Welcome Beginners

Part Six

Through The Eyes of a Beginner

By Don McPherson

This is part 6 of a new series, written by a beginning fly angler about his experiences and adventures in the world of fly fishing. It is a documentary - intended to encourage other beginners. It may also revive a few memories from old fly anglers.

Get a Few Lessons!

Last winter was my first attempt at tying flies. I was lucky enough to receive a beginner's tying kit for Christmas so I decided I had better make an attempt at learning how to use it. Several years before, when I was about 12 years old, my mother had shown me a few things about tying flies. Back then I did not have the patience it required to learn the basic skills. I think I was able to tie a few Woolybuggers, but that was about it. So a month or so after Christmas I pulled out the kit and looked through it. Inside I found some feathers, some thread, and a bobbin and assorted other objects that I had no idea how to use. I went to the fly shop and the owner pointed out a pattern book that he thought would help. So I paid him and rushed home to start manufacturing high quality flies.

I quickly reviewed the pattern book and saw many flies that looked interesting, but most of them I had no idea how to use. I selected a pattern and attempted to follow the directions to create what I was sure would be a masterpiece. After several hours of trying, I had finally built a fly. I pulled it out of the vise and compared it to the picture in the book.

To my amazement it looked nothing like the picture. I was astounded. I was sure I had followed the directions to the T. Of course, I may have left out some of the unimportant steps, but all and all I had followed along relatively closely. Well, I was sure that practice would make perfect, so I spent the rest of the winter producing far from perfect flies. By the end of the winter I was extremely frustrated. I had some basic skills but I could not tie anything more difficult than a Woolybugger and I knew that I needed a larger arsenal of flies if I planned on catching any trout that summer.

Throughout the winter I had seen advertisements for fly tying classes offered by local tiers, but I knew that I could handle this myself. I just needed more practice. I must admit, there were times when I had pondered the thought of taking a lesson, I just never did.

A few months later summer was here and I was on the river trying to catch fish with my own flies. I was lucky enough to catch a few on the Woolybuggers and on a streamer I had tied, but I never had a fish even look at my dry flies. I thought maybe it was just the way I was fishing them or maybe I had selected the wrong fly.

Until one day after flailing away for what seemed like an eternity during a pretty good mayfly hatch, another angler who was having much more luck than me asked what I was using. I told him I was using a Pale Morning Dun. He walked over to me and took a look at my fly.

After he examined my fly, the look on his face told me that he must have thought my fly to be a wondrous creation. Wondrous is right, he was wondering what the heck it was! He told me he thought maybe I had used a little too much dubbing on my fly and showed me his version of a PMD. Hmmm.... his was quite smaller, and more taper. It didn't look like a jellybean like mine did. I thanked him for his help and sulked back home. My fears had just been confirmed, my flies where terrible. I vowed never to tie another fly, I'd only buy them!

For the rest of the summer, I fished on flies that I bought or that others had given to me. I had a mediocre season. I did catch some fish but not a lot.

So this winter I decided I needed to learn a lot more about flies and the creatures that we try to replicate with them. I read several articles on entomology and actually began to understand the different stages of insects and the different types. Now that I sort of understood what types of flies I should use and when I might use them, I just needed to learn how to tie them.

Shortly before the end of the season, I started to use the Internet. I was introduced to the vast amounts of fly fishing information and started to communicate with other fisherman. Several weeks later I was lucky enough to meet one of the folks I had been chatting with on the Internet. After a few visits, my newfound friend offered to give me some tying lessons. Remembering my struggles of the past winter, I gladly accepted.

During the first lesson we worked on some parachute mayflies. My bad dubbing skills were noticed immediately. After a quick discussion on the merits of less is more when it comes to dubbing, I was on the road to become a dubbing expert! Once I saw how easy it was to overcome my problems with the some help from an experienced tier, I was very excited about the possibilities that were ahead. Now, several lessons later, I am able to tie parachute-style wings, dub correctly-sized bodies, and do other things I never thought possible. I am lucky because my teacher is an expert fly tier. He has taught me more in a few lessons than I ever learned after hours of reading and trying by myself.

If you are thinking of starting to tie your own flies or if you are tying them but want a little guidance, you should consider taking lessons from someone. They don't have to be an expert. Someone with a foundation of solid tying skills and a little patience can help solve some of you problems and show you techniques that will make tying a joy!

If you do take a class, be cautious of the number of instructors and the number of students. To get the maximum benefit from a class, you need to have instructors available to answer your questions. In my opinion, it's better to have an experienced friend help you than to sit through an overcrowded class. But there are many fine classes available also.

Here in Idaho, the Fish and Game Department offer classes throughout the year. Also, several fly shops have classes for beginners to advanced tiers. Often times the instructors at these classes are folks who've been tying for years, a lot of them commercially. These instructors offer valuable lessons on how to avoid common mistakes and some neat techniques to make things easier.

Whichever method you chose, whether it be group lessons or just a friend, I think the most important thing you can do is to get a few lessons from someone. They can save you hours of frustration. Not only will they help you with technique; they will also help you select tying tools and materials. The world of fly tying is amazing! Once you have solid skills, you can do what ever you want. You can tie traditional flies using only traditional materials, or you can invent your on patterns and discover all types of alternative materials. And the joy you'll feel when you catch your first fish on a fly you have tied is something you'll remember for a long, long time! Good Luck!

Until next time, tight lines!
~ Don McPherson

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

Previous Beginners Journal

Return to the Beginners Journal
Part 1 Reflection | Part 2 Sorting the Equipment
Part 3 The New Fly Rod | Part 4 A Little Respect
Part 5 Snapping 'em off! | Part 6 Get a Few Lessons!
Part 7 Stuff | Part 8 Tube It?
Part 9 Take a Little Time

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