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Learn to replicate quality work, before worrying about pattern

by: David Coulson , Colorado 12/30/2016

Thinking back, I realize Iíve been tying flies since the mid-seventies, some forty years.  I remember talking about getting into tying with my loving wife one fall, but never took the plunge, in part because monies were tight.

That Christmas, my gifts consisted of a tying manual, Thompson C vise, a few tools, and enough materials to tie the first couple patterns manual, plus a small gift certificate for more materials. Not sure that was my Sueís best decision as it started me down a path to which there was no turning back.  My desire to learn to tie quickly turned into a love of tying.

After reading a bit of the manual, I set up my vise and proceeded to tie, or maybe I should say attempt to tie.  I remember cutting off the materials from a hook numerous times before I was satisfied my creation would fish.  Although, I soon learned fish are far less picky about my creations than I was.

I claim to be a self-taught tier. Itís true never paid for lessons.  However, the reality is I developed my skill set through reading books, magazines, attending tying demonstrations, watching tiers at shows and asking lots of questions, tying alongside others, and spending hours at the vise.  My knowledge was built from the work of others.

Truth is, I took to tying, like a duck takes to water.  Short of fishing, I found time at the vise to be most enjoyable.  Even today, after forty years tying, I still love spending time at the vise, be it filling gaps in my fly boxes, demonstrating techniques, or dabbling with new techniques/patterns. 
During those early years, my tying was limited by money.  As a young man early in his working career with a growing family, the ďwantsĒ exceed my income. So my tying was limited by my budget to purchase materials.  Showing my work to friends and family, I got good reviews, some indicating it was equal in quality to store product.  That got me thinking, if I could convert some of my flies into cash, Iíd have more money to buy materials to tie with. 

One day, while shopping for a neck at Anglerís All in Denver, I asked if they ever bought flies from local tiers.  The answer was, yes.  Inquiring as to how Iíd go about becoming a tier for them, I was told to bring them a dozen flies, same pattern/size of my choice.  Why?  Answer, ďI look for two things.  First, all twelve flies need to be identical.  A good tier needs to be able to replicate their work.  Second, Iíll try to pull a fly apart with my hands.  Itís OK if the materials fail, but the materials must not come free.  Your work must be well tied and durable.Ē  He then went on to say, I can teach you patterns, but you have to be able to tie quality flies and be able to replicate your work.

I never did become a tier for Anglerís All, but I did take that advice to heart.  I would tie a single size/pattern until I got to the point that twelve consecutive flies off the vise were indistinguishable.  Actually, I finally got to the point where I could tie a size/pattern and mix it in with flies tied previously (days/weeks/months prior) and when mixed in you couldnít pick it out from the lot.   Even better, I learned to duplicate others work, and you could mix my ties in with their work and not distinguish between the flies.

Second, I concentrated on quality.  I took flies into my hands and tried to destroy them.  If they failed, Iíd work out why, and correct it.  Furthermore, flies were ties without the aid of glues.  Granted, there are patterns where adhesives and epoxies are integral parts of a pattern.  Still, itís my view that flies are tied, not glued.

So when I see beginning tiers ask what I think of their work, my response is they should not worry about pattern.  Rather learn to tie durable flies that you can replicate.  After those skills are in place, then worry about pattern.

Blog content © David Coulson
Member comments
Mr.Pink, CO   1/9/2017 6:25:41 PM
You should do a Clouser Minnow video. I know there are a bunch out there, but I'd like to see yours.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   1/11/2017 8:27:50 AM
Thank you for the thought. May consider it, but given my love of video it may be a long wait. I don't have the equipment and not sure I have the desire to be on film.
Mr.Pink, CO   1/11/2017 3:35:43 PM
Understandable. I was half-joking, anyway. But only half. ) FYI, you totally have the equipment you'd need to make a video, and many fly tying videos don't show the tiers' face or even feature their voice. Just sayin'. Good stuff as always.
David Coulson
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