Confessions of a Half-Hearted Fly Tyer

My name is Steve, and I’m a half-hearted fly tyer. There, I admitted it. Perhaps it’s even an exaggeration to call me a fly tyer. Some of the flies I’ve tied might make a more skilled fly tyer laugh. But I’ve caught dozens of trout on patterns I’ve tied. I think that’s enough to give me membership in the fly-tying fraternity.

There are, though, a few confessions that I want to make. And not merely for catharsis, though confession, so goes the cliché, is good for the soul. Rather my admission is to empower other fumble-fingered folks who feel like fly-tying misfits:

1. I am a half-hearted fly tyer.

I know, I already said that. But let me unpack my revelations a bit:

My passion for fly tying resembles the moon. It waxes and wanes. I’m always ready to grab my rod and head for the river. But I don’t feel the same about grabbing my vise and Metz Dry Fly Neck (Grizzly color) to tie a Parachute Adams. I can fly fish for hours and never get bored. But some days I tie flies for only minutes before I’m bored. Some days I’m disinterested before I even start. Yet, sometimes the urge hits, and I will crank out a dozen flies of a particular pattern.

The lesson: Even half-hearted fly tyers can produce useful flies and save themselves some money in the process.

2. I am artistically challenged.

I can’t draw stick figures for the life of me, and my attempts to build a gingerbread house for our annual family Christmas gingerbread competition are pathetic. My creation ends up looking like a dilapidated chicken coop. Surprisingly, though, I can tie a decent fly. Sure, my flies bulge in the wrong places, and the wraps look uneven. However, I’ve discovered that the fish don’t care. Perhaps the bulges and unevenness make my flies look more buggy.

The lesson: Even clunky-looking flies fool trout.

3. I limit myself to a few simple patterns.

I’ve never tied a bad-looking Muddler Minnow.

That’s because I don’t tie Muddler Minnows. I’ve fooled around with spinning deer hair. But it’s an art I never mastered well. So I leave these kinds of flies to the pros. I stick with San Juan Worms, Brassies, Woolly Buggers, and an occasional Elk Hair Caddis. The latter is not an easy fly for me to tie. But I shot a bull elk a few years ago during archery season, and I preserved the hide with a bit of 20 Mule Team Borax. Every so often I can’t resist tying a handful of size #14 caddis flies so I can brag about catching a trout with a fly I tied using hair from a bull elk I called in and took with an arrow. That helps me save face when the fly falls apart after catching one trout.

The Lesson: Even the simplest of patterns can be deadly when it comes to catching trout.

4. I haven’t improved much in two decades.

I’m like the guy who spent five of the best years of his life in second grade.

Honestly, I haven’t tied enough to get a lot better. But again, my interests are not in winning fly tying contests (do those even exist?). I simply want to catch trout. And I’m fascinated enough with fly tying to dabble in it whenever I feel the urge. It is a thrill to fool a trout with a fly I’ve tied. It is fun to create something that looks halfway like the flies I see in the bins at my local fly shop. It is fun to create.

The Lesson: Even if you never get better, you can still feel the satisfaction of sporadic fly tying.

Now that I’ve finished this piece, I feel the urge to get out my fly tying vise, bobbin, dubbing material and … oh wait, I have to fill out my bracket for March Madness!

Fly tying will have to wait until next week. Or next month.

3 Replies to “Confessions of a Half-Hearted Fly Tyer”

  1. Fly tying is not for everyone. If you like to tie only once in a while then it’s hard to become good at it. I used to tie a ton of fancy flies. I would spend time on details. Now i find myself tearing flies apart. There are certain flies i tie now where i have removed rubber legs or substituted materials. I get the same results. All you need to do is tie something that resembles a bug. I don’t think color really matters as much as we think. Like i always say just have fun with it.

  2. Entertaining article! Reminds me of my dearly departed mother who used to “brag” that her otherwise useless DIY offspring “caught a trout with a fly he tied using feathers from a mallard he shot with a shotgun shell he reloaded”.

  3. I tie only a couple of patterns these days . I’ve never been a good tyer . In fact most of my flies are down right ugly. But you know what ? The fish seam not to really care . They don’t critique my flies at all . I guess that’s what really matters when it comes right down to it . The enjoyment I get is when that trout takes a fly I tie . Especially a fly recipe I make up .

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