Getting Started


'It's too much trouble', 'I'm too old', 'I don't have the time', and 'I can always buy whatever I need', are a few of the hundreds of reasons fishermen use to explain why they don't tie flies. But the counter-arguments are even more pervasive. Perhaps the most compelling is that it is easier and more expedient to learn today and the knowledge gained will make you into better fishermen.

So now that you're convinced, what do you need? Unless you have no choice in the matter, take a fly tying class, go to demonstrations/clinics, view videos, and buy books - pretty much in this order.

What about the materials and equipment? Good kits are available but many contain cheap tools and an assortment of brightly colored materials that serve no particular purpose. I'm not against kits but know what you're getting.

Buy only the materials you need for a few selected flies and learn to tie these patterns properly before proceeding to other patterns and designs. Securing a wide variety of materials will add confusion to the process - keep it simple, take one step at a time, and your progress will be much swifter.

You need seven basic items for fly tying. They don't need to be expensive but they do need to be of good quality.

1. Vise: The primary function of the vise is to hold the hook while you tie the materials to it. The hook should not slip or move during any operation. The jaws of the vise should be capable of holding hooks in sizes #2 to #22. The head of the vise should adjust to an angle of about 45 degrees (or be permanently angled) so that the arm and fingers maintain a comfortable position during tying. The head and barrel of the vise should be far enough from the stem so there is enough space below the jaws to allow the fingers to move freely. Vises with obtrusions or obstructions too close to the head that interfere with fingers or catch materials should be avoided. You have a choice of pedestal or clamp style vises. I won't go into the virtues of each; ask for advice and select the type you're most comfortable with.

I've got one other comment. Buy a good quality vise but don't go overboard - chances are very good that you will be buying another more expensive one after you gain experience.

2. Scissors: They must have fine, sharp points. You want to be able to get into small areas to cut wayward pieces of material. Finger holes should be large enough to comfortably accommodate thumb and forefinger. Some scissors have adjustable finger loops. I'd suggest two pair, a 3 ½ and a 4 ½. Do not try to economize here.

3. Hackle Pliers: You need this tool to form the hackle collar on dry flies, wets and streamers. Hackle pliers should not slip or break the feather while being used. Check the pliers before you buy them for any small burrs or sharp edges. Before I buy a pair, I like to place a hackle between the pliers' jaws to see if it will hold the feather firmly. To test the pliers'' grip, pull the hackle and pliers in opposite directions. If the hackle pulls out easily, the tension is not adequate and must be adjusted, or, select another pair of pliers that holds the hackle firmly.

4. Bobbin: This item holds the thread. It should be tension adjustable so that the thread is easily unspooled while you are tying. It should be heavy enough so that when it is left hanging, its weight will hold a material in place. Most bobbins are well made. Check each end of the tube for burrs and sharp edges that could cut the thread. My suggestion is to start off with at least two bobbins.

5. Dubbing Needle: It is used to pick out fibers that have been accidentally bound down with thread and to pick out a fur body to give a fly a rough "buggy" appearance. It is also used to apply head cement to the thread windings of a completed fly.

6. Tweezers: They are used to pick up hooks, beads, and other odds and ends of materials. They make tying easier in a huge number of situations. In this case I would suggest buying precision quality with flat edges and a fine tip. Just like the scissors, don't economize.

7. Bonding Agents: applying some forms of dubbing require sticky wax and finishing the head of a fly requires head cement.

Over time you will add many more items to this list but these are the essential components. So how much will it set you back? You can probably do it for $100 to $175.