How to Up Your Fly-Tying Game, Part One

Some look at fly tying as a hobby, while others view it as an art form. However you look at it, though, tying flies requires time, patience, and a little creativity. Over the years, I’ve watched nearly every level of fly tying there is—from newcomer to seasoned pro—and I’ve seen the frustration that sometimes accompanies such a meticulous activity. If you’ve taken up fly tying and can’t seem to get out of a rut, or if you’re just looking to improve your skills, I’ve provided a few tips to help you out.

One of the best pieces of advice I, or anyone, can provide on the subject of fly tying is to use quality materials and tools. Yes, more often than not, higher quality gear costs more, but the difference in price means better craftsmanship, better performance, and better flies. Furthermore, having to replace lesser quality materials and tools will cost more in the long run than simply buying the right equipment right away. Besides, newcomers can’t be expected to learn and advance their skills if they’re continually dealing with inferior tools.

Moving on to more focused tips, I’d also advise you to be sure to use very fine thread when tying flies. Thread that is too heavy will become bulky and can have adverse effects on the fly’s performance. Finer threads can make more turns around the fly during the tying process, which adds strength without adding bulk. Some are afraid of breaking finer thread when they first start tying, but beginners will always break thread, so it’s best to embrace that fact and start with the right thread off the bat.

It may seem picky, but taking time to make sure to maintain size proportions when tying is important. Flies fall into different style categories, each of which has different proportions in relation to the size hook you use. Dry flies, for instance, should have a tail that is the same length of the hook shank, a hackle two times the width of the hook gap, and wings a quarter longer than the hackle. The wings should also be placed around one third of the hook shank’s length behind the hook’s eye. All this planning may seem overwhelming at first, but it will become second nature over time and the uniformity you learn to employ during the tying process will yield higher quality flies.

Fly tying can reach frustrating levels very quickly if you’re using the wrong tools or not taking the time to look at the fly as a whole, as well as the individual pieces. I apologize if Part One was a lot to take in at once, but consider it the main course of my fly tying tips. If the advice outlined above has helped in any way, be sure to return for Part Two, where you’ll find more tips to help all levels of tying experience up their game.