If you have fly fished for any time at all you will likely get round to thinking, “wouldn’t it be cool to tie your own flies”.  You may think it will save you money having a near infinite supply of flies available on demand. 

So, should you tie your own fishing flies?

Like in so many things there is no straight answer. Coming to one of the reasons many anglers look to tying their own flies first, “it will save me money buying flies”.

Unlikely. The cost of materials rarely saves you money unless you are prepared to tie only patterns a fairly limited selection of materials would allow, thus allowing you to have dozens of the same or similar flies. If the plan is to sell some and or have a wee business tying then yes the usual economies of scale will apply, however for most tyers, that’s unrealistic. You will soon find you want to tie more than a very limited number or type of flies. Magazines, websites, Facebook Groups, Web Fora, and YouTube have a wealth of patterns, techniques and styles on display and pretty soon you will want to give them a go…and you will want to buy that special colour of dubbing, that special fur or that crazy new colour of fritz so you can join in with using this week’s latest killer pattern.

Go get the material, the special hooks and threads, and tie them flies….but honestly you won’t be saving cash, not in the short term.

So Why Bother?

Most fly anglers come to fly tying as a way of extending their interest in the sport. There can be little to better the feeling of not only catching a fish on a fly, but on a fly you yourself tied. It simply deepens the whole fly fishing experience. 

You lose one up a tree or snagged in the river bed….that’s OK you have three more in your box and you can go tie more at home. Not quite the right size? you are fishing #14’s and it seems like a #16 is more effective, that’s no problem go home and tie some smaller, or larger, or whatever. You saw a strange insect being taken by the fish, keep that mental image, or better still get a photo, and go try tie something representative for the next time.

You planned on fishing but the weather has utterly blown it out so how to get your fix? Tie some flies. One further reason to tie your own is Quality. Good hooks are expensive (unfortunately) and when you see boxes of 50 flies on sale for £10 (20p a fly) ask yourself how they can do it when a box of 25 quality hooks like Kamasan’s, Hayabusa or Fulling Mills for example, cost about £4.(that’s 16p a hook), then add on materials, time to tie it and shipping costs. Nope, they aren’t going to be the best hooks*.

Getting Started

Do I need lessons? 

If you know someone nearby or there is a club or open day somewhere, with tying demo’s, having someone show you a few basics is very useful and I would definitely recommend it if it’s available to you. Furthermore, some clubs have small sets of materials and kit that let you try your hand for no cost. However, there are so many resources available for this activity you can pick up the basics pretty quickly watching on You Tube or from On Line SBS’s ( Step By Steps ).

Should you buy a kit?

In short I would have to say no. While the temptation to get all the basics is there in one go you will likely end up with a load of stuff you end up not using and in my opinion you are better being more selective.

As far as basic materials go I would recommend you get started with the following.

Basics to Start with

  • UNI thread 6/0 in Black, Olive and either Red or Fire Orange.
  • Peacock Herl
  • Cock Pheasant Tail
  • Medium Gold/Silver Mylar
  • Medium Copper Wire
  • Medium Solid Wire ( silver)
  • Hares Ear Dubbing (Natural colour)
  • (Seals fur or Synthetic Seals fur in Black and any other colours you fancy, probably Red and Olive as starters)
  • A selection of Cock Feathers, ideally in various colours but Black as a minimum.
  • Black Chenile ( and maybe Olive)
  • Some Marabou feathers in Black and Olive
  • A selection of brass beads in various sizes ( you can usually get cheap multipacks)
  • A packet of Flashabou or similar
  • Clear Varnish

With appropriate hooks, the above will allow you to tie the following patterns right off the bat. Plus anything you make up yourself!

  • Hares Ear Nymph
  • Pheasant Tail Nymph (PTN)
  • Diawl Bach (DB)
  • Black and Peacock Spider
  • Woolly Bugger
  • Montana Nymph
  • Damsel Nymph
  • Various Buzzers
  • Bibio
  • Soldier Palmer
Large Dark Olive
A picture paints a thousand words. If you see something, try get a snap and use it to try making a matching pattern.

Beginner Patterns

These Step By Steps by Dom Garnet for Fishtec, are easy starter patterns to get you tying.

The Black and Peacock Spider.

The F Fly ( you will need CDC for this one)

The Beaded Hares Ear.

Threads

In simple terms there are five thread types you need to know for fly tying. Initially UNI thread will do the trick for most beginners. But you will soon start tying patterns that require others.

UNI: Is a prewaxed single strand thread. It is round in profile and stays pretty much that way when tied. Its not made up of filamentsor strands you can split or separate. Thicknesses are confusingly backwards- the higher the number the thinner the thread. 6/0 and 8/0 are most commonly used but much finer, 12/0 and 18/0 are available for very small slim patterns but it breaks easily.

UTC: In a similar range of colours as UNI but the crucial difference is its made up of a twist of multiple strands. By spinning the thread on a bobbin you can untwist it and split it. This allows a flatter profile when wrapped ona hook, and allows other materials to be spliced into the thread like Dubbing or CDC- the so called Dubbing Loop. Thicknesses are measured in Deniers and the higher the numbers the thicker the thread. 70 and 140 are most commonly used.

Floss: Covers a huge array of threads which are multi stranded often smooth and slippy but much thicker than tying threads. Some like Glo-Brite in a range of Flourescent colours are pretty strong and won’t unravel when cut, others have a tendency of ending up like a birds nest when cut. Used to make tails, tags and thicker bodies.

Silks: Less commonly used now, the most well known brand is Pearsalls. In a range of colours that are briliant for tying authentic old fashioned ( but no less effective) wet and dry flies. Usually quite thick and needs waxing. Using Wax liek Cobblers wax can make a multi faceted sheen on the thread which looks incredibly natural.

Nano Silk: These new Man-made fibre threads are very strong and fine, with a multi filament construction like UTC. Typically 12/0 is the usual one to use. While it is available in a range of colours, tying bodies with this fine thread can require a lot of wraps to get the colour pronounced enough and a body built up enough. However, incredibly strong, you will be hard pressed to break it through over tensioning, and use old scissors to cut as it will blunt good ones pretty quickly!  Gauge is as for UNI thread, so commonly 12/0 and 18/0.

Hooks

Hanak Hooks
The range of hooks can be bewildering. If you are planning to catch and keep your fish, barbed hooks by Kamasan, Hayabusa and Fulling Mill are all good. Hanak make great tactical river hooks in barbless types.

Hooks are expensive. Good quality hooks for fishing are a must. But here is where I am going to suggest you maybe curb your expenditure for now. *There are suppliers out there who do bulk packs of hooks in various sizes and styles and they are MUCH cheaper when you are super keen and the fly tying bug initially bites. And trust me in this, no matter how good your first efforts seem, once you have been tying a few years, you will look at some of your early efforts and say to yourself…what was I thinking?

You can, opt to use the best hooks from the off, and be prepared to strip the patterns back several times when you get it wrong, so you can actually get the use of the hook. Alternatively tie to your hearts content on something a bit cheaper and you will be able to fill a box that you can try if you wish or refer back to as you improve and you start to understand what makes a nice fly.

Tools

Good quality tools can be pricey and initially you won’t want to spend too much until you decide if fly tying is for you. You can sometimes buy some cheap sets of beginners tools and by all means have a look at them to get started but if the bug bites you will want to upgrade. 

As a minimum you need

  • Fine Pointed Sharp Scissors- these will become your fly tying scissors- use them only to cut thread and natural materials, definitely not wire.
  • A Bobbin Holder- try get one with a ceramic insert as a minimum.
  • Hackle Pliers
  • Dubbing needle
  • Dubbing brush- make your own out of some velcro and a lolly stick!
  • If you are over 40 or have poor eyesight, Magnifiers of some sort.
  • Optional- A whip finish tool, but learn to tie without one and this is non essential but is nice to have sometimes.
  • A vice.  As you improve you will find a cheap vice becomes limiting quite quickly, but as a beginner you will not appreciate a good one. You want one that grips a good variety of hook sizes securely and consider where you will tie, will you be able to clamp it to a bench or will you need a solid base? You can get a cheap and functional vice for a tenner, £20-£30 will get you something that might last you a good while before the urge to get something better comes along.
As you improve you will want to watch the tiers on tiers row at fly fishing events and open days, to learn thei secrets. You might even end up tying there yourself!

As you improve

If the bug bites, and it probably will, you will soon find yourself heading out to your local Angling shop or looking on line for more materials. These few suggestions are things to consider upgrading or adding to your basics once you are off and running. ( a lot depends on how and where you plan to fish)

Some more patterns to play with

Once you have mastered the basics check out these videos of patterns I have demonstrated myself from my Fly tying playlist on Youtube.

  • Several Bobbin Holders ( adjustable ones are good and get one suitable for thicker material like floss)
  • Deer Hair Stacker
  • A rotary Vice, this keeps the hook in the same plane as you rotate it through 360 degrees. usually pricey but once you have used one you would never wish to go back!
  • UV Resin and LED Torch to set it
  • Consider dying your own materials, doing this you can buy larger quantities of neutral colours and then make up smaller portions of colours you want- remarkably easy to do.
  • Fritz in Various colours, Orange, Yellow and Chartreuse are commonest
  • Holographic Tinsel
  • Partridge Skin
  • Feathers ( Mallard, Starling and Grouse are all useful)
  • Tungsten Beads 
  • Natural CDC
  • Spectra Dubbing
  • SLF Dubbing
  • UV Dubbing
  • Sets of UNI Threads ( you can get multipacks of smaller spools with 16 colours or therabouts that are great for beginners)
  • Consider trying Nano Silk in 12/0- its great stuff 
  • Good Quality hackle feathers for Dry flies, Saddle or Cape feathers in at least, Black, Grizzle and Brown)

If you really fancy pushing things along, Davie McPhail’s YouTube channel is a gold mine of information and you can watch a true master in action.

You will soon find the materials list becomes endless, and  you will ask yourself…. so this was to save me money?