Welcome to Beginning Fly Tying

Part Four

"An Introduction to Fly Tying, Tying Tools"
By Al Campbell

There are a lot of tools that pertain to fly tying. It's amazing how many tools you can find that are supposedly the "greatest fly tying tools you'll ever use", but when you buy them, you can't find a use for them. I've got a drawer full of "great" tools that don't work as advertised. It's pretty easy to get duped by a nice looking ad or a salesman trying to unload a slow moving product. There are also a bunch of tools I couldn't do without. Let's take a look at the essential ones.

One tool you'll use every time you tie a fly is a bobbin. This little gem holds the thread and keeps tension on it while you tie the fly. It has a small tube (some are larger than others) that the thread runs through. Thank God it's smaller than my fingers, or I'd never get a small fly tied.


Bobbins come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but they all perform the same duty. Some have ceramic tubes the thread runs through, others are just stainless steel. Some are flared, some are straight at the end of the tube, and some have mysterious bends in the frame designed to make them easier to hold. Some have ceramic or jeweled inserts on the end of the tube and some have springs that reel up the slack thread while you use them. Good bobbins never cut the thread and cheap bobbins almost always cut the thread, so it's wise to invest in a good bobbin or two. One thing they all have in common; they all hold the thread and have a small tube that makes it easier to direct the thread to the right place on the hook. I have over a dozen ceramic bobbins pre-loaded with thread on my fly tying desk at all times.

Good scissors are an absolute necessity for fly tying. This is another tool you don't want to save money on. You'll need at least one pair of scissors to start, but in time you'll want to have several others. All your scissors should have finger loops large enough to fit over your thumb. Anything smaller is just too hard to use.

Scissors The first scissor you'll need is one with small, fine points designed to cut thread and fine materials. This should be one designed for fly tying, not something you found at the department store. It can have curved tips or straight ones depending on your desires. The serrated scissors available from Dr. Slick are excellent scissors that will last you many years without trouble. Many other companies offer good scissors too.

Another scissor you'll want to have is a heavy duty one for cutting hair. This can be any scissors designed for that purpose like a heavy fly tying scissor or a heavy hair scissor you might find in a beauty salon or barber shop. Make sure it's stout enough to handle a heavy bunch of hair without working loose at the hinge. I also have an old worn pair of scissors I use to cut wire and other hard materials.

Hackle Pliers

Hackle pliers are small pliers with a constant tension designed to wrap hackle feathers around the hook. They come in all sizes and shapes but all perform the same duty. Some even have a swivel head to make it easy to rotate the hackle around the fly. I manage to find many uses for these handy tools besides the one they were intended to perform. If you're limited to one hackle plier, select a midge one since it will do all the duties of the larger ones, and it will wrap hackles on flies that are too small for larger hackle pliers.

A bodkin is simply a needle in a handle. You can make your own or buy one at a fly shop. It has many uses including applying head cement, cleaning cement out of hook eyes, picking hair out of fuzzy flies and folding synthetic nymph wings. I'm sure you'll find dozens of other uses, so it's nice to have a couple of these handy tools around when you're tying flies.
Bodkin and Hackle Guards
Hackle guards are designed to hold the hackle back from the hook eye when you tie the finish knot (called a whip finish) on the head of the fly. You can tie flies without them, but they sure are handy on small flies or flies with heavy hackle.

Hair stackers are designed to align the tips of hair you're using for wings, heads and tails. They come in a variety of sizes from very small (used on small hair wings and tails) to very large (used on large clumps of hair when spinning hair heads on bass bugs). It's nice to have a variety of these things, but if you can afford only one, get a medium sized one since it will do most of the stacking you need to do.

Hair Stacker

Bullet head tools help make bullet heads on flies like the Madame X and the Henry's Fork Hopper. You might be able to perform this task without a special tool, but they sure make a hard job easy if you have them.

Next week we'll look at whip finishers. These are tools that make the neat knot at the head of the fly. Surprisingly, a lot of fly tyers never learned how to use some of these tools, especially the whip finisher. ~ Al Campbell

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