Archive for April, 2015

Fly Tying 101

April 18, 2015

Flytying101Head

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.

ViceSquadLogo

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.

Dry Fly Proportions

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.

Winding ribbing:

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?
S
o 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.

This post brought to you by the publisher of the world's most innovative fly tying book. Essential Fly Tying TechniquesClick on the book image to find out more of what lies inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It ain’t that hard.

April 9, 2015

AintHardHead

Recently I sat in the car with an eleven year old fishing addict, driving him to the river for his first ever fly fishing experience. On the drive and whilst discussing his fishing pedigree I queried “so what do you know about fly fishing?” The reply was heartbreakingly simple and, as is oft the case with the young, poignantly reflective of a common misperception. “I know it’s very difficult” said Ben.

So the question really is “is that true?” I mean is fly fishing that difficult? Is it beyond the scope of mere mortals, harder than golf or touch typing or flying an aeroplane? Does it require mastery more acute than computer programming, is it more tricky than chess or harder to learn than Mandarin? I don’t think so and I believe that we all owe people like Ben, and his more aged neophyte buddies, the courtesy of encouragement and enthusiasm.

KidsFun

It bothers me that there is a level of self aggrandizement here that is unnecessary and unwarranted, counterproductive and negative in the extreme. Why on earth wouldn’t we wish to encourage people like Ben to get out there into nature and benefit from the same level of enjoyment and healthy recreation as us? Is it so important that we portray this egotistical value of difficulty as though in some way it is a badge of honour? Are we all so frail in our sense of self that we need to pretend that what we do is incredibly tricky and best left to us supposed masters of the art?

What do I risk by encouraging Ben and his fellow beginners? What threat do they pose? None that I can see. It matters not if these newbies aren’t exceptional at our sport to start with and it matters less if they get really good at in time. Would any of that demean me? Would it affect your fishing in any negative manner?

I have a sense that fly anglers are unique in this sense, kite boarders, golfers, judo black belts and others are wont to suggest , when discussing their chosen passion, that you should “give it a try”. So why not us? Why do we almost universally appear to pretend to hold the moral high ground, to suggest to people that what we do and love doing is beyond them?

Why should it be that we imagine that whacking a golf ball is a skill, touch typing is a learned behavior but that fly casting is an “ART”? What an absolute load of tosh, fly casting is no more an art than hammering a nail into a piece of wood, it is a learned skill that can be mastered by anyone.

Animated Casting Gif

In fact there is the rub, when people suggest that fly fishing is “difficult” what they are usually referring to is that they think, or have been told, that “fly casting” is difficult. Firstly that isn’t true and secondly for those of us who have moved on, fly casting is simply the starting point. The real trials come later, the mental agility, the deceptive bent, the understanding of natural behavior and an “intellectual curiosity” which leads to total immersion in our chosen sport. Fly fishing rapidly becomes more of a mental pursuit than a physical one but one has to start somewhere.

I would be the first person to tell you that flinging a woolly bugger into a small pond isn’t what I consider to be flyfishing, but hell it isn’t a bad place to start for people like Ben so why should we discourage him with negative perceptions and ideas of complexity?

What would happen if we started every enquiry of the young with “Oh it’s difficult”. Dad I would like to learn to drive a car.. “oh son that’s very difficult”. I should like to learn to surf, kite board, play squash, learn computer programming, chess, or whatever “Oh son it’s very difficult”.. How much of that comes from a desire to prove that we are better, special, more important?

People like young Ben have already mastered at least one language, understand stuff about computers, the ozone layer, physics and biology, have physical skills in terms of kicking footballs, doing flick-flacks, throwing cricket balls, jumping skipping ropes and more. Why on earth should I be so arrogant as to imagine that he can’t learn how to cast a fly and catch some fish in the same way that I have learned to do?

I have of late been party to a number of social media “Posts” suggesting that there is a great deal of skill and difficulty in what we fly anglers enjoy. Sure you can keep learning, only a fortnight ago I learned a lot more about casting from Master Casting Instructor William van der Vorst, than I had known previously. I have fly fished for over four decades and still gain knowledge from my clients, instructors, friends and the fish themselves but I would have to admit that I have enjoyed forty years of apparent relative ignorance without harm.

In an age when I strongly believe that we should be doing all in our power to encourage people to be out in nature, to be reflective in terms of its wonders and simply “Get out there and enjoy it” we seem to be hell-bent on discouragement.

So perhaps, next time someone asks us, we should tell them that fly fishing is fun and it ain’t hard to learn. That it is within the mental and physical scope of anyone capable of walking and chewing gum. What would we all lose if we did that? More to the point what would we gain? People who were passionate about our rivers, our oceans, our natural world? People who would fight against dams being built, who would concern themselves with overfishing, fish ladders, privatization of waterways, pollution, abstraction and any other of the ills that tend to damage what we care about. People who would fight the good fight and in looking after the fishing perhaps be better custodians of the planet than we have been. The future of our fishing and for that matter our planet, lie in the hands of people like Ben and it is our responsibility to encourage him and his fellows.

Let’s call a spade a spade, flyfishing isn’t hard, it may be tricky to master, it might actually be impossible to master in the sense of uninterrupted success, but it isn’t hard to start and it is a hell of a lot of fun learning as you go.

Animated Casting Gif

I would like to think that if young Ben ever gets to the point of catching more fish than me, casting further than I can, tying better flies than I do I shall have the good sense and common courtesy to sit back and say “wow, well done Ben”.. I ask you, what would I lose were that to prove to be the case?

Learning to flyfish isn’t beyond anyone if they want to learn and I hope that more fly anglers will take up the challenge of encouraging beginners, young and old instead of pretending that it is all too much for the common man to master.

 

FlyCasteBookFB

A number of informative books on fly fishing and fly casting from the author of this blog are available on line from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za or from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble and other on line retailers

Books on disc can also be obtained from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za and Netbooks/Stream X