Many times I read the FAOL forums and see
discussions titled "Show Me Your Fly Tying
Area" or the like. Usually I feel slighted,
since I don't tie flies, or very rarely,
But there is a room of the house that I have
designated my "piddling room" and lots of
fishing related activity occurs here. So today
I thought I'd give you a little glimpse of this
area of the house where proper piddling is of
utmost importance. It is winter, after all, the
waters here are muddy and high, thus I'm not
doing a whole heckuva lot of fishing to write
The Stouff men were expert piddlers, one and
all. They could piddle with the best of them.
It was almost unheard of to see one of them
just sitting there. Even if they were watching
television, they were piddling with something.
Dad would be stringing up a guitar or tying
leather into a strap for a war club he had
made; my grandfather would be sketching plans
for his contracting business or repairing a
temperamental Zippo. They were piddlers par
excellence, and I try my best to keep the
It's a small alcove off the living room of
the old house. My grandfather built in the
1940s as a guest room. Tiny as it is, there
was only room in it for a bed and two
nightstands on either side, against the rear
wall. Many a night did I spend in that little
room as a youngster, spending happy "staying
over at granny's" weekends with the old folks
who lived here.
When I inherited the house in 1997, I set about
reconstructing it. It was built in the 1840s,
a small Cajun cottage-style structure of cypress.
Decades of haphazard renovations, including the
most recent and obnoxious one in the 1970s, had
raped it of much of its character. I set about
trying to make the old place look "traditional"
insofar as I could, while keeping it as comfortable
and useful as I could. Painted sheetrock is being
replaced by real wood covering, or quality
traditional looking paneling at least, varnished
crown molding, wainscot, beadboard ceilings in
the kitchen, the works.
Along the way, I decided that since I live
alone at the moment, and there are three other
bedrooms in the house including the attic which
was converted into a big room many decades ago,
I would use the alcove off the living room for
my piddling room. As I was renovating it, I
removed the old built-in bed and night tables.
You can still see the outline on the floor where
the bed was. Behind one of the frameboards of
the windows, when I pulled them off to remove
60 years worth of paint, my grandfather had
penciled "E.A. Stouff, 1946."
Let's start in the foreground, then. To the
left is my father's old Kay guitar. He purchased
it right after he got out of the Army after World
War II to replace a battered Gibson that had
accompanied him all over Europe. It's a jumbo,
what my dad always called a "dreadnought" guitar,
and for my entire life it sat in the corner of
the big, corner-fitting sofa in our living room.
It was always at easy reach should the mood strike
him to play. My father was an accomplished musician
on nearly any instrument he picked up, and could
wail blues, country western and bluegrass with
the best of them. His favorite artist was the ol'
blue yodeler Jimmie Rodgers. You couldn't walk
through our house when I was a kid without
tripping over a guitar, but like we say in
fly-fishing, the Kay was his "go to" guitar.
I don't play much, just a few chords, though
I can get through "The Wreck of the Edmund
Fitzgerald" in its entirety, over and over
again until you run screaming in agony into
the night. That's one of my fishing hats on
the key head.
In the center is an old porcelain-tin-topped
table my grandparents had that I rescued from
the shed outside, reconstructed, and use for
proper piddling. The boxes atop it were also
rescued from here and there, one needed to be
reglued. These hold my fly-tying stuff, so
little as it is, tools and the like. You can
just make out a little Cabelas fly tying vice
in the front, too.
Most prominent on the table is a bamboo fly rod
on a rod turner. It's a little project Montague
I picked up, and the butt section was receiving
it's third coat of varnish at that time.
To the rear wall, on the left, is a rack of
spin and casting tackle which you'll kindly
pretend does not exist, thank you very much.
They require more dusting than anything else
in my piddling room, if that makes you feel
To the right is my fly tackle. You can see
the tubes there in the rack, and my bag on
the floor. All at easy reach, as is necessary,
in case I suddenly get the urge to go fishing.
I just grab the rod of my choice, stick it in
the side holders on the bag, and I'm out the
Now in the center is what I'm sure many of you
are wondering about. All the things there are
atop a deep South huntboard that I made about
four years ago from recycled antique Douglas
fir. A huntboard, from what I understand, is
similar to a sideboard, except that it stands
on six spindly legs. It was placed just inside
the doorway of the southern plantations, filled
with glasses and liquor, so that when the men
returned from the hunt they could stop for a
drink while taking off their boots and not muddy
up the rest of the house. I am sure the fishermen
of the plantation era did the same, so it fits
very well in my piddling room.
Atop my huntboard at the center is the only one
of the piece pipes my father made that I have
left. He made many of them during his time as
a Native American craftsman, and my grandparents
operated a little crafts shop out of this old
house for decades where they sold his work and
their own. My father personally presented one
to each governor of Louisiana at their
inauguration for more than 25 years of
political history. When the famous Gov. Edwin
Edwards received his the first time he was
elected under intense media coverage, his
office sent a thank you letter to dad, noting
that "despite what was reported in the New
Orleans newspaper, the Governor is quite aware
that Chitimacha is not an African American Mardi
Gras group." Dad got quite a kick out of that.
I built the case for the pipe from pecan,
mahogany and western red cedar. Another of
my fishing hats sits atop it.
To the left and right are some of my father's
other crafts I hung onto: A carving of two
doves entwined like lovers, a ceremonial drum,
and a violin. Dad made many violins, too,
ornate and wonderful in tone. There are a
few other items up there not his, like the
crystal sailboat my gal gave me.
Inside the huntboard, in the center drawers,
are more of his things that are somewhat
private, not for public display except to
chosen few. I won't go into details, but
they include his medicine bag, ceremonial
fan and the like. To the left behind the
door are five Chitimacha split river cane
baskets ranging from the late 1800s to the
1940s, made by my grandmother, great-grandmother
and great-great-great aunt. See, my people were
always comfortable with cane! Behind the right
door are more tools for working on rods and such.
The frames to right and left are just some fly
fishing prints I picked up from Ebay, but the
center is a carving my father fashioned of a
stallion looking over his herd down in a valley.
I remember him working on it when I was a kid.
The little horses down in the valley had to be
so small he would drop them while working and
lose them forever on the dirt floor of his
workshop. After cussing for half an hour or
so, he'd start on another. There are about
six tiny horses in the carving, but he must
have lost two dozen more.
So this is my piddling room, the place where
proper piddling is done. I can open the blinds
and let sunlight stream through, or watch rain
fall from the roof like the memories surrounding
me in this little sanctuary. Sometimes at night
I piddle there, oiling a reel or tying on a new
leader, with just that green lamp on the table
burning. Beyond the front of the desk, in the
shadows of the living room, I can almost see
my grandfather in his old chair, leaning back,
carefully working with pencil and slide rule,
my father sitting on the sofa, crafting beaded
wrapping for a peace pipe, and my grandmother
weaving split river cane into a water-tight
basket. I am in the proper company. This is
proper piddling. ~ Roger