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The thought of making your own flies might seem a bit daunting but as Chris Adams explains it, getting the basics right will head you in the right direction.
For a lot of people, fly tying can be one of the most relaxing aspects of fly fishing. To some people the act of tying flies can be more enjoyable than the fishing part itself. For me I kind of took a while to like it. I started tying my own flies because I wasn’t happy with what was commercially available. I found that the flies available just didn’t hit the nail on the head to what I was observing on the water, I needed to be more confident.
I guess there really is a bottomless pit of info to expand on about the basics of tying flies but for the sake of whittling down the world of information available, I am going to condense what I can down to a very basic tropical saltwater fly fishing style which is were I started.
So by now you probably have bought a few flies, caught a few fish on fly but probably are curious about the myriad of options when considering tying your own flies, there definitely is a whole industry targeting you for this so let’s focus on the essential . You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started, but there is some basics that you will definitely need in the way of tools and materials, let’s go through the tools first.
A basic tool kit would consist of a vice, a bobbin, a pair of scissors designed for fly tying, a bodkin and a whip finishing tool. Now if you are reading this and are an experienced fly tier there is no need to get upset, if you think about it, if you were in the bush and were fishing for a feed, this is all you would need. As for the beginner fly tier, I can tell you that when it comes to tools you get what you pay for, spend as much money as your comfortable with and just get the basics. Being aware of the patterns you are mainly going to tie will help you when it comes to dealing with sales staff and online shopping, research the patterns your after and stick to the plan.
I should divulge at this point that I am a commercial fly tier. I am a member of both Partridge hooks and Dyna King vices pro teams. I dedicate a lot of my time to tying flies but am very careful about remaining a fly fisherman rather than a fly tier. Both of the brands above are great brands and at the top of their field and before expanding on vices and other tools relating to this article, I want to say that I cannot recommend Dyna King as a vice highly enough, they do what they are meant to do flawlessly.
I am onto my third vice ever at the moment, two of those have been Dyna King and one was a $50 Indian vice. Indian vices are about the cheapest vices you can get, mine served me well and was my first vice but only lasted about a year. My next vice was an entry level Dyna King and lasted me nearly 17 years and cost about $300, pretty good value I reckon. When looking for a vice, and in my opinion either spend as little as possible knowing full well not to have big expectations or get a premium brand entry level vice, I wouldn’t recommend anything in between, but that’s just my opinion.
As mentioned earlier, there are other tools needed and again, oils ain’t oils when it comes to them either. Your bobbin is what carries your thread and will vary depending on what thread your using, and for starting out I recommend just using flat waxed nylon thread. If you can get a basic bobbin with a ceramic tip, that will serve you well. Scissors are very important and a pair that are dedicated to fly tying will be of more use than a pair that is not. Most fly tying scissors suit not putting them down no matter what your doing and will be comfortable enough to keep a hold of while your doing other things. The blade on dedicated scissors is usually tempered and can handle cutting natural hair and synthetics alike, a sharp tip will also allow you to get the best yields out or your natural hair patches by cutting them at the hide.
One of the most overlooked tools but no less necessary is a bodkin which is just a sturdy pointy thing that sounds like it’s useless but it’s amazing were it comes in handy. You can use your bodkin for plucking out fibres that are tangled, for applying head cement and epoxy and for placing eyes accurately on your fly, the uses for a bodkin are unbelievable, needless to say, you need one. A whip finishing tool is very handy for finishing off your flies, it enables you to finish off your thread in a way so that it will not unravel. Although it’s possible to whip finish with your fingers, a whip finishing tool can give you a better finish sometimes, personally I do both but I definitely still use a tool a lot.
So you have your tools, you have your vice and let’s assume you have researched your flies that you want to tie. Well if you’re like 99% of saltwater flyfisherman you’re going to be starting out on a “Clouser Minnow”. The Clouser Minnow or Clouser for short, is arguably the single most effective fly available, everything that eats a live fish eats a Clouser, I mean everything. I have not seen a fish in saltwater that has not eaten a Clouser, ranging from marlin to bream and everything you could think of in between. I have even seen trout absolutely smash them much to the disappointment of many trouties hahaha. The Clouser is the easiest fly to tie, that is also the most effective. It can be tied in a variety of sizes, colours and weights and it is also a great representation of a tiers skills no mater how experienced they are, because in saying that the Clouser can be difficult to proportion.
Proportion is a pretty important part of fly tying, it’s an integral part of the process that enables the fly tier to achieve a caricature of the bait they are imitating and also the ability for the fly to look natural, sure this can be done with material selection but it’s better learnt with correct proportion technique. A bit of a tip here would be that less is more. This is very true when it comes to synthetic fibres but also true with natural fibres.
I would suggest starting out with natural fibres, they are relatively inexpensive and are yet to be replicated well by humans in the form of synthetic materials. Most natural hair destined for fly tying has naturally trapped air inside the fibres in a cellular type fashion rather than the misconception that they are hollow. Natural hair also possesses a beautiful natural taper, that when the two combine give an unparalleled action under the water as long as correct proportion is observed. Natural fibres are my preferred medium. I have a strong liking towards the various parts of a Deer, particularly belly hair and buck tail, combined with a bit of synthetic flash (usually crystal flash) there really isn’t any fish on the planet that I wouldn’t feel comfortable fishing for with a fly constructed out of Deer Hair materials.
As mentioned earlier, there really is a black hole of options for fly tying that is out there to explore, but to summarise in its simplest form, for the intention of an introduction to fly tying, is just as challenging to expand on as would be the more difficult aspects of tying. YouTube is a fantastic place to learn fly tying, there are also a great range of books available for beginners and advanced tiers, and as long as you have a basic tool kit and always subscribe to the KISS principle you will be catching fish on your own flies in no time.
Being able to adapt to your local conditions is why you should consider tying your own flies, not having the time is why you would engage a commercial tier who does custom flies. It was told to me that a good commercial fly should last 5 fish max, and this is true as there is no money in tying a durable fly for some companies. At least if you tie your own you can tie for durability also. Personally I tie for my clients as if I am tying my own flies, because there is no repeat business in flies that disintegrate on contact, which is the other reason I tie my own flies.I can be confident in their durability.
Having the ability to tie your own flies is not only satisfying when your on the water but can be just a as important part of catching fish while your at home.Sure sorting out shiny lures from the shop can be fun but building your own and fooling fish on your own flies is something else. Good luck and keep the process fun.