The Magic Tool isn’t hocus pocus, but it is a lot of fun to use.
Marc Petitjean, of Fribourg, Switzerland, is emerging as an innov¬ative designer of fly tying tools and fly fishing accessories. Sev¬eral years ago he introduced a modular fishing vest that has removable pockets; you can actually add and subtract pockets, and cus¬tomize the vest to meet your specific needs. Next, he debuted a slick vise that can be used in the standard upright tying position, as a rotary vise, and in several other positions. When disassembled, the vise stores in its own base; it is an ideal tool for tiers on the go. He also has a line of Cul De Canard (CDC) feathers dyed in a variety of natural colors, and other fly tying materials and tools.
At the 2003 Fly Fishing Retailer show, the fly fishing industry’s premier gathering of manufacturers, dealer representatives, and fly shop owners, Marc unveiled his Magic Tool to the American fly tying mar¬ket. This nifty set of clamps allows you to apply feather fibers, dubbing, and synthetic strand materials to thread. You can place the material in a dubbing loop, or even apply it to a single strand of thread!
The Magic Tool is one of the most useful new fly tying tools l’ve seen in a long time. I heard someone say that the Magic Tool was just another gimmick designed to part us from our money; l’Il bet Theodore Gordon said the same thing about the first fly¬tying vise. But in the right hands and with a little practice you can use the Magic Tool to de all sorts of new flies, and to improve the appearance and performance of many established patterns.
The Right Hands
I met Kim Boal many years ago at the International Fly Tying Symposium. Kim is one of the friendliest people you’d ever hope to meet and a very accomplished tier, to boot. I was surprised when I saw her at the Fly Fishing Retailer show and doubly surprised to discover that she was helping Marc Petitjean demonstrate the Magic Tool.
Kim appears at many of the larger fly-fishing shows in the eastern United States, as well as several European shows. She regularly tics at the big Federation of Fly Fishers conclave in West Yellowstone, Montana. One of her greatest honors came in 2002, Kim says, when she was selected to give the opening address at Holland’s semiannual Fly Fair.
« Because of nine eleven, they wanted an American to give the opening address. Also, a woman had never opened the event. They asked if I would give the opening presentation. I talked about how fly fishing and tying bring us closer together. There are minimum language barriers when you’re sitting at the vise and showing someone how to tic a fly, or when you’re standing in a stream and sharing a fly with another angler. There’s really nothing to, say you don’t have to talk about it.
« I met Marc through a mutual friend in Holland. We were also both at a show in Denmark this past April . That’s when he did his first European demonstration of the Magic Tool. I’ve been a fan of his CDC, his vest, and his vise for a long time. He’s a really imaginative guy.
« He demonstrated the tool, which was very popular. He gave me one, told me to go home and try it, and to let him know what I thought. He called me a couple of months later, asked if I liked it, and then asked if I’d like to go to, Denver and demonstrate the tool at the Fly Fishing Retailer show. »
I spent an hour or so watching Kim use the Magic Tool, and two thoughts crossed my mind: This chick is a very’ good tier, and the Magic Tool looked fun and useful. Marc was kind enough to present me with one of the tools, along with copies of magazine articles about the tool that had appeared in European fly fishing magazines. Most of the articles were in French, but the photographs were very useful. (Like Kim said: There’s no language barrier in fly tying.) I played with the Magic Tool for a while, and then talked with Kim about the finer points of using the device. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Using paper clamps to tie flies
While the Magic Tool is specifically designed for making flies, you can also use large spring-load paper clamps. In an article titled « Snails & the Snail Fly », which appeared in the Fall/Winter 1984 issue of Fly Tyer, Don Daughenbaugh showed how to use these clamps. Daughenbaugh grasped a strip of rabbit fur in a clamp (the hide was inside the clamp with the hairs sticking out). He then grasped the hairs with a second clamp, and removed the first clamp to expose the hide. Daughenbaugh clipped away the hide and placed the rabbit hair in a dubbing loop.(All these steps are very similar to the way we use the Magic Tool when working with feathers). Final steps were to spin the dubbing loop and wrap the material on the hook shank. The end result was a little fur ball the author said worked as a good snail imitation. Who knows: Maybe the trout did mistake this pompom for escargot.
The key difference is that the Magic tool was created to tie flies. The « table » is wide and flat, and is perfect for stacking feathers, fur,and synthetic materials; a paper clamp is suitable only for grasping materials. Also, O-rings provide light clamping tension on the table so you can pull feathers down between the jaws; a paper clamp has beefy spring tension, and you’ll snap fine feather quills if you attempt to use it like a Magic tool table.
The Magic Tool, which is imported into the United States by Hareline Dubbin’, retails for a little less than $30. The package contains three wide bodied clamps that Marc calls « tables. » You use the tables to stack and mix your choice of materials. There are two thin clamps (Kim calls these « working » clamps) for grasping the blended materials and applying them to a dubbing loop or the tying thread. (A picture really is worth a thousand words, and all of this will become clear when you study the accompanying photographs.)
The package also contains three wooden glue dowels (the type used for joining pieces of wood). Use the dowels for adding synthetic strand materials to the mixture of materials.
Thread selection is critical when using the Magic Tool. Almost any flat thread will work; the key is that you must be able to split it down the middle so you can insert feather fibers and dubbing into the thread. If you prefer, you can use the Magic Tool with a dubbing loop.
« If you’re using the split thread technique, you need something that will flatten out with your fingernail so that you can stick a bodkin needle between the fibers, » Kim Boal says. « Then, slide the needle down to split the thread, and insert your materials. Wapsi’s UTC 140 thread is wonderful. I worried that it might fray too easily, but this hasn’t been a problem. All the narrow diameter gel spun threads also split well.
« You can use any thread if you’re using a dubbing loop. I use a dubbing loop when tying larger flies. On patterns such as streamers, I want a little more bulk to, hold the mass of material. I also want to apply more pressure on the thread when I wrap the materials. You can tie the more petite trout patterns with flat 8/0 thread, but you will stress out a narrow diameter thread when tying a bigger fly. »
Let’s say you want to create a very simple wet fly or nymph. Start the thread on the hook, and de a tail of mottled hen fibers. Next, wrap the thread up the shank to form the abdomen of the fly (or you tan use dubbing, a stripped hackle fiber, vinyl rib, or your choice of favorite body material). Now you want to add a buggy thorax. Here’s where you turn to the Magic Tool.
Stroke out the feathers of a mottled hen hackle. Place the feather on top of one of the tables. (Select a table to match the size of fly you’re tying.) Spread a pinch of dubbing on top of the feather. Grasp each end of the feather, and pull it down into the table. The feather fibers will fold around the dubbing.
Next, select a working clamp. Grasp the fur and feather fibers in the working clamp, and open the table clamp. Lift out the blended materials with the working clamp. (Study the accompanying photos for more detail.) Clip off the feather quill using your sharpest scissors. Now you’re ready to apply the materials to the thread. Kim Boal offers this excellent description of the procedure.
« Straighten the thread against your thumbnail, and insert the tip of your bodkin between the fibers to split the thread. Next, insert your index finger between the split fibers to hold the thread open. Insert the clump of fur and feather fibers into the opened thread. Remove the index finger from the split thread, and allow the weight of the bobbin to collapse the loop. Open and remove the working clamp. »
The next step is to spin the thread similar to a dubbing loop. The easiest method is to just spin the bobbin, but Kim has mastered a more advanced method.
« I’m a right handed tier, and this is how I do it. I place my left index finger against the thread just below the fibers and dubbing, and spin the bobbin with my right hand. When the bobbin stops spinning, I grasp it with in my right band. Next, I place my left thumbnail against the thread above the tip of the bobbin, and slide the twists in the bare thread up into the fibers. I repeat the process and spin the thread a second tune. Now I wrap the thread and fibers on the hook. »
You can use the Magic Tool to apply all sorts of materials to thread. Marc Petitjean has designed a lot of flies requiring CDC, but Kim uses just about everything.
« The nymph I sent to you combines SLF Dubbing with hen feathers and CDC feathers for the legs and thorax. My caddis pattern is a combination of two different colors of CDC feathers and a coq de Leon feather. I wrap that on for the body and trim the butt to give it the delta wing shape. I then put a little piece of hackle in front. Marcs caddis is strictly CDC, and for some water, that’s fine. I like to fish a lot of riffle and pocket water, and prefer something that has a little more fiber in it. I find that coq de Leon gives it a little stiffness so it bounces better. »
Let’s get fancy and apply a little sparkle to the thread. Krystal Flash is ideal, as well as one of the thin varieties of Flashabou. The problem is that these materials come in long strands. What to do? Use one of the wooden glue dowels that come with the Magic Tool.
« Use the dowels to work with any type of material that comes in long strands Krystal Flash, Flashabou, or any of the long synthetic hairs that are used in tying saltwater flies, » Kim said. « Lay the tip of the strand against the dowel. Wrap the stand over the tip and up the dowel. Wrap the entire strand on the dowel. Next, lay the dowel, with the wrapped strand, on top of the table. Cut down one of the grooves on top of the dowel with a sharp blade this fillets the strand open on top of the table. Now you can place a feather on top of the little strands and continue working. If you want to use just the synthetic strands, you can use a piece of thin wire or monofilament just like a feather quill. »
Let’s get even fancier and create a two color body made up of different types of materials. The first method is to tie the fly in two stages apply material to the thread and wrap the abdomen, and then repeat the process to dress the thorax. To simplify things, however, Marc Petitjean offers small spring clamps (about $4.50 for a package of two) so you can isolate the two areas of thread and apply different materials at the same time.
« The clamp allows you to divide the thread in two. You can then insert different materials into the thread on each side the clamp. Say you want to tie a fly with a narrow abdomen and a bushy thorax: The clamp distinguishes the spot between the abdomen and the thorax. The clamp also makes it easy to tie multicolor bodies on steelhead and salmon flies. »
The Magic Tool isn’t hocus pocus, but it is an innovative, inexpensive fly tying device. It’s fun to use, and will bring a new dimension to your tying. I can’t wait to see what Marc Petitjean comes up with next.
David Klausmeyer is the editor of this magazine. David is just finishing his fourth book, Tying Classic Freshwater Streamers. It will be available this fall. David would like to thank Kim Boal for sharing her great ideas and beautiful flies. For more information about Marc Petitjean’s interesting line of products, go to www.petitjean.com.
WHERE TO FIND THE MAGIC TOOL
Hareline Dubbin’ id distributing the Magic tool into the United States. Ask for the Magic tool at any fly shop that carries the Hareline Dubbin’ line of products. Flytyervariant.com an online retail fly-tying outfit, also sells the Magic tool.