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Posted In: Features

Fly tying made easy

December 31, 2012 1:59pm

There are many misconceptions about fly tying. The first and foremost is that tying flies is extremely difficult and should only be attempted by a seasoned fly angler. The reality is there is no reason that someone just taking up the sport of fly fishing shouldn’t start tying flies right off the bat. In fact, I recommend it. If you’ve fly fished for years without ever trying your hand on the vise you are really missing out.

I started tying flies in college, a decade after I first picked up a fly rod, and another decade before the YouTube phenomenon. There were a handful of videos out and some books on tying flies, but nothing compared to the wealth of information out there now. For those wishing to learn how to tie flies these days, they need little more than to purchase a basic starter kit, something you can pick up at the Orvis store in Short Pump or the fly shop at Bass Pro, and a connection to the internet. Just a simple search for “fly tying” on YouTube will yield 52,000 results, so it is best to narrow down what you are looking to tie first. Most beginners start with the “wooly bugger”. If you have ever picked up a fly rod, you know the pattern. A bugger, tied in different colors and sizes can catch just about anything that swims from a largemouth bass to a tarpon. I have caught thousands of fish in my life, of which I remember only a handful that weren’t caught within the last couple of years. I will never forget, however, the quarter pound bass I caught on the first olive wooly bugger I tied nearly 20 years ago.

Dale Huggins teaches fly tying at the Orvis store in Short Pump.

Many accomplished fly anglers are too intimidated to start tying flies. They feel like they won’t have the time or maybe they won’t be good at it. The reality is it takes just a little time to learn to tie flies you can catch fish on. Even a beginner can tie a handful of flies for his or her next hike to a brook trout stream or trip down to the James for the shad run. They are fish after all, and they will eat feathers on a hook. A new tier need not worry if his or her pattern doesn’t look exactly like the one at the shop. The fish don’t generally care, and sometimes they will eat them even better.

Sadly another misconception about fly tying is that it will save you money on flies. Unfortunately that is not true. At least if you are like me. I have never left a good fly shop without picking up a few new tying materials. Over the nearly two decades I have been tying flies, those materials have been piling up. I have toted them from Virginia to Georgia to Colorado to Oregon and back again, living in over ten apartments and homes over that time. The first thing I have considered during every move is where I will set up my tying station. Of course if I sat down and used up all the materials, I might save some money, but unfortunately if I lived as long as it would take me to do that, I certainly wouldn’t be doing any fishing by the time I was done.

With all that said, tying flies won’t cost your arm, your leg, or your first born. For the price of a decent meal, you can be sitting at a table with everything you need to tie plenty of flies. And of course there is no price tag on the satisfaction you will get from catching a fish on your own creation, which is a unique opportunity and an additional bonus in an already great pastime. Plus, for those of us not artistically inclined with pencil and paper (I struggle drawing a good stick figure) it provides an ideal chance to feed our creative side.

That first fish on my own fly started the ball rolling, and I have since tied thousands and thousands of flies from patterns designed to catch bluegill to those fashioned for sailfish. Once you start tying flies, the idea of catching a fish on a fly tied by some kid in Thailand is akin to shooting a wild quail over someone else’s bird dog. It’s still fun, but it somehow lacks an element of wholeness that can exist when you start from the beginning with bare hook and thread.

Fortunately some of the simplest ties are some of the most effective. I have already mentioned the wooly bugger, a great pattern for smallmouth bass on the James and largemouth bass anywhere. Shad flies are some of the simplest patterns one will ever tie, and you can be catching fish on your own flies after work in the spring. Fishing for striped bass on the fly rod has become increasingly popular as well. It’s hard to go wrong with the Clouser minnow, one of the easiest patterns to tie.

While there are plenty of videos on Youtube and websites dedicated to tying flies, I would certainly recommend starting out with a class before venturing out on your own. Winter is the perfect time to do that, when we spend more time indoors anyway. The Orvis Store in Short Pump offers free classes to beginner tiers in the winter. It’s also a great way to meet fellow fly fisherman in the area.

So, if you have been considering saddling up to the vise, I strongly recommend it. It won’t be long before spring is in the air and many of us will be itching to get back out on the water. I can promise you, once you catch that first one on your own fly, you will be changed for life.


About Tee Clarkson

Tee Clarkson is the Outdoors Columnist for the Richmond Times Dispatch, teaches English in Henrico County, owns Virginia Fishing Adventures and Virginia Outside summer camps, and in his spare time somehow finds time to get outside with his wife and kids.


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