The Fly Tying Experience For Beginners Pt. 2

First off let me eliminate some of your excuses if you’re like I was originally.

You have fat, uncoordinated fingers.  So do I.  It’s alright.  Certain things may take you longer to learn or be harder for you to do, but they’re all possible.  The tools will assist you and do most of the work so your bear paws don’t have to.

You can’t see.  This is the 21st century dude.  Get some glasses.  I never wore glasses in my life.  When I started tying I bought some $2.00 readers from the grocery store and they help relieve some of the stress on your eyes if that’s something you’re worried about.

You’re not “artsy farsty.”  I get it.  Me neither………or am I?  When you start thinking about bugs you saw the day before or check out the school of bait fish that cruised by- it gets you going.  Grey- they were all grey.  I want all grey material.  That bugs butt was shiny.  Shiny.  It needs a shiny butt.  It quickly loses its arts and crafts feel and becomes something else. The whole time you’re thinking about fishing.

You don’t have any money?  Are you serious?  The streamer you ripped off and lost in the grass yesterday evening was $4.00, that leader on the end of your fly line is $7.00, and don’t even get me started about the $29.00 flat billed snap back hat you’re wearing.  (Don’t worry, I wear them too)

Our two main goals in this process are pretty simple. First off- I want you to save some dough.  Tying flies does not have to be an expensive hobby to “try out.” It would suck to buy a $300.00 vise and $200.00 worth of materials only to tie a dozen flies and realize you hate it. And secondly- I want to give you the greatest chance of enjoying it. If you enjoy it, then just like I expressed in Part I of this article, you’re expanding your expertise, knowledge and appreciation for a sport you already love.

Before you purchase any equipment I would suggest first you ask around. The fly fishing community is a growing one and in most cases a supportive one. The cheapest first fly you could tie would be on a borrowed vise with borrowed tools and maybe even borrowed or scrap materials. Ask a friend or a fellow co-worker who fly fishes. Another great idea would be to ask around at your local fly shops. If you’ve been buying flies from them on the regular they might let you borrow some things or maybe sit down right there and give a free 15 minute lesson on borrowed materials. There are a lot of fly shops that hold regular fly tying parties, most of them open to the public, where tiers come into the shop and tie flies, drink beer, watch football, and tell stories. This would be a great opportunity for you jump into the action with little investments.

Something else you could do before purchasing any equipment would be to sign up for a fly tying class.  Again- ask around your local fly shops.  It’s usually pretty easy to find a class where materials and tools are supplied.  You’ll probably have to pay an admission fee but the educational experience should be worth it.  

If you’ve tied a few flies with fellow fisher people at your local fly shop, sat through a tying class or borrowed an old vise from your neighbor and now you’re ready to dive in a little deeper, let’s see what we can do at low initial investment.

VISES – Your first fly tying vise does not need to be expensive.  If you buy an expensive one, you’re probably not going to use it to its full capabilities anyways.  There are cheap vises out there that do a pretty darn good job.  You can find vises for about $15.00.  Now beware if you go this cheap and you end up enjoying the hobby- it probably won’t be long before you want an upgrade.  However- You don’t need to spend $300, or $100, or even $50 for a vise that will do a sufficient job for now.

There are vises, like “stations” that are free standing, and there are vises with bases like a C-clamp that you can clamp on the edge of a table or desk.  Often you can find them that convert back and forth.   I prefer to clamp my vise tight to something, especially for tugging on heavy streamers.  That way I can really pull on the thread or work with a large dubbing loop without the vise moving on me.  Having a base is convenient for taking it to fly tying nights or your buddy’s house to team up on a dozen.

TOOLS – There are a multitude of fly tying tools.  Don’t become overwhelmed.  There are a few that you’re going to need but several of them you can acquire as your imaginations grow.

BOBBIN – You need a bobbin.  Buy a cheap one.  This is going to become a theme here but you can spend $100 on a bobbin or you can spend $5.  In this case, for now, spend $5.  You can upgrade later.

SCISSORS – You need scissors.  Buy a cheap pair.  I’m talking a dollar or two.  As long as your fingers fit into the handle holes, you’re good to go.  When you’ve tied enough flies that you’ve dullened your scissors- then you can upgrade and spend as much as your heart desires.

HAIR STACKER – You tie a lot of flies without this, but the ones that require it, it sure is nice to have.  Besides that you can find them for under $5 also.

With this short list of tools you’re going to be set to get started.  You can look into getting a whip-finish tool, hackle pliers, dubbing tools, threaders etc. as you wish.  You’re eventually going to buy them if you stay with the hobby, but I’m trying to give you the bare bones so you’re not intimidated.  You can also find tool sets for cheap that will have everything in them.  I would recommend these sets, but again, you don’t need to buy the most expensive one out there.

MATERIALS – Let’s start here with the material “sets” you can buy.  They’re good, they’re great.  If you’re ok spending $50.00 or maybe you can find smaller sets even a little cheaper, go for it.  You’re going to get your money’s worth.  Of course, if you path down fly tying lane is a short one, you’re going to pay for a lot of materials that you’ll never use.  Otherwise- Here’s a short list of some material you can buy that will allow you to tie some small flies, and wooly buggers so you can get the feel for it before you spend a lot.

HOOKS – Every fly needs a hook and there are lots to choose from.  Buy some cheap #12 dry fly hooks.  Buy some cheap size 3 or 4 streamer hooks.  Find the cheapest ones you can.  If the cheapest ones have barbs and you’re a barbless fisher, file them off or smash them.  Remember, this is still an experiment to make sure you are enjoying yourself.  

CEMENT – Head Cement or glue.  Find a small bottle.  It will last you through a hundred flies.  

THREAD – There are a zillion different types of thread in a myriad of colors.  Get yourself some olive, black or white nylon thread in size 6/0 and get to tying.  You can worry about the correct thread for a specific fly later.

COPPER WIRE – It comes in a spool just like thread.

CHINELLE – It’s like limp pipe cleaner.  Choose a color for right now and buy one.  I don’t care, but for the sake of fish wanting to eat your fly, get something in olive or coffee or something.  You can get crazy with the reds and purples and sparkles later.

MARABOU – Again, it comes in all different flavors.  Choose one or two colors and get a small package.  You don’t need enough to stuff a pillow with for now.

HACKLE – Buy a small package of grizzly hackle.  You’re going to use this up.

BLEACHED ELK HAIR – Or just elk hair, but the bleached is going to flare better, and you only need a small square.  A 2” by 2” square of elk hair on the hide will suffice for 2 dozen or more elk hair caddis flies.

DUBBING – What color do you want?  Do you want it to sparkle?  Just buy a little.  A small tuft of this goes a long way.  Again- if you want your first fly to be simple yet affective- get something in a nice earthy color.

That’s it for now.  All you need to tie up some simple dry flies like an elk hair caddis as well as to start rolling thread around your first wooly bugger or small streamer.  If you bought all the smallest packages of all the items listed above you should have only spent about $25.00 and you probably have enough material to tie at least 25 flies or more.

This all goes without mentioning that when you start looking at all the materials that are on the market now for tying flies- your head may explode.  The above list is so tiny when you look at the realm of what’s out there, from furs to foams, flashing, wings, skins, feathers, hackles, threads, hooks, and on and on.  If you can think it up- it’s available.  Walking down the aisles of the fly tying section in a fly shop can be overwhelming.  Keep it simple for now.  And remember, tying flies, learning new bugs, and imagining or putting variations together of your own work will make you a better fly fisher.

By: Todd Pomeroy

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