Friday, February 4, 2011

Nostalgia in Cedar

I’m not a fly fisherman, I don’t tie flies, I do appreciate the artistry of the sport and the amazing art in the flies. I’m not a fly fisherman. I am an artist and sometimes woodworker, oh yeah and old. I remember when the original Big O came out. Hand carved, fat bellied crank bait that took bass fishermen by storm. We were just kids, along with my buddies, Brian and Keith, the twins, we drooled over magazines showing this new wonder bait. Not having a great deal of money but with time and inventive minds we set about making our own version of wooden crank baits.

Brian came up with a couple of slab sided designs that we caught quite a few fish on in our favorite pond in Shelby Park. This 5 acre pond in the middle of East Nashville was our training grounds, test facility and, just so happened, to hold some really big bass. We learned to cast bait casters there, tried all of the techniques we found in the books and caught many a big fish where people thought there was nothing but little bluegill. I caught my first 2 pound bass in the moat like channel that surrounds the lone island. When we carved a new bait this was the first place it hit the water.

Time went on, our income increased so the need to carve baits wasn’t an issue. We had tackle boxes full of everything we wanted so our carving days pretty much ended. Still over time I repaired, repainted and at times, carved wooden baits. What does this have to do with not being a fly fisherman? Well, they tie flies and several people I know have been showing off their flies. What happens when their beautiful work inspires you? I decided since I can’t tie flies, to revisit my youth, carve a quick top water bait and show folks how it’s done including a paint job.

Living where I do cedar is almost considered a weed. It is everywhere and either free or cheap. I make a type of cedar box so I always have plenty of aged stock on hand. The good part about baits, being small you can use scrap wood that normally goes to waste.I grabbed a cutoff laying in the shop and split it using a hammer and wood chisel. Then headed over to the band saw to get rid of the sap wood and start shaping.

This bait is 5 inches long.

This bait is a simple cigar shape used for the walking the dog technique. Once it is roughed out on the saw I move to the belt/disc sander for final shaping. This could be done on a lathe but I want it to be less than perfect, showing it is hand made, plus I can have it done by the time I get a lathe set up. I just eyeball the shape, adjusting with the sander until it is very close to what I want. After the sander I use 3 different grits of sand paper to hand sand it into the final shape. Usually from 100 to 220 grit paper.

After sanding I used the drill press to drill a hole large enough to hold the weight I add to the rear of the bait to make it tail heavy. I used a bullet sinker that I put on the anvil and whacked with a hammer to slightly flatten it. I used a Dremel tool to shape the hole to get a good fit. You can do this with a sharp knife or Exacto, too. After the weight was below the level of the wood I used CA glue to hold it in place. I used 2 part epoxy to overfill the hole slightly. Push this into any voids around the sinker and make sure it is just higher than the wood. It takes a little more sanding but works as a filler and sealer. After it dries, sand it down to match the contours of the cedar. For this I use fingernail files I get from a beauty supply store. Now to seal and paint.

At this point add your attachment points for line and hooks, remember you need something to hang onto while painting and to hang them by while they dry, so add one at least. I use an inexpensive primer most of the time but a good wood sealer isn’t a bad idea. Once the sealer is dry prime the bait using flat white. This keeps your colors from becoming muted as it does with grey or black. If you want your scales to be edged in black then you have to lay black down first.

Painting is as simple or as complex as your imagination, ability and equipment will allow. I painted many a productive bait with a brush or can of spray paint. This one is going to be painted with three techniques. I will use spray cans for the first two colors, airbrush the next few colors and then add eyes and gills with a brush. Then I seal everything with a polyurethane spar varnish, again from a spray can. This stuff gives a good high gloss, helps protect from exposure to sun and water and is a snap to apply.

After deciding I wanted this one to be in a golden shiner pattern I laid out what I needed. I used an almond base simply because it was what I had on hand. After this dried I painted the entire bait silver, again with a spray can. I allowed this to dry for a couple of hours before starting with the airbrush. I like to use transparent airbrush ready paint and there are several good brands out there. Some people use lacquers or taxidermy paints but I like using water based. I paint with a Paasche VL double action airbrush and a Badger airbrush compressor, this setup works great for whenever I need an airbrush.

I used a piece of tulle that I have mounted in a cardboard frame to add the scales. I leave some slack in the material to allow me to make it form to the bait by pushing it until tight. I used a transparent pink along each side leaving the bottom silver, this is the only step where the tulle is used.. After this dried I mixed transparent yellow and Indian red to get a light yellowish/bronze color. This is blended into the top of the scales and then painted solid across the top of the bait. I added more of the Indian red to darken the color and painted the top of the bait. I let this dry and decided to add a bit more of the red to darken it again and painted this along the center of the back.

After painting the main colors all that is left is detail. I went with hand painting these to keep with the hand made theme. You can buy eyes in many different styles which work great if you are one of those folks that has to have everything perfect. I painted black circles for the eyes and kill spots with a simple crescent shape for the gills. I painted the center of the eye with yellow leaving a bit of black showing around the edge then added a fat crescent shape for the pupil. All that is left is coating everything repeatedly with the spar polyurethane. I let this dry until it is just a little tacky and add another layer. Most baits get around 5-6 coats.

Will there it is. Hand carved cedar top water baits. I make several versions of this in whatever sizes someone wants. Since they are all custom painted I can have tons of colors and patterns. Just think them up and get them painted.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated by any of the brands mentioned in this article.


BackWaterFishin said...

Great post Tommy. Ive been makeing some divers out of sinker pine and cyprus. Dont know whats more fun . Building the lure or catching fish with it.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is so cool. I am a fly fisherman, but haven't had time to tie the first fly. I just didn't know people were doing stuff like this and I've been fishing for 40+ years! Thanks for sharing.

Gary Hanson said...

Outstanding Post Tommy, it also brings lots of memories back to me. Love this bait your makeing, along with that color, one sharp looking bait for more than one kind of fish. These Stripers will take it.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Nice lure, Tommy! Lovely work.

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About Me

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Born and raised in middle Tennessee.I'm a working wildlife and landscape artist specializing in watercolors. Now making cedar lures and custom turkey calls.



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