Getting into Tying Flies

~By Lance Dean | July 14, 2016




Whether in a fly shop or on a fly fishing forum it seems to be a common occurrence to hear a fellow fly fisherman ask about what is needed to start tying flies.  There seems to be four common questions asked by these individuals:


  •     Should I buy a kit or buy fly tying supplies separately? 
  •     How much does it cost to get into fly tying?
  •   What tools and materials should I purchase as a beginner?
  •   What are some flies that are good for a beginner to tie?


  These are all legit questions to a beginning fly tier.  

Fly Tying Tools                The question of whether to buy a kit or buy tools and materials separately is a difficult question to answer because it comes down to personal preference. My personnel opinion is that kits are nice because you get everything you need to start tying flies in a one convenient box; however, most of the kits that I have seen come with materials that would not only making tying flies more difficult but not as fun either.  Kits just don’t give you the ability to control the quality of materials that help make tying not only enjoyable but worth your time. Buying your materials and tools separately allows you the ability to control the quality of materials that you want to start with.  The idea when starting any new interest is that it is supposed to be enjoyable.  Crappy materials can lead to an unsatisfactory tying experience.

The monetary investment involved in getting into tying your own flies can be a fairly expensive venture especially if you go and by the best of everything right away, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  I firmly believe that if you invest your money correctly, getting into the world of tying flies doesn’t have to cost you your first born child. You don’t need to purchase the top of the line tools or a ton a materials to decide if tying flies is something that you would enjoy.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard stories of fly fisherman that are convinced that tying flies is something they “know” they are going to enjoy so they go buy a top of the line vise, top of the line tools and tons of expensive materials, only to discover they don’t have the patience to tie flies, the time to tie their own flies, or they just don’t like tying their own flies.  So now they have hundreds and sometimes a couple thousand dollars in fly tying tools and materials that just collect dust.  It does not have to be this way.  If you are just starting out you should not be spending any more than around a hundred dollars getting into tying flies.

                All fly tying tools have a place at a fly tier’s station.  They make it convenient to accomplish specific tasks while tying flies, but they are not all essential for completing a fly. There are five tools that I feel are a must for every fly tiers box; they are:


  • ·         Vise
  • ·         Bobbin
  • ·         Set of scissors
  • ·         Whip finisher
  • ·         Head cement

A vise is a tool that is used to secure a hook so that materials can be securely wrapped around the hook.  It generally has a stem that holds a set of jaws that hold the hook.  They can either be clamped to a table with a c-clamp or they have some sort of pedestal that holds the vise in one place. The cost of a vise can range in price from a just over ten dollars to a few hundred dollars.  The price goes higher for more features of the vise like a rotary feature that allows you to wrap materials around a hook by rotating the jaws of the vise. Another feature that can change the price is the size of hook that a vise can hold within its jaws. Some vises are only able to hold hooks in the size range of 18 to 2, others can hold size 22 to 8/0.  It just depends on the vise.  For a beginner I recommend getting a Super AA vise.  It is about the least costly vise that I have seen.  The Super AA was the first vise that I owned and it did everything that I needed it to.  There were two reasons that I upgraded.  The first reason was that I wanted a rotary vise. The second reason was that I wanted to tie some smaller flies than the Super AA would allow me to.  For a beginner fly tier a Super AA vise is the way to go and after becoming a more experienced tier, tiers could save some money to invest into a higher end vise that has more features for a tier that truly enjoys tying flies. 
               
 A bobbin is a tool that controls the tension of the thread as it is wrapped around the hook. There are many types of bobbins that can be purchased. Common bobbins have a ceramic tube, metal tube, or a metal tube with a ceramic insert.  The price of a bobbin can range from a few dollars to around thirty dollars.  The metal tube bobbins are generally cheaper than the ceramic tube ones.  There is a debate out there about whether or not ceramic bobbins last longer than metal tube ones.  I honestly can’t say I have noticed one way or the other.  I like ceramic bobbins but for someone who is still discovering whether or not they like to tie flies I recommend just using a cheap metal tube bobbin.  It will accomplish what it was made to do especially for someone just learning to tie flies.  I still have and use my first metal tube bobbin that I bought over fifteen years ago.
               
 Scissors are an essential tool used to cut materials and thread after wrapping them around a hook.  There are many types of fly tying scissors made with many different materials.  I am not going to go into detail about the different types of scissors out there because as a beginner one just needs a pair that will cut thread and materials.  The price of scissors varies depending on what type you get and the material they are made with.  A beginner should be purchasing the least expensive set of scissors they can find that will easily cut thread.
              
Bobbin, Whipfinisher, Scissors
Bobbin, Whip Finisher, and Scissors
  There are many ways to tie the finishing knot of a completed fly.  One way that fly tiers finish their flies is by tying a series of half-hitch knots with the thread at the head of a fly.  I do not like this way to finish a fly and although many tiers use this method, to me it is not the correct way to finish a fly.  Another way to finish a fly is with a whip finish.  A whip finish is a knot tied at or near the head of a finished fly.  The whip finish is a knot that can be tied by hand, but I prefer to use a whip finisher, which is a tool a fly tier uses to assist him with tying a whip finish knot, in my opinion the knot can be completed faster and more securely using a whip finisher than by hand.   There are many YouTube videos and books that explain how to tie a whip finish by both a whip finisher and by hand.  A whip finisher will run you around six to ten dollars and is well worth the money invested.
               
 The last tool that I feel is essential to tying flies is head cement.  Head cement is basically glue that keeps the finishing knot secure and helps protect the finish knot from fish teeth.  Many manufactures make many types of head cement.  Some are dry by air and others dry with a special UV light.  The UV cements are expensive and are not worth the investment to a fly tier who is just learning to tie flies.  My favorite head cement is clear “Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails” nail polish.  It is cheaper than actual head cement from a fly tying manufacturer and does the same job.  It runs between three and five dollars depending on where you shop.

                Another tool that some fly tiers would tell a beginning tier to get is a fly tying book to show you patterns and techniques for fly tying; however, I would not recommend spending money on a fly tying book unless you have tied a few different patterns and have decided that tying flies is something that you not only enjoy but are going to keep doing.  The reason I recommend not purchasing a book is because of the internet.  All the resources needed for instruction on tying your first fly patterns can be found in the various fly fishing/ tying forums, blogs, or on YouTube.  The internet is a great resource for learning to tie flies.  If someone was insistent on getting a fly tying book I would recommend getting “Charlie Craven’s Basic Fly Tying”.  Mr. Craven writes this book as if the person reading it has no experience tying flies, the flies are presented in a way that tying techniques build upon each other and his step by step instructions a very detailed and direct.  The only down side I have with the book is that buying all the materials to tie all the flies in it can get pretty pricey.  

                Tools are an important part of tying flies, but it doesn’t do any good to have these tools if you don’t have anything to tie.  As a beginner, a fly tier should start out with a few simple fly patterns. After you master a pattern, pick a new pattern that is a bit more complicated to tie and maybe has a couple different techniques to tying it.  I have four flies that I recommend a beginner learns. They are the Peacock Nymph, Lance Egan’s Rainbow Warrior, John Barr’s Copper John and the Adams.  These ties are fun to tie and are effective flies that catch trout, bass and pan fish.  The Peacock Nymph and the Rainbow Warrior are the simplest of these four flies to tie and are a lot of fun.   The Copper John is more difficult pattern to tie but with some practice you can master this extremely effective attractor pattern.  The key to this fly is to take your time tying it and practice tying it over and over.  The Peacock Nymph, Rainbow Warrior and Copper John are all nymph/attractor patterns. As, a beginner if you insist on tying a dry fly, I recommend the Adams.  The Adams is a dry fly pattern and I am hesitant to categorize as a beginner fly, not because it isn’t a relatively simply fly to tie, but because dry fly hackle can run up the expense for a beginner.   As far as dry flies go it is a pretty simple one. If you decide that you are going to learn to tie the Adams, expect to pay another twenty to twenty-five dollars for the dry fly hackle.  Unless you have friend who is willing to give you some dry fly hackle, I would buy the Cabela’s Saddle Value Pack.  The sampler pack runs for $19.99 and includes many colors in sizes that go well with hook sizes 14 to 16. 

The recipe or materials list, for the flies are as follows:



Peacock Nymph
Peacock Nymph
Hook:
Allen’s S402 size 12
Bead:
1/8” for size 12 (optional)
Weight:
.020 Lead Wire
Thread:
UTC 70 black
Body:
Peacock Herl

A tutorial for the Peacock Nymph can be found HERE.

Rainbow Warrior
Lance Egan’s Rainbow Warrior
Hook:
Allen’s N204 size 16
Bead:
1/8” silver (tungsten)
Thread:
UTC 70 red
Abdomen:
Pearl Tinsel (Large)
Thorax:
Wapsi Sow Scud Dubbing - Rainbow
Wing Case:
Pearl Tinsel (Large)

A tutorial for Lance Egan's Rainbow Warrior can be found HERE.

Adams Dry Fly
Adams Dry Fly
Hook:
Allen’s D101 size 14
Thread:
UTC 70 black
Tail:
India Hen Back Fibers – Speckled Brown or Ring Necked Pheasant Tippet
Abdomen:
Wapsi Super Fine Dubbing - Gray
Collar:
One grizzly and one brown dry fly hackle
Wing:
Grizzly hackle

A tutorial for the Adams Dry Fly can be found HERE.

Copper John
John Barr’s Copper John
Hook:
Allen’s S402 size 12
Bead:
1/8” (tungsten)
Weight:
.020 Lead Wire
Thread:
UTC 70 black
Tail:
Goose Biots - Brown
Abdomen:
Copper Ultra Wire – Med.
Wing Case:
Black Thin Skin and Pearl Tinsel - Large
Thorax:
Peacock Herl
Legs:
India Hen Back Fibers – Speckled Brown

A tutorial for John Barr's Copper John can be found HERE.

Patience is the key when learning the techniques to tie flies. Practice them over and over and I promise that with enough practice you will not only able to tie that great new pattern that you found but you will also enjoy doing it.

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