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March 27, 2020 10 min read
With everybody hunkering down, this is a great time to learn how to tie your own flies. Beginning fly tying can seem intimidating, however it is very easy to tie your own flies. To start tying your own flies you only need a fw basic tools and a pattern to start with.
In this blog post, we will show you the basic gear that you need to get started tying your own flies. We will do a quick overview of vises, fly tying tools, fly tying thread, hooks, and some materials kits that can get you started. We also discuss our favorite fly pattern for beginning fly tyers- the zebra midge.
We will continue to edit this post as we think of more information to include. And stay tuned for other beginning fly tying posts coming soon.
Beginning fly tying requires a vise and a few tools. The vise holds the hook and is the essential piece of fly tying equipment. The bobbin holds your spool of thread an makes it easy to apply the thread to the hook. Fly Tying thread is what binds all the materials of a fly together. A good pair of scissors is essential. You quickly learn to value a pair of scissors with fine points that are sharp and easily cut and trim fly tying materials. Other essential tools are a bodkin and whip finisher. The bodkin is a needle that is used to apply glues or pick out materials on the hook. It can also be used to clear the eye of the hook if it is closed by glue. The whip finisher is a tool that applies the finishing knot at the end of the tying process. Using a whip finisher creates a strong knot that adds durability to your flies.
For fly tying vises there are several options that are great for beginners. If you want to save money and go the inexpensive route, then we recommend the Terra Starter vise. You can also choose one of the Terra Kits that come with a vise and the basic tools. Terra offers two vise and tool kits, the Royal Coachman Kit and the Fireside Tool Kit. The Fireside tool kit has the same vise as the royal coachman kit, however it comes with a few more tools. The Terra Starter comes with C-Clamp mount. A c-clamp clamps the vise onto a table edge. Make sure you choose a table that doesn’t have too thick a tabletop to use with the.
The downside to these less expensive options is that fly tiers outgrow them very quickly. These are basic tools. The vises in particular will get you started, but they don’t hold hooks nearly as securely as a better vise will do. They take much more effort to get them set so that they hold a hook securely. Messing around with fickle vises can distract from learning to tie flies.
A big step up from the Terra Vises for starter vise is the Peak Non Rotary vise. This is a well built USA made vise. It will last for years and holds a hook very securely. The Peak Non Rotary Vise as pictured above comes with a pedestal base. This is a heavy metal base that allows the vise to be set on a table top. This makes the vise easy to move from one area to another. Great for travel or for a fly tier who doesn’t have a permanent place to leave tying gear set up. Most vises can be equipped with a pedestal base or a c-clamp. C-Clamps hold the vise securely in place, but make the vise more cumbersome to move from place to place.
The best selling vise in our shop is the Renzetti Traveler. While it costs quite a bit more than the other models of vises discussed in this post, it’s a great vise to start on but you will continue to use it for years and years. Many tiers have started with this vise and are still tying on it a decade later.
There are several traveler models now, but the basic C2003 Traveler model is the most versatile and best all around vise on the market. The Renzetti Traveler is what is called a rotary vise. A rotary vise allows the hook shank (the straight part of the hook) to stay inline with the center of the vise. When you turn the handle at the back of the vise, the hook turns in line with the vise. Non rotary vise jaws don’t often turn easily, which doesn’t allow you to see the entire fly during the tying process. The Renzetti Traveler’s biggest selling points are its ability to hold a wide range of hook sizes, hold hooks very securely, and it’s easy to move it from place to place. Renzetti builds these vises in the USA and replacement parts are readily available. Check out the video below to see more of the features of the Traveler Vise.
For tools there are several great package options. A good quality tool kit that doesn’t break the bank is the Terra Mini Travel Tool Kit. Pair the Terra Kit with any of the vises above and you are ready to start tying. If you want a step up from the get go, then its hard to go wrong with the Loon Fly Tying Tool Kit. Loon offers a basic kit and then add on kits. The Loon tools are great tools and the add on kits are perfect for when your fly tying progresses into more advanced techniques.
We recommend starting with a pattern that you will actually use and is relatively simple to tie. For those that primarily fly fish for trout a great place to start is the Zebra midge. Midges are the most common insect in most trout fisheries. If you tie up a few dozen zebra midges you will most definitely use them. Many fly tying classes used to have fly tiers start by tying the woolly bugger streamer. While this is a great fly, you generally won’t use dozens of them over the course of the year.
When you start tying flies repetition is your friend. The more you tie the more comfortable you get with basic techniques. As your muscle memory improves and applying thread to a hook, winding materials on the hook, and using the whip finisher become easier then it becomes easier to move onto new flies. The Zebra Midge makes it easy to become familiar with these basic fly tying techniques.
Wapsi Flies makes a great starter kit for tying zebra midges. It comes with hooks, beads, and a few spools of copper wire. The kit also includes color step by step instructions on how to tie the Zebra Midge. The body of a zebra midge is fly tying thread. With this kit you will want a couple of spools of 70 denier thread. At minimum you will want at least one spool of Black 70 Denier thread. You may also want an additional pack of hooks.
Other thread colors you may want to pick up are tan, olive, red, and grey. The kit comes with 48 hooks. To keep on tying pick up a pack or two of size 16 or 18 curved hooks – recommended hook models are Tiemco 2457 or 2487, Daiichi 1120, or Lightning Strike SE1 hooks.
Wapsi offers some other great kits when you are ready to move on to a new fly- Ant/Beetle Kit, Chernobyl Ant Kit, San Juan Worm Kit, Wooly Bugger Kit, Clouser Minnow kit, and Razor Midge Kits. All of these kits are a great value and easy way to learn new fly patterns.
Some beginning fly tying kits come with thread, however some of the Wapsi Kits that we like do not. So, you might be wondering, what thread do I need? Most fly tying thread comes in different sizes. The finer the thread the smaller the fly you can tie with it. The larger the fly, typically you need a thicker and stronger thread to securely lash materials to your hook. The easiest thread sizing system is the denier sizing. Denier is a measurement of thread size. Common sizes of thread (starting from smallest to largest) are 70 denier, 140 denier, and 210 denier. What is nice about the denier measurement is that it is more consistent among different brands of thread. 70 denier thread from one company will be roughly the same thickness as that of another. This wasn’t the case with some of the thread sizing measurements of the past.
Thread is very important since it binds together the parts of our flies. You want to make sure you are using the correct thread for your fly. Remember the larger the denier number the thicker and stronger the thread is. 70 denier is great for smaller flies (size 14 hooks and smaller). 140 denier is great for fly sizes 6 down to 14. For larger streamers and saltwater flies you may want to use 210 or 280 denier thread. Typically you want to use the strongest thread that you can for the size of hook. However you don’t want a thread that is too thick because it will quickly produce a fly that is too bulky for the size of hook that you are using.
The most common sizes of thread you will use when you start tying trout flies will be 70 denier and 140 denier. Black is one of the most commonly used colors of thread and you can’t go wrong getting a spool black thread in both 70 and 140 deniers. Other commonly used thread colors are brown, olive, and red. Thread isn’t expensive so don’t worry about adding a few extra colors in both sizes. Some flies like the Zebra Midge, our favorite fly for beginning fly tying is a thread bodied fly, meaning the color of the thread you use will determine the body color of the fly. There are several other easy to tie patterns that have thread bodies, so having a few different colors of thread to choose from will expand the variety of colors of those flies you can tie.
For those of you looking to get started and pick up some thread, we recommend starting with Wapsi Ultra Thread. It is also referred to as UTC thread in some cases. Ultra thread lays nice and flat and is easy to find in a variety of colors.
Learning anything new takes time. Remember when you started fly fishing? Getting used to the nomenclature of fly line weights, leader sizes, tippet sizes, and fly sizes all took time. The same goes for starting fly tying. Don’t overwhelm yourself and think you have to know it all before you start. If that was the case none of us would start any new hobby or activity. Just like learning thread sizing, learning about hooks is the same way. First there is hook sizing. Then there are the many styles of hooks. What is the hook shank? The gap or gape? Don’t worry too much about this at first. Much of it you will learn as you go. The nice thing about the kits mentioned in this blog post, they contain the style of hook you need to tie the pattern. As you start to shop for hooks you will find that many hook packages also indicate the style of fly the hook is used for. Don’t forget you can always reach out to the fly shop staff and ask. Here are a couple of fly tying hook references
When you first start tying trout flies, you will primarily use dry fly hooks, standard nymph hooks, 2xl nymph hooks, and scud/emerger hooks. Check out the reference photo above for an idea what those hook styles look like.
Lastly, a quick note on hooks sizes. Hook sizing might seam bit backwards. The bigger the number the smaller the hook. Most commonly fished trout flies are sizes 10-18. Size 10 being the largest and size 18 being the smallest. In many places you may find that flies as small as size 22 or 24 are effective. When you first start tying a new pattern start with a larger size and gradually work your way into tying the smaller sizes.
Streamers, saltwater flies, salmon flies, bass, pike and musky flies are tied on much larger hooks than most trout flies. One thing you will notice about hooks sizes is once they get larger than a size 1 (remember the smaller the number the bigger the hook) the sizing changes to aught sizing. This is shown as 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, etc. In the aught sizes the bigger the number before the backslash the larger the hook. So from smallest to largest the sizing would be 2, 1, 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, etc.
That’s enough about fly tying hooks for now. Remember you will pick up all this lingo and terminology as you. The more you tie the more you learn!
If you are looking for an all in one solution, luckily there are a couple of more expansive fly tying kits available. Our favorites are the Hareline Dubbin fly tying kits. One is strictly a material kit. It includes an instruction book to learn to tie several different flies with the included materials. The other two kits also include tools. These are great “one click” options to get what you need to start tying flies. Hareline offers one kit with Economy Tools and Premium tools.
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