Fly Tying

Insider Info

Fly tying involves combining a variety of materials to create realistic lures that look like insects to fish.

To make a fly, you start with a hook and then tie bits of thread, animal hair, feathers, wool and wire to it to create a realistic effect.

Once finished, flies go by some pretty strange names, including bunny leech, royal wulff, red tag, leadwing coachman and Tom Thumb.

Fly tying is all part of the fishing process for avid fly-fishers. They say there's nothing like catching a fish on a fly you've tied yourself.

"You feel great," says fly-tying enthusiast Alan Barnard. "It's really satisfying to catch a fish with one of your own flies."

While many flies look very intricate and detailed, fly-tying enthusiasts say the process really isn't all that difficult. It usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes to tie a fly, depending on your level of experience.

"Overcoming the feeling you can't do it is the hardest part. It's really a simple mechanical process," says Steve Welsh, a fly tyer in Australia.

Most fly-tying enthusiasts say they learned the craft by watching other fly tyers or by reading about it in books and magazines. They say the most common mistake for novices is making the proportions wrong.

"Proportions are everything," says Barnard. "Fish won't take flies with heads twice the size they're supposed to be."

Learners may also try to be a bit too fancy with their first attempts. "A common mistake is going overboard and putting too much material on the hook," says Vic Brockett, a fly-tying enthusiast.

You also have to keep in mind where you're planning to use the flies, because they're supposed to imitate the insects from that area. A fly will do you no good in Montana if it's designed for use in British Columbia.

Fly tying can be done by just about anyone with eyesight good enough for the detail work. Many fly-fishing enthusiasts continue to tie flies long after they're no longer able to get out fishing.

Getting Started

It's not all that expensive to get started at fly tying. Basic equipment -- a vice, scissors, hackle pliers, a bobbin for winding thread and some basic materials -- can be had for under $100.

Most fly tying enthusiasts admit they don't really save any money by tying their own flies, but that's OK. Most are doing it for the fun and relaxation.

"It's relaxing," says Welsh, "and I love the feeling of achievement at a well turned-out fly -- especially a new pattern I haven't tried before. I also like the challenge of imitating a specific insect."

Many fly-tying enthusiasts have taken their hobby and turned it into a great job. Some have opened fly shops. Others tie flies at home for sale. Some teach classes.

While fly-fishing has grown in popularity over the past 10 years, experts say the number of people tying their own flies has remained about the same. Many people just don't have the patience for this hobby.

"A bit of time is needed to do this and that's something not a lot of people seem to have," says Brockett.

If you've got patience and an eye for detail, fly tying could become a lifelong hobby for you.

"Stop by a local fly shop and see if a local club is available," says Brockett. Fly shops are a great place to get information about getting started. Find one and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Some community colleges also offer courses in fly tying. Check with a community college near you to see if there are any programs available.

Don't go overboard buying equipment and supplies until you're sure you like this hobby. Experts suggest you start by using less expensive supplies to practice on, then go from there.

"Don't buy a kit," advises Patrick Drohan. "Most kits come with a lot of useless, low-quality supplies. Start by tying a few local patterns...and go from there."

Finally, remember that it takes patience to tie good flies. As with fishing, a lot of the fun is in the process, not the results.


Federation of Fly-Fishers


The Virtual Flyshop
Tons of links for fly-fishing and tying

Fishing Online Bookstore
Subjects include fly-fishing and fly tying

Fishing on the Fly
Tips from Scotland

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