5 Questions to Determine If You Should Tie Your Own Flies

Tie your own flies – that idea might seem far-fetched to a beginner fly fisher. If you’re new to the sport, you might wonder if fly tying is something to pursue.

To tie or not to tie? That is the question. To help you answer the question, here are a few more questions to consider:

Can I tie flies even if I’m not an artistic type?

Absolutely! I am living proof of this.

I do not have an artistic bone in my body. Or perhaps I do, and it is badly broken. While I can color between the lines, I cannot draw anything more complex than a stick figure. Yet I can tie the basic patterns and catch trout on them.

If your goal is to win a “most beautiful fly” contests, then a lack of artistic talent is an issue. If your goal is to catch trout, then being artistically challenged is not a concern. To tie your own flies has little to do with your artistic gene.

How do I learn?

The best approach is to sign up for a fly-tying class at your local fly shop. I learned to tie flies two decades ago in an eight-week class that met Saturday mornings at a fly shop in Bozeman, Montana.

The second best approach is to watch fly-tying videos. There are some great instructional videos that you can access for free. I like the “Beginner Fly Fishing Tips” series on YouTube by scflytying. You might also check the videos by Tightline Productions that Orvis shares on its website.

In my experience, books have limited value. I need to watch someone tying a fly in order to make sense of it. I simply can’t visualize the process when reading a book — even if it contains clear instructions and sharp diagrams. Having a live person to help you figure out what you’re doing wrong is the best way to learn.

What do I need to get started?

To tie your own flies, you need tools and materials.

The first tool you need is a vise. Any fly vise that holds a hook tight will do. Don’t overthink this.

Next, you need fly tying scissors. I recommend two pairs. Spend more on one that you reserve for hair and thread. Buy a cheaper pair to cut thicker items, which tend to dull the scissor blades more quickly. You’ll also need a bobbin (for your spool of thread) and a pair of hackle pliers. Neither item will break the bank.

I’d suggest two or three bobbins so you don’t have to re-thread your bobbin every time you switch spools of thread. Finally, get a whip finisher. Save yourself the hassle of a cheaper one and buy the one sold by Orvis.

The materials you need depend on what flies you plan to tie. Typically, the minimum materials include hackle capes, thread, dubbing material, head cement, and wire. A good fly shop or an online video can help you figure out exactly what you need for the flies you plan to tie.

Will the first fly I tie be worth fishing?

Yes! Sometimes, a clumsy looking fly might look a bit more “buggy” to the trout than something that looks perfect.

Besides, I suspect that a lot of flies are designed to catch fly fishers rather than fish. I’ve caught trout on some gnarly looking patterns. Of course, I’ve gotten better over the years. But trout key in on size and color more than on perfect proportions (though the exceptions increase as the fly size gets smaller!).

Sure, some patterns require more precision than others. But if your first fly is a San Juan Worm or a Brassie or a Woolly Bugger, it does not need to be perfect. To tie your own flies does not require flawless wonders.

What is the financial payoff for learning to tie flies?

The expected answer is, “You will save money.” After all, the materials for a $2 fly may amount to 20 cents.

But that math is too simplistic.

The initial investment in tools will likely reach $100. Then there are the materials themselves. A good hackle cape or neck may cost $50. Even the inexpensive materials – spools of thread, various kinds of feathers, peacock herl, etc – add up. You may not begin saving money until you tie your three-hundredth fly!

So, unless you tie a high volume of flies, it might be as cost effective to buy flies at your local fly shop.

In my opinion, the real benefit of fly tying is becoming a better fly fisher. When I started tying, I learned a lot about the feeding habits of trout, which insects my flies were trying to imitate, and when certain patterns worked (and when they didn’t).

It’s Your Decision

If you decide not to tie your own flies, fine. There are other ways to accomplish what fly tying will do for you.

My podcast partner, Dave, is proof of this. He doesn’t tie his flies. Contrary to my ribbing, he is every bit as good a fly fisher as I am.

But if you’re leaning towards trying, go for it. Like playing the saxophone, fly tying is easy to do poorly. But even a poor imitation can catch a trout.

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2 thoughts on “5 Questions to Determine If You Should Tie Your Own Flies

  1. Correct. You will not save money tying your own flies, period. You do it for the satisfaction it brings and I really think it does make you a better fly fisher as well. It can become a little bit of an obsession with acquiring new materials, tools, and books, if not careful, however, that cost is simply not important if it brings satisfaction in your life for investing in this art that improves your fly fishing experiences. I could think of a lot of worse things to be obsessed with. Once you’ve made that investment and have produced a bunch of flies, you no longer feel as bad when you lose them while fishing either. You don’t think you just lost a $2+ dollar fly and get into a down mood, you just pull another one you created out of the flybox, tie-up, and keep fishing. Your local TU chapters also are an excellent source for fly-tying and fly-fishing classes. You can often find members there who’ll teach you how to tie flies for free at meetings.

    • Thanks, Bill. You’re absolutely right that the most important issue is not coast but satisfaction as well as improvement as a fly fisher. I like your idea of looking to your local TU chapter as a source for fly-tying expertise and even classes. And yes, there are alot of worse obsessions!