reaches them, as the varnish is used up.
This varnish is the one I use for all work where silk is employed for whipping, binding, etc., and as it dries rapidly and is transparent and hard, it is very satisfactory.
Another good orange-colored varnish is that made from the unbleached shellac. Take alcohol, three ounces; shellac, one and one-half ozs.; gum benzoin, one-half oz.; mix, cork, and stand in a warm place till dissolved.
The best coach-varnish is unapproachable for rods. It should of course be applied by means of a camel's-hair brush, in a room where no dust is flying about.
Another good varnish is the following quick-drying one: Cut the whitest pieces of copal with oil of rosemary, and add alcohol in small quantities, shaking well. All of the above hints are the result of actual experience, and can be relied on.
The dressings for lines are numerous, and the differences of opinion in regard to them are legion. My own experiments have led me to discard the so-called enameled line. It is true the enamel looks very pretty, but it encases the line as in a tube, and in the casting of the line from the reel the sharp angles described by the line and the top of the rod breaks this tube, letting in the water. This moisture soaks far into the line, beneath parts which are intact, and hence, from this spreading on either side of the broken enamel, the line may become rotten without showing a particle of wear on the surface. The result is, a lost fish, at some time when you most required that fish-and of course the lost fish is the biggest you ever caught! That is always the case.
Boiled linseed oil is, without qualification, the best dressing I know of. It takes a long time to dry, but it is a true preservative.
The following are good dressings also, and I have used them all with success at different times. (The secret of keeping lines in good shape is to put little dependence on dressings, and more on drying the line, each time after using. Never omit this attention. Those reels on the market that profess to obviate the necessity for this, are a delusion and a snare. A perforated reel-plate is a good thing to aid in drying off the line, but the latter should always be unwound on a chair before the fire or stove, and thoroughly dried.)
1. Boiled oil and best coach-varnish, equal parts; mix at blood heat, and immerse line twelve hours.
2. Boiled oil and gold size, equal parts.
3. Boiled oil, one pint; beeswax, one-fourth pound. Put the oil in an earthenware jar and stand this in a pan of water, kept boiling. Add the wax in small shavings. Immerse line when the dressing is still hot.
4. Half a pint boiled oil; three-fourths oz. beeswax; one and one-half ozs. Burgundy pitch; one tablespoonful copal varnish. Raise the heat of this mixture a little above the heat necessary to make a complete solution. Allow the line to remain in it at least twelve hours, keeping in a warm place all the time.
5. One-fourth oz. beeswax; one-half pint boiled oil; one-fourth pint gold size. Immerse line a few hours, keeping the dressing hot; stretch and dry.
6. Parafnne wax, 1 pound; yellow resin, one-fourth pound. Melt and immerse line. Rub off superfluous wax with a damp cloth. The line requires to be drawn from the hot mixture through a hole in the lid of the receptacle, because it cools so fast. A beautiful surface can be obtained by using this dressing, but it is not a very lasting one. Of course the dressing can be renewed at will and therefore it is an entirely valuable one to take in the woods, when camping.
All the above dressings are applied by soaking, and, with the exception of No. 6, all are then taken out and stretched where dust and rain cannot get to them. The superfluous dressing is then carefully rubbed off, by aid of a piece of chamois leather held between the finger and thumb. A part of an old kid glove will do admirably, if the chamois is not convenient.
Quite a large number of feathers, etc., require the aid of the dyes, and I may as well at once give a few recipes for staining wool, feathers, gut, etc.
First, as to gut: The analine dyes are not suitable, unless very largely diluted, because they are, in the majority of cases, corrosive, and destructive of the silk fiber of the gut.
Mist-color: This is produced as follows: Take a piece of copperas about the size of a coffee-bean, and dissolve it in a cup of boiling water. Now take a teaspoonful of logwood chips and infuse them in a half-pint of water (boiling). When the temperature of the infusion has lowered to about 100 degrees, immerse the gut and let it remain till it seems to have well taken the dark wine-color of the infused logwood. Then turn in the solution of copperas. The result will be, the "mist"-color-so carefully guarded as a secret by more than one tackle-maker. The shade must of course be a matter of experiment, as in all dyeing.
For feathers the Diamond Dyes, to be gotten at any drugstore, are both convenient and effectual. The feathers need thoroughly washing and rinsing, and to be dyed whilst wet. The directions that are given for silk, on the packets, may be applied to feathers in every particular.
Hackles should be tied on sticks, and when dyed the sticks should be whirled between the palms of the hands till the feathers are dry. They then assume their original shape.
Black is a difficult color to dye, and yet it is often indispensable. I have got a good black by soaking the hackles in acetate of iron (warm solution) and then boiling in an infusion of madder and logwood.
Dun hackles are also very difficult to get natural. White feathers are boiled in a mordant of alum and water, and then in an infusion of fustic, sumac, and a small portion of copperas.
Some writers prefer alum as a mordant in all cases, and I am not sure it is not the very best one can employ. The proportions should be one oz. alum to one quart boiling water and the feathers should remain in this solution quite a long time-say twelve hours, if delay is of no consequence. The very killing colors of the smaller flies are often exceedingly difficult to arrive at, and the following recipes from Halford's fine work on the "Floating flies" used on the chalk streams of England, may be found useful. I have tried them and they are very satisfactory.
Green Olive: Tea-cup ebony chips in a quart of water, to which is added a piece of chrome potash about the size of a small pea. Boil down to a pint; fill up and boil down to a pint again. Pour off, and add three drops of muriate of tin, then immerse the feathers and dry as usual.
Medium Olive: Boil for two or three hours two good handfuls of the outside brown leaves of onions in distilled or fresh-caught rain-water, to which is added sufficient good vinegar to make it perceptibly acid. The addition of a piece of copperas will darken the dye.
Brown Olive: Add to the above a small quantity of black tea and a small piece of copperas-the more of the latter that is used the browner will be the solution.
There are several varieties of the "May flies," "Canada soldiers," etc., all comprised under the order Neuroptera- genus Ephemera--and all have wings shaded more or less with a greenish tinge. The best stain I know of to imitate the natural tint is as follows:
Natural Tint: One quart soft water; one-half tea-cup ebony chips; chrome potash, size of pea. After dyeing the feathers in this bath, rinse thoroughly and immerse momentarilv in very light-green Diamond-dye solution, to which a little slate has been added. Of course one must be watchful not to allow the latter bath (or indeed the former) to become too deep in color.
Slate Color: Handful logwood chips; quart boiling water; copperas, size of a small nut. I find it best to soak the feathers well in the infusion of logwood first, and then add the copperas, stirring till it dissolves.
Practically the above answers all the requirements of the amateur tackle-maker, and though there are more tints required by the professional Salmon and Trout fly maker, they are all more or less matters of experiment on the emergency. The tyro will naturally achieve these as he goes on, and the foregoing is ample foundation for him to work upon.