Over the past several years I have spent many hours tying flies. I feel like many of us can relate to that feeling. I feel very fortunate that I have some friends that give me very honest feedback and have pushed me to further my skills. Over the years I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that I would love to share with you about how to tie better flies.
Tip 1: Tie flies in groups of 6 (or more).
As a husband and father of four, I understand how difficult it can be to get more than a few minutes here and there to tie flies. By focusing on tying 6 (or more depending on complexity) of the same pattern will absolutely help you see variances in your tying and that will help you find ways to minimize the differences.
Tip 2: Prepare materials beforehand
I’m hoping I’m not the only one that has done the following: start tying flies and realize that 3/4ths the way done with my first fly that I don’t have the right hackle, legs, dubbing, or fur strip to finish the fly. Another similar example is wanting to tie up dozen of the same pattern for an upcoming trip – only to run out of hooks on fly number 9. By prepping materials beforehand you’ll know if you have enough hooks or beads, if you have enough elk hair to finish the row of caddis flies you are tying, and the list goes on. When I’m tying a group of flies I like to count out my hooks, beads, and other materials to make sure I have enough of them. If possible I like to select similar feathers or precut hair or fur strips. By doing this you will be able to increase consistency of hair/feathers between flies and have you know you have enough material to tie up the flies you want to tie.
Tip 3: Tie flies in stages (when applicable).
In order to increase my consistency, I find that tying in stages helps me make certain flies are tied similarly as possible. Let’s use a relatively common fly, the Clouser Minnow, as an example. This fly has the ability to catch so many different species of fish! I find that tying this fly in stages makes for a more uniform fly. I start by tying in the eyes. I measure back the exact distance from the hook eye that I want the eyes to be, tie them in, whip finish, and get the next hook in the vise and repeat. By doing this I can compare the batch of flies and know that they are all tied with the same weight distribution. I would then do the tail section, then the body wrap (if desired), and so on until I have tied each fly in a progression. I would compare flies at each step to make sure they are consistent. This step by step method is probably the biggest step towards consistency between flies that I have found.
Tip 4: Start with a well tied fly example.
Learning to tie flies can be a complicated process. A quick Google Image search of a Pheasant Tail Nymph will give you far more variants of that pattern than any one angler will likely ever tie in their lifetime. Find one example of the fly that you like and then try to imitate its proportions as best you can. Find consistency in that version, then test it out. If it works, tie more like it, if it doesn’t work, toss it and repeat the testing process. I am of the opinion that once you’re able to master consistency of your fly then you can add your subtle changes that you feel more confident about and then will be able to consistently tie those changes into your future versions of the fly.
Tip 5: Realize that it is okay to make mistakes – learn and grow from them.
I remember a time a while back that I was focusing on tying up a bunch of Chernobyl Ants for an upcoming high mountain stream trip. After I had tied up roughly a dozen flies I realized that I had forgotten the wings on a pair of flies. I ended up throwing them in the box and not worrying about it. As the day went on I ended up fishing the flies without the wings. They caught fish!! The flies were not as easy to see – but they still worked. I have many other instances where I forgot to add flash, lost a pair of legs, or crowded the eye of my flies. Those flies still can and do catch fish. They may not be insta-worthy, but they can still catch fish and you can learn lessons on how to improve as a result of the mistakes that are made. Don’t stress the imperfections, learn and grow your techniques because of them.