This is for those who are just starting or getting ready
to start tying your own flies. I'm sure others could benefit
from it too, but after a few dozen flies we're all experts,
so some will tune out right away. For the rest of you, "this
bug's for you."
Regardless of the reasons that got you into fly tying, the craft
gives you a certain amount of leverage that didn't exist when
you were buying flies. That leverage is called creativity.
It's the meat and potatoes of the craft. Without it, you're
merely copying someone else's view of what a fly should look
like, float like or perform like. You might copy each step
precisely, but you won't have the vision to give your fly the
life you see in other patterns and creations.
Even if you have the vision to see a perfect fly in your mind,
you won't be able to create that fly if your abilities are overcome
with errors. The best fly tying lessons often ignore common mistakes
that hold you back from your dreams and goals. Talking about
common mistakes is a negative subject. Most instructors will
only discuss the positive side of the craft. I'm a little
different though; I'll discuss almost anything if it will
make you a better fly tier.
I'd like to take the next few moments to discuss some common
fly tying errors and how to overcome those errors. I'm sure
others will be able to add mountains to my list, but these
are some of the most common errors I've observed in 30 years
of teaching fly tying.
Error 1 - Proportional displacement
What I mean by "proportional displacement" is getting the
proportions all wrong on the fly. The tail is too short,
the hackle too long, the wings are so heavy that the fly
rides upside-down and there isn't anything that resembles
a smooth head on the fly.
Most beginners have some troubles with proportions. It doesn't
have to be that way, but having an eye for fine details like
proportions is a learned skill. Start now by observing the
proportions of flies you see in books and videos. For instance,
a general rule for standard dry flies is a tail roughly as long
as the body of the fly, wings just barely longer than the wrapped
hackle, and hackle roughly 1 ½ times the hook gape. Most dries
have a body ½ to 2/3 the length of the hook shank, hackle that
fills ¼ to 1/3 of the hook shank length, and a smooth head that
doesn't crowd the eye of the hook.
Error 2 - Crowding the front of the hook
Too many tiers crowd the front of the hook. If you don't leave
at least 1/3 of the hook shank for hackle and head, you're crowding
the front. Some heavily hackled flies allow almost half the hook
shank for hackle and head. Failure to observe these rules of
proportion usually results in poorly balanced flies that don't
perform the way they should.
Spend some time observing proportions on the fly pattern you're
using as an example, before you touch your tools. If needed, mark
the hook shank at the right places to assure proper proportions.
Practice proportions first on every fly. Keep in mind, if you
have a large bulky head that crowds the hook eye, the thread
probably isn't holding the fly together as well as it could if
things weren't so crowded on that end of the fly.
Error 3 - Improper thread tension.
Does your thread break a lot when you're tying? If it does, you
need to adjust the thread tension on your bobbin, or look for the
sharp edge that's cutting the thread. Sharp edges and nicks in
the bobbin tube will cut the thread easily, but a good bobbin
that is properly adjusted won't "break" the thread. You don't
need killer tension on the thread to tie a good fly. In fact,
you don't need any more tension than the weight of the bobbin
when you let it hang.
Keeping the length of thread that's exiting out of the bobbin
tube short is one good way to control tension and also control
where the thread lays on the fly. Adjust your bobbin tension
so that it's just a little tighter than the tension needed to
allow it to hang, then keep the thread length short if you want
to have a firm control of the tension issue.
Too much thread between the bobbin and fly forces you to control
the bobbin with sharper angles that increase the likelihood of
catching a hook point or rubbing the thread on a burr on the
bobbin tube. It's also a leading cause in losing tension on
the materials while trying to maneuver the thread into position
for the next step.
Error 4 - Cheap tools
There's no excuse for this one, but it's a common problem. You
want to cut costs somewhere, so you buy cheap tools and suffer
the consequences. You won't treasure those tools for long
though. They'll cause you more grief than you're willing to
withstand, and eventually you'll spend the bucks for tools
that work. So, what are you going to do with all those cheap
tools you bought and can't use? Did you really want to buy
Error 5 - Cheap materials
This problem is just as common as cheap tools, though less
severe. You can actually tie some decent flies with cheap
materials. However, you won't tie quality, hackled dry flies
with cheap hackle, and cheap hair is a curse to bass fly tiers.
Want to save some real money on hackle? Try buying a less well
known brand like Conranch or Collins. I have some of both, and
firmly believe that Conranch is
at least equal to the very best on the market and better than
most of the best. You'll tie twice as many quality dry flies
with a Conranch neck than you can tie with an equivalent dollar's
worth of imported necks, and the results on your fly will be
Error 6 - Failure to use your head.
Sometime in your fly tying education you're supposed to gain the
insight to create your own fly patterns. That means understanding
that an Adams, a BWO, a Blue Dun, a Dark Hendrickson and at least
a hundred other fly patterns all do a good job of imitating the
same insect. If somebody tells you that yellow stoneflies are
hatching, you tie a stonefly pattern with yellow in the body
materials instead of doing a worldwide search for a pattern
called a yellow stonefly. It means that you finally understand
that there is no insect called an Adams or Royal Wulff, but that
these patterns imitate insects and are therefore valuable patterns
for your fly box.
Merely learning to copy somebody else's work may fill your fly box,
but it doesn't help you select the right fly for the current situation.
I wish I could tell you how many times I've been asked to describe
and photograph the steps to tying a yellow grasshopper. I always
ask which one, which usually brings a long silence. You mean
there's more than one pattern called a yellow grasshopper? No,
there isn't a pattern called a yellow grasshopper, but there are
many patterns that imitate yellow grasshoppers. If you can see
beyond the idea of copying someone else's patterns, you can see
to create and develop patterns that will work in your area, but
only if you use your head.
You need to spend some time looking at insects or their pictures,
and the patterns that imitate those insects. It won't take you
long to discover that certain insect imitations have common
characteristics that can be used to help you develop patterns
for your local area. You can enjoy this journey, but it will
take using your head to understand why you're on the journey
in the first place.
Error 7 - Spending too much on tools and equipment
This sounds like a contradiction to what I said earlier, but it
isn't. If you're just starting out, do you really need a $600
fly vise? Wouldn't that money be better spent on a decent vise
that costs less and the rest spent on quality tools and materials?
Having a room full of first-rate tools and equipment won't do you
much good if you can't afford decent materials and hooks. Learn
to balance your expenditures to your needs and you'll be much
happier. When your talents finally exceed your tools, then
it will be time to get better equipment.
As I said earlier, there'll be other things that could have been
added to this list. If I had to stress one item, it would be
learning to understand the fly you create. Once you know why
an Adams is designed the way it is, you'll be able to understand
Good luck. You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org ~ AC