Zane Mirfin’s Wildside Column – Fly and Lure Making
Roll your own: Making your own flies, spinners, jigs and sinkers is fun, easy, enjoyable, economical and best of all, catches you more fish.
Making your own flies and other lures is a rewarding way to spend winter while awaiting the start of the new
fishing season – and the only limit is your imagination.
Every angler can tailor lure-making equipment to suit their own particular fishing style, water depth, water conditions, fish species and fish behaviour.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved mucking around with fishing tackle. Later, I started making my own fishing gear in the form of rigs, sinkers, lures, flies, nets, setlines, rods, spears and other associated equipment. These are skills I’m still learning and perfecting, but the enjoyment and satisfaction continue to this day.
There is always something exciting about catching fish with your own equipment, and my favourite fish have been caught on gear I made or assembled myself.
Winter is a great time to get ready for the best local fishing in warmer months by using the bleak days and long evenings to get your fishing tackle assembled and organised.
Anglers are great dreamers and innovators, and winter can get you inspired to create new fishing systems created in your own mind and experiences, or through reading fishing books and periodicals.
Making your own gear can save you a significant amount of money but, most importantly, it can make sure you have equipment that will catch you more and better fish.
As a saltwater angler, you can make all manner of rigs from stainless steel wire, kevlar cord and heavy nylon, ranging from flasher rigs to groper traces to jig assist-hooks, using components as simple as hooks, swivels, fluoro tubing, heat-shrink tubing, metal crimps and a pair of crimping pliers.
Commercially-made rigs are available at local stores if you aren’t into ‘‘rolling your own’’, and such rigs can be fine templates on which to build your own, tailored to your specific fishing circumstances.
Lately, we’ve been busy making lots more sinkers, lures and jigs with melted lead. This is a pretty simple exercise but one that should be undertaken with care (and lead is becoming increasingly difficult to find).
One of my favourite books on making lures is a classic called The Complete Book of Tackle Making, by C Boyd Pfeiffer. He is adamant about the need for safe practices when working outside with molten lead, and advises anglers to ‘‘never become so confident that you are not scared of it’’.
I’ve heeded that advice and have accumulated all manner of equipment, such as a leather apron, extension leads, RCD current protectors, a bottom-pour electric lead melter, forearm-length leather gloves, safety goggles, and breathing apparatus to filter out lead dust and fumes. I’ve also got tools like gate shears, split ring pliers, side cutters, crimping tools and wire formers.
Now that I’ve got the OSH warning out of the way, I can talk about all the fun recreational lures, sinkers and jigs you can make in all types of shapes, weights and configurations, mostly unavailable commercially in New Zealand.
The internet has opened up a world of opportunity and choice. While foreign purchase fees and shipping costs can be
pricey, quality lure-making components are usually here within a week or so, and if a purchase is less than $400, you should avoid paying customs duty and GST. The world really is your oyster, and you can find anything to create any lure you can dream up in your mind.
My brother Scott and I have been fortunate to have collected a range of different aluminium lead moulds, making all manner of things such as egg and worm-rig sinkers; jigs heads in roundhead, stand-up and seahorse configurations; oddballs such as larva jigs, ear ball weights, lure bodies and removable split shot; even conventional moulds that make kingfish jigs, trout lures and 32-ounce puka bombs.
Every angler can tailor lure-making equipment to suit their own particular fishing style, water depth, water conditions, fish
species and fish behaviour.
When it comes to trout, I’ve been a mad keen fly-tyer since I began fly fishing at 10 years old. I’ve probably tied tens of thousands of trout flies, and have accumulated an impressive collection of tying gear along the way. It’s no accident that fishing guides are some of the best and most innovative tyers in the country, and exceptional tyers like Murchison’s Peter Carty and Marlborough’s Clayton Nicholl make flies that look so good you’d swear they could crawl out of the vice by themselves.
Fly tying is fun, too, because anglers are always problem-solving, thinking about ways to create better flies and sharing ideas, techniques and theories with other anglers. As trout have become more educated and sophisticated, trout anglers have needed better insect and baitfish imitations to enhance catch rates. ‘‘Technological creep’’ has seen space age materials such as chemically sharpened hooks, tungsten beads, synthetic fibres and genetically modified rooster super-hackles improve modern trout flies exponentially.
The advantage of tying is that you can make what you need to suit the water conditions and hatches, creating trout flies that are not commercially available.
Over summer, I write notes to myself with ideas about what is missing in my fly boxes, so when winter rolls around I know exactly what to tie for the following fishing season.
Commercial guides need large numbers of trout flies in specific patterns, sizes, weights, colours, shapes and designs. When you spend a lot of time on the river getting flies chewed by trout and having anglers breaking them off in fish or, worse, repeatedly whacking them on rocks or high into bankside trees with errant back casts, it can soon deplete whole boxes.
Guides get paid for results, so having the right gear tied on anglers’ lines is particularly important. Last season, we caught more big trout than ever, but we also lost plenty more, because big mouse-fattened fish often straightened standard fly hooks.
This year, I’m tying most of my flies on extra-strong hooks to hopefully solve the problem – so watch out, Mr Trout.