Why I Don’t Tie My Own Flies

Steve does. I don’t. I do not tie my own flies. In this post, I make a case for why some fly fishers should not tie their own flies.

Steve, the other half of “2 Guys and a River” and I are life-long friends. In college, we hung out so much the haters called us “Bo and Luke” after the lead characters on the silly TV show “Dukes of Hazard.” We even went on double dates together, though neither of us married our dates, much to the appreciation (on some days) of our wives.

But Steve and I could not be more different.

Steve is a first child. I am not. Steve is so much of a first child that when we take fly fishing trips, Steve will make the bed every morning at the place we’re staying, even if it’s the last day we’re there. Yes, he makes the bed. Let’s just say that I don’t make my bed (though I will pull off the dirty sheets on the morning I leave).

We also differ on many aspects of fly fishing. We use different rods. We wear different waders. How we think about fly fishing brands, even, is so different. I tend to be practical and cheap; he is more brand conscious.

And we also differ on the topic of tying flies. Steve does. I don’t. There are consequences to my decision, such as not having the ability to tie a pattern at the river’s edge and feel the surge of emotion as I hook a brown with a woolly bugger that I tied. I don’t get to feel one with nature because I caught a fish with something I created.

However, I’d rather buy than tie, and here’s why:

1. We had too many kids.

We ended up with four, and with all their sports and school activities, I can barely get out on the river as it is. A lousy excuse, I know. But given the dizzying number of places to buy flies, I’d rather watch my sons play football or my daughters play soccer or attend one of my sons’ wrestling meets.

I can’t do it all, so I’ve made the choice to eliminate, among other things, tying flies.

2. I also love to hunt.

I’ve limited my sports to two – fly fishing and hunting. I’d rather fly fish and hunt upland game and waterfowl than spend time in a damp basement under a bright lamp with tiny hooks and peacock herl. Just sayin’.

Obviously, when I hunt is not generally in the evenings and in the winter, but even so, life is a series of trade-offs. And I’ve traded tying my own flies for other opportunities.

3. I’d rather write than tie.

In my free time, outside of fly fishing and hunting, I like to write. I’ve written two books, with another on fly fishing (with Steve, my podcast partner). I’ve written thousands of blog posts, it seems, and another hundred or so articles.

Writing is another choice I’ve made.

4. I’d rather work more than tie.

I’ve started a couple small businesses, so I’d probably rather throw my shoulder into landing one more client than spend an evening staring at a vise.

Again, it’s another choice. It’s probably more like a kind of illness, but I enjoy throwing my shoulder into what I feel I’ve been called to do.

5. The patterns on the market are legion.

I’m grateful for all those who tie flies, and the artistry that I can purchase amazes me.

Yes, I may be paying more per fly than I should, but you can’t have it all in this world. I’m happy to pay for flies. I just am. And I’m thankful for the talent that ties the flies that I can buy.

6. We have too much clutter in our house.

Until the kids all leave (and it looks like it will be a while, even though the two oldest are in college), we need every square inch of our house for kid stuff. I don’t have space for a bench and a corner for more boxes.

7. I can live with the ambiguity of who ties my flies.

Someone recently taunted me for my decision by saying that I’m contributing to slave labor, that most flies are tied in China (or Thailand) in a sweat factory, and that it is the dirty little secret of the fly fishing industry.

Whewda!

Just for starters, none of the flies I purchase are from big box retail stores. I generally buy from local fly shops. I know for a fact that at least some of the fly shops where Steve and I fish regularly purchase flies from local tiers. For example, one fly shop in Montana has this on their web site: “We stock only flies & gear useful within fifty miles of our door, we designed and/or tie around half the flies we stock …”

However, no doubt that many of the ties sold in both fly shops and big box retail stores are tied by, as a fly shop monkey said to me the other day, “a little old lady in Thailand.”

So do individuals who tie flies in bulk for that fly shop make a live-able wage for their work?

I have no idea.

Do the folks at the factory who make your nets and leaders and tippet and vests make enough money to live on? I don’t know.

Are the mutual funds that you invest in for your retirement comprised only of investments in companies with vetted labor practices? Do you know how your investments are used?

I have no angst about who ties my flies. I just don’t.

8. I still catch fish.

Steve and I have fished together for years and years. I will admit that he is a much better fly fisher than I am – for a variety of reasons.

But somehow, I still seem to catch fish. I’ve never had a day where I think, “Man, if I just had some hand-crafted flies, I’d catch more fish.” Just today, Steve and I each caught 20 browns before 10:30 AM. We fished different runs. We each caught a 20-incher. I guess he did catch two whitefish, and I caught none. So, there again, he is the better fly fisher!

Has there ever been a moment when I thought, “I sure wish I could run back to my truck and tie a fly that matches the hatch?”

In 35 years of fly fishing, maybe a handful of moments. And given what I am able to do because of my other choices, I am more than happy to concede the moment to another fly fisher who can.

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6 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Tie My Own Flies

  1. I venture to say that there are a vast array of skills and aspects of our sport that atract different hobbiest or “fishermen”. I know bass fishermen who’s favorite part of the sport is casting. Some of us only fish with dry flies, others love tying deer hair bugs and know every significant part of a hide. I believe it’s all about what aspects of the sport are significant for you. Everyone sets their own bar with what’s important to them. I nymph fish, even when there’s no water in the stream and hasn’t been for weeks.

    • Right, Jim. Pursue whatever aspects of the sport are significant for you, and don’t fret over those which are not. I love that you’re so fond of nymph fishing that you do it even when the water conditions aren’t right for it!

  2. I’m one of those who ties their own flies. But, let me comment on something else that was stated. Try not to look at brands or cost when purchasing a rod. Find what works for you and the
    water(s) you intend to fish with.

    I tie enough flies to supply many free to my fishing bud. As a guide, I would find myself stressed to the limit just trying to tie what I needed for the next day. I was not enjoying it, as it became a required task rather than pleasure. But I have time these days.

    For those who purchase their flies, be aware that the retailer may sell you flies that probably won’t work. These flies catch fisher persons, not fish. It can be quite an expense. There are many places in Asia where the flies are tied. Some use poor quality of materials and your fly may not last long. I don’t care if there is a hatch going on or not, I dry fly. The challenge is to bring the fish up. I tie flies that are from the fish’s perspective, not the insect or the human.

    • We always enjoy your insights and thoughts, Michael! You’re absolutely right that alot of flies are tied to catch fly fishers as much as they are to catch fish. It’s funny, I think, that when you look at dry flies in a fly shop or online that that view of the fly is from the top. But I always turn the fly upside down so I can view it from the perspective of a trout!