Readers Cast


Dave Mac - April 25, 2011

Preparing to tie the fly

Chapter 1


I'm not sure when my fascination with fishing flies started, but it followed my love of fly fishing. My next door neighbor, Harold Craft, introduced me to this wonderful world when I was just 10 years old. He was the oldest, smartest, and coolest man I knew. I was as eager to learn as he was to teach.

Fly Fishing was easy, he started me roll casting, explaining that I couldn't hook myself or him and it was best that I first master that cast for about 6 months. This is an eternity to a 10 year old boy, but once I caught my first trout with this new found roll cast technique, well I was hooked, so of speak.

The first time I saw fly tying in action was at a fishing show. There were tables and tables full of men and women tying flies. I was shocked to see all of the feathers and furs, threads, tools and unknowns that were strewn across the tables. The vises were all different; the work stations were both simple and elaborate. I wished that I could have taken a photo of each person’s setup. I remember thinking that it smelled like when my Mother was doing her nails at the kitchen table. I liked that smell and I still do.

That afternoon I went over to Mr. Craft's house and told him about my adventure, asking him if he ever tried tying flies.  He said that he had something for me and to please wait for a moment. He disappeared down the hallway, turning right into the last room. I could hear him searching for something and my heart sunk when it seemed that he was taking too long. I was certain that he was unable to find whatever he was looking for, but then his footsteps came back down the hall and I could see him holding something in his hands.

“David,” he said, “this was my first fly tying book and now it’s yours. I would like you to promise that before you buy any fly tying stuff or try to tie any flies that you will first read this book from cover to cover, and then come back and talk to me.”

I promised, thanked him very much, then turned and ran home to start reading this wonderful gift.

Well, I did read that book, cover to cover many times over the years. It trained me correctly and encouraged me to read many other fly tying books. When I finished it for the first time, Mr. Craft allowed me to watch as he tied flies. Once fishing season ended, I was invited to attend a beginner’s class that he taught at a local fishing club. I was the youngest participant and most certainly the most enthusiastic. I won the door prize that day, a Herter's basic vise. I am sure that Mr. Craft had something to do with that; after all he was holding the raffle tickets.

Every week, I returned to the Fly Tying Class at the club and every week I won another door prize. I was now certain that the raffle was fixed, but I continued to smile and remain excited, because I kept winning the tools that I would need to tie my own flies.

I still use Mr. Craft's teaching outline when I teach fly tying classes. Week #1 he taught me about vises and tools. He would start with the question, "What kind of car do you drive?"

He had 4 piles of index cards, each with a vise name and price on it. He would hand the participants one of the cards, based on how they responded to his question. My answer of course, was a Raleigh 3 speed bicycle. (My card said Herter's Basic Vise, the very same one that I won at the raffle) I can only imagine what the card said for the man who drove a Cadillac.

He taught us that the vise was just a tool and was only as good as the person who was using it. He encouraged us to try different vises at the local fly shop or ask a friend to let you try theirs, before you decide. That seemed like a contradiction to those index cards that he passed out, but Mr. Craft was a smart man. He knew that the Cadillac owner wanted the very best, regardless of how skilled he might be. He also knew that the average tier needed to watch pennies, because fly tying can be a very expensive craft unless you learn how to do it correctly.

The next tool was the bobbin, which is used to hold the thread. My first bobbin was the Chase bobbin, a red plastic tool that molded to the palm of my hand and met my needs quite well. I still have that bobbin, even though I do not use it anymore. He showed other bobbins and various other tools, and then asked everyone what substitutes could they think of, that they might adapt to perform the same function? A toothpick could be used to replace the bodkin and a fine wire could be used for the bobbin threader. I mentioned that my microscope comes with a tool set, scissors, scalpel and a few other items that could be adapted. One of the men was a Dentist and he mentioned that his dental tools would do very well. Mr. Craft asked him to see if he had extras and would he please ask others Dentists to check as well.

Mr. Craft mentioned that he only used a few tools. His vise, bobbin, scissors, homemade bodkin and another bodkin with a tip bent into a hook. The last tool was so that he can hang it from the fly hooks eye before applying head cement. That kept the eye from getting plugged if too much cement was used on small hooks. I still use that homemade hooked tool today.

He ended his first class with the most important tool in the fly tiers arsenal, the Beginners Fly Tying Book. That is what I will end this first Chapter with as well. Decide what species of fish you plan to tie for (Trout, Salmon, Bass, Saltwater, etc.) Your selection of just one will be very important and will determine what fly tying materials you will need to add to your kit. The biggest mistake most new tiers make is to over purchase. They buy stuff that they will probably never use. I recommend the following books. Select the one that applies to your species of fish, or select another one of your liking. I am including used prices available from You might also check ebay, friends and your local library. If your library does not have it, they may be able to borrow it from another library. 

Trout - Fly Tying for Beginners by Peter Gathercole $10.00 used
            If you drive a Cadillac, then get The Fly Tier's Benchside Reference
            by Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer $45.00 - $60.00 shop around!

Salmon - Pretty & Practical Salmon Flies by Dick Talleur $28.00 used

Saltwater - Introduction to Salt Water Fly Tying by Scott Sanchez $20.00 used
            I highly recommend this book!!!

Bass- Bass Bug Basics: Simple Techniques for Tying Deer-Hair Flies
            by John M. Likakas $10.00 used

            If you drive a Cadillac, then get The Art of Tying the Bass Fly
            by Skip Morris, Richard Bunse $350.00 used

A great resource that Mr. Craft didn't live to see, is your computer, you can just Google something and search. A great place to find more information on your computer is

Now that will keep you busy until I write Chapter 2 about hooks.

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