Flies are expensive, easy to loose, and very brittle. Anyone who has spent any time fly fishing has come to this realization. We spend a lot of money on flies only to lose them on the bottom of the river or in the tree 15’ overhead. If we are lucky, they start to fall apart after having caught numerous fish. The natural next step once discovering this issue is to begin tying your own flies
This begs the question, “What do I need to fly tie?” When looking at materials, the answer to this question can be very difficult and extensive. The tools, however, tend to be pretty similar regardless of what you are tying.
The first and main thing that is needed is a vise. You may think you need to spend $500 or more to get a good vise, but that really isn’t true. While the more expensive options on the market hold great value and benefits, I would recommend starting with inexpensive equipment. You don’t want to realize fly tying isn’t for you after having spent $1,000 on tools. A $30 vise will hold a hook securely and get the job done. There are a large number of options and features offered in vises these days: Rotary, Cam, collet, leaver, C-clamp, and many more defining features. These features become more important the more you tie. Starting out, all you need is something that will hold your hook securely as you learn to apply materials.
Once you have your vise selected, you want to start putting together an assortment of hand tools that will make life much easier while tying. You can buy what you need in a set or purchase à la carte as you get going. Some tools are absolutely necessary and others are there to make things easier.
This term is interchangeable for the spool that holds your thread and the tool that holds the spool of thread. Here, I am referring to the tool that holds your spool of thread. This is the most used tool in your kit and is necessary for applying thread and material to a hook shank. There are two main types of bobbins and many variations within them. You can purchase either a spring bobbin or a case bobbin. The main difference being the way they hold your spool of thread and how the tension is applied. Both styles are adjustable and will allow you the ability to get the correct pressure while tying.
There are almost more options and opinions on what scissor is best then there are flies to tie. Starting out however, all you need is a solid all-purpose pair of scissors. Something that can cut your thread off close, as well as manage fine hair and other materials. As you grow as a tier you will find you may want certain scissors for specific applications. Micro tip scissors are great when working with small flies but may not work great for larger streamers and dry flies. You may want a pair of hair specific scissors with longer blades for situations like this. There is a lot of preference here as well. You want to make sure you get a pair of scissors that will not only work well for your application but will also be comfortable in your hand.
Hackle pliers are used in a number of applications while tying and make some of the hardest jobs more manageable. The last thing you want when wrapping hackle or any other small brittle material is to make your final wrap only to have it slip out of your fingers and unravel. Hackle pliers prevent this by giving you extra leverage and adding weight to keep tension on the wraps as you go.
Whip finish tool:
There are ways to tie a whip finish by hand, but, if you are new, it can be tough to keep pressure on your last wrap, thus making the whip finish tool very valuable. There are three different types of whip finish tools, the Simple, the Matarelli and the Thompson. The most popular these days is the Matarelli. You can check out our fundamentals of fly tying video, “How to whip finish to complete your fly”, for help on how to use this tool.
You may or may not want to pick up one of these right off the bat as it isn’t needed for a large number of flies. If you are new to fly tying I recommend starting with simple patterns like midge nymphs and emergers. These patterns, for the most part, will not require any hair and, thus, don’t require a hair stacker. Once you move into dry flies that have a buoyancy dependence on the hair they are tied with, the hair stacker is a must. There is no other way that I am aware of to easily get all of your fine tips aligned before tying in hair material. Flies just don’t look the same unless you do so.
The bodkin is basically a needle with a handle. This tool has an endless amount of uses and can quickly become depended on. It can be used for everything from applying head cement to cleaning out hook eyes, picking dubbing and hackle, making holes in foam, and even getting a splinter out of your finger.
Threaders are pretty self-explanatory. They thread the thread through your bobbin. You can also use them to get your tippet through small fly eyelets. This tool can also be passed up if you are on a budget. Check out another one of our fundamentals of fly tying videos, “How to thread a bobbin”, for a neat trick on how to thread a bobbin without a threader.
Keep things simple as you start out. Get what you NEED and focus on your tying technique. Tools are there to help make your life easier, but can only perform up to your expertise. As you grow as a tyer, you will learn what you like, dislike and need from the tools you use at the bench.
“Be good to the fish and the fish will be good to you”