Fly tying is indeed a great way for any fly angler to be able to enjoy the sport of fly fishing on a cold winter evening. An hour or two tying flies when the cold wind is howling outside often takes the mind off of everyday concerns and leads to full fly boxes when warmer weather rolls around.
Why Get Organized?
Tying time can be precious these days, given the pace of modern life. Any time wasted looking for a particular material decreases the number of finished flies at the end of a session, not to mention the reduced satisfaction.
Having your materials stored in an organized fashion and using them in an orderly manner can potentially add to the number of finished flies at the end of a tying session.
Storing fly-tying materials in an organized fashion also makes it easier to help prevent deterioration and pest infestation.
Getting Organized, the Beginning
Getting materials organized for easy location is actually quite simple. Though I’ve seen some very elaborate storage systems fly tying materials, organization and storage can often be accomplished with common household and office items, some of which you may already have.
In the beginning, fly-tier storage can be very simple due to the limited number of carefully selected materials. However, once a tier begins to collect materials for different tying styles and patterns, the accumulation of larger quantities necessitates some serious thought for organized storage.
Most fly-tying materials are sold and purchased in re-sealable plastic bags. Given that these bags are already labeled and of the proper size, there is seldom a need to remove material from the retail bag.
The only time I remove materials from retail bags for storage is to consolidate like materials or to break down feather capes, necks, heads, and full skins to individual feather sizes.
A few options exist to help optimize organizing those bags so they can be quickly located and returned after use. The first step is to poke several small holes in the retail bag with a pin or fly tyers bodkin.
This will allow the bags to compress and also let them breathe, which is important for long-term storage.
The number of options available for storing bagged materials is probably equal to the imagination of the tyers that store them. I will just cover some of my preferred methods.
Depending on the type and size of the materials being stored and the amount of space you have available, you may want to use some or all of the options.
For the beginning fly tier, a desk of some sort is in order. Many fly tyers, me included, prefer to have a desk that can be closed off at the end of a tying session unless you are fortunate enough to have a dedicated room.
This allows half-finished projects, tools, chemicals, and expensive materials to be protected from curious children, house cleaning wives, and marauding cats. An inexpensive computer desk with a closing front is easy to convert into a spectacular tying desk.
Plastic drawer bins are an excellent help in repurposing a desk such as described above. These inexpensive drawer bins come in different sizes that can accommodate most spaces.
Larger drawer bins, with or without wheels, can accommodate larger storage needs, and many are stackable, allowing for a small footprint.
A file cabinet is an excellent storage option for almost all fly-tying materials. Hanging file folders can be labeled just as they would for storing paper files. Like materials can be placed in the same folder and organized by type, color, size or any other criteria.
One of the biggest advantages of a file cabinet is its small footprint of the cabinet. Another advantage is that any pest-proofing will cover the entire cabinet due to the shared air space.
Spooled materials such as thread, tinsel, and wire are obviously not easily stored in bags. Therefore, a different system is in order. A spool rack or tower is the perfect answer.
The choice between the two options depends largely on the available desktop space. A thread tower or spool, available from many fly fishing retailers, can be found in a horizontal or vertical design.
The only drawback may be the need for that valuable surface space to store it.
Thread racks come in many different configurations. The most common design is a simple grid of wooden slats with short stems of dowels that the thread spools are placed on using the hole in the center of the spool.
These racks, while not as clever or stylish as some thread storage options, are very inexpensive. They can be purchased from fly fishing retailers or fabric stores for as little as $10 for a 36 spool rack. They can be screwed to a vertical surface or left free-standing.
Items such as hooks, beads, cone heads, and weighted eyes are best stored in containers suited to their small size. Hook storage comes in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate available space.
Compartmentalized storage boxes are great; they can easily be labeled for hook sizes. I prefer the single row or back-to-back row styles as opposed to multi-rowed boxes. For smaller hooks, I also prefer having a lid for each compartment (pill box style) over a single lid for all compartments.
The single row, multiple, and lids help to prevent the loss or mixing of tiny hooks when removing them for use.
Stackable clear round containers are another excellent option for medium-sized hooks. These clear plastic stackable containers have male threads on the top and female threads on the bottom that allow them to be screwed together in a stacked fashion with a lid placed on the top container. These can be found at hardware or craft stores.
For larger hooks, beads, eyes, etc. I prefer to use a plastic slide drawer or hardware cabinet. These are excellent for large salmon hooks that don’t fit well in smaller containers.
Packaged beads, dumbbell eyes, coneheads, etc., can be left in retail bags and stored in the same drawer to save space. Eventually, that’s what efficient fly tying is about, saving space in an organized manner.