Starting to Tie Flies

I think there is a natural progression in fly fishing. Usually fly fisherman begin their journey with basic spinning gear. Dad had a beer in his hand, an old Bass Pro hat on, and popped that dew worm on the end of the hook. Six-year-old you waits quietly with a forlorn look upon your face, waiting for the bell on the tip of the rod to begin singing. Eventually, you forget about fishing all together until one day a friend introduces you to the sweet world of fishing again. Much like in a River Runs Through It, you imagine grabbing that red coffee can full of worms and perhaps having a bit to drink along the river bank. However, it’s the twenty-first century and your buddy hands you a fly rod. You stare at this ridiculously flimsy rod trying to understand what on earth you’re supposed to do with it. Eventually you fish enough with your friend and get a hang of this odd sport and spiral into complete addiction. Expensive rods, reels, and wading gear fills your Christmas wish list and your garage becomes a graveyard for old boots and unused rods. So, naturally, you progress towards the next step of fly fishing insanity, fly tying.

It might start with a $15 vice from your local big box sporting goods retailer, or a birthday present from mom who gets you some weird beginner fly tying kit. You look down at the Chinese made feathers and think to yourself, “Can I use duck feathers to make a stimulator?” Well, let’s be honest, most of that kit was garbage and will end up in the trash. Furthermore, your first flies are going to look like you snipped off your armpit hair and wrapped it clumsily around a hook. Yet, what’s the harm in trying, right? You’re going to save a bundle of money on all those flies you’ve been buying and will be able to spend your free time learning something that will help with a hobby you love oh so much, right? WRONG. Fly tying is expensive, time consuming, and often downright frustrating. You will end up buying material you don’t need, you won’t use, and that often gets forgotten about. That home office you once had? Yeah, it’s now a fly tyers paradise with peg boards lining the walls, overflowing with colorful feathers and dubbing. You start to confuse your friends when asking if that fly was made with Coq de Leon. They just look at you like you’ve been touched and walk away from the conversation. Slowly you begin to obsess with the great tyers on social media, buying up random materials to tie that one cool fly you saw. However, when you tie it you immediately find out they are God’s and you suck. So, that cool material that cost $20 will sit in a drawer until you accidentally rediscover it years from now.

Okay, so we have got all of that out of the way and you still want to tie flies. You’ve got your cheap vise and fly tying materials all ready to go on the kitchen table, but you’re wondering where to start. Let me be frank, if you really want to become a good tyer you need to invest in decent starting gear. For me I became so frustrated with that cheap $15 vise that I hated tying flies. Furthermore, that $4 bobbin broke so much of my thread when tying I often threw it across the room. It wasn’t until I got serious about tying and opened up my wallet that I appreciated how relaxing and rewarding it could be. Moreover, after watching that how-to video on using a whip finisher it became much easier to finish off a nice fly. So, what do I suggest when diving head first into fly tying? Here are the following recommendations:



For the love of all that is holy, buy yourself a decent vise that rotates. Donate that stocking stuffer of a vise your mom got you for Christmas and do yourself a favor, buy something with good jaws and has that rotary function. You will thank yourself when your hooks no longer move or come completely loose while in the middle of that beautiful fly of yours. Now, you don’t need to go overboard and get yourself a Renzetti, but I think spending over $100 is probably a good price point for a decent vise. Also, I prefer having a vise with a base, making it portable. You will thank me later.


Before I get chastised, I completely understand lots of great fly tyers can produce unbelievable flies using inexpensive bobbins. However, I firmly believe that purchasing a bobbin with a drag system can prevent a headache. These bobbins aren’t very expensive and can allow you to tighten your drag for the bigger flies, while being more liberal with the more delicate ties. I, myself, prefer a Rite Bobbin.


Yes, yes, some of you out there are miracle workers and can whip finish beautifully with your fingers. I mean, I know how, but I suck. To avoid suckage buy yourself a whip finishing tool. They are cheap and make life a lot easier when finishing a fly. However, I will warn you, you will need to practice a lot before the tool makes sense. I suggest practicing on a bare hook over and over until you can do it in the dark. Furthermore, you don’t need to go expensive with this tool. You can find a whip finisher for around $5-$10 and never need another one again in your life.


This might seem like a no brainer, but so many new fly tyers will try tying things that are complicated and challenging. Do yourself a favor and begin tying San Juan worms or wire worms. Yes, I know, I am overly attached to the dirt snakes but honestly, they are super easy to tie. All you will need is red thread and chenille, or even simple red wire. Practice making a few dozen of these flies and soon you will be able to move on to slightly more complicated flies. In reality, the tried tested a true flies are simple to tie. Once you’ve tied up enough dirty worms to start a dirt farm you can move on to pheasant tails and hares ears. From there, keep watching tutorials and you’ll get better and better.


Tying flies can be very frustrating at first. However, it is so rewarding to catch fish on flies you’ve tied yourself. Keep practicing, keep trying new things, and don’t let frustration overwhelm the end goal of never spending another dollar on someone else’s flies. If you get frustrated, walk away and try again later. Don’t give up completely.

I remember the very first fish I caught on my own fly. It was a wired worm at the water treatment plant along the Bow River. I will never be able to properly describe that feeling I had when that big rainbow trout ripped my fly halfway across the river. I was so proud, so happy, beyond elated. I promise you, you will feel the same.

Thanks for reading!