Rag Tag Tackle

An oldie, but a goodie. We pulled a great, and still relevant, how-to from the archives for this month! – Editor

“What did you catch them on?”
“A rag.”
“A what? You caught Steelhead with THAT? No way! Can you buy them? How do you make them?”

It is surprising to me how often I still have conversations like that. It’s been a lot of years since the Associations art print was Hoh River Spring Chinook, featuring a brute of a fish zeroing in on a “rag” with a bit of roe, s these things have been around for a long time now. And they do catch Salmon and Steelhead. In my experience they out fish other drift float lures, at least in normal to slightly above normal steelhead water.

A rag consists of a short piece of a white or gray foam rod with a couple pieces of colored yarn poked through the sides. A leader with hook is strung through the ends and it is fished in the same manner as a corky and yarn. The rag has several advantages: It floats up higher than a corky, rarely snagging on the bottom. The foam holds bubbles that create refractive and reflective flash, for greater attraction. It is soft, so a fish is likely to hold on to it a bit longer. The yarn catches in the fish’s teeth, further improving the chance of a pickup becoming a hookup. Scents can be applied to the cut ends for a slow release of attractant.

You can buy rags pre-made, or you can easily make your own. Most tackle stores have both pre-made and the raw materials available. I myself choose to make them. (I’m not cheap, in spite of what my wife may say. I just like the knowledge that hooking a fish was a combination of fishing and lure making technique.) Here is how I do it.

The only tools you will need are a pair of scissors and an upholstery or carpet needle. Start by cutting the foam rod into desired lengths. I like to use the 3/8” white rod for Steelhead and the ½” rod for Salmon. Length is about 1-½ times to 2 times the diameter.

The tricky part is getting the thick yarn through the skinny eye of the needle. Take a foot or so of 8 or 10 pound like and pass a loop of this line through the needle eye. Put the end of your yarn through the line loop. Now pull the loop through the eye, forcing the yarn to go through with it. With the yarn through the needle, string as many cut lengths of foam on the yarn as you want in that yarn color by running the needle though the side of the foam. Now just space out the foam and cut the yarn leaving a length about equal to the rod diameter out each side of the foam.

Now do it over again with a second color of yarn. Be sure to pass the needle through at about a right angle to the first yarn and clearing the first yarn completely. (If you try to pass the second yarn though the path of the first, the yarns will become tangled.) You can use any colors of yarn you like. Orange, Chartreuse, Hot Pink, Purple, Blue, and Green are the most popular. Polly yarn is better than wool as its fibers are longer and more easily separated into a fluffy plume. My favorite color combinations are orange/chartreuse, hot pink/purple, and orange/hot pink.

Some form of bumper is required between the rag and the hook to prevent the foam from working over the hook eye and down onto the hook’s shank. A plastic bead is the most common bumper. I prefer a single plastic sequin. A lifetime bag of sequins will cost a few dollars. (I am not cheap!) Sequins provides a better load distribution against the foam and gives off additional flash.

At this point you have several options. You can take a handful of rags along with a needle to the river. You would then thread a leader from your Pips dispenser though the length of the rag with the needle. I personally don’t care for this method as it takes time and dexterity that I don’t have on a cold, wet, and dark morning. You can assemble your leaders to the rag prior to heading to the river, which requires some different form of packaging. Or try something I just started:

Take about 4” of stainless steel wire and pass it through the length of the rag. Heat one end of the wire over a candle, then pull the hot end back through the foam. This heat will melt the foam in contact with the wire leaving a clean skinned hole that you can easily pass a leader through. This has one other advantage if you are using a polly yarn. The yarn in contact with the wire will also melt and fuse to the foam plastic, better anchoring the yarn in place. This will take some practice to heat the wire just enough and pull the wire through at just the right speed to achieve the desired size of hole. Now you can take a handful of rags to the river, along with the bumpers and thread them on your leaders the same as you would a Corky or Birdy.

Norm Ritchie
Development Director – Association of Northwest Steelheaders

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