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Fly Tying

uncertainbyprinciple

Self-proclaimed humanist
10 Year Member
Lets talk synthetic bugs! I thought I'd start a thread specific to tying since there are several experts on the board, and seemingly several uninitiated (like myself). There's been some discussion of tying in the 6F thread, but its fairly spread out over 20 pages. I thought this thread could be more focused, and let the other one continue as the fantastic catch-all that it is.

I think I'm interested in getting started, and could use some guidance on gear, materials, suppliers, techniques, easy starter patterns, etc. I've watched some videos, but have no one locally to talk out issues with, or get advice from.

To get things started, lets talk about a startup kit. What's a reasonable number to have in my head for getting a vise, tools, and material? $100? $200? More? Where can compromises be made, and where should they be avoided?

Looking forward to the discussion!
 

HuskerFaith

Recruit
Lets talk synthetic bugs! I thought I'd start a thread specific to tying since there are several experts on the board, and seemingly several uninitiated (like myself). There's been some discussion of tying in the 6F thread, but its fairly spread out over 20 pages. I thought this thread could be more focused, and let the other one continue as the fantastic catch-all that it is.

I think I'm interested in getting started, and could use some guidance on gear, materials, suppliers, techniques, easy starter patterns, etc. I've watched some videos, but have no one locally to talk out issues with, or get advice from.

To get things started, lets talk about a startup kit. What's a reasonable number to have in my head for getting a vise, tools, and material? $100? $200? More? Where can compromises be made, and where should they be avoided?

Looking forward to the discussion!
Crab husker, Montana husker, and middle-aged-ballcoach are the experts. Can learn ALOT from all three.
 

CrabHusker

Shut up and color
5 Year Member
Crab husker, Montana husker, and middle-aged-ballcoach are the experts. Can learn ALOT from all three.
Appreciate the kudos, but I think Montana Husker and MABC are much more 'Modern' in their knowledge and excellent sources of information.
 

CrabHusker

Shut up and color
5 Year Member
Lets talk synthetic bugs! I thought I'd start a thread specific to tying since there are several experts on the board, and seemingly several uninitiated (like myself). There's been some discussion of tying in the 6F thread, but its fairly spread out over 20 pages. I thought this thread could be more focused, and let the other one continue as the fantastic catch-all that it is.

I think I'm interested in getting started, and could use some guidance on gear, materials, suppliers, techniques, easy starter patterns, etc. I've watched some videos, but have no one locally to talk out issues with, or get advice from.

To get things started, lets talk about a startup kit. What's a reasonable number to have in my head for getting a vise, tools, and material? $100? $200? More? Where can compromises be made, and where should they be avoided?

Looking forward to the discussion!
OK, so a few disclosures before I start giving my opinions.

First, my fly tying experience began in 1978. I was introduced to fly fishing and tying by my much older cousin, who'd started both back in the late '50's while going to college in Laramie. I saw the fish he caught and the flies he carried around with him and I was hooked.

What I started with was a $2 gently used Thompson Model A vise, I bought from a retired United Airlines pilot at a garage sale down the street. He had an ancient bobbin, a few pieces of deer and elk hair and a slightly picked over furnace wet fly neck and the whole haul came home with me for $3, vise included.

He's an image of a Model A to give you an idea what I'm talking about.

s-l640-2.jpg

Over the following months of mowing laws, fixing fences, cleaning out yards, and other odds and ends, I ended up with enough money to buy some hooks, thread, head cement and this book.

9780999003800-us.jpg

The patterns it contained are fairly common and aside from a handful, not overly complex, but this was not a beginners fly tying book. That was my biggest mistake. Jack does do a good job of giving the basics and is a great fly tier in his own right, but for a kid with no experience this was Calculus and I was still adding and subtracting. Buy yourself a good beginners book (@Middle-aged_Ball_Coach or @MontanaHusker might be able to help with this) and practice. I looked through the book and much to my chagrin, I didn't have enough different material to tie any of the patterns in the book but one.

I started tying a black deer hair ant pattern. Because I could. I tied it until I got pretty good at it. Then I picked another, fairly easy looking pattern based on my new found understanding of the materials, tools and methods. It was slightly more complex and coincidently was the most effective fly I've ever tied. The gold ribbed hares ear. This same process went on and on for maybe five years until I'd tied everything in the book, including the Royal Humpy shown on the cover and my nemesis, the Irresistible. I guess what I'm trying to say is the art and hobby of fly tying is a process and it's not a quick one. If you're retried or have a lot of free time, you can get really pretty decent pretty quick. If not, it will take some time.

Back to the starter kit. I know we've talked a little bit in the other thread about vises, but IMO, stick with simple from the get go. The Thompson Model A I bought for $2, now sells for around a $100 new. You may be able to find cheaper vises, but I will caution against that. The Renzetti I and @MontanaHusker tie on is hard to find and was close to $200 when I bought mine in the mid '90's. I know Griffin makes a good vise, but it's also pushing $100. I think that should be your low water mark unless you can get one used. My best advise here is don't buy a piece of junk, but don't break the bank. You may love this hobby, it may drive you nuts.

Other tools consist of bobbins for holding thread. I usually have a half dozen loaded with different colors I tie most frequently with, but you don't have to have that many to start. Buy one or two and a threader and you just have to change the thread when you have to change colors. A bodkin (which is basically a needle used for a variety of tasks when tying) a whip finisher and a set of hackle pliers. I'll be honest, but I've never been comfortable with a whip finisher and just use my fingers. This won't make sense for a while, but you'll figure it out.

Materials. Hooks in various sizes and types based on what you're tying. Most books with patterns in them will specify the hook and hook size required for a particular pattern. Thread. Different colors, sizes and styles are required. Floss if a pattern requires. Fur. I use moose for tails, deer for bodies and wings and elk for tails and wings depending on the pattern. Calf tail, rabbit strips, hares mask. Feathers. This gets pretty dicey as you really need to know the patterns you're tying before you dive in here. Start with the book and pick a pattern or two and buy those materials only. Bead heads, chenille, head cement. The list could go on forever.

Plan on spending at least $200 to get off the ground and bank on spending a lot more than that as the addiction takes hold.

Have your affairs in order. If you're anything like me, you'll be addicted in short order.

This will be a wild ride.
 
Those are all excellent suggestions by CrabHusker. To me it comes down to how interested/committed are you to tying flies. You could spend as little as $200 (Unless you just want to tie 1 or 2 patterns like a wooly bugger, then you could go cheaper) or a whole lot more. I tie flies to keep the price of my addiction down and to have patterns that are different than everyone else is throwing from the local fly shop.......which really does matter. Plus it gives me something to do at night when I am watching T.V. as I have a hard time just sitting there. It takes a lot of practice to get to a level that you won't instantly know the difference between the flies you tie and the ones that you buy at a fly shop. The good news is the learning curve should be faster as there is a youtube video for virtually any fly that you want to tie compared to the old days when you had to figure this stuff out on your own. If you think that you are all in on this than I would recommend a rotary vise that will cost you somewhere around 150.00. Crab Husker's advise on other tools sounds good to me "Other tools consist of bobbins for holding thread. I usually have a half dozen loaded with different colors I tie most frequently with, but you don't have to have that many to start. Buy one or two and a threader and you just have to change the thread when you have to change colors. A bodkin (which is basically a needle used for a variety of tasks when tying) a whip finisher and a set of hackle pliers. I'll be honest, but I've never been comfortable with a whip finisher and just use my fingers. This won't make sense for a while, but you'll figure it out."
As far as materials go.....that is a never ending rabbit hole. I would find a few patterns that I wanted to tie, obtain the material list and order that material. Once I had mastered those patterns I would find a couple more and so on.
Hope that helps.
 
OK, so a few disclosures before I start giving my opinions.

First, my fly tying experience began in 1978. I was introduced to fly fishing and tying by my much older cousin, who'd started both back in the late '50's while going to college in Laramie. I saw the fish he caught and the flies he carried around with him and I was hooked.

What I started with was a $2 gently used Thompson Model A vise, I bought from a retired United Airlines pilot at a garage sale down the street. He had an ancient bobbin, a few pieces of deer and elk hair and a slightly picked over furnace wet fly neck and the whole haul came home with me for $3, vise included.

He's an image of a Model A to give you an idea what I'm talking about.

View attachment 42338

Over the following months of mowing laws, fixing fences, cleaning out yards, and other odds and ends, I ended up with enough money to buy some hooks, thread, head cement and this book.

View attachment 42339

The patterns it contained are fairly common and aside from a handful, not overly complex, but this was not a beginners fly tying book. That was my biggest mistake. Jack does do a good job of giving the basics and is a great fly tier in his own right, but for a kid with no experience this was Calculus and I was still adding and subtracting. Buy yourself a good beginners book (@Middle-aged_Ball_Coach or @MontanaHusker might be able to help with this) and practice. I looked through the book and much to my chagrin, I didn't have enough different material to tie any of the patterns in the book but one.

I started tying a black deer hair ant pattern. Because I could. I tied it until I got pretty good at it. Then I picked another, fairly easy looking pattern based on my new found understanding of the materials, tools and methods. It was slightly more complex and coincidently was the most effective fly I've ever tied. The gold ribbed hares ear. This same process went on and on for maybe five years until I'd tied everything in the book, including the Royal Humpy shown on the cover and my nemesis, the Irresistible. I guess what I'm trying to say is the art and hobby of fly tying is a process and it's not a quick one. If you're retried or have a lot of free time, you can get really pretty decent pretty quick. If not, it will take some time.

Back to the starter kit. I know we've talked a little bit in the other thread about vises, but IMO, stick with simple from the get go. The Thompson Model A I bought for $2, now sells for around a $100 new. You may be able to find cheaper vises, but I will caution against that. The Renzetti I and @MontanaHusker tie on is hard to find and was close to $200 when I bought mine in the mid '90's. I know Griffin makes a good vise, but it's also pushing $100. I think that should be your low water mark unless you can get one used. My best advise here is don't buy a piece of junk, but don't break the bank. You may love this hobby, it may drive you nuts.

Other tools consist of bobbins for holding thread. I usually have a half dozen loaded with different colors I tie most frequently with, but you don't have to have that many to start. Buy one or two and a threader and you just have to change the thread when you have to change colors. A bodkin (which is basically a needle used for a variety of tasks when tying) a whip finisher and a set of hackle pliers. I'll be honest, but I've never been comfortable with a whip finisher and just use my fingers. This won't make sense for a while, but you'll figure it out.

Materials. Hooks in various sizes and types based on what you're tying. Most books with patterns in them will specify the hook and hook size required for a particular pattern. Thread. Different colors, sizes and styles are required. Floss if a pattern requires. Fur. I use moose for tails, deer for bodies and wings and elk for tails and wings depending on the pattern. Calf tail, rabbit strips, hares mask. Feathers. This gets pretty dicey as you really need to know the patterns you're tying before you dive in here. Start with the book and pick a pattern or two and buy those materials only. Bead heads, chenille, head cement. The list could go on forever.

Plan on spending at least $200 to get off the ground and bank on spending a lot more than that as the addiction takes hold.

Have your affairs in order. If you're anything like me, you'll be addicted in short order.

This will be a wild ride.
I have that same book and he came and gave a presentation to the fly fishing club at the University of Wyoming when I went to school there. Jack was a great guy.l
 

Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga of H-Max
2 Year Member
there are several experts on the board
Crab husker, Montana husker, and middle-aged-ballcoach are the experts.
I think Montana Husker and MABC are much more 'Modern' in their knowledge and excellent sources of information.
First things first, I am NOT an expert at fly tying or almost any other thing. I am one of those "farm kid" types of people who has tried a million things, but I'm not particularly great at anything. (Fwiw, that's also a fair assessment of me as a high school football player when I was a teenager or as a high school football coach now.) I am a generalist, but what I am probably best at is teaching, which also means connecting people with other people and the resources and materials necessary. I can do that. Please, though, do NOT call me an "expert" at anything related to fly tying or fly fishing. It's not a false humility. Someday I hope to go fishing with some of you, and I don't want to have to explain why my casting is so bad, or why my flies look so scruffy.

Now on to the topic, which, by the way, was a great idea for this thread, @uncertainbyprinciple....

To get things started, lets talk about a startup kit. What's a reasonable number to have in my head for getting a vise, tools, and material? $100? $200? More? Where can compromises be made, and where should they be avoided?
Plan on spending at least $200 to get off the ground and bank on spending a lot more than that as the addiction takes hold.

Have your affairs in order. If you're anything like me, you'll be addicted in short order.

This will be a wild ride.

@CrabHusker hit on a bunch of great points in his post above, but I want to draw special attention to this part above that I quoted. There are some things that are absolutely, indisputably true about fly tying:
  1. You absolutely will NOT save any money by taking up fly tying. In theory, it's possible, but in order to do so, you'll have to have already spent more than enough money to know what you can do to save money that you will already have spent more than the cost of a lifetime's worth of discount flies. If you genuinely want to get a lot of decent flies at the best possible price, I'd recommend this site: www.bigyflyco.com
  2. Fly tying can be as expensive as you want it to be. You will generally get what you pay for, but it's possible to tie serviceable flies with very cheap tools and materials. Think of it like DIY work at home though: I can get by doing a lot of stuff in my home with a cheap pliers, screwdrivers, and a Stanley 16 oz. hammer, but, man, if I want to build a house, I'd better have nicer stuff and a lot more of it. So it is with fly tying. Much like using tools or fly rods or many other things, the more skilled you get, the better capable you are at getting by with cheaper, crappier stuff.
  3. Fly tying is its own reward. If you want the flies, but you're not excited about the whole process of both making them and learning how to make them, don't bother getting started. My wife calls it "crafts for men," and she's not wrong. You'll be much more discerning than even the most persnickety of trout. I have spent hours tying flies that I could have bought for a couple bucks, and the ones I bought would likely have been better quality. It's fun to create useful things, and it helps that there's an aesthetic quality to it. It's meticulous work with your hands, so it definitely helps if you've enjoyed hobbies in the past like woodworking, leatherwork, etc.
  4. It's both insanely addicting, and it has an insidious but ubiquitous way of changing how you look at the whole world. I can't drive past a Hobby Lobby without wondering what they have in there that would be cheaper than buying it from a fly shop. I have literally spent hours in Walmart, reading the labels for material compositions on yarns, holding them up to the light to check for translucence, etc. I'm a full-fledged hoarder. I can't skin or clean game without saving the hide or feathers. There's very fine copper wire in transformers for computers, printers, etc., so how the heck can you just throw those away? There's a wonderful synthetic material called "tri-lobal fibers," and it was especially popular in use in those old, ugly late 70s through 80s carpets that, until right now, you've been just tossing away without realizing what treasures lie within! You'll find yourself looking at pets, wondering, "I wonder what that dog's hair looks like underwater? Does it float?" Your wife's cat that you secretly used to want to kill will suddenly become a never-ending supply of dubbing as you become Rumplestiltzkin spinning his discarded hair into gold. You'l find yourself going full redneck when you see roadkilled animals on the side of the road, and about 50' afterwards you stop to go back and "harvest" some of that fur or feathers because you don't have that at home. You'll suddenly see the brilliance in having pet peacocks and/or guinea fowl, and you'll want to start putting up artificial wood duck nests for nefarious purposes. Starlings, grackles, pigeons, rabbits, gophers, chipmunks, pine squirrels, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and woodchucks aren't just backyard pests: they become prey species for adding more material. The old buddy you used to go hunting ducks with will suddenly seem like a very important person with whom you need to get reconnected. I'm not making this up, and I could keep going with another several dozen examples. It's a sickness ... a wonderful, awesome, sometimes self-fulfilling sickness. Your wife will mock you, but that's okay because you'll discover that you can steal her nail polish and cuticle scissors and put them to much better use than she currently does. They actually have 12-step support groups for people who are addicted to a) fly tying, b) fly fishing, c) hoarding stuff for fly tying and fly fishing. I could easily join all three groups, and my wife would send me to meetings with cookies and a little more hope in her heart. If you were to attend one of those meetings, at at least one point during the evening you would notice some article of clothing that somebody is wearing that would be put to infinitely better use as fly tying material.
  5. Catching a fish on a fly that you tied is one of the more pleasurable things that you can do in life with your clothes on. It doesn't matter if that fish is stupid either. You'll feel like you just mastered a very important part of "life."
  6. If you have Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies--are you the type of guy who likes the light switches to all be up or down, and you'll notice when your wife (or somebody else) turns your hanger the opposite way?--you're going to be obsesses with it at first in ways that truly aren't healthy. You'll be encouraged enough by what you can do to believe that you can do more than you're capable, but your hands and your eyes and your brain won't be coordinated enough to do it quickly enough, and you'll want to pick up everything periodically and throw it in the neighbor's backyard,... but then you'll also slip away at night to go to the bathroom and suddenly find that you're tying a half-dozen flies at 3am for no reason that would make sense to anybody who's not insane. You will find that you can spend months tying every possible fly that you can imagine using on a trip, yet you'll still end up fishing just one or two, and those are likely to be ones that a guide or your buddy or somebody at a fly shop recommended. I can properly identify the materials, tying methods, and even the creators of multiple complex Atlantic salmon spey flies, but I've not only never fished for Atlantic salmon, I don't know that I ever will. I have books that explain the history of flies, and I read them for fun. In the fall of 2014 I somehow got in the habbit of reading some fly tying and fly fishing books while riding the bus with my football players, but I had to quit: my mind wasn't on the game when we arrived.
  7. You also need to be properly warned of a few more related things. I should also point out that it's highly unlikely that any of your current friends will "get it," so you're about to enter a whole new realm of "odd" in their mind. You're about to find yet another bottomless pit for your disposable income, which will cease to exist as a concept by August. Finally, no woman alive has ever said, "You know what really made me more attracted to my husband was how much he knew about dry hackle and marabou."
Now that I've properly warned you of all of these dangers, the rest is fairly straight-forward. Crab's giving some solid advice, except unlike him I got started finishing flies with a whip finisher, and now I hate doing it by hand. To each his own, though. We can still be friends, I guess. I do not recommend buying any starter kits as they tend to be too general for your specific needs and too specific for your general needs. Your most important purchase will be your fly tying vise. If you have a fly shop nearby, they usually have demo models available, and it's a good idea to start out by borrowing a vise from someone else before spending an afternoon in a fly shop testing them out by tying flies on them, if they'll let you do that. If they let you do that, buy it from them. It'll be slightly more expensive, but, man, reward them for making that service available for you. Most fly shops also have fly tying classes, but I'd recommend tying a few flies before you start because it'll help a lot.

One place where I disagree with Crab is probably because of what has changed since he started tying: I don't recommend buying any books to help you get started tying flies. There are too many wonderful resources available online, especially fly tying channels on YouTube. It is infinitely easier and better to watch a fly being tied on video than to read about it and look at pictures of it in a book or magazine. I still have shelves full of books on flies, but those were far more useful AFTER I had already learned how to tie flies. I posted some channels in the FFFFFF thread, so I'll repost those here later.

As for bare bones tools that you absolutely have to have to tie flies and not end up frustrated, here's my list:
  1. Fly tying vise
  2. Bobbins = these are the things that hold a spool of thread and help to place the thread more precisely; get at least one that is either glass-lined or has a ceramic insert as the all-metal ones are notorious for cutting through the thread as you're tying, but the cheap all-metal ones are fine for heavier thread for big flies, bass bugs, etc.
  3. Fine-point scissors = your wife's fingernail scissors will work at first, but get some Dr. Slick scissors in the near future; the knockoffs are not as good; related: do NOT let your wife borrow your fly-tying scissors for any purpose up to and including impromptu emergency surgery on small children.
  4. Whip finisher = at first it seems like a mystical, magical tool, but with about 20 minutes of practice, you'll be proficient with it; I'd recommend a mid-sized Matarelli style whip finisher; there are great videos that show how to use them
  5. Bodkin = this is just Shakespearean language for "sharp, pointy thing;" lots of guys make their own by inserting a needle into a wooden dowel handle and cementing it in place. You can also buy one for a couple bucks on Ebay or elsewhere. Don't spend a lot on this because if you get a nice one you'll lose it or break it, but if you get a cheap and ugly one, it'll last forever
  6. You can get some bobbin threaders cheap on Ebay, but no matter how many I have, they seem to all run off with the odd socks that disappear in the dryer, never to be seen again.
There is no limit to what you can convince yourself you "need," but that's sufficient to get started on most basic flies. Once you have those all figured out, you'll be able to figure out what else you should get next. If you need reading glasses, it's a good idea to go ahead and invest in a decent magnifying lamp right away. I never knew how handy they were until I was given one by a widow whose husband had used it.

As for materials, it depends on the flies that you want to tie. If you tell us what kind of fish you'll most often be trying to catch right away, we can narrow down the flies to tie, which will narrow down the materials list. As a general rule, you don't want to start with tiny flies unless you want to risk endlessly retyping "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" before dying from the cold in the middle of a maze while trying to kill your own son. It helps the endorphins a lot if you see success early on, so I also don't recommend starting out by tying flies for chasing after muskies, steelhead, Atlantic salmon, permit, sawfish, or coelacanth. Bass and trout are good, but bluegills, sunfish, and rock bass are better.

There are several very effective flies that are really nothing more than just thread and/or yarn (which is what chenille is) on a hook. If you fish for trout or panfish, there are several very simple patterns that are great starters. For bass, trout, or panfish, it's very tough to beat a small Woolly Bugger. If you like fishing Woolly Buggers, it's probably one of the most effective easy patterns to use when you first get started in fly tying AND fly fishing. I'll put a video below that talks at length about tying them, and it's geared towards a tier who is just starting out.

Hooks and thread are two of the most important decisions that you'll make that seem mundane at first, but you'll regret it if you go cheap. You don't want to get poor quality thread, or you'll find yourself swearing in multiple languages when it keeps breaking on you, always in the most inopportune moments. Ditto for the hooks, except those will break off in the mouth of the largest fish you've ever caught in your life. As a general rule of thumb, buy hooks that are made in Japan, and you'll rarely regret it. Gamakatsu are about as good as there is, but they cost about as much as gold teeth. Tiemco and Daiichi are a slight grade below in quality, but they're a significant step down in price. Thread breaks down as it ages, so avoid buying used thread or thread from places that aren't constantly turning over their inventory. The greater diameter, the less it's an issue. The size and style of thread also needs to match the flies that you're tying.

For my kids to learn how to tie flies, I had them all tie Woolly Buggers, starting in sizes 6, 8, and 10. A poorly tied Woolly Bugger will get just as many bites as a perfectly tied $5 Orvis one. Black, brown, olive, and white are all great, but you'll never go wrong with black.

If you or anyone else wants me to do, I can put together a care package of pretty much everything that I listed here and mail it off to you. I have enough materials to outfit the Chinese Red Army. I also have quite a few cheap vises. My wife would be ecstatic to see some stuff leaving the house, so we could work out the details later. Maybe a trade for something.
 
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Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga of H-Max
2 Year Member
Here are several videos with different tiers tying slightly different versions of the same pattern, a Woolly Bugger. Each video is from a fantastic YouTube channel that is loaded with top-notch fly tying videos. I'll introduce each one and go over the strengths of each tier/narrator/instructor.

Tim Flagler at Tightlines Productions has the best quality videos as far as image quality, etc., and they're always a manageable length of time, usually about 5-8 minutes. He also has some short 2-minute videos on specific materials or techniques that are geared toward the beginning fly tier. I subscribe to his channel, and he puts out a new fly every week, and I'm always embarrassingly excited to watch it.


Uncle Cheech and the boys at Fly Fish Food have a fanatical following for their site. They're funny if you don't mind a little snark, and almost everything they tie and recommend is simple, practical, and effective. Here's their take on a Woolly Bugger:


Jim Misiura is from New England, and he comes across as the guy who you probably most wish was your neighbor because he seems kind and patient. His video quality isn't as high as far as the technical side as Tightlines, and he is the opposite of snarky humor (like the Fly Fish Food guys), but he also has a fairly devoted following. Here's his video on how he ties a Woolly Bugger:


Another great channel that is geared towards the beginning tier is Tim Cammisa's. He's possibly the nicest guy on the internet, and he is fantastic at responding to requests for videos to answer questions. I'm "friends" with him on Facebook, and he really is as nice as he seems in his videos. Here he is with his Pennsylvania accent, explaining some variations on a Woolly Bugger that he likes to tie:


The In the Riffle channel is much more quick and no-nonsense. If you want to get in, get out, and be on your way, his videos tend to cover things more quickly. Here's his take on a Woolly Bugger:

 
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Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga of H-Max
2 Year Member
I probably have a soft spot in my heart for the guys from Dakota Angler & Outfitter because I've met them in person as they run a fly shop in Rapid City, SD. Again, these are world class guys as far as niceness, and they're also very knowledgeable. They're somewhere in between a lot of the other videos as far as visual quality of the videos, length of the videos, etc., but they also have a following online. Here's their version of a Woolly Bugger that uses a shiny crystal chenille, which actually works by itself if you wanted to skip the feather hackle over top of it, which would be an incredibly simple fly for starting out:


In my opinion the gold standard of online fly tying is Davie McPhail's channel. He's a Scot, and my wife likes it when I play his videos because his voice sounds like a kind Scottish grandfather. It's his tying that is amazing. He goes slow for the sake of the video, but he's a production tier who has sold both in bulk and for high-end clients. He doesn't waste a single turn of thread. It's fly tying art at its most perfect. A Woolly Bugger from him is kind of like asking for French Fries at a 5-star Michelin French restaurant, but you can still see the difference in how effortlessly perfect everything is. If you like fishing soft hackles, he has a boatload of soft hackle/wet fly patterns. Here's his version of a Woolly Bugger:


Finally, a completely different take from the rest, Kelly Galloup is a legendary fly designer, specifically he has designed some of the most effective and colorfully named streamers in the world. He's one of the most creative designers in the world, and he's sold several video series on how to fish streamers for trophy trout, how to tie his streamer patterns, how to design other streamer patterns, etc. He's originally from Michigan, but he runs the Slide Inn lodge and fly shop in Montana on the Gallatin River, where he also has a world class guide service. He's just a no-b.s. kind of car mechanic for how to make better flies, and why. His videos tend to be long, but I've yet to watch a single one on any topic where I didn't walk away from it thinking about something from a different perspective. He borrows freely from bass fishing and even bass tackle to find better ways to catch fish, especially big trout, on a fly rod. He's also a bit snarky at times, and he's usually entertaining. He oozes knowledge. Here's a great example of his style of videos, which happens to be recent, and happens to be on how to tie a Woolly Bugger:


Sorry it took so long to respond. Give us more specific details, and we would be able to help you more.
 

CrabHusker

Shut up and color
5 Year Member
First things first, I am NOT an expert at fly tying or almost any other thing. I am one of those "farm kid" types of people who has tried a million things, but I'm not particularly great at anything. (Fwiw, that's also a fair assessment of me as a high school football player when I was a teenager or as a high school football coach now.) I am a generalist, but what I am probably best at is teaching, which also means connecting people with other people and the resources and materials necessary. I can do that. Please, though, do NOT call me an "expert" at anything related to fly tying or fly fishing. It's not a false humility. Someday I hope to go fishing with some of you, and I don't want to have to explain why my casting is so bad, or why my flies look so scruffy.

Now on to the topic, which, by the way, was a great idea for this thread, @uncertainbyprinciple....






@CrabHusker hit on a bunch of great points in his post above, but I want to draw special attention to this part above that I quoted. There are some things that are absolutely, indisputably true about fly tying:
  1. You absolutely will NOT save any money by taking up fly tying. In theory, it's possible, but in order to do so, you'll have to have already spent more than enough money to know what you can do to save money that you will already have spent more than the cost of a lifetime's worth of discount flies. If you genuinely want to get a lot of decent flies at the best possible price, I'd recommend this site:
  2. Fly tying can be as expensive as you want it to be. You will generally get what you pay for, but it's possible to tie serviceable flies with very cheap tools and materials. Think of it like DIY work at home though: I can get by doing a lot of stuff in my home with a cheap pliers, screwdrivers, and a Stanley 16 oz. hammer, but, man, if I want to build a house, I'd better have nicer stuff and a lot more of it. So it is with fly tying. Much like using tools or fly rods or many other things, the more skilled you get, the better capable you are at getting by with cheaper, crappier stuff.
  3. Fly tying is its own reward. If you want the flies, but you're not excited about the whole process of both making them and learning how to make them, don't bother getting started. My wife calls it "crafts for men," and she's not wrong. You'll be much more discerning than even the most persnickety of trout. I have spent hours tying flies that I could have bought for a couple bucks, and the ones I bought would likely have been better quality. It's fun to create useful things, and it helps that there's an aesthetic quality to it. It's meticulous work with your hands, so it definitely helps if you've enjoyed hobbies in the past like woodworking, leatherwork, etc.
  4. It's both insanely addicting, and it has an insidious but ubiquitous way of changing how you look at the whole world. I can't drive past a Hobby Lobby without wondering what they have in there that would be cheaper than buying it from a fly shop. I have literally spent hours in Walmart, reading the labels for material compositions on yarns, holding them up to the light to check for translucence, etc. I'm a full-fledged hoarder. I can't skin or clean game without saving the hide or feathers. There's very fine copper wire in transformers for computers, printers, etc., so how the heck can you just throw those away? There's a wonderful synthetic material called "tri-lobal fibers," and it was especially popular in use in those old, ugly late 70s through 80s carpets that, until right now, you've been just tossing away without realizing what treasures lie within! You'll find yourself looking at pets, wondering, "I wonder what that dog's hair looks like underwater? Does it float?" Your wife's cat that you secretly used to want to kill will suddenly become a never-ending supply of dubbing as you become Rumplestiltzkin spinning his discarded hair into gold. You'l find yourself going full redneck when you see roadkilled animals on the side of the road, and about 50' afterwards you stop to go back and "harvest" some of that fur or feathers because you don't have that at home. You'll suddenly see the brilliance in having pet peacocks and/or guinea fowl, and you'll want to start putting up artificial wood duck nests for nefarious purposes. Starlings, grackles, pigeons, rabbits, gophers, chipmunks, pine squirrels, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and woodchucks aren't just backyard pests: they become prey species for adding more material. The old buddy you used to go hunting ducks with will suddenly seem like a very important person with whom you need to get reconnected. I'm not making this up, and I could keep going with another several dozen examples. It's a sickness ... a wonderful, awesome, sometimes self-fulfilling sickness. Your wife will mock you, but that's okay because you'll discover that you can steal her nail polish and cuticle scissors and put them to much better use than she currently does. They actually have 12-step support groups for people who are addicted to a) fly tying, b) fly fishing, c) hoarding stuff for fly tying and fly fishing. I could easily join all three groups, and my wife would send me to meetings with cookies and a little more hope in her heart. If you were to attend one of those meetings, at at least one point during the evening you would notice some article of clothing that somebody is wearing that would be put to infinitely better use as fly tying material.
  5. Catching a fish on a fly that you tied is one of the more pleasurable things that you can do in life with your clothes on. It doesn't matter if that fish is stupid either. You'll feel like you just mastered a very important part of "life."
  6. If you have Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies--are you the type of guy who likes the light switches to all be up or down, and you'll notice when your wife (or somebody else) turns your hanger the opposite way?--you're going to be obsesses with it at first in ways that truly aren't healthy. You'll be encouraged enough by what you can do to believe that you can do more than you're capable, but your hands and your eyes and your brain won't be coordinated enough to do it quickly enough, and you'll want to pick up everything periodically and throw it in the neighbor's backyard,... but then you'll also slip away at night to go to the bathroom and suddenly find that you're tying a half-dozen flies at 3am for no reason that would make sense to anybody who's not insane. You will find that you can spend months tying every possible fly that you can imagine using on a trip, yet you'll still end up fishing just one or two, and those are likely to be ones that a guide or your buddy or somebody at a fly shop recommended. I can properly identify the materials, tying methods, and even the creators of multiple complex Atlantic salmon spey flies, but I've not only never fished for Atlantic salmon, I don't know that I ever will. I have books that explain the history of flies, and I read them for fun. In the fall of 2014 I somehow got in the habbit of reading some fly tying and fly fishing books while riding the bus with my football players, but I had to quit: my mind wasn't on the game when we arrived.
  7. You also need to be properly warned of a few more related things. I should also point out that it's highly unlikely that any of your current friends will "get it," so you're about to enter a whole new realm of "odd" in their mind. You're about to find yet another bottomless pit for your disposable income, which will cease to exist as a concept by August. Finally, no woman alive has ever said, "You know what really made me more attracted to my husband was how much he knew about dry hackle and marabou."
Now that I've properly warned you of all of these dangers, the rest is fairly straight-forward. Crab's giving some solid advice, except unlike him I got started finishing flies with a whip finisher, and now I hate doing it by hand. To each his own, though. We can still be friends, I guess. I do not recommend buying any starter kits as they tend to be too general for your specific needs and too specific for your general needs. Your most important purchase will be your fly tying vise. If you have a fly shop nearby, they usually have demo models available, and it's a good idea to start out by borrowing a vise from someone else before spending an afternoon in a fly shop testing them out by tying flies on them, if they'll let you do that. If they let you do that, buy it from them. It'll be slightly more expensive, but, man, reward them for making that service available for you. Most fly shops also have fly tying classes, but I'd recommend tying a few flies before you start because it'll help a lot.

One place where I disagree with Crab is probably because of what has changed since he started tying: I don't recommend buying any books to help you get started tying flies. There are too many wonderful resources available online, especially fly tying channels on YouTube. It is infinitely easier and better to watch a fly being tied on video than to read about it and look at pictures of it in a book or magazine. I still have shelves full of books on flies, but those were far more useful AFTER I had already learned how to tie flies. I posted some channels in the FFFFFF thread, so I'll repost those here later.

As for bare bones tools that you absolutely have to have to tie flies and not end up frustrated, here's my list:
  1. Fly tying vise
  2. Bobbins = these are the things that hold a spool of thread and help to place the thread more precisely; get at least one that is either glass-lined or has a ceramic insert as the all-metal ones are notorious for cutting through the thread as you're tying, but the cheap all-metal ones are fine for heavier thread for big flies, bass bugs, etc.
  3. Fine-point scissors = your wife's fingernail scissors will work at first, but get some Dr. Slick scissors in the near future; the knockoffs are not as good; related: do NOT let your wife borrow your fly-tying scissors for any purpose up to and including impromptu emergency surgery on small children.
  4. Whip finisher = at first it seems like a mystical, magical tool, but with about 20 minutes of practice, you'll be proficient with it; I'd recommend a mid-sized Matarelli style whip finisher; there are great videos that show how to use them
  5. Bodkin = this is just Shakespearean language for "sharp, pointy thing;" lots of guys make their own by inserting a needle into a wooden dowel handle and cementing it in place. You can also buy one for a couple bucks on Ebay or elsewhere. Don't spend a lot on this because if you get a nice one you'll lose it or break it, but if you get a cheap and ugly one, it'll last forever
  6. You can get some bobbin threaders cheap on Ebay, but no matter how many I have, they seem to all run off with the odd socks that disappear in the dryer, never to be seen again.
There is no limit to what you can convince yourself you "need," but that's sufficient to get started on most basic flies. Once you have those all figured out, you'll be able to figure out what else you should get next. If you need reading glasses, it's a good idea to go ahead and invest in a decent magnifying lamp right away. I never knew how handy they were until I was given one by a widow whose husband had used it.

As for materials, it depends on the flies that you want to tie. If you tell us what kind of fish you'll most often be trying to catch right away, we can narrow down the flies to tie, which will narrow down the materials list. As a general rule, you don't want to start with tiny flies unless you want to risk endlessly retyping "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" before dying from the cold in the middle of a maze while trying to kill your own son. It helps the endorphins a lot if you see success early on, so I also don't recommend starting out by tying flies for chasing after muskies, steelhead, Atlantic salmon, permit, sawfish, or coelacanth. Bass and trout are good, but bluegills, sunfish, and rock bass are better.

There are several very effective flies that are really nothing more than just thread and/or yarn (which is what chenille is) on a hook. If you fish for trout or panfish, there are several very simple patterns that are great starters. For bass, trout, or panfish, it's very tough to beat a small Woolly Bugger. If you like fishing Woolly Buggers, it's probably one of the most effective easy patterns to use when you first get started in fly tying AND fly fishing. I'll put a video below that talks at length about tying them, and it's geared towards a tier who is just starting out.

Hooks and thread are two of the most important decisions that you'll make that seem mundane at first, but you'll regret it if you go cheap. You don't want to get poor quality thread, or you'll find yourself swearing in multiple languages when it keeps breaking on you, always in the most inopportune moments. Ditto for the hooks, except those will break off in the mouth of the largest fish you've ever caught in your life. As a general rule of thumb, buy hooks that are made in Japan, and you'll rarely regret it. Gamakatsu are about as good as there is, but they cost about as much as gold teeth. Tiemco and Daiichi are a slight grade below in quality, but they're a significant step down in price. Thread breaks down as it ages, so avoid buying used thread or thread from places that aren't constantly turning over their inventory. The greater diameter, the less it's an issue. The size and style of thread also needs to match the flies that you're tying.

For my kids to learn how to tie flies, I had them all tie Woolly Buggers, starting in sizes 6, 8, and 10. A poorly tied Woolly Bugger will get just as many bites as a perfectly tied $5 Orvis one. Black, brown, olive, and white are all great, but you'll never go wrong with black.

If you or anyone else wants me to do, I can put together a care package of pretty much everything that I listed here and mail it off to you. I have enough materials to outfit the Chinese Red Army. I also have quite a few cheap vises. My wife would be ecstatic to see some stuff leaving the house, so we could work out the details later. Maybe a trade for something.
Great points on the videos.

I can't tell you how much easier my learning experience would have been if i'd have been able to see the videos available today.
 

Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga of H-Max
2 Year Member
MABC, do you sleep? Some of your posts could be a thesis. Not busting your balls, but you put a lot of thought into your posts. I enjoy them, just a change up from most of the no minded posts/replies on some of these topics.

So keep it up.
I'm rarely in bed early, and I most often have free time at night after I get my kids to sleep. Those same kids cut away at both ends because my youngest is also an early riser, rarely sleeping past a sunrise. Put it all together, and I often have a deluge of posts at one point then nothing for awhile, then another deluge, and so on.

As for the length of my posts and the content, if you look in my other FFFFFF thread, you'll find a lot of the same information. I've had this exact conversation before, multiple times and in multiple places, so all that was new was tapering it to what the original questions had asked, and then writing in support of and/or around what Crab and others had already said. If I know what I want to say, we live in a wonderful time and place where it takes only seconds to do a Google search for the right videos to link, articles to cite, etc. I wrote those posts as one long post, but I reached the word limit. I wrote a bunch of it before supper, then I went back and finished it after the kids went to bed. I have no idea how long it actually took, but I'd guess that it was probably a total of about an hour and a half, and a lot of that was because I kept getting distracted by watching the videos that I was linking. It's not labor to write about things you love. Filling out a detailed lesson plan on something that I've taught for decades, on the other hand, makes me consider the more positive attributes of harakiri.

As for the trite pap that a lot of folks seem to think is worth throwing online like $h!t on a digital diaper ... I'm not impressed. The nicest thing I can say is that if they don't have much to add, it is at least courteous to the reader to not waste our time looking for tiny undigested kernels of corn in their steaming pile of digital $h!t.

Also, fwiw, if you think these posts are long, you should see some of the discussions I have had on Facebook. I basically write the same way, and there's no word limit,... which is nice. ;)
 
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