What Is Fly Tying?

The craft or art of fly tying consists of the use of thread, floss, or wire in the binding of feathers, fur, hair, and myriad natural or synthetic materials to a hook to imitate food organisms that fish feed on.

Most commonly, a fine thread is wound securely onto the hook shank and then used to secure a specific sequence of materials. Materials used in fly tying range from the feathers of extinct bird species to synthetic items as common as a strip of plastic bag or used clothes dryer sheet.

Fly tying is one of the more engaging aspects of fly fishing in that it gives the angler a closer connection to the sport through having produced the flies used in pursuing the fish.

Through fly tying the angler is able to produce customized flies to match the food organisms in the waters they fish or build creations as outlandish as a Jackson Pollock painting.

Tools of the Trade

Whether a tyer seeks to simply tie a few flies a year or annually produce thousands of flies commercially, certain tools are needed.

The most important of a tyer’s tools is the fly tying vise. A good quality vise is stable, easy to operate, and solidly constructed. Without a good working vise to securely hold the hook in place, tying sleek, durable flies is problematic.

Every tyer should have a selection of bobbins on hand. The bobbin is used to hold and dispense the tying thread during the tying process.

Different-sized flies and different tying threads are best suited to a range of bobbin sizes and styles. A bobbin threader, while not essential, makes threading the bobbin simple.

Scissors are needed for cutting threads and other materials during tying. Because a range of cutting needs will be encountered, scissors with fine, medium, and heavy blades should be available to the tyer.

Hackle pliers are available in a variety of configurations and are useful in making the winding of hackles and other materials easy and more precise.

The dubbing twister, spinning loop tool, dubbing tool, spinning hook, shepherd’s hook, and dubbing hook are slightly different configurations and names of the same tool. Used to apply dubbing material in a thread loop, it is indispensable in multiple fly tying applications.

A dubbing pick or bodkin is very beneficial during these and other applications, such as applying head cement.

Hair stackers are fundamental in working with hair where an evening of tips or butts is required before securing to the hook. Not to be confused, as the same tool is the hair packer. A hair packer is used for the compression of hair bundles in the tying of many patterns.

With these tools, any standard pattern can be accomplished with practice.

Other Useful Tools and Accessories

The tying of tube flies requires an adaptor and mandrels for this relatively new style of flies. A tube fly is tied on a short section of a rigid tube as opposed to a hook shank.

The hook is not actually attached to the fly. The leader is passed through the “tube” of the fly, and the hook is tied to the leader. Becoming ever more popular among catch and release anglers, tube flies greatly reduce the mortality rate of released fish.

To keep the tying area clean, a catch-all or vise-mounted waste basket is helpful. Not only is it convenient it will also eliminate wasted movements toward a wastebasket on the floor.

A whip-finisher and half-hitch tool (present on the butt end of many fly tying tools) can make these two procedures much faster and easier. Though both procedures can be performed without the respective tools, rough skin on the fingers can make them taxing.

A small comb is needed to clean many types of hair for stacking and spinning. Manufacturers of fly tying tools sell specialty combs and brushes; however, a mustache or makeup comb/brush will do just fine.

Tweezers and razor blades or scalpels are very helpful during many delicate procedures.

Hemostats, pliers, measuring scales, and cigarette lighters all have multiple applications on the tying bench. For special applications, items such as masking tape, super glue, paper clips, and countless other items can come in handy.

As with any other aspect of fishing, there is always one more gadget or tool to be added. After all, fly tying, like fishing, is a craft limited only by the imagination of the tyer and the tools at hand.