Advice – New fly tyers

Killroy’s Advice for the New Fly Tyer

I get many requests for advice to the new fly tyer, so here it is…

As to the question of how and where to learn fly tying, that is a matter of personal preference. One can learn from books, and there are many our there. Or you can sign up for a fly tying course put on at your local fly shop or community hall. If you have a friend or acquaintance that you know ties, offer him or her a beer (or lemonade) to show you the ‘tricks of the trade’. I started out by tying from fly tying books, then spent some time around other fly tyers (good ‘ol boys), and ultimately I had to take the things out on the water where the toughest audience is.

Any way you choose to learn, one thing I’ve found to be true for most new tyers, once you’ve tied just a few, you’re ‘off and tying’. Once you get started, peruse the books at the local fly shop, look for the ones that show you how to do many different types of ‘ties’. Try them out (tying methods), do them wrong the first couple times, this is how you learn to do them right.

I think what holds a person back from ‘giving it a try’ is a twinge of fear that he won’t be able to master ‘the art of tying the perfect fly’. Let’s put that fear to rest…

Bugs(insects) are ugly. Fly tyers tie bugs. Therefore, it follows, that we should tie ugly flies to catch fish that eat those ugly bugs. Listen, there is no such thing as the perfect fly. I prefer to tie my flies very pristinely, well proportioned, neatly tied off, and glued just so; I have a friend that couldn’t care less about neatness, just cranks out flies and jams them in his fly box… Now, I’ll only say this just once, and if you quote me I’ll erase this article, but his “ugly” flies have out-fished, out-caught my flies on many fishing trips (of course I’m not saying how many trips). And besides, you’re tying the darned flies for the fish, not for other people. So… lighten up, don’t take it so seriously, just enjoy the time spent tying.

If you have even taken one look at the inside of a fly shop you know that there are multitudes of fly tying tools: vises, scissors, bobbins, gidgets, gadgets, whutch-a-ma-call-its. And… they cost money, some of them cost a lot of money. I do not suggest running out and buying either a lot of tools, nor do I suggest getting the spendy ones right away. I would suggest that, if you can manage it, don’t buy a thing until you have had a chance to try out tying on someone else’s bench. You’ll know right off whether you want to do more of it, or not.

Let’s say that you do give it a try, and you do think you want to get your own gear. Start small. Start cheap. Nobody can prove to me that they can tie a fly that fish will like better on a $600.00 vise, than a fly tied on a $30.00 vise. Sure, the spendy vises make tying a little nicer to do, but ‘get into it’ first. A benefit of waiting for the expensive toys, er.. tools that is, is that you will develop a personal tying style, and then shopping for tying tools will make more sense because you will be able to match the tools to your style. This is the reason I won’t recommend one brand of tool over another, tools are varied because of different tying styles and personal likes and dislikes.

Once you get going, after you spend a ton of money on fly tools and materials, you will find that all of those tool manufacturers have not yet come up with all the best tools. For example, I saw a great idea at a recent fly tying meeting, that you just won’t be able to buy at the fly shop, yet nothing works better: trim down an old toothbrush, so that the bristles are short (less than a quarter inch), you can even grind the two outside rows of bristles off the sides of the brush for a finer brush edge, and use this as a dubbing teaser. The toothbrush bristles won’t harm the thread and they work great on producing a shaggy, very buggy looking fly. Try to buy a toothbrush at a fly shop! Consider some ‘home-made’ tools before running out to buy everything.

Okay… let’s say that you are sure you want to get going, and you really feel the burden of all that money burning a hole in your jeans. Here are the tools that I would recommend, in categories of “must-have”, “good-to-have”, and “nice-to-have”:

As you learn to tie, you will find that there is a tool for almost everything. Some do make tying more enjoyable, some are shams. Consider each new tool in terms of: 1) is this thing going to make my fly tying better or easier, and 2) how is thing really going to improve my ability to catch a fish?

Well, other than that, there are no hard and fast “rules” for fly tying, so go for it! Enjoy! After you tie everyone else’s patterns make up some of your own.

But… before you do anything… remember one thing: our’s is the gentle sport, so get into it with an easy going attitude, and do it only for the enjoyment of it, and for no other reason.

Good tying,
Killroy.