Tips & Tactics #20 – So you want to fly a tie?

Tie a fly is what I mean, but the dyslexic flub above kind of exemplifies my fly tying career.

In the mid-1970’s, when I became an aspiring fly fisher, I also wanted to be a fly tier. The Fireside Angler was nearby, back then, and they had all the ingredients I would need.  I picked up an economical but very functional vise, some tools and materials to tie a Royal Coachman and a Muddler Minnow (the killer pattern of the era).  Then added a Mickey Finn and Black Nose Dace. I picked up Art Flick’s book Master Fly-Tying Guide and was on my way.

Art-Flick's Master-Fly-Tying-Guide 1972
Art Flick’s Master Fly-Tying Guide 1972

The streamers all worked well but the Coachman tended to float on his head. I tried a Light Cahill and the results were varied.  Sometimes it floated on its head and sometimes on its side. The hackle was all over the place and the wings were cock-eyed

Even with store-bought flies I was a struggling fly fisher who was having trouble catching fish.

My confidence level was low in my fishing skills and my tying ability.  Somewhere along the line I made the decision to stop tying flies and to purchase them instead.  At least then I could be assured of a proper tie if not a perfect delivery. I continued to tie streamers but gave up the rest.

TU Fly Tiers-Paul McCain and Sol Harz

TU Fly Tiers Paul McCain and Sol Harz

So let’s move to 1998.  I am getting more involved with TU and the local chapter has fly tiers at every meeting who are willing to demonstrate, teach and more. I would look on nodding, accepting a gifted fly once in a while, but left my vise in the draw at home.

Ten more years slip by and at a fundraiser someone donated a tying desk – a very nice one. Real piece of furniture made by a fellow in Canada and signed on the bottom. I liked it and had a spot in my man-cave for it, even if I used it for something other than tying. I bid and won.


A few years later, I am getting ready to retire and looking forward to all the time and extra energy I will have once away from the merry-go-round of the work-a-day world. Friend Paul McCain is offering tying lessons at a local pub, one night a week during the winter. I join the group and dig up the old tools.

fly - 2016 - GRHE - bead

Paul provides each participant with a bag of materials, enough to tie a few of the fly of the week. So we tie one or two at the pub and then I go home and tie a few more, now clearing the tying desk of the debris that it has accumulated.

Next is a new vise, a Renzetti Traveler bought from Campsite along with more material.  At Somerset I pick more up and then some extra bobbins, beads, new buck tail, you know how it is. Sol brought me to the upper room fly tiers at Caleb Smith and Chuck to Art Flick TU’s Saturday morning sessions. All were encouraging.

Then I hit the Jackpot.  At the TU Banquet I put my bucket raffle tickets in the Basket of Tying Materials cup…and I win. Now I have more stuff than I will ever need. I don’t even know what half of it is used for. I give Joe Odierna of Joe-Stack fame a bunch.

fly -2013 Steelhead flies 001

I continue with Paul’s lessons and pay more attention when around the other tiers. I attend a steelhead fly tying night and do egg patterns and sucker spawn with Jeff, John and Peter. I start re-reading Art’s book and Helen Shaw’s.  I get a few more books, recently Simple Flies by Morgan Lyle. I am working on Green Woolly Buggers and Adams.

Me with a copy of Simple Flies by Morgan Lyle with Paul McCain
Me with a copy of Simple Flies by Morgan Lyle and him with Letters to Mack – with Paul McCain

So Paul opens a shop in Oceanside, 50 miles away, and I go a few times for more instruction.  Last winter, Campsite, which is just a few miles down the road,  held Fly Tying with Mark Wayne and I went a few times.  This year I went every week.

Then I discovered YouTube – Oh my God! Any pattern you want to tie is shown in detail by numbers of instructors. Some show you short cuts, others focus on the traditional methods and materials. All of it available anytime and free!

fly - 2016 clousers

Now I am working on Gold-ribbed Hares Ear Nymphs and Pheasant Tails, Rusty Spinners and Prince Nymphs, salty flies like Clouser’s and Deceivers. My confidence in fly fishing matured years ago and now, finally, my fly tying is beginning to resemble the pictures in the books.

fly - trying at campsite 2016

So here’s the Tip: Don’t wait 30 years to get into this enjoyable past time. Check out what fly tying assistance shops and organizations in your area offer and jump in.  Don’t worry if your flies float on their heads. You will meet some great people who can guide you and you will extend your fishing life.

fly -bunker pattern 1-2014

Tom's Fishing Stories

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