Learning to tie flies can be as bewildering as learning to fly fish. There are a lot of concepts to grasp and skills to master. New fly tyers might get ten different sets of answers if they asked ten veteran fly tyers to give them five helpful hints.
But here the first five tips that come to mind. I’ve found them quite helpful over the years as a fly tyer.
1. Beware of using too much material.
My fly tying mentor, Bob Granger, talked about this a lot. The temptation is to apply too many wraps of thread or to put the dubbing on too thick.
You can get away with this (sort of) when you’re tying larger flies. But with smaller flies, you’ll crowd the hook and have difficulty finding a place near the eye to tie off your thread when you’re finished. If you look at real Blue-Winged Olives or Caddis flies, you’ll notice how sparse they are. So there’s no reason to apply too much material unless you want your Caddis fly to look like it is on steroids.
2. Don’t misuse your sharp scissors.
Buy two pairs of scissors.
Spend a bit more on the one that you’ll use to trim deer or elk hair, thread, and tiny feathers. Use a cheaper pair to cut the stuff that can dull your more expensive pair. This includes the stem of larger feathers, copper wire, and elk or deer hide.
3. Tie larger sizes and easy patterns first.
It makes sense to begin learning to tie a San Juan Worm or a Woolly Bugger.
Even a size #18 (tiny!) nymph like a beadhead brassie is a good “starter” pattern. While it’s small, it’s ridiculously simple to tie. Wait to try your hand at tying an Elk Hair Caddis or a Royal Wulff or a Muddler Minnow.
You can learn to use a hair stacker, to work with calf hair, and to spin and stack hair after you’ve mastered some of the easier patterns.
4. Watch online videos for help.
I wish these were available when I started tying.
You can search YouTube for about any pattern you want to tie and find some terrific videos. Fly shop websites often produce their own. Major brands like Orvis also have excellent instructional videos, including some on fly tying. Here are just three:
5. Don’t fret over imperfection.
Your fly does not have to look catalog-ready to be effective.
What appears sloppy to you may appear “buggy” to a trout. So don’t worry about uneven hackle or a piece of hair or sticks out a bit longer than the others. Your fledgling attempt may not catch fly fishers like a commercially tied fly does. But it will do just as well at catching fish. And that’s what matters!
6 Replies to “5 Tips for New Fly Tyers”
Great hint for dubbing – use 1/2 as much as you think you need, then use 1/2 of that. And go easy on the dubbing wax 😉
Yes, exactly! Thanks, Drew, for the great reminder. I’ve always used dubbing wax sparingly … if at all.
Glad you posted this article. It made me get the itch to start tying again!
You should, Ben. You’ve got the right touch and a great eye for detail.
When beginning to tie flies pick a pattern like a wooly bugger and tie it over and over and over. Tie different sizes like #6,#8 and#10. Tie them in different colors, black, olive are my favorites. Watch a lot of videos.
Tim Flagler of tight line productions is my favorite to watch. Good luck.
great response. totally agree with picking out a pattern and mastering it. then pick another, then another, each one try to add a new wrinkle (dubbing, post, small, deer hair, etc…) I think it is super easy to tie one, then think I can tie anything and not learn all of the fundamentals. 100% Tightline productions is the best, you can youtube “tightline video” and subscribe. They just put on the renegade which is a great pattern!
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