Fly Tying

A handy Razor

I occasionally need a razor blade to clip stray material, shave deer hair and other small tasks. Found long ago that they can be dangerous laying about. I first wrap a new one in tape, this will keep you from getting small cuts from the sometimes sharp inner edges. A few layers of tape also give you a better handling area.  I also drop the blade into a box so that it’s not only readily available but also not a loose blade on my thing area that could damage my future child bearing or scotch drinking ability.

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I have never been thrilled by head cement bottles, I imagine there are a few out there that work that I have not tried. A number of years ago I stumbled on this tip while fishing down in the Catskill’s. I visited the Dettes fly shop and tied with Mary for a day, this is where the idea came from. It was one of those simple but brilliant things that I love. A ketchup lid, manufactured to keep air out makes a perfect lid to an existing fly dope bottle. Flip up to access a large hole to dip your head cement needle into. Flip down for a perfect seal. Have used this same one for many years.

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This is how I organize all my small stuff on my tying desk. I’m a great believer in re-use and found objects. I have a bunch of tuna tins with the labels washed off. They make great organizers for cements waxes etc. also to keep cement bottles from being knocked over. Everything close to hand and you can organize items by need.

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Is Fly tying for You?

It might appear a bit strange that a fisherman should take thread, scraps of feathers, and bits of assorted materials, fix them on a hook, with the intention of making a fish mistake this as its favorite food. It started with early man fastening bits of material on bone hooks. Fly tying, or fly dressing, is considered an art form in itself. Few can look at a fine example of a fully dressed salmon fly and not appreciate it’s beauty envy the skill and patience it takes to produce these little jewels.

You may have fly fished for 30 years or are new to the sport. It may be a hobby to some and a lifestyle to others. Fly fishing does encompass a multitude of styles, disciplines and sub cultures. The flies are one aspect of the sport that professional and amateur alike can appreciate.

Most fly fishermen have considered taking up tying. Some, love to feel the thrill of the catch using something produced by ones self. Others love to explore tying as art itself. Many have found tying gives you the ability to explore different patterns than those found on the store shelves.

Should I tie?
Is it expensive?
Do I have the ability?
Do I have the patience?

Lets explore…
This certainly is a hobby where “practice-makes-perfect”. Don’t expect to produce perfect flies at the first tie, with no training. Learning to tie can be done from books, on the web, videos or by learning from an experienced tier. There are certain basics that you need to learn to get started. The best, fast track approach, by far, is to learn the basics from another tier, for your first steps into the fly-tying world. Either through a local tier, a school held at one of the local fly shops or through a local fly tying club. Tying with a instructor will give you a “feel” for the hobby and if in fact it is geared for you. It’s also the opportunity to find out what the hobby will cost and what tools to buy. Be kind to yourself and take one of these routes.

Like any hobby, cost is a factor. Flies today will run from $1.50 to $3 each or more. A quality fly tying vice alone will cost you $250, not to mention tools and materials. The other factor is, what is your time worth? Do you have the time to spend? Some would rather be fishing, others do not have the patience or dexterity. I have seen people drop $800 in tools and materials only to have them consigned to a box in the closet after a brief attempt at tying. In the end it’s the tier not so much the tools.

Many tiers use the winter months to tie. There’s nothing like beating the shack nasties, by whiling away the winter hours, tying patterns for spring, filling your fly box up with flies. Everything from the old standards to your own test patterns. I love sitting down to my vice and tying old favorites, it’s like meeting old friends.

My own introduction to tying came when I was 8 years old. We had moved from a polluted mining town in Ontario, to the pristine interior of British Colombia, with its trout filled streams and lakes. My Dad, an avid fly fisherman, came to the realization that I was dexterous building plastic models. “I ain’t paying no .12¢ for flies any more”, he said. “I’m buying you a vise”. I was fortunate that my Dad and one of his fishing buddies, on old Scott, taught me to tie in the traditional, fully dressed style (and later how to drink scotch in the traditional style). Mind you many times I tied they drank, whild I drandk in ol.

The beginner needs to remember that he or she needs to tie multiples of each fly to get the pattern right. My Dad when he taught me to tie said tie 6 to figure out the materials, another 6 to get the pattern right, strip the hooks then start tying the fly. It’s how you ironed out the faults in the technique and will get you on the right track handling the materials. Practice makes perfect!

Should I buy a fly tying kit?
There are a few good ones out there but not many. Buyer beware!!! I would avoid them, as you’ll most likely end up with a lot of useless stuff.

Lets start with a list of tools. I will not, in this overview, tell you how to tie flies, just some starting points of interest.

Tools can be expensive or not. Good quality tool’s will last and are more reliable, and will give you more confidence and ease in fly-tying. Good tools also take the frustration out of tying. Take care of your tools by cleaning and proper usage and they will last a lifetime. I still have and occasionally tie on my dad’s vice from the 30’s. When buying tools, shop around, but be aware, a reputable fly shop or experienced tier will set you in the right direction. Lots of flash in the pan gadgets out there.

The vice is what holds your hook firmly while working on the fly. There are many great ones on the market today. They come in two styles, rotary and fixed. The rotary vice allows you to view the fly from all sides and tie faster by spinning the fly while applying materials. A positive for some but not for all. Your vice is the most important piece of fly tying equipment. Renzetti, Regal, Anvil, Danvise, Griffin, Thompson, Nore-vice, and a great many others, populate the market. Many good and quality brands. It breaks down to what suits you. There’s no such thing as the best vice. Try before your buy, as there are a lot more poorly made vices out there, than quality products. That said, I have tied flies in a pinch, on everything from an exacto knife (place the fly where the blade goes), to a pair of pliers with elastic bands to hold them shut.
Vices are like cars, people often are adamant and sold on certain brands. Just remember, it needs to hold your hook, solid and secure.

Your next most important piece of equipment is scissors. You need a fine pair for cutting fine materials like feathers and fur and only such materials. A heavier pair is needed for tinsel, wire and heavier materials. Over time you will find that you need two or three different pairs for different tasks.

A Dubbing Needle. This tool can be a sewing needle or hat pin. Commercial ones can be bought. They’re used useful for applying varnish and cement’s to your flies and “picking out” fur on fly bodies, along with a number of other tasks. You can make your own using a piece of wood doweling and drilling a hole in one end, filling it with cement, push the eye of the needle in the hole.

Hackle Pliers are spring holders, which you place the hackle tips into to hold your hackle while you are winding the hackle around the body of the fly. Some tier’s use their fingers to wind the hackle on their flies. There are a lot of brands of hackle pliers out there. Most tiers end up with a few different styles.

The Fly Tying Bobbin holds the thread spool and allows the thread to be fed out under precisely controlled tension. This is another tool where quality makes a difference. Better bobbins will have a ceramic barrels or barrel tips. They are smoothest and outlast brass or steel. They are well worth the extra price and a better brand will control threads without cutting them.

The Whip Finisher is an essential tool to provide a neat finished head so your flies that are durable and don’t unravel after a few cast’s. There are a lot of varieties of these on the market. A whip-finish is a slip knot or “noose” that is formed around the head of a fly or anywhere else on the hook you wish to place the knot. You can also whip finish your heads on your flies by tying half hitch knots with your hands.

Head cement will insure your fly heads don’t unravel and give them a professional look. Buy a commercial brand or use a good quality varnish.

There are a host of other tools to make your tying experience interesting. Some work some do not and will gather dust.

Fly tying materials are what makes up your fly. You can spend a lot of money on fly-tying materials as there is always something new coming out. When I tie flies I try to keep to the most natural looking materials available when tying. You can use synthetic’s and natural furs, hair, feathers etc. There are a lot of good fly shops that have a host of great material. Again quality makes a better fly. Many “found” materials can also be used. Try a local hobby shop to find some interesting stuff but the quality may not be as high for some materials. Remember you are trying to match life itself in the water.

Well, that’s what you need for the basics. This is the shallow end of the trough. You could certainly buy a lot of flies with what you would spend starting up. It’s like any hobby, the costs can creep up on you. In the long run it is cheaper to tie than buy but only if you enjoy it.

Is fly tying for you? Only you can answer that. For me, it has been a rewarding, life long hobby. Tying has given me an opportunity to not only fill my fly boxes but also meet some great people through clubs and tying demos. It has also rounded out the sport.
I could go on and talk about this subject for hours. It’s one I love. Good luck and good tying.

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2 responses to “Fly Tying

  1. I see you mentioned some nice vises..alas Thompson has gone belly up. But wanted to remind you of a fabulous vise made right here in Wine Country, Calif. USA for 25 years and the is the Dyna-King Vises…vises for beginners to high end rotary vises at very competitive pricing…and we have a fabulous tying kit includes vise, book, dvd, feathers, hooks, dr. slick tools kit, glue, – basic all you need to start tying…GREAT, GREAT product with lifetime warranty and fabulous customer support.

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