The Freestone Drifter: Tying Flies
If you're just getting into fly tying, it can be overwhelming to say the least. I'd like to share with you a system that I've found to be helpful over the past few years as I've increased the number of flies that I tie. I find fly tying to be a rewarding use of my time, which I don't always have a lot of. With a 2 ½ year old and a 3 month old, and on the verge of getting our house ready to sell, let's just say time has not been something that I have an abundance of. I have bad memories of starting the season and not having all of the flies that I know I'll need for the coming season. This acts as my motivation to find as much time as I can during the colder months. It can be painful to be sitting at the vise while you know the fish are rising. A good fisherman is well prepared!
Fly Tying Tools
You'll need the following to get you started:
You don't need the most expensive vise, but you usually get what you pay for. Something in the middle that holds hooks of all sizes is what you need. If you can get a good price on a rotary vise, don't hesitate to buy it.
I would get a ceramic bobbin. It doesn't happen often, but there are times when thin thread can cut on the edge of your bobbin. A ceramic bobbin isn't much more expensive.
Get all purpose scissors to start out with.
- Bobbin Threader
- Whip Finisher
Buy a Matarelli.
- Head Cement and Bodkin
Zap-a-Gap is the best.
- Styrofoam Cups
For drying your flies out on after you apply head cement.
Fly Tying Resources
Books are great, but if you're anything like me, I need to watch someone else do it so I can replicate it to the T. There is no shortage of videos out there in the fly fishing internet world. The amount of fly tying videos is unbelievable. I've subscribed on YouTube to a few different channels, but Tightline Productions is hands down the best. This channel is run by Tim Flagler, and Orvis heavily endorses him. In fact, if you go to the Orvis website, pretty much all of their fly tying videos are from Tim Flagler.
Fly Tying Materials
My greatest advice with materials is to watch videos of the flies that you want to tie first and then make a list of what materials you'll need. Often, materials between fly patterns overlap and you'll find yourself using the same materials for many different flies. I've had a package of peacock herl for 8 years that I use frequently and I'm not even close to running out. Don't get upset if you don't have the exact material in a fly tying video. You can usually substitute a material for the one that you don't have. Let's be honest, do the fish really know if your Mickey Finn streamer is made from bucktail or calf tail? Probably not.
If you're into tying dry flies and woolly buggers, I would really suggest buying hackle from Whiting Farms. It will be expensive at first when you buy a cape, but you'll get hundreds of flies out of that cape. It will take you years to tie that many flies, so spending $40 on a cape isn't bad in the long run. Whiting farms makes a great hackle, and with the use of a hackle gauge, you'll find that you can use hackle for pretty much any size fly. I would try to find a double cape package that has black/grey on one side and brown/dun colored on the opposite site. I've picked these up for under $40 at many fly shops.
Every winter right around Christmas, I like to empty and reorganize all of my fly boxes (which is 8 boxes by the way). It gives me a good opportunity to see what hooks are bent, what flies are potentially rusted and how many I need to tie of a certain pattern based on what I have left. Now, I'd be lying to you if I said that I tie EVERY fly that I make. There are several patterns out there that are too tedious and require great patience and skill that I don't necessarily have. I've found that the flies I lose the most are nymphs and streamers. This is because these get hooked on the bottom the most.
Therefore, many of the flies that I end up tying are nymphs and streamers. I still have dry flies that I've used over and over again, and nothing is wrong with them, even after catching multiple fish on them. If you're just starting out, tie some Mickey Finn streamers or some beadhead woolly buggers. After you've played around with streamers, move to nymph patterns and start with something really easy (although small) like a zebra midge.
I buy most of my dry flies because I don't like how mine come out, even though the first don't seem to care. There's something about having the perfect looking dry fly and having a fish put it in the corner of its mouth. It's the way it should be and I can't get over that pure art form of fly fishing. I feel that I would be doing the fish an injustice to catch it with the ugly dry fly patterns that I end up tying. The biggest reason I buy most of my dry flies is because I don't really lose that many of them, plus they can be a little time consuming compared to nymphs.
Part of me wishes that I just had a few boxes with the "essential" flies, but I can't help but be a sucker for trying out new patterns to tie or picking up a few at the fly shop that are the "only thing they're hitting". I almost wish I was being forced to narrow it down to 15 different patterns and that's all I could have in total.
To finish off this post, I'll leave you with some of my favorite flies to tie. I wouldn't post them if they didn't work. Go check them out on YouTube, tie a few up, and accomplish that sense of pride when you land a nice, big trout on a fly that you tied on a cold February night when you were dreaming about standing in a river!
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Parachute Ant
- Griffith's Gnat
- Parachute BWO
- Zebra midge
- Bead head pheasant tail
- Green caddis larva
- Pat's Rubber Legs
- Various egg patterns
- Klinkhamer (could be a dry also)
- Soft hackle (very low profile body)
- Lafontaine Sparkle Emerger
- WD-40 Plus
- Black Ghost
- Woolly Bugger
- Clouser Minnow
- Mickey Finn
- Galloup's Barely Legal
You still have plenty of time. Tie a few up, meet me on the river in the spring and we'll compare notes. I don't have an artistic bone in my body, but the fish keep taking what I'm throwing. So either I'm good at fly tying or they're just not that picky. I'd put my money on the latter!
Aaron Broaddus is a passionate fly fisherman and a Maine guide.