HOW TO START FLY TYING
Fly tying is most likely not going to save you money, but you can get a great hobby that will keep your hands idle while you wait for the first rise of the season. Our How to Start Fly Tying guide for beginners will walk you through all the tools and materials you need to tie flies. We will also show you how to do basic fly tying and some great patterns for beginners.
- 1: Tools for Fly Tying – you need a few tools to tie flies. There are also quite a few tools you do not need. In the first step of our guide, we will show some of the essential tools you might not need to begin fly tying.
- 2: Materials for Fly Tying – to tie a fly with a tail, body, wing, and hackle, you need materials. Hairs and feathers are the most used materials, but you can also use synthetics. Here you can see the most used materials in fly tying.
- 3: Basic Fly Tying – do you know how to attach the hook to the vise or thread your bobbin? In this part, you will learn everything from how to tie in the thread to finish off the fly with varnish and a whip finish tool.
- 4: Flies for Beginners – we have made several instruction movies showing how to tie flies. Here we have made a few collections showing wet flies, streamers, nymphs, and dry flies that are easy to tie and catch fish.
- 5: Summary – we are finishing off with some tips and tricks to help you become a better fly tyer.
How to Start Fly Tying: The Tools
We dedicate the first part of our How to Start Fly Tying guide for beginners to the tools. Here we go through the different tools you will need to start tying flies. We are also going through some tools you might not need.
Fly Tying Vise
The fly tying vise is perhaps the most essential tool for fly tying. It is possible to tie flies without, but that is a struggle. The vise has a straightforward purpose; to hold the hook steady while you tie in materials to the hook. The vise itself is either attached to the table with a c-clamp or resting on a pedestal base directly on the table.
We can differentiate vises into three types; stationary vises, turning vises, and rotary vises. Stationary vises hold the hook in a fixed position. The turning vise lets you turn the fly upside down without taking the fly out of the jaws. Rotary vises are similar to turning vises, but the difference is that the fly will always be centered. This makes it possible to apply hackle with ease.
The most important part of the vise is the jaw holding the hook. With cheap vises, the jaw is often made with low-quality metals, and it will show wear and tear after a short while. This will make it difficult to attach the hooks. It is still possible to save some money on the vise. The Griffin Superior A1 did the job for me for several years and the price? About $75.
The thread bobbin also has a simple yet essential purpose, and it is one of the tools you will need when you want to start tying flies. This is the thread holder preventing the thread from just unraveling from the spool, and it also gives you precision when laying down the thread wraps.
There are a few differences between bobbins. Some bobbins have a ceramic layer in the thread tube, preventing the thread from breaking. A bobbin without a ceramic coating in the tube might work fine. Still, a ceramic layer will often be better for the more delicate threads. The tube is connected to two arms holding the spool of thread. These can be connected in several ways, and this can often be the weak point of the bobbin.
You can use a thicker and stronger thread if you are not tying the tiniest flies on hooks #18 and smaller. If this is the case, you can get away with an inexpensive bobbin without a ceramic tube for a few bucks. At the same time, bobbins usually are not very expensive, so buying a bobbin with ceramic tubing will not break the bank. You can find these with a price tag of $15 and up. It can be worth it.
A good pair of scissors is essential when you are tying flies. It is an advantage to have a few. Good scissors made for fly tying are often serrated, making cutting hair easier. They are also often sharp-pointed to give you better precision. That can be very beneficial if you want to tidy up a fly.
At the same time, it is also a good idea to buy a pair of cheap scissors from the stationary shop. Sometimes you have to cut off a wire or some metal tinsel, which can damage the scissor. Then it will be better to ruin a cheap pair of scissors than a good pair of scissors.
You can also find curved scissors. These are great when you are tying muddlers. Still, in most cases, you will be able to get the job done by using a regular, flat scissor. This is especially the case for beginners because a muddler can be tricky to tie.
Dubbing Twister & Hackle Plier
The dubbing twister is not essential for fly tying. It is not often I use the two dubbing twisters I own. The dubbing twister lets you make a loop on the thread. Then you apply dubbing to the thread loop and, finally, give it a spin to tighten up the thread loop. Then you will end up with a noodle of dubbing to make bodies for flies. In most cases, it is possible to spin the dubbing directly onto the thread, which is easy and makes the dubbing twister unnecessary.
The hackle plier is used when you want to make a hackle on the fly. It can be handy when you are working with smaller feathers. It can also be helpful when you cannot control the hackle feather by hand all the time, as it will add weight to holding the feather in place and prevent it from unraveling.
My opinion is that most beginners will not need a dubbing twister. The dubbing twister might come in handy if you want to make a hackle of hairs or spin bodies of deer hairs, but that is something for more experienced tyers. A hackle plier might be helpful, especially if you tie smaller dry flies or use small feathers for tiny nymphs.
Dubbing Needle, Dubbing Brush, Whip Finish, Half-Hitch Tool & Hair Stacker
Fly tyers use the dubbing needle to tease out dubbing or other materials that have been caught by a rib or tying thread. You can also use the dubbing needle to apply varnish to the head of the fly. By any means, the dubbing needle is a needle. A safety pin or even a toothpick can do the same job.
A dubbing brush is handy if you want to tie buggy flies like the Kobberbassen or other nymphs. The dubbing brush is simply used to tease out some of the dubbing to give the fly a more buggy impression.
The whip finish tool and the half-hitch tool finish off the fly with a hitch. That is something that can be done manually, using your fingers, but these tools give you precision. That is especially useful if you are tying smaller flies. While the whip finish is a separate tool, the half-hitch tool is often combined with a dubbing needle.
The hair stacker is used to align the tips of hair material used for tails and wings. This can be a handy tool for tying small dry flies or streamers with hair wings and tails.
How to Start Fly Tying: The Materials
There is a wast range of materials used in fly tying, and again, what you need depends on what kind of flies you want to tie. You can find materials listed in the instruction videos in our How to Start Fly Tying guide. Now we will cover fly tying hooks, fly tying threads, hairs and feathers, synthetics, dubbing, body materials, and beads.
Fly Tying Hooks
There are several different hooks for fly tying. Some are specially designed for dry flies, nymphs, emergers, shrimps, salmon flies, saltwater flies, streamers, scuds, etc. There are also fly tying hooks with and without barbs. Some are single hooks, others are doubles or trebles.
To make it easier, we will just skim the top. The difference between hooks for dry and wet flies is that the latter typically has a heavier stem. That makes them sink more rapidly. For the dry fly hooks, the lighter stem makes it easier for them to stay on top of the water film.
Hook sizes go from #36 to #1, where #36 is the smallest hook, and #1 is the largest. Over #1, we have 1/0, 2/0, and so on. Here the hook size 1/0 is the smallest.
For beginners who want to learn how to tie flies, hook sizes between #12 and #4 are good starting points. With these sizes, you can cover anything from caddies, mayflies, and nymphs, to larger attractor flies and baitfish imitations.
Fly Tying Threads
Fly tying threads usually are made of polyester, nylon, or GSP (gel-spun polyethylene). The thread can be thin, thick, weak, smooth, stiff, easy to split, flatten well, waxed or unwaxed. Most of these qualities can be weaknesses and strengths, so it is difficult to take one spool of thread and claim this is the best.
It gets even worse when we talk about the different sizes. Often the thread size is noted in the aught system or the denier system. Neither of these is well-defined. With many thread producers, you have a lot of different definitions of how the system should be interpreted.
Luckily, tying thread is inexpensive. So, it is good to buy a few spools in different sizes from different producers to find the thread that suits you and the flies you tie the best.
Hairs & Feathers
We use hairs and feathers for wings, tails, wingcases, and bodies. The range of feathers and hairs for fly tying is vast, and they have all some different qualities that are important to know about. Some hairs and feathers are soft, giving the flies a lot of movement others are stiffer. Some feathers are impregnated with natural waterproofing oils. Hairs can be hollow, making the fly float on the surface.
Because of the different qualities, the methods to tie in the other feathers and hairs will differ. Hard materials like goat hair or hairs from squirrel tails might require a drop of glue or varnish to set. Hollow deer hairs are best tied in with a flat thread that will not cut through the fibers.
Both hair and feather can be expensive, so you should carefully consider what kind of materials to buy if you are a beginner. Our How to Start Fly Tying guide’s instruction videos all have material lists. This makes it easy to decide what hair and feathers you will need for the different flies. Also, remember that having the exact kind of feather or hair is not always necessary.
Often you can use different hairs or feathers than what is listed in the instructions, as long as the color is similar.
Synthetics are used for tails and wings on flies. They can be used on their own or combined with natural materials.
Antron yarn or sparkle emerger yarn are popular synthetics used for wings in dry flies. The synthetic material for fly tying can also be used for dubbing.
Craft Fur, Pseudo Hair, and Fish Hair are different types of synthetics for fly tying. This material is soft and has long fibers, making them good when tying streamers imitating baitfish.
Krystal Flash and Flashabou are synthetics used to add flash into wings and tails. It can also be used for ribbing.
Thin Skin, Crystal Skin, Fino Skin, and Mirage Sheet are materials used for wingcases and scud backs. Earlier, it was common to use feathers, but synthetics will give you a more durable fly.
Dubbing is either natural or synthetic fibers that are blended. Their primary use is to make bodies, but they can also be used for tails or wings on small flies. The material is put into a dubbing loop or simply rolled around the fly tying thread, then wrapped around the hook to create the body. If you want to apply the dubbing directly to the thread, it can be advantageous to use a waxed thread or apply some tying wax to the thread.
A good tip is to apply a small amount of dubbing to the thread and instead have more turns to create the body. This will make it easier to create a more even body.
The materials in the dubbing can be fine fibers made for smaller flies, or coarse, for larger flies. The smaller the fibers are, the easier it is to apply to the thread.
Dubbing is commonly used in nymphs, dry flies, and imitations. To match the hatch, you can also mix different types of dubbing to make a blend with a color matching the insects you are imitating.
Tinsels, Wires, Floss & Yarn
Tinsels are made out of metal or synthetics. They can be flat or oval, and the latter is often referred to as French tinsel. The flat tinsel usually is used to create bodies but can also be used as wing cases on nymphs or tags on salmon flies. Flat, synthetic tinsel is often two-colored, with different colors on both sides. French tinsel is used to rib flies or tags on salmon flies.
Metal is usually used for the wires, which are used for ribbing flies. They can also be used for weight on smaller flies.
The floss is an untwisted thread. It is often made out of silk. Floss is often used to create bodies and tags on salmon flies but can also be used for tails.
Yarn is a twisted thread generally used as a substitute for dubbing. This makes it an excellent material for beginners that want to learn how to tie flies. In addition, to use it for bodies, it can also be used as ribbing.
Beads, Heads & Eyes
You can get beads and heads made out of either brass or tungsten. A brass bead has a lighter weight and is used to add a pronounced head to the fly. On the other hand, tungsten is heavier and used to add both a head and weight to get the fly down in the water.
Both beads and heads come in a wide range of different sizes, and it is essential to match the bead size with the hook size to get the proportion right.
|Hook Size||Bead Size|
|18 – 24||1/16″ (1.6 mm)|
|16 – 18||5/64″ (2.0 mm)|
|14 – 16||3/32″ (2.4 mm)|
|12 – 16||7/64″ (2.8 mm)|
|10 – 14||1/8″ (3.2 mm)|
|6 – 10||5/32″ (4.0 mm)|
|4 – 8||3/16 (4.8 mm)|
Varnish & UV Glue
You use varnish or head cement to make the head of the fly more durable. The head cement is available in several colors. Still, you can get any color on the head using colored tying thread and transparent varnish. It usually is enough on smaller flies with one coating, but it can be better to use two layers on larger flies.
UV Glue can be used as a substitute for varnish but is usually used to build up larger heads and bodies or to cover wing cases or scud backs. The glue is set by using a UV lamp.
How to Start Fly Tying: Basic Fly Tying
There are a few basics skills you need to master before you start tying flies. It can be a good idea to learn these before you start tying flies for fishing. It is easy to use a larger hook for this practice. The same hook can also be used several times. You can simply remove the thread using a razor blade.
Thread a BobbinYoutube
You can thread your bobbin using a few different methods. One easy way is to use a bobbin threader tool. I think this tool is not a necessity. A wire can do the same job, or even easier, put the thread into the tube, then suck the thread through.
Attach a Hook to the ViseYoutube
How you attach the hook in the vise depends on what kind of vise you have. Some have a lever to tighten the jaw, while others have a screw. Most tiers prefer to have the hook’s shank in a horizontal position. Some hooks are curved, and in this case, it can be beneficial to set the hook at an angle that makes the hook eye prevent the thread from unraveling.
Tie in the Thread, Whip Finishing & Apply VarnishYoutube
Tying in the thread can be tricky at the first attempt, but it will be easier once you get the movement into your fingers. Hold the end of the thread towards the hook. You should hold it close to the hook’s eye in most cases. Make two turns on the hook shank, then take one turn that overlaps the turns already on the hook.
The whip finishing tool is tricky, so it is easier to learn how to use it by watching the instructions in the video. If you do not have this tool for fly tying, you can simply add a few half-hitches. Finish the fly by applying a few drops of varnish or head cement.
How to Start Fly Tying: Fly Patterns for Beginners
We have collected a few different fly patterns for our How to Start Fly Tying course. The flies have a few things in common: they are both easy to tie and well-known fish-catchers. In the videos, you can see how to tie the flies, and we have also written instructions with pictures.
Wet Flies & Streamers
How to Start Fly Tying – Summary
If you do not already have the tools and materials to start tying flies, you will have either buy them or join a fly tying class where you can borrow them. If you are considering buying, you have two options. Either go for a fly tying kit or buy everything separately. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.
A fly tying kit for beginners might give you everything you need and quite a few things you will never need. The price is often much lower for a fly tying kit than buying everything separately. The fly tying kit can also be a base that you can supplement as you see fit.
The price tag for separately buying tools and materials can be high. Still, at the same time, you can often get tools and materials of a higher quality. You can also focus on the materials you need.
Recommended Tools & Materials
- Fly tying Vise
- Hair & Feathers
- Wires & Tinsels
When you go fly fishing, look at the insects and prey, both on land and in the water. One easy way to find underwater life is to lift a rock out of the water and turn it upside down. Often you will find several different nymphs and larvae from caddis, mosquitoes, and mayflies. Suppose you are fishing in several other rivers and lakes. You will notice that the same specie can have some local variations in size or color. Another way is the check what the fish are eating. When you land a fish, open up the gut and see what it has eaten.
Then, when you are back home, you can tie a better imitation closer in size and color to match the hatch. This can make you both a better fly tyer and a fly fisher.
Fly Tying for Beginners FAQ
First of all, you need tools and materials. You can get the essentials in a fly tying kit for beginners or buy everything you need separately. A great way to learn how to tie flies is by watching our videos.
It can be easy, or it can be tricky. It depends on what kind of flies you want to tie. Nymphs and streamers are among the easiest flies to tie. Salmon flies with spliced feather wings can be a pain to tie. You can find some great fly patterns for beginners on our page.
Several fly patterns are easy to tie. Some well-known patterns are Red Tag, Frank Sawyer’s Killer Bug, and Woolly Bugger. We have made a lot of video tying instructions where we show you how to tie flies. These can be a great guide and teach you how to tie flies that catch fish.
What you need depends on which fly or flies you want to tie. In our fly tying guide for beginners, you can see a lot of great fly patterns that are easy to make and catches fish. We also show you what materials you need to tie the flies.
No. If we only count the materials you need to tie flies, you might save a few bucks over the long run. Adding up the hours you have spent tying flies, we are talking about pennies saved at best. Still, fly tying is a great hobby, and close to nothing beats the feeling of catching a fish on your self-made fly.