On the fly: Getting started with tying flies | AspenTimes.com

On the fly: Getting started with tying flies

Scott Spooner
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Contributed photoAn autumn splendor streamer tied by Tim Heng.

BASALT – Are you one of those folks who have always had an ambition to tie your own flies? Getting started doesn’t have to be daunting, especially with the wealth of fly shops around here, the amazing books available and the treasure trove of information on the internet these days.

Hooking trout on something that you created can bring a whole new level of joy to your fly fishing. It’s just that much sweeter. Plus, one of the best byproducts of tying your own flies is how much it increases your entomological knowledge and understanding in the field of what bug is hatching and how to match it.

Many companies provide beginner fly tying kits that generally provide everything needed to start tying flies, including a vise, materials, hooks, fur and feathers, head cement and the like. The other option is to start tying “a la carte” – building your selection of tools, materials and vise a little bit at a time, learning one fly at a time.

First, don’t put the cart in front of the horse when it comes to the patterns you want to start producing. You need to crawl before you can walk, and the same principle applies to fly tying. Tying pretty and proportionate patterns really takes hours of practice – some would argue months and years – depending on your ability. I meet folks in the fly shop almost daily who are getting started tying, and are trying to tie flies that are just beyond their current skill set. I tell these folks to go and tie a few hundred San Juan worms first and learn the critical muscle memory – how to lay smooth and efficient wraps over the hook shank tie their whip-finishes or half-hitches without thinking about it. Then move on to wooly buggers, which will teach you palmering, pinch-wraps and a better understanding of proportioning and thread tension.

The first few hundred flies you tie will be downright ugly. They will be too fat, too skinny, too long or too stubby. That’s OK. You will find most fish won’t care that the thorax wasn’t tapered properly or the tails were too long on your hare’s ears, but you will. After mastering worms and small streamers, move on to eggs, small midge pupae and larvae (such as brassies and zebra midges) and then the pheasant tail and hare’s ear.

When you stick to this progression, the skills you learned in the last fly are often incorporated into the next one, and so on. Crawl before you walk, walk before you try to run.

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