Some help for the neophyte fly tyer.
There never seems to be a shortage of people taking up the challenge of tying their own flies and that to my mind is wonderful. Personally I don’t believe that anyone ever really reaches their potential as a fly angler if they don’t tie their own flies or at least some of them.
What primarily inspired this post was a recent evening with “The Vice Squad” a Cape Town initiative started by Tudor Caradoc-Davies which has some of our best tyers demonstrating patterns and techniques. It is proving to be very popular and now the Vice Squad evenings are getting almost overcrowded with enthusiastic fly tyers of all shapes, sizes and ages. At the most recent event Gordon van der Spuy, made mention of a number of key techniques to fly tying, he is one of very few fly tying tutors I have ever heard mention the more mundane but essential skills required to tie good flies. So with that in mind I thought I would focus on a couple of them.
For the neophyte the task or manufacturing one’s own flies can appear daunting, seasoned fly tyers appear to have mounds and mounds of materials to play with, and of course there are new things coming into the market all the time. So where to start?
Tying good, neat and durable fly patterns doesn’t demand a great many skills in reality, nor necessarily a lot of materials. Although the flies may look complicated and frequently appear very different to one another the same basic principles hold true to tying almost any fly pattern. From a full dress Salmon fly to a tiny midge dry, from Clouser minnows for the salt to deer hair frogs with which to target bass, the basic skills are all he same.
What I tend to see however is that a lot of beginners make a few elemental errors in their approach to tying flies and frequently these early habits die hard and cause problems down the line.
So I thought perhaps a couple of thoughts and points which might assist those wishing to learn to tie flies or to improve their fly tying.
Firstly if you are a beginner don’t be tempted to try to tie too many different patterns all at once. It is virtually impossible to tie consistently neat and durable flies if you are jumping from a size 10 woolly bugger to a size 20 parachute caddis and then a pheasant tail nymph and so on. Pick a pattern and tie them by the dozen. When they all look exactly the same tie the same pattern in a smaller size until you have a dozen of those too before going a further size smaller and repeating the process. If you do this you will ingrain key habits which will mean that later you can return to tying more of the same pattern with very little time to get back into “the groove”.
Practice essential skills even if you don’t tie flies, just cut the thread and materials off the hook and try again.
Thread control, Gordon van der Spuy made mention of this in a recent “Vice Squad” meeting and I couldn’t agree with him more. The primary tool of the fly tyer is the thread and control of it, the tension and wraps that it forms are the absolute basic foundation of ALL fly tying.
Most fly tying video clips on line are all about patterns, and that is fine but for the beginner things need to start a few steps back.
How do I get the thread up inside the tube of the bobbin holder?
Many fly tying tool kits provide a “bobbin threader” but they are completely unnecessary, you can use a loop of nylon (better as there isn’t risk of damaging the tube and creating a nick in the metal), but even that isn’t really required. You can, with a bit of practice and some healthy lungs suck the thread through the tube.
How do you start the thread on the hook in the first place, a necessary enough start to things that is virtually always neglected, here is the answer to that question and a few more which hopefully will prove of value
Starting the thread:
Starting the thread is a simple case of holding the loose end with your non tying hand and the bobbin in the other hand. Make touching wraps towards the eye of the hook, perhaps three or four and then “reverse the thread” changing the angle of attack and winding two or three more wraps the in the other direction. That’s it, no knots, no glue, no varnish just that and you can pull as hard as you like without things coming undone. Beware though, let the thread go slack and the entire lot will unravel before your eyes.
How do you insure that you build a neat smooth base of thread and why should it matter?
The hook is smooth and slippery, by building a thin (emphasis on thin) base of thread using touching turns of thread you create a non-slip layer onto which you can then tie the materials..It is important for the durability and neatness of your flies that you master this basic technique before proceeding to more complicated matters.
Getting the proportions right.
This is probably the biggest giveaway that the fly tyer is a novice, the wings are too big, the tails too short, the thorax in the wrong place etc. People become so besotted with the pattern that they neglect the proportions and you will never have a nice looking fly if you don’t manage this particular detail. Certainly most fly tyers have their own style within a range of proportions and one can with practice tell one person’s flies from another based on that but the differences are small. Good fly tying requires proper proportions. In general there are three lots of accepted proportions, for Dry Flies, Traditional Wet Flies and for Nymphs. Some are not that critical, others more important such as the Catskill Dry Flies where incorrect proportions will have your fly rendered useless and out of balance.
Using the right size hackle.
As with the above the hackle is a key element of the proportional balance of a dry fly. On standard “Catskill” ties it also will greatly affect the engineering and balance of the fly such that it doesn’t fall on its face or flip upside down when cast. The video below shows how to easily measure a hackle before you remove it from the skin. You can use fancy hackle gauges and such but this base method works very well without need for additional tools.
You would be amazed at how many videos and books show the ribbing wound in the same direction as the body (dubbing, pheasant tail or whatever). There are a couple of very good reasons why you would want to “counter rib” the body of a fly. It adds to the durability and equally better shows the segmentation effect that one is aiming for. The ribbing in general adds strength but at the same time imitates the segmented body of a real insect to one degree or another. There are effectively two ways to do this, either wind the body material in opposite rotation to the rest of the fly and wind the ribbing normally, or wind the body in the normal rotational direction and rib in the opposite manner. It doesn’t matter too much which you choose.
To half hitch or whip finish?
So now you have lovingly fashioned an exact copy of the fly you saw in the magazine, you have followed the instructions diligently and kept some space for the head where you intend to tie things off. Trouble is that most instruction videos either throw in a couple of half hitches which they then intend to glue together with varnish (in my opinion a very poor option) or they whizz through the spinning of a whip finish tool too fast for you to be able to see. So here are two video clips, taken from my book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” to show you how to use either a whip finish tool or your fingers. Personally I far prefer the fingers as it requires no additional tools and I don’t have to look under the piles of fur and feather to find the thing each time I finish off a fly. With practice I think that you have more control with your fingers but both methods are infinitely preferable to using half hitches.
These are just a few key tips which might assist the newcomer, I have focused on those which are so frequently neglected in many books and video clips because they are essential even if nobody mentions them. All the images and video clips come from the book “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” which covers all of these key elements in fly tying from spinning deer hair to tying parachute posts. The book uses a combination of text, full colour graphics and video to clearly demonstrate many of the key skills required to tie numerous fly patterns. You can download an electronic copy of this book with internal links to all the videos from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble (international readers) or the Inkwazi Flyfishing website (South African readers). The book is also available on disc from better fly fishing outlets including Stream X.