"Above all, fly-tying is immensely enjoyable as a creative activity, conferring aesthetic bliss upon even minimal manual skill. Great satisfaction is to be had simply by storing up material preparing dye baths, dubbing fur, ckipping deer hair, folding wing cases, winding hackle, and performing all the pleasant little tasks associated with this most engaging pastime. Perhaps tying flies is the closest any of us get to playing God."
The Fly-Tyer's Almanac, 1975
are just a few tips taken from a book edited by Dick Stewart and pubished by Northland Press, Inc, Intervale, NH - 1990. If copies are still available, I would strong urge you to pick up a copy and read all the good tips presented.
Lessening Eye Strain
Even if you don't spend long hours at the tying bench, a non-glare, neutral background is important to reduce eye-strain. The vinyl protective covering that draftsmen use on their drawing boards is ideal for the top of your tying table. Available at most art and drafting supply stores, it comes with green on one side and cream color on the other side. Use the green side up when tying light colored flies and the cream side up when tying dark colored patterns. It cleans up easy with soap and water.
Attach a magnetic strip of tape near your fly-tying area to temporarily hold hooks. It also can be handy for holding flies as head cement dries.
Always wash your hands with soap and water before you start to tie. Natural oils in human skin will discolor floss and thread, and often this discoloration does not become apparent until the fly is finished.
Biodegradable Drying Rack
The Post-It note, available at any office supply store is biodegradable, low-cost, light weight and portable. The note will stick to the edge of the tying bench and the points of the fly can be stuck through the note and left to dry. It can hold up to a dozen flies.
An effective method of removing small flies from the tying vise without crushing the hackle or messing up the head cement is by using a cardboard beer coaster. When finished cementing the head of the fly, push the point of the hook into the edge of the coaster, open the vise, and place the coaster and fly on a flat surface to dry. The coaster can hold a number of small flies.
Keep a chunk of styrofoam on the tying bench. It is cheap, easily obtainable and serves a multitude of purposes - holding tools or finished flies. Styrofoam cups also serve as a great place to put flies as the head cement dries.
Hook Storage Rack
Office supply stores stock the square plastic containers with magnetic tops used to dispense one paper clip at a time. This dispenser will perform the same function for hooks. Build a wooden grid to hold the dispensers on their sides. Arrange the hooks by size in columns down and by shank length in rows across. Each dispenser holds a hundred or more hooks and allows easy access.
Hook Storage Box
A way to save space in your portable fly tying kit is to use seven day pill reminder boxes to store hooks. Each compartment has its own lid and holds hooks from size 10 through 22.
Use a seven-day plastic pill box and a 1/4" drill to create a great dubbing box holder. Hand drill (to avoid cracking) a 1/4" hole in the flat side of each compartment of the box. Fill the compartment with standard dubbing or mix your own blend.
Non-Slip Drying Rack
Use ordinary bead chain, two wooden dowels, and a piece of 1" X 4" wood, and construct a drying rack. You can hang flies of various weight and length as they dry. It is a great place to hang painted jig heads as they dry.
To prevent Krystal Flash or Flashabou from becoming tangled when being used, simply leave the material in the bag and cut a notch in each upper corner. When using the material, a dubbing needle can be used to pull as many strands as you need out of the package.
Use a Fly Scrubber to give your flies that "buggy" look. A Fly Scrubber can be made from a popsicle stick, glue, and the hook side of a 1/2" wide Velcro strip. Glue the Velcro onto one half of one side of the popsicle stick. When the glue is dry trim the Velcro flush with the stick edges. Draw the Fly Scrubber across the fly for that "buggy" look.
A "Chenille Stem" sold at craft stores makes a great disposable brush - for epoxy, flexament, paint - anything for which you would use a regular brush. It may look like a pipe cleaner, but the fibers are not cotton which creates less shedding. Use it in place of a brush, and when finished, cut off the inch or so that was used, stroke the new end to dislodge any loose fibers, and you have a new applicator.
Another dubbing teaser can be made from a wire rifle bore cleaner - the one with a short wire spiral around the bore. Stick this into a wine bottle cork or other material that can be used as a handle. Works great for fuzzy nymphs.
A bodkin made of a needle and a section of deer antler will not roll and are easy to pick up. The business end of the bodkin is a sewing needle.
Drill a 1/16" hole at least 1/2" deep into the antler. Dip the eye of the needle into epoxy glue and insert in the hole with a twisting motion to work the glue down into the hole.
To make a cleaner to remove dried head cement from the bodkin, stuff a small container with 4/0 steel wool. Poke the bodkin into the steel wool until it's clean. Make sure the container is longer than the needle. If the tip hits the bottom of the container it could chip.
Some fly patterns require that a hook be bent to a certain shape to correctly tie the fly. The tempering process, however, makes the hook to brittle to bend. This can often be overcome by heating the hook before bending. Care should be taken, however, as the heating process may significantly reduce the strength of the hook.
Eye of Hook Open
Make a practice of closely looking at the eye of the hook before it is placed in the tying vise. Hooks are produced in mass and it is not uncommon to find one with a defective or malformed eye. Better to find the problem before the fly is tied rather than afterwards. If the eye is slightly open a build up of thread can sometimes fix the problem.
Debarring a Hook
It is usually best to debarb a hook prior to placing it in a vise. This avoids the possibility of breaking the hook after having tied the fly.
Sharpen each hook prior to placing it in the vise. There's less possiblity of ruffling a newly-tied fly, or messing up the not-quite-dry head cement.
Place a small magnet in the bottom of your waste container at the tying bench. Any hooks that are accidentally knocked off the bench can be retrieved.
Place a small magnet inside the box that contain hooks. This will keep the hooks together in case that the box is knocked over.
Before tying the fly, put the hook point sideways into the jaws of the vise and close them gently. The barb will be flattened neatly.
Most quality vises withe fine jaws can bend barbs on hooks down to size 20. Don't, however, go so far as to damage the vise jaws when using large hooks.
Cleaning Hook Eyes
Insert the bottom end of a hackle stem in the eye and pull through. The barbs act as a sponge for the surplus cement, and the result is a really clean and unclogged eye.
Bobbin Thread Anchors
At the end of a tying session try clipping a hackle pliers to the end of the tying thread. This will keep the thread from falling out of the bobbins tube.
Save the old spools from tying thread. Wind wool, angora, mohair, or other yarns and flosses on these used spools. These spools can save time and storage can be simplier.
Always whip finish with your wraps progressing from the fly body towards the hook eye. Going the other way makes the wraps pile one on top of the other, causing a lumpy head, and more important, fewer wraps of thread hold the trimmed end.
Avoid waste of of tying chenille/floss/lead or other material that is supplies on a card by punching two holes in the top of the card (hole punch) and insert the materila through each hole in turn. Allow enough material through the holes to complete the fly. The card then becomes a bobbin. Tie in the material and let it hang (it will not drop or unwind). When finished with the material snip it off and avoid waste.
Taming Tinsels and Floss
Use 35 mm film cannisters and some Styrofoam trays from the supermarket meat department to make holders for spools of tinsel, floss or other material that becomes unwound easily. Cut a 1" long and 1/8" wide slit in the side of a cannister (Exacto knife works well). Cut four circles the diameter of the cannister in the Styrofoam. Place two or more in the bottom of the cannister, thread the material through the slit, insert the spool and add one or more Styrofoam circles in the top. Slightly slit the cover to provide an anchor for the loose end of the material.
Thread and Bobbin Storage
Storage of bobbins filled with tying thread can turn in to a tangled mess. Use a plastic book binding strip to cure the problem at a minimal cost. Cut off each wing and then cut a 14" slit in one end. Simply wrap the binding strip around the spool and secure the thread in the slit. About 20 covers can be made from each stip. The strips come in different sizes so be sure to select the size best suited for the spool.
Trimming Deer Heads
After the deer hair has been spun on the hook, slip a section of a drinking straw 1/2" to 3/4" in length over the head of the fly up to where the deer hair ends form a collar. By turning the straw as you trim the head of the fly, none of the collar hair is cut off making a neat head.
Trimming Deer Hair Bugs
After tying the tail, and wrapping the hackle, pull the collar back toward the tail, and, while holding it tightly, wrap 4 or 5 turns of .025 lead wire around it securing it in place. The lead keeps the hackle out of the way as the deer hair is trimmed. It can be removed when the fly is finished.
Buoyant Deer Hair
Deer Hair flies float well due to the hollow hair used in their construction, but in time will become waterlogged. Try melting two parts paraffin with one part of mineral oil in a wide mouth jar that is standing in boiling water. While the mixture is hot, dip the fly in and stir around until the fly is saturated. Remove and squeeze out as much of the mixture as possible. Stroke the hairs back into place, if needed. A hair fly so treated will not become waterlogged, and one false cast will shake off the water.
Razor Trimming Hair Bugs
Use the handle from an X-acto carving set and a Shick injector razor blade to make a tool to trim hair bugs. Insert the razor blade into the X-acto knife's slotted collet and make the perfect tool for trimming those hair bugs. When the protruding end of the blade becomes dull, reverse it and use the other end. This works a lot better than holding a blade between the fingers and is a lot less dangerous.
Adding Life to Dubbing
To add liveliness and transulucence to natural fur dubbing try stripping the herl off 2 or 3 peacock quills and mix it into the fur. It adds just enough to the fly to make it appear more natural, but not gaudy.
Testing Dubbing Color
Take a small amount of dubbing wet it and hold it up to the light. Frequently it will be several shades darker than when dry, and in some cases, it will assume an entirely different color than that fo the natural fly.
Some fly patterns just work better when spiky dubbing is used for the body. Many of the dubbings today do not have that spikey look when tied onto the fly. Try clipping the hackle fibers from the feather of a cape or saddle and add these fibers to the dubbing. Soft hackle fibers add a soft spike to the dubbing and tend to fold back against the fly body in the water. Stiffer fibers stand out from the body and pulsate more, especially in fast water. Pull the feathers from the cape or saddle, run your fingers along the stem to separate and straighten the fibers. Cut the fibers off the stem into a pile. Mix well and build the body using a dubbing loop.
One of the most difficult procedure for a beginner to master is the art of dubbing. A UHU Glue Stick, available at a stationery store, can be used as a dubbing wax. Make a pass with the glue stick down the tying thread and using the usual dubbing technique, apply the dubbing material. It is a lot easier to use than dubbing wax and will make the fly body look much better.
It is often difficult to tie a knot in a goose biot. Try using a bobbin threader. This tool is easy to make: simply bend an eight inch length of fine steel leader into a long slim, diamond shape. Tape orignial ends together to form a handle.
Legs in Foam
Ask a veterinarian to give you a large syring needle. Thread the rubber leg through the needle and insert it through the foam body of he fly. Grab the rubber leg on the far side of the foam body and withdraw the needle. Trim the legs to length. Be sure to replace the plastic cover over the needle.
Rubber Band Legs
Rubber legs add a tremendous amount of action to bass bugs. Try using a plain rubber band as legs. The rubber bands come in many sizes and can be found in different colors.
Make eyes for your flies by punching a hole in Prismatic tape. This produces a neat round eye, and a small dot of black paint in the center of the eye makes the pupil. To insure that the eyes stay stuck, coat them with head lacquer or Flexamet. To attach these eyes to feathers, first coat the area with cement to make sure they are firmly attached, and then coat over with clear cement.
Cheap Rubber Legs
A supply of rubber legs can be found in the elastic "bungee cords." These cords are composed of hundreds of thin rubber strands - just the right size for legs. The braided cloth covering can be cut away with a razor blade to reveal the rubber legs.
Pin Bead Eyes
Most sewing stores and some hobby shops carry boxes or papers of stainless steel pins which have round glass heads instead of the usual flat metal one. These pins make excellent eyes for bass bugs, prawn flies and some nymph patterns. Just make certain that the shanks are stainless steel and not nickel plated. Cut off most of the shank leaving enough length to bend itno a hook shape so the eye can't pull out, and tie in at the head of your fly.
John Betts introduced a novel idea by using ordinary round black beads to represent eyes on his streamer patterns. He first attaches one end of a piece of thin monofilament on top of the hook shank, leaving the free end pointing forward. Next two beads are threaded onto the momo which is now folded backward and secured to the hook shank. Positioning the beads with figure 8 wraps is all that remains to provide you with simple, effective and attractive eyes for your flies.
Painting Lead Eyes
Painting lead eyes can become very messy leaving paint on your fingers. Next time you want to paint lead eyes try this technique. Use a woman's bobby pin to hold the middle of the eye in one of the wavy notches of the pin. It doesn't matter if the middle of the lead eye gets painted or not because that's the part that gets tied on the hook. If you remove the protective coating on the opening end of the bobby pin, your can stick that end into a block of styrofoam so the lead eyes can dry.
Bronze Peacock Herl
Some fly patterns specify that the peacock herl used for the body should have a bronze tone rather than the more common metallic green color. This hue can be achieved by placing a peacock tail feather in direct sunlight for several weeks, where it will gradually bleach to the desired color.
When affixing peacock herl to the hook shank try wrapping the hooks shank with thread; tie in the herl; and, lightly coat the thread wraps with Flexament or head cement. Wind the herl and tie off. The slightly tacky cement will hold the herl tight to the hook shank and prevent its unwinding, even though broken by hard use. Take care not to put too heavy a coat of cement on the hook.
If the fly being tied calls for ostrich or peacock herl for a butt, try using fine chenille instead. Chenille is available in many colors and is far more durable than herl. Tie the chenille in under the hook shank, make one full turn of the material, and tie off under hook shank.
Making Herl Chenille
Wind your tying thread around the peacock herl a few times and then wind them on the hook together. The thread will prevent the herl from breaking the first time a fish attacks the fly.
Stripping Peacock Herl
- Lay the quill on a hard surface, press your middle finger on one end and your thumb on the other end. Using an ordinary eraser simply rub off the short fibers (flue).
- Place the butt end of the quill between your thumb and index finger of one hand, pressing against the quill with the thumbnail. Grasp the butt end of the quill with your other hand and pull the entire length of the quill under pressure - but not so tight as to break it. Repeat this process until all the flue is removed, usually two to four times.
- Dip the entire peacock eye into melted paraffin - let cool. Once the wax is hard select an individual quill. When you break away the wax the flue is removed with it.
- Place the quill on a hard surface and scrape it lengthwise with a knife or single-edge razor blade.
- Immerse the entire eye into a bowl of Clorox for one or two minutes until the flues detach, and then immmediately rinse in a solution of baking soda and water to neutralize the bleach. Rinse and dry. Some tiers store these quills in a small ziplock bag with a few drops of glycerine and water.
- Spray the eye with a clear adhesive spray such as Grumbacher's Tuffilm. Let dry and peel off with your thumbnail - the flue will come off too.
Quill bodies make great looking flies. A problem, however, is that many quills are brittle. To overcome this problem try soaking the quill with a mixture of one-half to one-third glycerine (avaialble at a drug store) and the balance tap water. Once the barbs or herl are removed from the quill, place them in the solution and leave them there. The quills can be left in a small jar with the solution indefinitely. When you are readiy to use the quill, remove it from the jar, quickly squeegee it between your fingers, tie it in, wind it, and tie off. This is best done quickly once removed from the jar as the quill will soon become brittle. Once the body is wound and tied off, put on a couple coats of head cement.
Weighted Thread Spools
When tying a fly it is often advantageous to have the tying thread remain taut. To do this weight the bobbin by filling the thread spool's center hole with cut-to-length pieces of lead wire. Once the spool hole is filled, remove the bundle, wrap the bundle with thread and seal with head cement. The solid lead cylinder may be easily transferred to any spool.
Mark Weighted Nymphs
To identify which of your nymphs are weighted try using a different color thread for the head - or a band of thread. It is even possible to differentiate the amount of weight used when tying the nymph by using different colors of thread.
Rosin-core solder makes a good material for weighting flies. It comes in a variety of sizes and is available at hardware and Radio Shack stores. It winds easily, and can be melted and molded with a soldering iron to become a permanent part of the hook.
Fast Water-Slow Water
When tying a fly think about where the fly will be used. A caddis fly for example, is often tied full for turbulent water. Slow-water , on the other hand, dictate that the same caddisfly be imitated with a sparser, more realistic dressing. It's a good idea to prepare some of each style.
Trying adding a strip of wide silver Mylar tinsel for the wingcase of your mayfly nymphs. It adds flash and seems to imitate the tiny gas bubbles produced by the natural insect.
San Juan Worm
The San Juan Worm is a well-known as used fly. To achieve the realistic tapered appearance of a worm try attaching a length of Vernille (sometimes called Ultra-chenille) to the hook leaving both ends extending out. Burning each end will give that nice tapered look. Rub the burnt ends between your finger tips to remove the charred part.
Fine Ribbing for Small Flies
When tying small flies it is often advantageous to substitute monofilament (tippet material) for the wire ribbing. Tippet material in sizes 5X to 8X for sizes 16 and smaller provides the support of wire yet will not break at the tie in point. There appears to be no change in the flies performance. It is often helpful to wrap a fly tied with peacock herl with the mono to add stability - i.e. Griffith's Gnat.
Having trouble cutting even strips of rabbit skin, chamois or Ultrasuede for Zonkers, mouse tails, etc? Use a clipboard. Place the material that you want to cut into the jaws of the clip. Use a razor blade or razor tool to cut along the face of the clip.
Tie More Sizes
A common mistake made by beginning fly fishers is to use a variety of patterns and colors, but all in the same size - 10 to 14. Most fly fishing expert agree that it's better to have fewer different patterns, but in a greater variety of sizes - 8 to 18 range.
Cutting uniform strips of latex for nymphs can be difficult, as the material tends to bunch and "walk away" from the scissors. An easier method is to roll the latex sheet tightly and with a razor blade cut off slices in the widths required.
- Trim a bare spot (1/4") near the tip of a hackle.
- With open loop hackle pliers grab the hackle tip and slip the pliers ove the handle of the vise.
- Hold the hackle butt in your right hand, bright side forward, and dip you left index and thumb into a mixture of warm water and Ivory liquid soap.
- With the left hand, fold the hackle fibers back. Start at the tip end and proceed toward the butt, wetting fingers as needed.
- Tie in the hackle by the bare spot near the tip, with the tip tied under the hook and the folded fibers pointing up, and then wrap.
To mount streamer wings so that they lie straight along the shank of the hook try nicking the stem of the feathers with your thumbnail right where the first turn of thread will lie, and then flatten the ends of the stem by drawing your thumbnail along the length.
Try wetting the clump of feathers making it a lot easier to handle, and allows the determination of length, shape and density quite easily. A little extra quantity and length of marabou won't hurt the fly. The material is soft enough to be torn off to the exact length and shape desired, using only the fingers. Never cut marabou with scissors. Always use the fingers to pinch apart the fibers.
Handling Tiny Hackle
Use your hackle pliers when searching for a tiny (#20-#28) feather. The pliers are smaller than your fingertips making it easier to latch onto just one feather. Run your fingers down the selected feather to the base to remove it from the neck. Using hackle pliers also makes tying in this small feather a good deal easier.
Drying Wet Flies
Try placing a window screen over the open fly boxes and turning a hair dryer on them. The screen prevents the flies from escaping their compartments and the flies will dry in no time.
A hook shank wound with tying thread from eye to bend in snug, close wraps is the proper foundation for every good fly. Use a "shank wrap" to wind the thread down the hook.
On flies tied with tail fibers such as moose, or elk mane, cut a large bunch of hair, remove the fluff from the base and place the hair into a stacker to even the ends. Remove the stacked hair and bind the bundle with tying thread. When you need a tail, separate a few of the hairs for the job and snip them off, no need to stack the hair for every fly.
Simpler Thread Cuts
Some tyers slice their thread rather than cutting it with scissors. While holding the scissor blades very slightly open with one hand and pulling the thread taut with the other, push the scissor blades through the thread as close to the hook as possible. The thread is cut off under tension so that no objectionable short strand is left behind to show.
When threading Mylar braid over the hook, the braid will often unravel making the neat body impossible. Try painting (don't dip) the end of the braid with thinned fingernail polish and let dry.
Fine wire used for tags or ribbing on small flies is very slippery and has a tendency to pull out. To prevent this from happening, tie it in with three or four wraps of thread and then fold the tag end back on itself and wrap it again. Finish the rib or tag the same way.
Fanning Squirrel Hair
When tying Trude-style flies, or any dry-fly pattern that calls for a squirrel hair wing, after tying in the wing, and before the cement used under the windings has set, pinch with tweezers or small pliers just behind the tie-in area to fan out the squirrel hair. This aids flotation and enhances the fish-taking ability of the fly.