What is fly tying and why do I do it?

Hi, I thought I should do a post about fly Tying, what is involved, the tools required and why it’s such a great hobby!


January, 2019

Ann~Damselfly Chronicles

Looking from an outsider’s point of view, you’re probably wondering, for instance, how hard can it be to tie a fly? Or why not just buy them, wouldn’t it be so much simpler? Well, I suppose it would be, although flies are not cheap to buy, like everything else they add up. While this may be true, the cost will be nowhere near what you’ll spend if you start making them! “But,” you say, that’s contradicting of most things, bought things are usually more expensive. So let me explain…

My Griffin Odyssey vise, great for small to medium-sized hooks. $124.34 @ Amazon.ca

Materials and primary tools needed to take up the hobby of “Fly Tying”. How much can you expect to spend and which fly pattern should you begin with!

When I first started the hobby of fly tying I bought a basic inexpensive tying vise. That’s the tool that holds your hook while you’re working on it. The simplest fly to tie is a “Woolly Bugger” on a large size hook. So hooks, a pack of strung hackle (chicken feathers) some tying chenille, a bobbin and some thread and you’re in business! So far I’ve only invested maybe fifty dollars, the bulk of that being the vice, but you tell yourself you will only need to buy that once! Or will you? Thus the self-deception begins. Ha-ha!

Now in truth, I should expand on what will really happen once you tie your first fly, especially if you get hooked! If you do, you’re in for a challenge, tons of fun, and a great sense of accomplishment. And a major readjustment of your spending budget! Just kidding!

Saving money by tying your own flies couldn’t be further from the truth! I know because I’ve probably spent over five thousand dollars since I began tying flies in 2014. As my expertise in the hobby grew so did my tools and materials. That’s concisely the way to explain what happens in this hobby. I suppose in any hobby that is, we always want the best technology to help us do what we love to do. Each fly pattern you tie requires a multitude of materials and colors of those materials. That is especially true of the modern fly patterns tied today where much synthetics are used.

My Stonfo Kaiman rotating vise has very strong jaws and is great for tying larger sized fly patterns. $268.50 @ Flymart.ca

Fly tying materials are sold in Fly Shops, some local, many more online. These specialized shops sell their products at a fair to high cost. Gone are the days when you go off to snare a rabbit and construct a “Bunny Leech” fly pattern from his hide. Or go behind the barn and pluck a couple of feathers from your rooster to tie your dry fly pattern with! Today feathers come from many different species of birds and chickens, specifically bred for their plumage to be harvested for the purpose of fly tying. Here is a good article that illustrates these facts.

“Raising hackles: The prized chickens at the center of fly fishing”

Tying materials and tools are specialized and they are priced accordingly. But there are ways to do the hobby without the high costs, you just have to be resourceful and willing to do some research.

YouTube is a great source for any kind of DIY projects, I give them 2 thumbs up! Including fly tying, in fact, that’s where much of my knowledge comes from. Great fly tiers from all over the world have instructional channels and it’s free of charge to learn.

Of course, some can be a little sneaky about plugging certain materials they use which you’ll fall in love with and want to buy while they get a little kickback for promoting. Meanwhile, you’re well on your way to the poor house! Ha-ha!! Just kidding! But you do have to use some common sense, recognize when you can substitute a certain material for something you already have. The fish checking out your fly isn’t going to necessarily care if the hackle, for example, came from a Brahma Hen (less $) instead of the Hungarian Partridge that pattern called for!

Tools are a necessity to the art of fly tying just like they are to a woodworker. They can become very expensive particularly if you have a penchant for quality tools. Just like a woodworker’s tools you can use a Black & Decker or splurge for a Festool which will set you back by a lot more. Quality tools are appreciated in certain aspects of fly tying, particularly in a vise. In a pinch, you could use a pair of vice grips mounted on a two by four board. But for maximum effectiveness, you want a good vise that will be easy to operate and hold your hook securely. If you tie large patterns, like Pike flies, you want a vise with bigger jaws that are very strong to hold your large hooks. Having one of each size is the way to go, but again not a necessity.

Denny Richard's Stillwater Nymph

This fly pattern is made of marabou, which is the soft fluffy feathers from a turkey. Hackle is also wrapped (palmered) around the body. Two strands of Krystal Flash, (shiny reflective strands) in the tail section.

Unsinkable Beetle

This beetle fly pattern is made from synthetic materials. Body is foam, the wing is Poly-yarn and legs are rubber. It floats high on top of the water.

Orange Barred Zonker

Zonkers are made from rabbit fur cut in strips and dyed various colors, some have black barring. They are often called “Bunny Leech” for they can mimic a leech or baitfish.

Now we’ve come to the “why would I want to tie my own flies”? Why not just buy them when I’ve clearly established that it would be far less costly to do so. That is a loaded question indeed!

Fly tying is an extremely rewarding hobby. First and foremost you need flies to fish, but furthermore, the experience of fly tying is undeniably delightful!  It brings you insight into the vast expansive world of insects that the trout and other fish feed on. Therefore having a better understanding of which fly patterns work in which situation. Fly tying is a great way to break up the monotony of long winter months.  What’s more fly fishing and fly tying is a marriage made in heaven! There is nothing like catching a fish on a fly you’ve tied yourself.

Those are my reasons for enjoying it but fly tying on its own, merits accolades, as there are people out there, many of them women that love tying flies just for the pleasure of it. They are not fly fishers! They simply love the hobby or do it for extra income. Some of the best commercial tyers are women.

 So there you have it! That’s it in a nutshell, I could say a lot more on fly tying but I’ll save it for another post! 

Until then 🙂