Fly tying is easy

Words by:
Barry Grantham
Featured in:
December 2023

Tying your own fly and then casting it on the water and presenting it to a fish is a powerful experience. The first time the fly is taken by a fish is a true turning point.

This is the case for the young angler especially, when collecting samples of the fish’s food from a stream or lake and then creating their own fly pattern from it and using it to deceive the fish and catch it.
So how do we get youngsters started and what is the best way to start? There is a simple answer to this and that is, when they are ready. When they are showing some interest and not being forced to start fly tying.

A lot of people feel that fly tying, with all the mysterious materials and the range of intricate patterns, would be too much of a challenge for the young angler. Children can construct a fly long before they can cast one safely and successfully. The fly that the youngster creates is a work of art and the youngster’s creativity can be used to the fullest. They are sharing something very special with you, at an early age.

So how does a youngster or even an adult learn to make fishing flies? There are many good books and tutorials on the internet on the subject, but the best way is to join a club dedicated to fly tying. Here in Lincolnshire we have a group of fly dressers called the Lincolnshire Fly Dressers Guild. This club meets once a month at Saxilby, near Lincoln, and holds meetings at other locations in the county. By going to a club like this you will be shown techniques and also provided with tools and materials for you to use – so if as a newcomer you do not have these items, it’s a good way to try the craft without any outlay.
Not many tools are needed to tie a fly so let’s go through the main items:

The Vice
This is used to grip the hook as the materials are wrapped round to form a fly. There are many vices on the market ranging from a few pounds to several hundred pounds. There is no need for the beginner to spend hundreds of pounds on a vice, a simple one will do the job; the main thing being that it will hold the hook firmly without it moving.

Bobbin Holder
This is an item for holding the spool of thread that is used for tying the materials onto the hook to form the fly. The spool is held between two legs of sprung steel, thread is then threaded through a tube for winding round the hook. Again prices can vary, but the main thing is that no sharp edges or grooves are in the end of the tube. If this is not smooth it will cut the thread as you wind.

Hackle Pliers
These are used to grip a feather to wind as a hackle around the hook. There are a few types of hackle pliers available. The most common is called the Traditional English type. These are usually made from brass or stainless steel. They have spring loaded jaws to hold the feather and a formed ring so you can use your index finger to wind around the hook. A useful device for winding fragile feathers is an electrical meter probe – these are also useful for displaying finished flies.

Scissors
This is the only item where I would say buy the best you can afford. Buy a nice pointed blade scissor that nicely sits in the palm of your hand. This is used for delicate cutting of materials. A slightly more robust scissor can be purchased for cutting tinsel and wire, thus not damaging your best pair. Another useful scissor is the sort with curved blades.

Other items can be added: Whip finish tools are used to tie off the winding silk when you have finished the fly. I personally do not use these but prefer to use the same finishing method using my fingers.

Dubbing spinners and dubbing needles are used to spin fur or other like materials onto the tying thread and the needles for picking out the dubbed fur or dipping in varnish and applying to the head of the tied fly where we finished off. These can easily be made using darning needles pushed into a wine bottle cork. A scalpel, the sort found in craft shops, is also a useful item to add.

Tying materials can easily be purchased from specialised outlets, there are lots of these online – or if you know anyone who shoots, you will have a good source of pheasant tail, partridge, hare and rabbit fur. Squirrel and stoat tails and mole, to name just a few more.

Yes there are many books on starting fly tying and tutorials on the internet. But the best way is to come along to the Lincolnshire Fly Dressers Guild meetings. There you will be made very welcome and shown the methods and techniques for tying flies.

These days it is not only the game angler who ties and uses flies to catch fish but also the coarse angler.

There are a lot of anglers these days chasing predator fish like pike and perch. By learning the art of fly tying, patterns can be made to your own design and for the venue to be fished. In the new year, I am actually instructing a Perch on the Fly day for Lincoln and District Angling Association on the River Witham. Places are limited but it is free of charge. The day is aimed at youngsters but adults can attend if places are available. This event will feature in a later issue of Lincolnshire Life.

Next time I will be fishing in a Lincolnshire lake using tackle from yesteryear and the methods used in that era. It was a very interesting day with some surprises.

Happy Christmas to all and tight lines.

Words: Barry Grantham



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