A good light source cannot be under-emphasized. I use an adjustable lamp with spring loaded arms. This allows me to move the light angle where I want it. The bulb is a standard 100 watt bulb. Some people prefer to use fluorescent light, this is a matter of preference. Be sure the light has a hood to keep the light from shining directly into your eyes, but just on the fly that you are tying.
Even if you have 20/20 vision it pays to have a magnifying glass handy. I use a magnifier that is built into my lamp. I find this to be very useful when I am tying midges. These lamp/magnifier combos are available in both types of light sources. The fact that the magnifier is not a hand-held one enables me to keep both hands on the tying job.
Like most things, there are cheaper and more expensive vises available. In this case I would recommend taking a look at the higher priced vises. The quality of the engineering is the key to a good vise. The design must provide all degrees of adjustment (up/down, spin, swivel), so that you can get a look at any angle of the fly should you need to. Be sure that the vise has 2 or 3 sizes of replaceable jaws. These are essential for the various sizes of flies that you will be tying. There a three primary types of vises in the market that work best. The lever-clamp vise, the spring-clamp vise, and the screw-clamp vise. When you are looking to buy a vise, find a store that has many to choose from. Try clamping each one, take a look at the base (is it a solid base or a clamp base). Choose the one that will best suit your tying bench and has smooth solid action, as well as all the adjustments. I use the lever-clamp vise, with the table-edge screw-clamp base, as I like my tying to take place right under my nose.
Use two different types of scissors. Get yourself a good quality pair with fine points at the ends of the shears. These will be your regular scissors for most of the tying work I have two pairs for this work: one with straight edge shears, and another pair with ‘bent’ shears. Keep these scissors nice and sharp, dull scissors can aggravate the tying process. Good quality scissors are available at any decent fly store. Surgical scissors are also very good, and worth the expense if you can find them.
The second type of scissors that I use are for coarse work such as shaping spun deer hair or cutting harder, thicker or tougher materials. You want to save those finer scissors from excessive wear on these types of materials. I use a pair of Wiss scissors (they have no finger hooks) for this kind of work.
These devices are made just for fly tyers. I use three different types: a medium sized metal-grip plier; a small metal grip plier; and a rubber gripped, swivel-head set. More and more I use the swivel headed set, but the traditional type of pliers offer a great deal of control and are not harder to use than the swivel type. Be sure to get rubber grips if you have trouble with the tightness of the grip.
I believe in catch and release, therefore I use barbless hooks. Purchased de-barbed hooks are more expensive than barbed hooks, so I de-barb the standard ones myself. I use a flat-grip tapered pair of pliers. They are smallish to allow me more control. I simply squash the barb into the hook. Be sure to de-barb before you tie the fly, as sometimes the hook may break, thus ruining an otherwise great fly.
These devices hold back the hackle from the front of the fly being tied, long enough for you to make a neat head finish. They come in various shaped and sizes: some are tubes that slide over the hook eye; some are a metal strip with various sizes of holes cut in. Any type that you find comfortable will work fine.
home-made: Cut a short piece of a drinking straw, then slice along the length, making a flexible hackle guard collar that you can slip on and off of the fly with ease.
Simply a needle with a handle on it, this tool is used for many things: applying cement to the finished fly head; cleaning excess cement out of the eye of the fly; or dividing wing materials away from a quill.
home-made: With a pair of pliers, jam the blunt end of a darning needle into a cork or other softwood.
This is the ‘glue’ that holds the fly together, typically applied on the head of the fly, though may be used on others areas during tying. I use three different types of cement: “dry cement” for dry/floating flies; “wet cement” for submerging flies; and flexible (Flexament) for things like quill wings (to hold their shape) and other flexible fly anatomy that requires invisible support.
Note: In the past I used small bottle with tube applicators for cement application. They are handy, but if you tie infrequently you will waste alot of bottles and cement because of fast drying. These bottle applicators do not work well at all with Flexament, so don’t even bother.
These thread spool holders come in many shapes and sizes. Find the one that works best for you, and is most comfortable in your hand, as this is an often used tool. I use the expensive ceramic tube bobbins, as they give me concise tying control that I like. (I like to tie realistics) When you take a new bobbin home stretch the spool holder arms just enough to allow some drag on the un-winding thread, but not too much.
This is a metal prong linked to a thin folded wire, connected to each other with bead chain. Use the folded wire for threading your thread through your bobbin tube, and use the prong to clean any wax build-up out of the bobbin tubes. If you do not like this tool, you may buy or make the parts separately.
home-made: For a bobbin threader, cut or file a niche into either a piece of wire or a very thin wooden dowel. Use the uncut end of the same device for a bobbin cleaner. (note: be careful that the home-made niche is not jagged, as this will damage the thread).
A standard tying bench lay-about. I use the purchased fly wax, though I know a couple “old-timers” that use other types of wax. Use this stuff sparingly, it does not take much to do the job properly. Used in excess it may discolor your fly or hamper its ‘action’.
home-made: Use a soft paraffin-type wax.
Simply made of a hollow metal tube, closed at one end, this device is used to “bang” hairs into an even-ended stack. The good ones you can purchase have a tube that slides into another, giving an easy way to extract the stack from the stacker without mussing it up.
These are folded metal strips shaped into various wing shapes and sizes. You place a feather or other wing material into the burner, clamp it, and burn the excess material away with a lighter (or some kind of flame). I have 9 wing burners: three different shapes, in three sizes each. You can alternately cut the materials for the wings, but why bother, when this method is so quick and precise.
I know of many different types of whip finishers, but I think there are just 2 standards, of which I use the Materelli Whip Finisher. Which one you use is a matter of personal preference and comfort in your hand. I have a friend that ties off his flies by hand, faster than I can with my finisher.
Another tool that is handy for more than one use, however its primary use is to make fast twisted dubbing threads. It is simply a handle with an open-ended loop on one end.
home-made: Use the end off of an old fishing rod. Cut a slice out of one side of the loop to slip thread through.
This is a “scratching” device used to ‘tease’ dubbing material into a fuzzy state, giving some flies a more realistic look. The one I use is a manufactured one with a metal handle and a twisted wire in the end fashioned after a very thin ‘barbed-wire’.
home-made: Jam a narrow wire brush, like a rifle bore cleaner, into a cork or piece of softwood.
Handy-dandy. Use them for everything, from picking up fiddly-bits of materials to positioning materials for tying. Use any kind you find. I use surgical ones, straight and bent, just because I found them in a store one day. These surgical tweezers are longer and have much sharper grips, which I find most useful for the precision I like on specialty/realistic ties.
Get one of these! A must if you want to tie your flies in proportion. Again, they come in different shapes and configurations, I find the one that fits onto the post of my vise works best for me. It is always handy, and will never get lost. Use it to measure the length of all of your hackle feathers, you will appreciate your flies all the more for having built them proportionately.
I use surgeon’s knives for the control and the ‘sharpness’ factor (beats any razor blade). However, razor blades work just fine. You may consider using the single edged ones for the safety factor to you fingers, or find a holder that does not impinge on the usefulness of the blade. A good use for a truly sharp blade is to shape spun deer hair flies.
I use wire cutters for a variety if things like cutting up hooks for wiggle-tail flies, and for cutting old fly line for underbodies for some of my stonefly realistics. (no, don’t throw away that old fly line, it has many uses)
Very sharp hooks will increase your catch rate. And suprisingly alot of the hooks you get, right out of the box, are not very sharp at all. Before I tie any fly, I de-barb and sharpen each hook. I do this before tying in case I damage the hook making it unusable. I sharpen each hook because I want to catch as many fish as ‘taste’ my fly. Any sharpening stone will do, but the hook sharpening stones have grooves manufactured into them easing the hook sharpening process.
Keep a pair of regular nail clippers laying around on the bench. Handy for lots of things.
To evenly divide quill material for wings I use a quality compass. I have replaced the needle and the lead from the compass with two darning needles. These work great for dividing the wing materials from the quills. I also use these for measuring lengths of things that need to be equal lengths.
You do not even have to concoct a set of these, as you can buy a set of draftsman’s dividers.
home-made: Put two darning needles or narrow nails through a soft piece of wood, spaced as far apart as you want your wing material to be wide. You can make as many of these as you want wing material widths.
I bought one of these. Nail knots are a pain for me to tie, but this one makes it easy. Get one ant any fly tying store.
home-made: A double-tubed coffee stir stick makes an adequate nail knot tool. The indents running along the stick make it easy to wrap the two lines.
This is one of my favorites. I like to make my own leaders, and barrel knots can be tough to tie properly. This tool works great. I can tie a leader in fifteen minutes. Get one!
This is simply a small hook with a hinged hook clasp on it. If you have ever tied many quill legs you will find this tool invaluable.
Use a 6-inch clear ruler that comes in those school geometry sets. This is only useful if you are a perfectionist on your fly proportions.
There are several ways to store hooks. I use the plastic multi-compartment boxes that you can buy at any Wal-Mart or hobby/craft store.
I have a carpenter friend that I asked to make me a fly-drying rack. This rack is made of a wood base with four small dowels bored into it. The dowels are grooved on the top. Between each pair of dowels, set in the grooves, is strung a short length of ball chain. Alternately you can use a piece of magnetic strip to hold your flies for drying.
Of course you can store all of your materials in anything you find. I definitely appreciate having all my materials organized in one place. I had an oak chest built with alot of drawers that I have organized all of my materials by type. There’s alot to be said for not having to go through boxes and boxes of materials looking for pink chenille.
To keep bugs out of my materials I took a few empty film containers, cut holes in the lids, put moth balls inside, snapped on the lids, and chucked them in the drawers. I’ve been doing this for years and find no adverse effects on the materials, and there are definitely no infestations in my materials.
I make use of plenty of the plastic multi-compartment boxes that you can buy at Wal-Mart or any hobby/craft store. You can store hooks, tools, materials, or finished flies in these things. They come in many different sizes and colors, making it easy to organize your ‘stuff’ any way you like.
The bags that you purchase many of your materials in do not make good storage containers. Most are not resealable, and you can have fur and feathers everywhere in short order. Neatness can definitely make fly tying much more enjoyable. Good fly tying stores sell bundles of zip-lock bags, in various sizes, that you can put your materials in for neater storage. Just get some small labels to write the material names on, and stick them to the bags.
I use a lighter to burn feather wings. (and take it along fishing for those ‘catch celebration cigars’, at streamside)
To keep the mess of tying to a minimum keep a waste catcher close by.
home-made: I bought an inexpensive wooden craft hoop from the craft store. I fold a baggie over the inside hoop and clasp the outside hoop tightly around the inside one. This I clamp to my bench with a standard clamp, from any hardware store, near my vise, where it is handy to toss any junk. I found that it is not a good idea for me to clamp it directly under my vise, because when I dropped something I did not enjoy digging through the bag of garbage to find the material I dropped, so I clamped the hoop just to the side of the vise.