Fly Tying Tools Of The Trade

If you’re anything like me, walking into the local fly shop and throwing down $3.00 for a fly is just painful. I remember purchasing a big hopper in Eastern Idaho for a specific stretch of water. Given the cost, I “wisely” opted to buy only one. Three casts later, a large brown took it off the surface as soon as the bug hit. After what seemed like a few seconds he broke me off, and my hopper was never seen again, at least, not by me. It is experiences like this that have led me to tie my own flies, as well as times I’ve fished waters with zero luck, only to notice the hatches and make mental notes. After some time at the vise and a little creativity, I’ve come back with my own fly and left with success. But, if your Grandpa didn’t teach you to tie and you’re new to the sport, where should you start? Below are a few of the essential tools of the fly tying trade. All recommendations are items that I personally own and tie flies with.

Learn to tie flies that you can fish on
Warm water species are fun to chase on flies you’ve designed. A bluegill hits a top water hopper of my own creation.
Aggressive warm water fish give you a chance to refine your tying craft. Here, an experimental cricket pattern pays off on the water.


Vise: Now this may seem obvious, but a quick search of fly tying vise will yield everything from $15 to $3000 Waldron models. There are stationary and rotary models, clamp and base models, and nearly everything in between. For a newcomer, some of the features may be useless, and various models may be too expensive for someone new to the scene. I recommend a Griffin Odyssey Spider Vise, which is what I have been using for the last two years. It is a great vise that is very well priced. It’ll give you more than enough features without being confusing, and as you progress as a tyer you won’t need to upgrade. This vise will grow with you in the sport. I’ve been thrilled with mine, especially given the great price.


Griffin Spider Odyssey Vise
Tying a Clouser Minnow on my Griffin Odyssey Spider Vise.


Tools: With the wide array of tools of the tying market, I’d start simple and go with the very basics. Most beginners will start with simple patterns like a Woolly Worm or Griffiths gnat, and basic tools are needed for those patterns. Good scissors are probably at the top for me. Comfortable, sharp, precise scissors are required. I personally tie with the Loon Outdoors Razor Scissors and the Dr. Slick’s All Purpose Scissor.


Experimenting with bucktail. Tying bass fry patterns to chase striped bass and smallies.


Next, you’ll need a bobbin, which will hold thread as you apply it. Cheap bobbins will break the thread, especially thinner sizes, whereas a good bobbin will be comfortable, easy to use, and will protect the thread. Again, Dr. Slick has affordable bobbins that will also protect your thread. I’ve bought new, low-end bobbins before, and they’ve immediately made me regret my choice.


Big fish eat big streamers! Tying my own variation of a wooly bugger.


Lastly, you’ll need a whip finisher. This tool will become less important as you progress and can whip finish a fly with your fingers, but for now, it is an essential tool to finish your flies.


A selection of bead head streamers for a trip to Utah. Simi seal leeches (left, left center) and bugger variations.


If you’re really wanting the most bang for your buck, I recommend the Dr. Slick Brass Fly Tying Set. My wife bought me one years ago and I love it – all the quality tools that you will need at a super affordable price. Buy this set and you’ll have everything you need, and more, to get started. As a bonus, it doubles as a fly box for all the patterns you’ll be putting out.


An olive simi seal leech ready for some brown trout. The simi seal leech is quickly becoming my favorite all-around pattern.


The last item I recommend for new tyers is: patience. We’ve all spent far too much time on a pattern only to have it turn out sub-par. To this day, I’m still learning and growing as a tyer, and I still have a very long way to go; however, patience is key to tying. Thread will break, glue will dry, hackle will twist, and flies will come undone on the water. This is all part of the learning process. Embrace it and use these moments of frustration to better educate yourself.


Keeping a good selection of reference books is helpful in improving your fly tying craft. Also, having fun while tying will keep you going back.


Once you have these tools in place, you’re ready to begin tying basic patterns. As your tying skills evolve over time you’ll find that more tools will make your job easier. For now, focus on putting out patterns that you can fish with. Nothing is more satisfying than fooling a fish into taking one of your own patterns.


A Truckee River Rainbow takes a thin mint streamer when dry flies and nymphs didn’t do the trick.


Written by Brandon Barrow

I am a biologist by trade and a quasi fly tyer and fly fisherman by choice. I am a native Nevadan and enjoy exploring places around the West. I enjoy hunting, rope access, backpacking, trail running, kayaking, and nearly all forms of outdoor activities. You can catch up with me on social media through Twitter and Instagram @thegearbin, or check out my blog at

Do you want to learn more? Check out Brady’s article on, “The Tools For Fly Tying”. He has more to say about the tools.

If you have something you are passionate about, you can write for us too! Check out our guest blogger section, here.

Let’s hear some of your thoughts in the comments!


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