Fly Tying Changes the Game

I’m an accidental fly tyer. But, doing so has changed my game: I’m now catching more fish and bigger fish.

It all started when I was at one of my favorite shops, Concord Outfitters. A fellow angler was there, and we started chatting.

“Do you make your own flies?” he asked.

“No, I’m too busy.”

“You really should. It changed how I fish.” He proceeded to quietly and persistently tell me why I should take the plunge.

Now, I went to a fly fishing clinic in 1991. I started tying flies only six months ago. My only regret is this: I wish that I had started tying earlier. This guy was totally right, and I’m grateful he took the time to chat with me.

So, ICYMI, I want to “pay it forward” and share some lessons learned:

  • You can start low-budget. Here is a $30 starter kit comprised of tools. 
  • Over time, it isn’t the cheap option–true dat. Some tools and materials are expensive. That’s all true. But, I’d rather invest in fly tying, personally, and buy a cheaper reel.
  • It is insanely fun. I feel like I’ve really accomplished something when I’ve mastered a pattern.
  • It is very rewarding. It’s a great feeling to catch a fish on one of my own flies.
  • Spillover benefits from working with materials. Handling and working with materials gives me a better sense for why they attract trout. For example, I often now fish with 100% marabou streamers, as I know how lifelike that material is. So, I’m now able to better pick a fly based on its features rather than its name.
  • I can tweak patterns. There’s value to throwing something new to savvy fish. I caught a 19″ brown a bit ago with a streamer-nymph (more here, including the recipe). Many local anglers on that day reported no strikes, and many fish every weekend–and, it was my first trip to that stretch of the river. Conditions were challenging, and throwing out my standard Frenchies and Midges resulted in…nothing. So, I threw a curveball. And, all of my hook-ups were on that streamer-nymph.
  • I can fish hard-to-find flies. Many of the big ‘bows I caught on the Swift this past winter were on small midges, some as small as #32. I couldn’t find flies that small.
  • Hot spots. Color contrast ups strike rates. I’ve looked at the nymphs competitive fly fishermen use (check out the pic below, for example). They nearly always use nymphs with hot spots. I couldn’t find those.
  • If you nymph, you’ll want to control weight. Buying flies was frustrating as I didn’t know how much those nymphs weighed. Getting down to the right level in the water column is key for me, and now, I can control for bead type (tungsten or not), bead size, and wire (I add wire to most patterns to add weight and bulk for tapering). I find that, with purchased flies, weights were all over the map.
  • I can ensure quality control. I bought some flies at a local shop. Not cheap. Well, wouldn’t you know, but those flies each unraveled after one fish. So, I put head cement on my thread wraps–I’ve never had a fly unravel since I started tying.

So, how to start?

Focus will limit your materials costs. I’d focus on: Pheasant Tails, Zebra Midges, and Elkhair Caddis. I’ve found that perfectly matching the hatch is over-rated, and instead, I focus on patterns that are good all-round attractors or mimic quite a few bugs (e.g., PTs).

Hope that helps!


5 thoughts on “Fly Tying Changes the Game

    1. Hi Colie:

      1. I sometimes do, but the nearest fly shop isn't close to me or convenient. It is helpful to see and touch the stuff when you start, IMO. I've had lots of good luck on eBay.

      2. See Mike C.'s reply below as well. Some companies, like Spirit River, sell materials kits for a specific fly (e.g., "the Wooly Bugger kit").

  1. Good write up! I agree with most of it. I started fly fishing last spring (mostly in lakes) and took the plunge into tying when my wife got me a tying kit for Christmas. It's been lots of fun learning new patterns. Very addicting but enjoyable. Before I started tying I knew the names of a few flies but since I started tying, my knowledge of they types of flies, when to use them, their names, etc. has greatly expanded.

    If I had to do it again, I would buy a decent vise and a kit or materials for a specific fly that I want to fish. Plenty of online shops sell those one off kits to make a dozen or so of one pattern. I like learning new patterns but I found I'm not tying many of the ones that came with the big kit.

    I try to stay local when buying materials. With two kids it's hard for me to get out to a shop but Bearsden has a great site with just about everything you'd need and I've been happy with the quality of materials and customer service.

    Just my $.02. I've enjoyed reading your blog since I found it last week!


    1. Mike, thanks for this comment and the other one about small streams. Great point about the tying materials kits, as well as getting more tools: e.g., I struggled with dubbing until I bought the Stonfo spinning dubbing tool. Not cheap, but so worth it. When I started, it was hard to know what to buy and not buy, and see, it has definitely been a work-in-progress for me since I started tying 6 months ago.

      Also, next time you fish, please email some pics or send a fishing report?

  2. No problem and sure, I'll send pics when I finally get out. I'm planning on targeting trout, carp, and stripers (to a lesser extent) this year. None of which I've caught yet.

    And I forgot eBay, which you mentioned above. I found it good for getting a small quantity of something, such as hackle. I don't want to pay say $60 or so for a half or full cape if I'm not going to enjoy tying the fly or will be fishing a particular fly. I've been able to pick up decent amount of different colors to try out for a fraction of the price.

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