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Fly Tying: You Donít Have to be Great to Have Fun (or Catch Fish)

Blog by: Tom McInerney 11/19/2013

Thereís a lot of reasons to tie your own flies:

- Itís a ton oí fun (most important).
- If you donít ice fish, or even if you do, itíll give you something to do in the winter. Heck, Iím tying up some flies for winter now, check out this thread.
- You can do it while you half-watch sports on TV (and sip a beer).
- Itís expensive, wait thatís not a good reason. OK, if you can find a buddy or two to tie with and split costs with, that helps a lot.

Dave recently started the charity work of showing me how to tie. I knew nothing except that I wanted to try it. The way he showed me was different and better than I expected.

Iíd seen videos online and visited some fly tying demos where tiers showed the group how to tie specific patterns which makes sense for experienced folks. Itís not like I didnít understand them either, but vocab, recipes, hook types, etc. just all seemed pretty daunting. Then I realized I had an OG who could show me. And if thereís one thing OGís are good for, itís showing you stuff.

So Dave started off showing me how to tie a pheasant tail nymph. But instead of just showing me ďthis is how you tie a pheasant tailĒ, he explained it as a set of tying techniques, e.g. this is how you start the thread, this is how you attach a tail, this is how you make a body, etc.

I liked this approach because it allowed me to analyze and see the components of the fly and then apply that knowledge to other patterns I havenít tied. For example, when he taught me my second pattern, a peacock woolly bugger and said we would use maribou as a tail, I already knew how to tie a tail, the same went for a lot of the fly. The only new things I learned for that pattern were how to wrap lead and palmering saddle hackle.

No, itís not cheap. I spent $40 on a saddle alone, and it wasnít even the best grade. (Yeah, thereís different grades of materials, makes sense, I just never thought about it before.) Now, that saddle will make a lot of flies and different flies and hopefully last me years, but none the less $40 on one type of fly material. That being said, find a friend and split costs. I can splice that saddle with a buddy and still get a ton of flies out of it while saving a few bucks.

Of course like everything else related to fishing, Iím addicted. I tie a lot, which means I need to buy more fly boxes, and better yet go fishing more often to see if they work. I know youíve heard it all before, but catching a fish on your own fly is something else.

One last thing is check out our calendar to find fly tying demos and get togethers. There are a lot of them during the winter, especially in the metro area and front range. A popular one I go to, simply because itís close to my house, is at Big Beaver Brewing Company in west Loveland. Not only do they have some very tasty brews, but every second and fourth Tuesday at 6:00 pm you can find a fair amount of folks tying flies and sharing techniques. Whether youíre a pro or novice, visiting these events is a great way to meet some cool people and learn a thing or two.

Tips to start fly tying

Everyone likes to do things differently. Here is some advice based on whatís worked for me.

- Donít buy a kit. I heard this a lot. Thought about it though. Glad I didnít. I buy my materials as I need them. Each time I learn a new pattern, I see what I donít already have and just go buy what I need.

- Start tying with a friend if you can to split costs of materials.

- Get a decent vise in the $30-$50 range. They can go much higher, but this is what I started with and think itís fine for now.

- Learn the HOW of each component of a pattern. This will make learning new patterns easier.

- Learn one pattern (set of techniques) and practice it a lot. This is best done with utilitarian patterns like pheasant tails or woollies that can be fished on almost any water.

Fun fishing!

Blog content © Tom McInerney
Blog Comments
Coyute, CO   11/19/2013 9:15:54 AM
The most rewarding time of my short lived foray into the world of fly fishing was catching something on one of my own yarn and feather creations. Granted it was a meager trout, but I still remember the spot and the pride I felt.
ColoradoDad, CO   11/19/2013 10:25:42 AM
Good points. I have tied a couple hundred flies & am still definitely a novice. One other point I would make is to start big, then gradually tie smaller flies. One of my favorite patterns is a #18 EHC, but in order to teach myself how to tie a fly that small I started with a #10 EHC and once I gained confidence in that size I moved down to a #12, and so on, until I was able to tie a decent small one.
Tom McInerney (opencage), CO   11/19/2013 10:32:00 AM
Coyute, oh yeah, it is by far one of the greatest feelings I think a fly angler can have, regardless of the size of the fish. CODad, a great point. My first pheasant tail was a #10 too, and I went down from there. I'm just starting to feel comfortable with 14-16 for some of the ice ties I'm tying.
Ajax5240, CO   11/19/2013 1:31:29 PM
Great write up! It really is a ton of fun! The nice part is that a lot of the supplies are cheap. Thread, dubbing, etc are $1-2. Hooks are a few bucks for 25. The hackle feathers etc are pricey, but like you said, there are a ton on feathers in that saddle.
Tom McInerney (opencage), CO   11/19/2013 3:03:42 PM
Ajax, you're right. Dave has showed me a lot of ways to save money. If you know folks who hunt ask them to save stuff for you. This year alone, I've gotten some pheasant tails and my cousins in Michigan are saving me two buck tales for when I visit for Holidays. I got some copper wiring from old power cords and some creamish dubbing material from some friends' and neighbors' dogs. All this info from Dave. As I said, OG's know their stuff. :-)
Flyrodn, CO   11/20/2013 9:48:45 AM
Not sure I can handle all the praise. I will say Tom is an eager student, rather like a dry sponge when it comes to soaking up information. My biggest fear is Lindsey, his lovely and nice wife, will decide that I'm a bad influence on him. Sure wouldn't want that to happen. May have to start teaching classes again. Used to do that on the Western Slope.