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Fly Tying

uncertainbyprinciple

Self-proclaimed humanist
10 Year Member
Thanks for chiming in guys. A few thoughts:


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:

Which site would that be?

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.

LOL

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.

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.
...
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.

It makes sense to focus on a small number of patterns to gain proficiency at the basics, and limit the materials needed to get going. Buggers are my go-to when there's nothing happening on top, so that makes sense as a first pattern. Adding a hare's ear nymph and an elk hair caddis would give me a versatile set of three patterns that look fairly simple in both material and construction. It doesn't hurt they're all good patterns on any of the water I fish (are there waters that these patterns won't catch fish on?)

A few hundred dollars up front isn't a big deterrent. The wife owes me a birthday present anyway. The Renzetti Traveler 2000 retails for $180. It appears to be just about their most modestly priced vise. I might start there unless someone warns me off. Staple consumables like thread, hooks, beads...where do you guys get these? Local shops or online vendors?
 

Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga of H-Max
2 Year Member
Which site would that be?
Sorry about that. I thought that I had pasted in the link. I'll fix it above, too.

 

Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga of H-Max
2 Year Member
The Renzetti Traveler 2000 retails for $180. It appears to be just about their most modestly priced vise. I might start there unless someone warns me off.

That's a great all-around vise. You won't regret getting it. If I were starting over, that's what I'd get first. You may as well pick up a nice pair of Dr. Slick scissors, too, and I'd recommend a Rite Bobbin as you can easily change thread with it and quickly adjust the tension on the spool. That will all make sense after you've used it, but the main thing is that Rite doesn't sell any of the crappy bobbins that will nick and tear your thread.

Staple consumables like thread, hooks, beads...where do you guys get these? Local shops or online vendors?

There are some things, like hackle, that you want to hold in your hands to inspect before purchasing. For online ordering, here are the websites that I have used, and I thought were good. Shipping cost is usually the primary determinant of where I order....




Don't be afraid to use Amazon either. For some things you can get free shipping with Amazon Prime, but a lot of the fly tying stuff that's being sold on Amazon is being sold from a fly shop that is using Amazon as a marketplace. There are also some great sellers on Ebay, so let me know if you're on Ebay a lot, and I can get you those, too.


With the flies that you mentioned, it shouldn't be an issue to buy the materials anywhere. Besides the vise and the other tools, dry fly hackle, tungsten beads, and hooks will likely be the most expensive investment for you. Do you want dry fly hackle on your Elk Hair Caddis? Different folks tie it different ways, and I personally like it without hackle so that it sits lower on the surface of the water, which I believe gets the trout's attention much more often. To help mine float, I use CDC for the body by wrapping it like a rope, then I use the tips as an underwing. A drop of Aquel on the elk hair wing, and it floats like a cork for a long time. If you want the dry fly hackle on it, we can talk about that, too. Since you don't need any dry fly hackle for the Woolly Bugger or Hare's Ear, I'll start with those.

Here's a materials list for you to get started:

Woolly Bugger
  1. Thread = there are two styles of delineating thread sizes. One counts the "denier" (sometimes pronounced "da NEAR" and sometimes pronounced like you just took a French class so you're feeling elitist and superior, so that one is "de NYAY"), which is the individual fibers that are wrapped together like a rope to make the thread, so with those, a larger number is thicker. For example, a 70 denier thread is what is commonly used for dry flies, a 140 denier thread is often used for nymphs, hopper patterns, wet flies, and small streamers, and a 240 denier thread is used for larger nymphs and streamers. The other method is set up like hook sizes, so a larger number is actually a smaller thread. It works like this: a 3/0 thread (which is usually pronounced "3-ott") is roughly the same as a 240 denier, and is used for streamers; 6/0 is roughly the same as 140 denier, and is used for nymphs and small streamers; 8/0 is roughly the same as 70 denier and is used for dry flies and small nymphs. It's a Bugger, so get a 3/0 or 240 denier.

    It's good to start with the heavy stuff because you'll break the thin stuff when you first start using it, and that makes you want to break things and hurt people. I said it before, and I'll stress it here: DON'T BUY OLD THREAD. It's not as much of an issue in the larger sizes, but old dry fly thread will pull apart as you're using it, and you'll assume that you're doing something wrong, even if you're not. Fly shops (in person or online) and Amazon are the way to go as they turn over their inventory a lot more often.

    One final thing about thread differences is that some of the threads (usually the ones that measure in denier) are wrapped together and not fused, so you can spin the thread counter-clockwise to make it unwrap and lie flat, or you spin it the other way to make it tighter, thinner, and stronger. Other threads will come pre-fused as a single "monocord" thread. I use both, but I prefer the loose-wrap threads as I can make them lie flat and smooth for wet fly and midge nymph bodies. UNI is usually a monocord, and Danville is usually a multi-strand chord, but I think that both make both types. Try a spool of each and see what you like. Also, there are LOTS of other brands, but those are two of the most popular brands. I use both often.

  2. Hooks = 3x long streamer hooks in the size of your choice. If you like barbless hooks, take a long, hard look at Firestick hooks and Fulling Mill streamer hooks. If you want a barb, I use Daiichi, but basically anything made in Japan or South Korea is pretty dang good., and the Mustad chemically sharpened hooks are good, too. Hooks are the one area of life where I pretty emphatically do NOT buy American. Eagle Claw hooks are awful, and they're basically the only American hook company that is left. Their Laser series of hooks are much better, but they're not any cheaper than the still better Japanese hooks. If you're tying your own flies, you don't want to skimp on the hooks, so I do not recommend picking this as the place to trim costs. With that said, I am a tightwad, so I also look for good value wherever I can find it, so I often try the odd off-brand things on Ebay and elsewhere out of curiosity. Some are very good and very cheap, but most are not. Don't chance that now. Whatever you get should say "streamer hook," which tells you that it's a thicker, heavier gauge steel than the other hooks. The 3x long size is the standard hook used for Buggers, but you can get a wider gap by going with a 2x in a larger size, or you can get better hooks for bluegills (who have a tiny mouth yet love to swallow the hook) by going even longer, like a 4x or more. I have some 7x hooks that I use for bluegills, but they're not very good for much else.

  3. *Optional weight = do you prefer beads, cones, or an underbody of wrapped lead wire on your Buggers, or do you like them unweighted? It's actually easier to tie off a fly with a beadhead as it prevents you from crowding the bead with too many thread wraps, which I still do sometimes. Bead size and color should match the fly, and there are charts for matching them up on almost every website that sells beads. Even if you prefer it, I'd wait a little while before starting with the lead wire if that's what you prefer.

  4. Marabou = contrary to the label (and as Kelly Galloup says in the video linked above), the marabou that is marketed in "Woolly Bugger" packs really isn't ideal for making Woolly Buggers. If you're going to get more than one color, try at least one small package each of strung marabou quills and one package of blood quills. The blood quills are all fluff with no stem, and there are a lot of other uses for them. The strung marabou has a feather stem, and you'll have to pull the marabou fluff off of it to tie it in. Both work, and both have advantages and disadvantages, so it's good to be familiar with both.

  5. *Optional flash = a lot of folks add a couple of strands of Crystal Flash or Flashabou to either side of the marabou tail on their Buggers. I'm a Crystal Flash guy. I'm also a tightwad, so I use the cheap Chinese knockoffs that sell for about a dollar per hank on Ebay.

  6. Chenille = my wife makes fun of me because I use this word regularly; chenille is the fluffy yarn that is used to wrap over the hook shank to form the body. It comes in different sizes, so you should match the chenille's size to the hook gap so that it is in proper proportion. You can also buy things like Cactus Chenille, which has built in sparkle. The original is easier to wrap for a beginner, but the sparkle chenille is almost impossible to mess up on a fly as far as catching fish because it still looks good even if the hackle comes off.

  7. Strung streamer hackle = this is the cheap stuff. The individual fibers are "webby," which is a term that doesn't make sense until you look closely at streamer hackles next to a dry fly hackle, which is stiff, unbending, and has no leggy fluff on its sides (which is technically called "flue"). Again, you want to match the hackle color and size to the hook. As a general rule, when deciding between two lengths, I usually take the longer one. I'd rather cut off a little extra at the end of tying it on than to come up a little bit short.

  8. *Optional wire = a lot of folks counter-wrap a thin wire over the whole body after tying in the hackle so that it all stays together and lasts longer. Brown trout are especially good at getting a tooth into a hackle feather stem and breaking it. Counter-wrapped wire, in theory, helps to prevent this. If I have hackle feathers that are particularly tough, I'll skip it. I usually bury the wire though, so it's usually very thin, so color doesn't matter so much.
That pretty much covers what you need for a Woolly Bugger. If you have any more specific questions, ask away. I can do a materials list like the above for the Hare's Ear and the Elkhair Caddis, too, if you want it.
 
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CrabHusker

Shut up and color
5 Year Member
Thanks for chiming in guys. A few thoughts:




Which site would that be?



LOL





It makes sense to focus on a small number of patterns to gain proficiency at the basics, and limit the materials needed to get going. Buggers are my go-to when there's nothing happening on top, so that makes sense as a first pattern. Adding a hare's ear nymph and an elk hair caddis would give me a versatile set of three patterns that look fairly simple in both material and construction. It doesn't hurt they're all good patterns on any of the water I fish (are there waters that these patterns won't catch fish on?)

A few hundred dollars up front isn't a big deterrent. The wife owes me a birthday present anyway. The Renzetti Traveler 2000 retails for $180. It appears to be just about their most modestly priced vise. I might start there unless someone warns me off. Staple consumables like thread, hooks, beads...where do you guys get these? Local shops or online vendors?

The Renzetti is a solid vise. You can't go wrong.

I hadn't tied on mine for....well....a long time..and actually tied up my first fly since maybe 2001 or 2002 last night..and much to my chagrin I need to order a new set of jaws for mine. Again..I bought it in the early to mid '90's and it has held thousands and thousands of hooks. Just dropped $40 on a new set of jaws and it will be like brand new money.
 

uncertainbyprinciple

Self-proclaimed humanist
10 Year Member
I pulled the trigger on the vise this morning. Got it for $155. I'll start looking into the various smaller tools when I get some time over the next couple of days.
 

uncertainbyprinciple

Self-proclaimed humanist
10 Year Member
That's a good price. Where did you get it?


Its listed at the $180 retail price, but they give you a $25 off coupon if you sign up for emails. They also have a loyalty program that basically gives you 10% back on every dollar spent. I signed up for the program last year but hadn't yet bought anything from them. After with this purchase, the 200 points they give you for signing up, and the 150 points the give you on your birthday I'm up to $50 worth of rewards points (having only spent $155).

I also ordered the suite of hand tools from Big Y Fly Co. Since you adamantly recommended Dr. Slick scissors, I went with their bobbin and threader, whip finisher, and bodkin too. They were comparably priced to anything else I found, and I like the idea of one brand for everything.

My home office is short on desk space with my wife moving in because of the work from home issue. I'll have to clear some crap out to make a workspace. Or maybe get a small dedicated desk...
 
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Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga of H-Max
2 Year Member
Its listed at the $180 retail price, but they give you a $25 off coupon if you sign up for emails. They also have a loyalty program that basically gives you 10% back on every dollar spent. I signed up for the program last year but hadn't yet bought anything from them. After with this purchase, the 200 points they give you for signing up, and the 150 points the give you on your birthday I'm up to $50 worth of rewards points (having only spent $155).

I like how you operate.

I also ordered the suite of hand tools from Big Y Fly Co. Since you adamantly recommended Dr. Slick scissors, I went with their bobbin and threader, whip finisher, and bodkin too. They were comparably priced to anything else I found, and I like the idea of one brand for everything.

There are other brands that are as good or better, but Dr. Slick has been around for so long that those scissors are ubiquitous. I don't know which exact tool kit you bought, but I also bought a Dr. Slick kit when I started tying that came with a padded, zippered pouch. I liked all of the tools, so--by cosmic decree--I lost the bodkin somewhere along the way. The bobbin was okay, but I don't think mine had a glass or ceramic insert in the nozzle where the thread comes out. If yours is like that, don't be surprised if it nicks and tears your finer threads. All but the worst bobbins will still work with 3/0 (aka 240 denier), so it should be fine with that, regardless. If you can see that it does have a glass or ceramic sleeve on the inside of the nozzle, it should work for every kind of thread that you'd use. Let me know what type of whip finisher it is, and I'll link a video for you to see how to use it. I prefer Matarelli, but I've used them all, and they all work.

My home office is short on desk space with my wife moving in because of the work from home issue. I'll have to clear some crap out to make a workspace. Or maybe get a small dedicated desk...

Just a head's up, whatever amount of space you choose, like oxygen in space, your materials will expand to more than fill it. If your wife is anything like mine, I'd recommend a large roll-top desk as it allows you to close it without actually putting everything perfectly away. This is helpful so that your wife just sees a closed desk. It's also helpful because you're less than a few weeks away from owning fly tying materials that you don't know where to store, and you want to use them, so they naturally stay on top of your desk. It's kind of how this whole process naturally works itself out.

Coincidentally, for some unknown reason, there are now A TON (I think I mean that literally) of roll-top desks that have come up for sale on the community Facebook pages for my area. I don't know why, but there is suddenly a huge variety, and at a variety of price points. As near as I can tell, there's never been a finer time to find a good deal on a used roll-top desk. I now have two. (I tend to go overboard.)
 
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