Fly tying rewarding diversion in winter

Although there are ample things to do outdoors this time of year, springtime can never arrive soon enough to suit me.

I’m already yearning for the longer days and warmer weather that will offer the first opportunities to break out the fishing gear in earnest for the new season. But even if we are treated to another early spring this year, those wonderful times are still weeks away. One of the best ways I know to pass the time between now and those first casts of spring is tying trout flies.

I tied my first trout fly more than forty years ago, and in the years since, fly tying has greatly enhanced my passion for fly-fishing. Early on, being a fly tier kept me supplied with an ample supply of flies for my own fishing needs. Later, I became a commercial tier, producing several thousand flies each year to sell. All that practice and dedication allowed me to elevate my fly-tying skills to a high level, which also helped me to win numerous awards, including multiple state fly-tying championships in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Learning to tie flies really isn’t too difficult. If you can tie your shoe, you should be able to learn to tie a fly that is good enough to catch fish. Like any mechanical skill, however, fly tying does take a certain amount of practice and dedication in order to become good at it.

When I started tying, the options for learning the craft were somewhat limited. One way was to have an experienced fly tier show you how. That is if you happened to know an experienced tier willing to do so. The other option was to teach yourself by reading a few of the instructional books on fly tying available at the time. This was the route I chose.

How things have changed. Nowadays there is almost unlimited information available for a budding fly tier. Hundreds of books and videos are available on virtually every facet of fly tying.

Although first published back in 1988, “Poul Jorgensen’s Book of Fly Tying: A Guide to Flies for All Game Fish” is a book I still recommend for beginning tiers. And for those who prefer personal, hands-on instruction, many fly-fishing clubs, organizations and fly shops offer fly-tying classes for both beginners and advanced tiers.

I usually advise folks who are interested in getting into fly tying to avoid buying an inexpensive fly-tying kit for several reasons. That’s not because fly tying needs to be an expensive hobby, but rather because so many of the kits I’ve seen were just not a good value for the money.

Many of the materials included tend to be a hodgepodge of stuff that would tie few if any really practical fly patterns and whatever tools are provided are often little more than outright junk, which even an expert tier would find difficult to impossible to work with.

A better way to start is to buy a basic set of good quality tools. At the very least, you’ll need a reliable pair of fine-pointed scissors, a bobbin or two to hold spools of tying thread, hackle pliers and a whip-finish tool.

The most important piece of equipment in any fly-tying setup is the vise. Lower priced vises range from $20 to $50, and many of those are imports from China or Pakistan. The functionality of such cheaper vises can vary from satisfactory to useless, so test one before you buy if at all possible.

A vise that won’t hold a hook without slipping is totally frustrating. Every serious fly tier I know has eventually made the move to a top-quality vise. Such a tool currently costs from around $150 to $300 but will also last most tiers for a lifetime, making it a worthwhile investment.

Like most hobbies, the cost of fly tying can range from a modest amount to whatever your checkbook will allow. A practical way to build a startup assortment of tying materials if you are on a budget is to pick five or six of your favorite fly patterns and buy all the necessary materials to tie them.

Later, pick another group and add the materials for them to your inventory. But once you have acquired a bit of tying skill, don’t be surprised if you find yourself accumulating fly-tying material at an amazing rate, because fly tying can be a most compelling hobby.