10 Versatile Fly Tying Materials

10 Versatile Fly Tying Materials

While packing my stuff for a fly tying show recently, I methodically boxed up all the materials I thought were needed for the two day event. By the time I was done, a luggage dolly was required just to carry it all. "This is ridiculous," I thought. So, I sorted through the boxes and pruned them down to the bare essentials. With these dozen or so different materials I figured I could demonstrate how to tie nearly all the flies I used for saltwater fishing on the Texas Coast. Narrowing everything down turned out to be just fine and it was a reminder that you don't have to have tons of specialized feathers and fibers to tie good flies. Here are 10 of the fly tying materials I packed, and why I think they are useful for modern saltwater fly tying.

Craft Fur

Craft fur is perhaps one of the friendliest fly tying materials on the planet. It is inexpensive, durable, and looks terrific in the water. The texture, length, and suppleness of craft fur ranges from stiff-fibered versions one might find at a department store, to long, silky "extra select" varieties offered by fly tying merchants. My personal favorite is the select craft fur distributed by Rainy's (Hairline Dubbin sells the same stuff). This craft fur has a long tapered fiber, but it is not too thin so it holds its shape well and does not tangle or matt as easily as some of the ultra-supple varieties. I use this craft fur as a body or tail material on all sorts of shrimp and baitfish patterns, and also on small Clouser Minnows, Crazy Charlies, and MOE flies.

Super Hair

Super Hair (also called "Supreme Hair") is a long, non-tapered, stiff, translucent nylon fiber available in many different colors. Its wrinkled texture and translucent sheen make Super Hair a versatile material. Super Hair is the material used to tie Surf Candy flies, epoxy shrimp, and a variety of other durable lifelike patterns. It is virtually indestructible and can be used as a winging or accent material to impart a terrific fleshy appearance to Clouser Minnows, bead chain shrimp, MOE fly patterns and many other saltwater flies.

Krystal Flash

Krystal Flash was one of the first flash materials to hit the market many years ago. In my opinion it is still one of the best. A slightly stiff helical (twisted) Mylar fiber, Krystal Flash has a segmented appearance that looks great on crustacean and baitfish patterns. Krystal Flash is available in many different colors, including metallic, pearlescent, and fluorescent shades. It also comes in several different sizes and textures to accommodate both large and small flies. Honestly, I don't think any saltwater fly tying bag is complete without a bundle or two of Krystal Flash.


Estaz (also known as "Cactus Chenille" or "Crystal Chenille") is a pearlescent chenille product that is perfect for building crustacean bodies and small baitfish bodies. Estaz is inexpensive and wraps (palmers) easily around the hook shank. Estaz is a key material used on many different flies, including the Cactus Shrimp.

Permanent Markers

Permanent markers are a terrific way to add colors, banding, and shading to flies. Both Prismacolor and Sharpie brand permanent markers work fine. I most often use permanent markers to create a segmented appearance on the tail fibers of shrimp patterns, or to shade the back fibers on baitfish patterns. A few colored permanent markers will greatly expand what you can create at the vise.

Bead Chain

I don't know who first used plumber's bead chain to create a make-do pair of weighted eyes on a fly, but they knocked it out of the park with that idea. Available in painted, nickel plated, and stainless steel, bead chain is an ideal material to weight flies like Clouser Minnows, Whistlers, Crazy Charlies, shrimp flies, and crab patterns. These are sinking flies designed to ride with the hook inverted in a weedless "point up" position. In addition to ballast, bead chain adds a finish and shape to a fly that fish seem to find irresistible. I prefer to tie with stainless steel bead chain because it is heavier and more resistant to corrosion than either painted or nickel plated bead chain.

Mason Hard Mono

Mason Hard Mono is a stiff monofilament line that was designed to make leaders. But it can also be used for making weed guards and melted mono eyes on flies. For single or double weed guards, select either a 12 lb or 16 lb Mason Hard Mono. To make crustacean eyes, use 16 lb Mason Hard Mono and burn the ends slightly to form a round black pupil.

Clear Nylon Mono Thread

One of the most versatile threads available is clear nylon mono. I use it on almost all my flies. Clear nylon mono is tough, it blends in with underlying materials, and it disappears when you apply lacquer or epoxy over it- no more trying to match the thread color to the fly. These features make clear nylon mono a good choice for a variety of saltwater patterns.

Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails

I have yet to find a better head lacquer than Sally Hansen's Hard-as-nails nail polish. It is inexpensive, widely available, and it works great. Two coats of Sally Hansen's will seal and secure virtually any thread-wrapping job. It also works great as a clear coat over painted fly bodies and parts.

Mustad 34007 hooks

Mustad 34007 stainless steel hooks have been fly tying workhorses for many years. Most saltwater fly fishermen probably tied their first fly on one of these hooks and many still use them. The reliable 34007 is the perfect shape and weight for all sorts of baitfish and shrimp patterns. Although the 34007 needs sharpening out of the box, it is a tough hook that seldom fails. Recently, Mustad introduced a "Z" version which is stiffer and sharper than the old 34007. The new "Z" hook is also plated in a corrosion resistant compound. There have been rumors that Mustad is perhaps discontinuing the old-style 34007 for the new coated "Z" version. I hope they don't. The 34007 is fine just the way it is.