Fly Tying Basics

By: Jason Haines

Fly tying is an extension of fly fishing. Many fly fishermen have never gotten behind the vise for a variety of reasons. It’s not going to save you money and it will certainly cause you frustration (tapered fly bodies and getting appropriate hackle to hook ratio come to mind). However, there is nothing like catching a fish on something that your hands created. It makes it that much more special to know that you put the fur and feathers together, and it all resulted in getting the fish on the end of the line to net.

There are so many different fly recipes out there, it can become overwhelming to many novice fly tiers or it completely turns people off and they buy their flies (not that there’s anything wrong with that). However, these are a few things I have learned so far that will go a long way to make it simpler and less daunting to new tiers.

First, keep it simple. Don’t try big fancy designs, get the basics of tying down pat (learn those tapered bodies that are so frustrating). Stick with tried and true originals that aren’t the most challenging to start (here’s talking to you Wooly Buggers, Hare’s Ears, Zebra Midges, and Scud patterns). And if it isn’t pretty, that doesn’t mean it won’t catch fish. Don’t overcomplicate things by trying to tie on a size 22 hook to start. As a matter of fact, starting bigger is probably better.

Don’t get bogged down thinking you need the exact materials the pattern calls for. Don’t have Coq de Leon, try pheasant tails instead. Need a different color dubbing, try mixing two colors you have. Don’t have a brass bead, try gold or silver instead. Start with some basic colors of thread, beads, hackle, fur, etc. to get started, then expand as your skills improve. Buy the basic tools that will help you be successful: a good vise, bobbin, and whip finish tool to start.

Use the resources that are available out there. YouTube has become an invaluable resource for fly tiers and you can find just about any pattern imaginable there with a full breakdown on how to tie it. However, don’t forget there are also numerous books and magazines that break the fly down step by step. Some of these books also explain some of the tools and techniques that will help you become a better fly tyer.

Lastly, stop into your local fly shop. Look at some of the patterns and talk to the people that
work there. Find out what patterns are working for your area and try your hand at tying those. Most fly shops that I know have people who genuinely care about the work that they are doing. They love fishing as much as you do and will hopefully point you in the right direction.

Fly tying can be overwhelming. It can also be a real joy if you keep it in perspective and enjoy your time behind the vise. Tying has helped me to become a better angler and helps keep my mind focused when I’m not on the water. Remember, keep things simple at the vise and on the water for success.

Jason Haines is a father, husband, and fly fisherman who loves spending time outdoors.  When he is not fly fishing or tying, he enjoys spending time camping and hiking with his family.  

Leave a Reply