Tying the Perfect Fly

By: Suzana Haertzen

I consider myself to be a solidly average flytier.  A teacher at heart, I would grade my performance a C+ at best.  When it comes to this hobby of mine, I am certainly glad I’m not a perfectionist because I don’t think I can say I have ever tied a perfect fly.

I like to watch the “How to Tie” videos particularly before I tie a new pattern.  I enjoy discovering new tools, seeing new materials, and learning new techniques.  Sometimes I find ways to improve my tying of classic flies as well.  The flytiers in the videos always give little tips and tricks as they swiftly and adeptly maneuver the thread and materials.  The finished product is a perfect fly every time.  I wear out the pause button on my iPad as I watch and rewatch sections of the videos.  I have become a better flytier this way – I am a student of the craft.  That said, following along with the videos as I attempt to replicate their process can also be frustrating when my finished product does not quite resemble the perfect fly in the video.  How does my fly fall short?  Let me count the ways:  the eye is too crowded with material, which later will require a heroic feat to get a fly line through it; the rubber legs are askew, pointing in directions legs aren’t meant to point; the body shape is too fat or too thin; the hackle never quite looks as full or the rib as evenly spaced.  I could write an entire separate article on the different ways my flies don’t pass muster.  

One of my imperfect flies: crazy tail, legs askew, sparse hackle…

So, what to do when the perfect fly is elusive and so far, unachievable?  I’ve developed several strategies for how to be perfectly happy with my status as an average flytier.  Here they are:

  1. Size matters. Obviously, larger flies are easier to tie.  Personally, I draw the line at a hook size 18.  If my husband wants flies smaller than #18, he buys them online or at the local fly shop.  Whenever I look through the fly compartments at a fly shop, I am always in awe at how tiny some flies are, and I have respect for people who tie them that small.  But for me to keep fly-tying, it must be fun, not something I dread, so knowing my boundaries is important.
  2. Use the Six Ingredient Rule.  Sometimes, fly-tying is like cooking.  I don’t enjoy cooking recipes with many ingredients.  In fact, I usually go with the Six Ingredient Rule.  If a recipe calls for more than six ingredients, I either leave out some of them or look for a simpler recipe.  For me, the same holds true for fly-tying.  Not including the hook, thread, bead head and weight, six materials or less makes for a fly I’m willing to tie.
  3. Use what you’ve got.  While I like trying new materials, I may not have every material that a recipe calls for.  At that point, my choice is to wait until I place my next materials order with AvidMax, leave out said material, or substitute something similar.  When I want to tie a particular fly, I don’t always want to wait to get the exact material, and I figure an approximate fly is better than no fly.  For example, I recently tied a batch of Hippie Stompers.  I had all the materials except the Magnum Gold Flash and the yellow and black Round Rubber legs.  So, I substituted with some root beer Krystal Flash and Sili Legs and that I already had in stock.  The result was I could tie the batch of flies without having to wait, and I think I may even like my version better.
  4. Imperfections can be perfect.  Often, my husband will fish a fly that I tied and, in my mind, had deemed unfishable.  He finds a way to get the fly line through the crowded eye, overlooks the crooked legs, and ignores the deformed body.  He ties on my imperfect fly, casts it out on the water, and miraculously catches a fish!  Sometimes, that fly gets hot, and the fish hit it over and over.  They decimate that fly until it is missing legs and the hackle starts to unwind and still, they continue to hit it.  My lesson from this is twofold.  First, maybe I’m being too hard on myself.  Second, maybe the fish don’t know a perfect fly from an imperfect fly.  Perhaps even the imperfections themselves are what makes the fly most appealing.  

As for that perfect fly, I suppose I will always strive to tie it.  Who knows?  Possibly after more practice, I will even achieve it.  In the meantime, though, I will continue to try to give myself a little slack and consider that for all my effort and average skill, the point of this hobby is that it helps us get out on the water and catch fish.  Maybe for that, I deserve an A+

Bio: Suzana lives in southwest Colorado with her husband and dog, Rudy.  She retired from teaching full-time in 2022 but continues to teach online college classes and work remotely in accounting and tax.  In her spare time, Suzana likes to mountain bike, hike, camp, ski, read, write, and tie flies.

2 thoughts on “Tying the Perfect Fly

  1. Thank you so much I needed to heard this.I thought I was the only person that felt useless but you have stated the purpose and how to control your techniques and confidence in fly tying.Thank you once again!

    1. Thanks for sharing that, George. I’m guessing there are a lot of people who feel just like we do – we’re all in the same boat!

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