Fly tying, along with fly fishing, is a tough hobby to get into without a network of hard won knowledge. I started fly fishing without knowing a single other person who did it 7 years ago, and am still the only one among my circle of friends who ties their own flies. Quality, proven knowledge is hard to come by to say the least, so I figured I’d share a few helpful tips that I’ve picked up along the way that no one ever told me in the beginning. Things that are absurdly obvious and embarrassingly too basic to ask.
First and foremost, your local flyshop, if you’re lucky enough to have a good one near you, is your best source of knowledge. If you don’t know anything, don’t pretend like you do. Go in with your hat in your hands and give in to your cluelessness. A quality fly shop will show you the way. I’m lucky enough to have Stone River Outfitters about 20 minutes away from my house, and Nate over there has gone out of his way to answer every stupid question I have no shame in asking. In fact, he often admits how I’ll ask the same thing that guys that have been tying for decades don’t even know the answer to. So don’t feel bad, just ask.
Anyways, here are some insights I’ve picked up that have really helped my game.
Your Thread Can Twist
You’ve got a bobbin with thread in it. The thread spool is captured in a fixed position. If you spin it, you will twist the thread, putting a spiral into the thread which causes it to not lay flat when you wrap. This isn’t necessarily bad thing, because you can use this to build up bulk quicker than an untwisted thread which will lay flat. Also, when you wrap thread you actually put about a 1/4 twist in your thread with every turn. This something that you should develop a mindfulness for and either promote or prevent this twisting depending on your goal.
Learn Your Proportions
Almost every fly that imitates a food source is only as good as it’s attention to proportions when tying. Generally, parts of the fly, like the thorax, body, or tail is sized based on a relation to another part of the fly or the hook itself. It’s usually a matter of breaking the fly into thirds and halves. A tail about a third of the body length. Wrap your wire to just behind the hook point. Most of these proportions are explained in any good fly tying tutorial video or article, but here are some nifty diagrams some kindly folks out there took the time to create as resources.
Don’t Crowd Your Hook Eye
While you might think the hook eye is too obvious or you want to tie a fly that uses up all the hook, don’t fall into the habit of tying materials right up to the hook eye. Often times, especially with the smaller sized hooks (18 and smaller), the fly will be damn near useless because you won’t be able to pass your tippet through the eye. Materials like hackle feathers and dubbing will build up there and deflect that thin tag end of tippet you’re trying to pass through.
Get Some Books
YouTube is freaking awesome. You can have it right next to your vise and tie a new pattern step by step with the creator. I even watch fly tying videos for fun. But books also have their place in today’s age, even with us millennials. For one thing, a good fly tying book will serve as a suitable baseline for future patterns. Today’s internet and Youtube scene are chock full of crazy new patterns, all touting to be the premiere trout catcher fly. Often, these incorporate exotic materials and are constantly evolving. There are a few fly tying bibles that give good solid recipes for classic flies that you can keep at your desk to refer back to, rather than the latest uploader’s version of the Pyscho Adam’s Krystal Flash Dry fly pattern.