So You own a Fly Tying Kit—Now What?

January 30, 2023 By: Mark Signorino

From top left clockwise: vise, scissors (one pair for precision cuts only), tweezers, dubbing twister, hair stackers, half-hitch tool, whip finish tool, two types of hackle pliers, bodkin, bobbin threader, bobbin

Maybe you’ve been attending fly fishing shows and were inspired by some of the demonstration tiers. Maybe you’ve been fly fishing for a couple of years and now want to “customize” some flies because the local shop only carries black and white wooly buggers but your friend who ties has more success with olive. Whatever the reason, a month before Christmas you were dropping hints to Santa.

So it’s been about a month since you unwrapped a fly-tying kit for Christmas. Now what?

First, you’ll need to check out the kit. It should have several basic tools including:A vise: the clamping device that will hold the hook.
A bobbin: This holds the spool of thread and adjusts thread tension.
A bobbin threader: Makes threading the bobbin much easier
A bodkin: This is like a big needle and is used for picking out materials, adding small amount of adhesive, and splitting the tying thread.
Hackle pliers: For gripping and applying hackle feathers.
Half-hitch and whip-finish tools: These are used to tie the thread and secure all materials. When tying bigger files, you will be securing your materials more than once.
Hair stackers: Used to line up fur and feathers.
Dubbing twisters: used to add material to thread to create fly bodies and add bulk.
Tweezers: Make handling those small materials much easier.

The kit should also include scissors, but please buy an extra pair. Small and precise scissors should be used for cutting thread and small feathers only. Synthetic materials, quills, lead, and wire will dull scissor blades very quickly. If you only want one pair of scissors, though, make sure you cut harder materials closer to the jaw and use the tip for more precision cuts on soft stuff.

Many tying kits will also include materials and instructions for tying several different flies, but you’re probably not ready for that yet. Now is the time to practice. Clamp a hook in the vise and work on thread tension, test the limits and learn how to snug down a wrap without breaking the thread. Tie some knots. Half hitch and whip finish knots can be tied by hand or with the tool. Learn to tie both and both ways. You will soon figure out which knots are easiest for you and remember that the best knot is the one you tie well and doesn’t fail. Other than that, there is no right or wrong answer as to which knot to use.

Next you’ll need to buy a few flies as patterns to model and copy. Start with some simple and basic flies. Mop flies, green weenies, gurglers, San Juan worms and egg patterns all work and will catch fish.

Now here’s the secret to saving money tying flies: pick a pattern, any pattern, and tie that same fly 25 times. You will learn the importance of thread tension, consistent thread wraps, and also develop muscle memory. Don’t be discouraged if your first few flies are not perfect. Even the most experienced tiers will tie five to six of the same pattern before they are happy with a single fly. Your main focus while tying should be thread tension because tension is what keeps your material secured to the hook. Making consistent wraps of thread on top of the last wrap will become easier with practice and so will tying knots with all that material on the fly. Don’t be discouraged if your knots regularly fail early on because it’s going to take some practice to do this well. But once you get the hang of it, the cost per fly will be much less than buying them and you’ll fill your box quickly. Most importantly, you can tie flies exactly how you want them to be tied.

If you’re lucky enough to have an active fly-tying or fly-fishing club in your area join them for a night of tying. Local clubs can be your best resource for learning new tying techniques and new fly patterns.

Books are a great learning resource as well. Starting out years ago, my two favorite tying books were “The Orvis Fly Tying Guide” by Tom Rosenbauer and “Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple” by Skip Morris. Both books are still in print and available at most fly shops. A newer beginner-tying book released a few years ago is “Fly Tying For Everyone” by Tim Cammisa. Tim also has a great website with many tutorial videos. And now comes the best part — getting out there on the water and testing those flies. Because the fish is the only judge that matters.