August 18, 2016
By Lynn Burkhead
When empty voids start to pile up in your fly box, sure you can visit your local fly shop and fork over a wad of hard-earned George Washington's to buy flies.
Or, you can invest in a reasonably-priced fly tying vise, some hooks, a couple of spools of tying thread and a handful of natural and synthetic materials in an effort to learn how to do it yourself.
If spending some time at a vise in an effort to tie up your own version of trout candy sounds appealing, then read on and consider the following advice.
In the mind of my fly fishing buddy, Rob Woodruff, a trout guide and commercial fly tier who holds a Texas A&M degree in entomology, the first and most important thing a would-be fly-tier can do is to lay a proper foundation for success at the vise.
Loosely translated, that means obtain some quality instruction.
"There is no substitute for having 15 minutes with somebody standing over your shoulder who knows what they're doing," said Woodruff.
"All of the videos and instruction books are good, but they can't match somebody who knows what they're doing and is showing you how to do it."
A great way for that foundation to be laid is to join forces with a group of fly fishing buddies, a fly fishing club or a local fly shop that has regular fly tying sessions.
The reason is simple: Spending time on a consistent basis with other fly tiers helps anyone become better.
None of this is to say that would-be fly-tiers can't learn the craft on their own time, particularly when they are using a good instructional book or a DVD.
If that instructional resource has a name like A.K. Best, Shane Stalcup, Jack Dennis, Skip Morris, Dave Whitlock or John Barr attached to it, you're on your way.
But again, there's little doubt the fly tying learning curve will be that much steeper without quality, personal, hands-on instruction. So if you can take lessons, join a fly fishing club's fly tying sessions or sit in on a tying session at your local fly shop, all the better.
Getting good instruction is only part of laying a good foundation in fly tying, however.
Second is obtaining good equipment, including the purchase of a quality fly-tying vise.
Notice I didn't say an expensive vise. That statement is important since a beginner can get sticker shock in a hurry since top-end vises carry price tags in the neighborhood of $400 or more.
But before you walk out of the store and quit fly tying before you even begin, consider two things:
First, you don't have to spend boocoo bucks to get a good, workhorse vise that will last for years. And, second, remember that buying a vise is an investment, a tool you can use for decades.
Some quality vices runs around $40. Others run up towards $75 to $100. And if you're willing to fork over the extra cash, a top-end vise like my Peak vise will last for years, all for around $150.
"I guarantee that probably 90 percent of the professional fly-tiers out there started off with something like that," said Woodruff.
That being said, there are two things to look for in a vise, regardless of the final price tag:
"To me, the key points to look for in a vise is its ability to hold the hook steady and a C-clamp that will mount the vise to a table properly," said Woodruff.
"It's not only frustrating for your hooks to not hold well in a vise, but it can be just as frustrating if your vise isn't stable. I personally don't like pedestal vises unless I'm tying very small flies."
Fortunately, as noted above, most major vise manufacturers offer high-quality vises that will allow a new tier to get into the game at a reasonable cost.
In addition to the vise, several other key pieces of fly-tying equipment should be purchased, including several good thread bobbins, a whip finisher, scissors, dubbing wax and hackle pliers.
Woodruff doesn't like using hackle pliers when he ties, preferring to use his fingers to wrap hackle around a hook. I do too, but I still find that a pair of hackle pliers is necessary from time to time as I tie smaller trout flies.
A third consideration in all of this is to assemble the right hooks, thread and materials to tie the flies you want to fill your fly boxes with. Google the materials needed to tie such patterns and then purchase them online or at your local fly shop.
If you're ready to venture into the world of thread wraps, bucktails, dry-fly hackles, whip finishes and Krystal Flash, here are two easy-to-tie patterns that will help you get started.
The first is one of the most widely-used dry fly patterns in the world, Al Troth's elk-hair caddis. The second is one of the most widely used nymph patterns, the pheasant-tail nymph. Both are relatively easy to learn how to tie and are among trout fishing's best patterns.
- Hook: Standard dry-fly model, size Nos. 10 to 20
- Thread: Tan 6/0
- Body: Tan rabbit dubbing
- Rib: Fine gold or brass wire
- Hackle: Ginger or brown
- Wing: Tan elk hair
1. Tie in the wire at the back end of the hook.
2. Dub the body forward and tie off.
3. Tie the hackle in behind the hook's eye; wrap it over the dubbed body towards the back of the hook with several spiral turns (palmering).
4. Tie off the hackle with several wraps of wire.
5. Wrap the wire forward through the hackle and tie off at the fly's head.
6. Tie in the elk hair for the wing, leaving some sloping ahead towards the hook's eye.
7. After cinching the elk hair down with several tight thread wraps to cause it to flair, use a razor blade to cut the hair just in front of the wraps (near the hook's eye) to form a squared head.
8. Whip finish.
9. Apply head cement.
- Hook: Standard nymph hook in 1X or 2X length, size Nos. 10 to 18
- Thread: Brown 6/0
- Body: Pheasant-tail fibers
- Rib: Fine copper wire
- Tail: Pheasant-tail fibers
- Wingcase: Pheasant-tail fibers
- Thorax: Peacock herl
- Legs: Pheasant-tail fibers
1. Tie in the wire above the hook's point and wrap the thread back over the wire, stopping just beyond the hook's barb.
2. Select three fibers from a pheasant tail and tie them in above the hook's barb as the fly's tail. Secure with several thread wraps.
3. Wind the thread forward over the pheasant tail fibers to the mid-point of the hook.
4. From the hook's mid-point, wrap the free ends of the pheasant tail fibers backwards to the tied in wire.
5. Use the wire to secure the pheasant tail fibers to the hook. Cut away any remaining pheasant tail fibers.
6. Wrap the wire forward as ribbing material.
7. Use the thread to tie off the wire ribbing at the hook's midpoint. Note: The remaining wire can be wrapped forward to add more weight to the fly if so desired.
8. Tie in several pheasant tail fibers at the midpoint of the hook. These will serve as the wingcase.
9. At the hook's midpoint, also tie in one peacock herl, which will serve as the fly's thorax.
10. Wrap the peacock herl forward to just behind the hook's eye and secure with the tying thread. Cut away the excess peacock herl.
11. Fold the pheasant tail fibers forward (over the wrapped peacock herl) and secure with thread wraps just behind the hook's eye to form the wingcase. Cut away the excess pheasant tail fibers.
12. Just behind the hook's eye, tie in three pheasant tail fibers on each side of the fly to form the nymph's legs. Cut away the excess pheasant tail fibers in front of your thread wraps.
13. Whip finish.
14. Apply head cement.
Once you've learned to reasonably tie these two flies, all that's left to do is to get on the water to tempt a rainbow or brown trout with your own version of trout candy.
And when you finally hook a trout on a fly pattern that you tied up at home, it proves to be immensely satisfying.