After spending several hours at my vise I took a look at the flies I had produced. I quickly realized that I wasn’t a very good fly tyer. Instead of walking away frustrated, I started thinking about why I wasn’t very good and how I could improve.
I had no formal ‘training’ to tie flies. I had purchased a cheap beginners set over 15 years ago and with it’s cheap materials and clunky tools I taught myself the basic skills. Please don’t ask me how long it took me to wrap my head around the whip finish (get it…wrap).
With these basic skills in hand, I started to upgrade my tools over the years and started investing in higher quality materials. I tied infrequently and stuck with larger patterns that would be considered easier ties. The results were mixed and my attitude has always been “they don’t need to be pretty to catch fish” and I was right. Most fish really don’t care that you’ve crowded the hook eye or if your proportions are slightly off.
After this last tying session, my usual mediocre results just didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to become a better tyer. After some thought and consideration I identified some areas of improvement and came up with my own personal Rules for Fly Tying.
In order to improve my skills I will focus on these 10 rules for each fly I sit down to tie.
Slow Down. Be Patient: This is probably the most important factor in tying quality flies. The internet is flooded with videos of master tyers cranking out beautiful flies in just a matter of minutes. Guest what? I am not a master fly tyer and I really need to take my time. This rule is the foundation for creating good flies.
Quality Tools: Beginner sets are great for those wanting to explore the world of fly tying but if you get serious about it you, will need to upgrade your tools. As with most things there are a range of tools on the market. One could very easily spend a thousand plus dollars on the basic gear. I feel that’s a bit excessive for me, but there are some very good midrange quality products on the market. At the very least I would recommend a quality vise, thread bobbin and scissors as your first investment.
Quality Materials: We have recently been painting our house and we quickly learned that sometimes the cheapest paint options weren’t the best. The same applies to fly tying materials. You can usually make do with these cheaper materials but the end results are frequently poor and the frustration is not worth the pennies that you saved.
Measure Materials Twice: Much of fly tying is about getting the correction proportions for the fly. This includes the right length of the tail, body, wings, legs etc. Like in carpentry I recommend measuring your materials out twice (at least) before tying them in place.
Don’t Crowd The Hook Bend: Most fly patterns start with the tail and work back to the eye of the hook. Right off the bat you can compromise your fly by crowding the bend of the hook. In essence your tail materials are wrapped too far down the hook and instead of sticking straight out the tail follows the bend and points downward. Prevent this by ensuring that you wrap the materials high on the bend or just before.
Get The Materials On Top of The Hook Shank: This can be easier said than done, but again this is where patience come into play (see rule #1). Great looking flies have the materials on top of the shank rather than either side of the hook. The best way to achieve this is by offsetting your materials (towards you) before you wrap your thread or by doing a few loose wraps before cinching it in place.
Don’t Over Wrap: I’m guilty of using way too much thread. Sometimes I think to myself ‘just a few more wraps’. The end result is usually a bulky, sometimes disproportioned fly. If you only need 2 wraps, only use 2 wraps.
Less Dubbing, More Wraps: Putting too much dubbing on your thread and taking fewer wraps is a very common mistake made by new tyers. The better approach is very thin layers of dubbing wrapped more. This helps build a more consistent and full body. My attitude towards dubbing is that if I think it’s the right amount, take some off.
Don’t Crowd The Head: A common result of over wrapping your thread is a crowded head. Make certain that you leave enough space to properly finish tying off your materials and to build a head, without encroaching on the eye on the hook. Not only does it look bad, it can be extremely frustrating standing on the river’s edge trying to feed your 6x leader through a crowded head.
Tie Several Flies In A Row: My father always used to say that "practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect". If your first fly isn’t exactly the way you want it, learn from your mistakes and make improvements. Tying several of the same flies in a row will help you make these improvements and ultimately lead to better flies. Most people find it easier to tie larger flies so feel free to start with your size 12 flies before moving onto 14 and 16.
I’m not an expert fly tyer and I doubt that I ever will be. I will however strive to make improvements and to better my tying abilities. After giving it some thought, I believe that these 10 rules will help me be a better tyer. I might even print these off and post them on my tying bench.
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