So You Want to Learn to Tie Flies…

So You Want to Learn to Tie Flies…

One of the things I love most about being a fly fisherman is the joy of tricking one of Mother Natures finest on a bait I have created with my own hands. As unlikely as it sounds, I learned the basics of fly tying years before I ever learned to cast a fly rod, but it was not a skill I mastered until I became a full-time guide and tying flies became a necessity. It was the need to save money and time that prompted me to learn all that I could and become proficient at tying. Over the years I have learned a few tricks that have made sitting down at the vise more productive and more enjoyable so I thought I might share some of what I have learned.


One of the first things I learned about productive tying is that organization is the key. Now coming from me, this concept is insanely laughable considering the fact that my life as about as organized as a, well a two-year-olds toy box. But, knowing where everything is when you need it accomplishes two things. The first is as simple as- if you do not have to look for what you need, it saves time. The second is that, by being able to see all the materials separately, it allows your mind to relax and in turn, the creative juices to start to flow.

Over the years I have attacked the problem of disorganization many ways. If a person is just tying on a small scale and sticking to the basics, say like occasionally tying a couple of redfish flies here and there, a few divided Plano boxes for materials and a small tackle box for tools and such will do the trick. But say you are heading off to Mexico to fish for tarpon and, oh, by the way, there will be opportunities for bonefish and permit too and you want to fill your fly boxes. Well, the amount of materials you need just tripled or quadrupled.

At first, I started out just like I mentioned above but, over time, as I became more skilled and more creative, I needed more and better organization. As a rule, my every day fly tying necessities are contained within what I call my fish camp box. It is a large Plano tackle box that contains 100% of all that I need to maintain my fly boxes at near capacity while I am guiding the inshore waters of the Texas Gulf Coast. The shelves organize my tools, hooks and smaller packages of materials while the box section below contains all of my materials sorted in quart and gallon freezer bags.

However, when I need to tie in bulk or tie flies to travel with, I like being in the man cave where sits one of my most treasured possessions.

For years I had wanted a desk specifically for tying flies but could never find one that encompassed my vision of what I thought I needed. I considered having one built and even got a few quotes to have it done but the prices that I got were far beyond my means. Anyway, a few years back my aunt gave me a call and asked if I would like an old jewelers bench that she had. To tell the truth, I was not that interested but she described it in just a way that it piqued my curiosity so I had to go at least take a look. When I saw it, I had to have it. Unlike a desk, this was a bench that I could stand at and work or, if I was in the mood to sit and tie, it had a tray that I could pull out that was the perfect height and the tray caught all of my trimmings and kept small components such as lead eyes or beads from falling to the floor should my less than nimble fingers dropped them.

Made from aluminum, it has a wooden top and numerous drawers of varying sizes that contains everything that I could possibly need to create all of the fish food I could ever hope to use. In fact, I could probably tie for the next five years on just the materials contained within the bench today. If you are looking for a place to tie flies, I highly recommend that you make an effort to find a jewelers table. It truly makes tying easier and more enjoyable.

Think Outside the Box

When people think about tying flies the first thing that comes to mind is feathers and fur. Well, if you are reading this and have an interest in fly fishing, it is a safe bet you have been to a fly shop and perused all the offerings. No doubt you already understand that flies are no longer crafted of all-natural materials. Synthetics have in fact become a huge part of modern-day tying.

Obviously, the place to find the best materials is at a fly shop. In fact, one of the absolutely best shops that I have found for tying materials is smack dab in the heart of Texas at a shop called The Sportsmans Finest just outside Austin in Bee Caves. Another great place to find what you need, at least in regards to tying saltwater patterns, is Fishing Tackle Unlimited. However, another great place to locate materials and, surprisingly to get inspired, would be Hobby Lobby. I cannot tell you how many times, while strolling the aisles, I have spotted something that has given me an idea for, if not a new fly, a better or easier way to tie an existing pattern.

Another little tip that I have to offer is, while the tools that are necessary for tying flies are best located at your favorite fly shop- there are quite a few tools that make life much more enjoyable behind the vise that cannot be found at a fly shop. Probably the best example of this is the various pliers and cutters I use for cutting bead-chain eyes, mono and hard nylon and wire. They are the Craftsman brand that can only be found at Sears. Another favorite that I have discovered is this killer little set of micro files that I found at a small hardware store in my hometown that are perfect for shaping balsa and foam poppers. Then there is the cauterizing tool I received from a customer that is a surgeon. The uses I have found for the cautery tip have been too numerous to even begin to describe.

The simple truth of it is that, like everything else in this world, you can only get out of time at the vise what you are willing to put into it. Having more materials and a variety of tools at your disposal allows for a more productive session at the bench. The long and short of it is this- if you make fly tying easier, it is exponentially more enjoyable.

Be gude and stuff like that.