Step-By-Step Bait fish Instruction

 My newest endeavor in realistic fly tying is in the saltwater area. I  guess I work differently than other tyers, but when I am tying I try to  evaluate my finished product with the thought, " is this the best I  could do "? That's probably why I gravitated towards realism. I keep  thinking, I can do better, and realistic tying certainly stimulates that  thought.

I live near the coast. It is the only active and easy  access to fishing saltwater. You have a choice of surf or offshore. One  venue I really enjoy is fishing offshore for Bonito in the harbor area.  You can rent a boat and never have to go out into the outer ocean. There  are bait barges in the inner bays that sell live bait. These holding  areas attract Bonito that cruise the bay waiting for escapees or as the  workers are tending the holding areas they are continually culling out  the dead or wounded baitfish. Fly fishing around these barges can really  be a thrill, and you are always assured of the catch. I started out  using just ordinary streamer type patterns, but as time went on, my  thoughts gave rise to the idea that maybe I could increase my luck by  improving my patterns. Well, I'm glad to say it did, and I did, and it  gave me a chance to challenge my tying skills and maybe come up with  some new patterns. And here is the result.

It started with Sparse  Buck tail type Leftey's Deceivers and from there a more fully dressed  pattern, then I added eyes. But then the juices started flowing, to an  epoxy body, to one with pectoral fins of marabou for movement, to  marabou tales. As the patterns grew more involved, the results increased  the catches and in fish size. See photo #1. But this was only the beginning. See photo #2 and #3. My epoxy efforts, although productive, still fell short of my  expectations with respect to the greater need for more realism. I gave  some epoxy patterns to a friend who fished the Australian Barrier Reef  who told me they could've sold them for $50 each, as they were hooked up  continuously. But without steel leaders they lost them all. Even their  guides were impressed. So my next trial and error process concentrated  on a closer likeness. See photo #5.  It's a process  that's pretty demanding, and takes far too much time, but for me, loaded  with fun and challenges. I would like to share these efforts with you. I  use wood for my bodies. Bass Wood is a softwood and makes for faster  working. I sketch the shape I want and jigsaw or bandsaw it into a rough  shape. See photo #6 .  With an X-Acto knife or a  Dremel drum sander, I finish the shape. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes  for each shape. I size the body at about 2 1/2 inches. See photo #7.  Next I drill a hole from the mouth through the body and out through  the anus area of the fish using a 1/16 inch drill. This is for the  leader to pass through. See photo #8. Next I place a  number six wire shape through the drilled hole to hold the body and  prime the wood using a dark gray primer. I use Rust-Oleum Self Etching  Quick Dry Primer. The wire shape is then clamped it the vice to dry. It  takes about 10 to 15 minutes to set enough to handle. See photo #9. Next I take my netting material, stretch it over the top of the fish  body and spray it with Krylon Metallic Silver spray paint. It dries in  five or less minutes. I'll explain the netting and spray technique I  use, but you will have to experiment with this on your own to get your  best results.

The hardest part for me was this section. At first,  I must have re-primed the body, or started over at least 10 times. I  really struggled to get the effect I wanted. Make yourself a little  makeshift spray paint booth. I made mine out of a cardboard box. Get it  big enough to capture most of your overspray as this can get everywhere  but where you want to go, and unhappy wives are even a greater  frustration than how your tying efforts are going. See photo #10. There  are always some failures involved in this so take a day and experiment  with the procedure. If it's not up to your expectations, re-prime it,  and start again. Just keep that it. You will be surprised at your  results. For netting I went to the fabric store and bought netting  available in 6 inch rolls, in a small mesh. This material is made of  some type of an open monofilament which allows paint to go through the  net and mask-off the paint spray in one operation. See photo #11. The net pattern is a diamond shape like window screening. If you  stretch it slightly it makes the pattern look more like fish scales.  When I spray I hold the netting by hand tightly over the fish body and  spray my hand with the silver. I use a rubber glove to keep my hand from  the paint. Since the paint dries quickly I hold that shape in my hand  for about 1 1/2 minutes until the paint has set before removing the  netting. Look at the photo again, you can see the effect it gives. See photo #12. You will discover quickly it's how you hold the fish body shape as to  how satisfied you are with the results, and practice is all it takes.  Basically you want a silver underbody with a gray back and that hint of  fish scales as a pattern. If you hold the body in a straight line and  not see the back you can get the sides and belly coded correctly. You  can do it! Just practice.

I find that limiting the volume of  paint to the surface also helps. You can do this by holding the object  farther away from you, and only slightly depressing the nozzle tip of  the spray can. I know I have personally spent far too much time on this  step. But if your efforts started out like mine did, you will appreciate  the extra advice. Just experiment. Next I put in the eyes. This  dictates where the gills and pectoral fins and back then will go. You  can handle the fish shape at this point as it is dry and not sticky. For  the gill plate I use a paint finish called Iridescent Pearl. I got it  at a craft store in my area called Michael's. It comes in a small  plastic 1 ounce container. Sometimes I mix it with Acrylic Gloss Varnish  Clear bought at the same store. Next paint in your eyes. Look at your  eye color, the background is normally yellow/gold with a black pupil.  Look at some fish pictures first. You will be surprised at what you  don't know. I rarely use paintbrushes in lieu of toothpicks and  matchsticks daubed in a small puddle of paint. I find by daubing instead  of brushing my paint, I am able to get a more scaly look to the body.  Keep looking at your research papers when you commence your finishing  process. Look at that distinctive line down the center of each side of  the body. Look at how it rises and lowers at it heads for the tail area.  Look at the gill lines. Both at the sides and at the underbody. You can  take your pencil and lightly draw in these lines to keep balances in  order. Think about what you're doing. You are almost tracing out your  color lines and surface changes. If you are careful, small screw ups are  easy to correct without starting over. You can wipe off what you don't  want and redo just that area. In case you did not pick up on it, a lot  of my detailing is in the finish rather than the carving step. If you  want an area to stand out in relief such as the eyes, a gill plate, or a  fin muscle and you are good enough as a wood carver, by all means, do  it. I am not that skilled so I prefer to build those areas with a  thickened clear finish. I know it takes longer, but, "it is what it is".  I have thought about making a master mold and copying a body using hot  glue or some other product but not for now. Work with what you do best.  Otherwise you double your frustrations. You can see my efforts on  building up the gill plates eyes on my wood blank before I applied the  primer, or how it stands out when the prime coat is applied.

Next I take the body shape and prepare the tail, back, and belly for the spines to create the base for the fins and tail. See photo#13. With  my Bodkin Needle point I place the holes in a straight line at the  appropriate positions for the spines. Once the holes are punched in I  use number 16 monofilament to provide the fans and number 16  monofilament for the tail. When the monofilament is cut and placed in  the holes I apply superglue to their edge and this holds them in place  nicely. Do each section separately, otherwise you will be chasing  monofilament pieces all over your bench. See photo#14.  Next I use a semi transparent Tracing Paper to cover the spines on each  side using glue called E – 6000 Clear available at any hardware store.  It's flexible and waterproof. It dries fast and is paintable or can be  colored when dry, and the excess rubs off like rubber cement. See photo#15. Next, cut out the profiles of the shapes you want your tail, belly, and  back fins to be. Follow your research paper. Before you even start,  look up the fish you want to copy. This will ensure that everything is  on track. Try Google for a picture. Print it out and look at every  detail. Your finished product will depict the extent of the research you  did. I know from my own failures how that goes.

If you look closely at the photos (See Photos #17 and #18) you will see how I handle the dorsal fin. Sometimes I place a couple of  extra spines in front of the fin and trim them off at different levels  for effect. It adds to the overall effect of the "fishy" look. Now it's  time for your pectoral fins. Double the paper, glue it up, let it dry,  and cut out the shapes you need. Then making a slight bend at the base I  glue in using my Super Glue by Loctite, a right and left pectoral fin.  Hold it momentarily until it's set. Next the belly fins. I use one piece  for this and glue it straight to the belly. You have to bend your fin  with a wide fold so it can bridge the belly curve width. See photo #16. Now it's finish time. I can't begin to tell you the problems this phase  presents. It seems that every time I get into finishing I run into  another challenge. You just have to slowly work towards  self-satisfaction with this phase. But let me talk you through some  other issues. You will see in photos #17 and #18, that I  felt were necessary to satisfy myself that my fish was as close to a  real fish as I could get it. Starting at the tail. I applied some thick  Clear Translucent Acrylic that's called White Frost that is used for a  glass etched effect, also from the craft store, to build up the two thin  tail. I also cover up the pectoral fins to make it appear more like  it's a part of the fish body. The eyes have been built up and retouched  using the same White Frost to build more bulk to look natural. Rather  than just being flat, the gill plate has also been built up the same  way. I have used the Perl cover over that to blend in color wise using a  toothpick. I daubed some extra pearl drops to look like scales here and  there on the body. Then to top it off, I used some permanent markers to  put in the medium brown and yellow shading. And lastly, I coated the  entire fish with a Perma Clear Acrylic called Spar Var for a wet look  and preservative finish over the whole fish.

When  the fish species changes, so do I. At least my technique- materials and  general design approach also does. This really makes instructions  difficult to follow and explain. But if you look close you can see the  differences. When I am doing my anchovies, I leave out the monofilament  spines for the fins because the fins are smaller and more compact. The  base color changes from silver to more white with the silver glaze over  it. My tails are doubled tracing paper covered with a thickened clear  acrylic with no spines. Even the eye colors, sizes and placement are  different. The sleeker body and smaller profile calls for changes. I'm  still using the same basic materials and finishes only the shading and  coloring plus the accessories are altered. The pectoral fins are now  acetate for flexibility. The back and belly fins, like the tail doubled  tracing paper and pressed in glued slots, and much lower in profile.  Look again. Each variation will have some subtle changes.  I can't help  experimenting with colors and shapes but that's what keeps the creative  juices flowing. Just look at my bluegill. It may have no fishing value  whatsoever. But color wise it's a next step in the learning process  which keeps me engaged, focused, and working.

I can't tell you  how wonderful it is to look at your Facebook entries in the absolute  wonder I get from the patterns and creativity each of you bring to the  table. What a delight. I only wish I was more literate on the computer  inner workings and had more time to respond. Thanks to my son, I have  such a medium to look at. He maintains at all. But please look at my Latest Projects link to see what creative thinking causes. And if people like Fred Haney  realized what effect his input and encouragement has done for me, he  wouldn't need waders next time he was out fishing. So everyone! Please  keep that activity coming.

With  each of these adventures I think I have slipped over the edge. Anyone  who goes to this length to create a fly, lure, call it what you will,  really qualifies for the funny farm. Yet somehow I keep going. What a  world! What a hobby! I'm the luckiest person alive. Keep those lines  tight everybody.


Although  small fish will feed on larger baitfish, they prefer certain sizes over  others. As a young man I had the experience of working on Party Boats,  what we called Day Fishing Boats. I was not an expert by any stretch of  the imagination. I was the grunt who get your fish, untangle the lines,  put your fish in a numbered sac, and scrubbed up the boat on the way  home. A great job for a young man growing up. Long days, outside work,  and lots of fishing. What more could you ask for? I'm sure the free fish  was a real budget pleaser for my mother as I had a good appetite. Our  boat had two important people aboard. The captain who got you there and  back, and the chumuer who got you and kept you into fish. This was way  before the days of sonar so the captain had to know his business. The  chummer bought and negotiated a price, stocked the tanks and kept the  pumps working to keep the fish alive. We bought whatever was available.  Sometimes it was sparse depending on the bait fisherman's luck. At times  they had Anchovies, Herring, Perch, Smelt, Flying Fish, Squid and  Mackerel. One thing I do remember is that the chummer was always wanting  the smaller anchovies which he referred to as "Pinheads", and as it was  explained to me why he thought these were so important. 1. You got more fish for your money. 2.  Pinheads were more active and could excite the fish better than the  larger bait which tended to sound or dive when they hit the water. The  smaller ones stayed on top of the water's surface.  

When we  couldn't get them, and we only had the 6 to 8 inchers it meant a harder  and sometimes slower fishing day. Sometimes there was no live bait and  we had to fish fresh salted anchovies. This was really tough fishing.  But if you had a good captain, and we did, he always got fish no matter  what. The smaller baitfish hung around some type of structure such as  kelp paddies, and floating debris, where they could hide. One most  memorable day we were underway when we happened on to a floating 1 x 12  about 10 feet long just bobbing in the water. The captain slowed down  and announced over the PA system, "let's see if anyone's home". This was  his pitch while looking for fish. He circled the board, the chummer  started throwing pinheads at the board, a couple of anglers started  throwing iron jigs out and all of a sudden both jigs were hooked up and  the frenzy began. We fished by that board for six straight hours until  everyone had limited out with yellowtail. Even the bad fisherman and the  kids were maxed out. This routine when on day after day until the  captain finally retired and sold the boat many years later.  

My  experience is mostly limited to the Southern Pacific current and within 2  to 4 miles from shore. Although I have fished plenty of other areas  this range is pretty shallow and limited to fish from 3 to 25 pounds  with averages in the 5 to 18 pound range. Depending on weather and water  temperatures we found much the same fish species. Anything larger was  considered deep-sea or long range overnight fishing. Our trip started at  4:30 AM and got back at 5 to 6pm. Our variety of fish included Bonito,  Yellowtail, Barracuda, Mackerel, Calico, Sand and Sea Bass, and smaller  Yellow Fin Tuna. I don't know if you have ever witnessed what we called a  "Bite" or not. But it is when a school of fish begin feeding. If it is a  fair sized school, it becomes an absolute frenzy. The seabirds and  Gulls show up and the entire boat of 25 to 30 anglers are all hooked up  at the same time. When this takes place, the fish are no longer  selective and will strike it anything. I have even caught fish on a  Juicy Fruit gum wrapper on a barbed hook, and that's why I created my  bait fish fly. All you have to do is get it in the water and you are  hooked. In a coastal fishing "Bite", the pinhead or smaller flies work  exceptionally well. I know that these fish stray in the shallower water,  and preferred to be near some type of structure where they can hide  their profile. My experience with the Eastern Bluefish was exactly the  same as are our Western Bonito. Everything gets bit, all it one time and  non-selectivity with the smaller ones first.  

So look again what I've been doing to accommodate the Size Matters issue. I think I've got it pretty well covered...

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