On the Fly: Tying your own flies adds a new level of fishing satisfaction

Tim Heng’s Autumn Splendor Fly, a very popular fly pattern created here in the Roaring Fork Valley
Scott Spooner/Courtesy photo

Getting started in fly tying doesn’t have to be daunting, especially with the wealth of fly shops around here, the amazing books available, and the treasure troves 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. One of the best byproducts of tying your own is how much it increases your entomological knowledge and understanding in the field of what bug is hatching and how to match it.

Firstly, 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 anglers 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 them 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, and learn to 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 and too stubby. That’s ok, and you will find most fish won’t care that your thorax wasn’t tapered properly or your tails were too long –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 Hares Ear. When you stick to this progression, the skills you learned in the last fly often complement the next one, and so on. Crawl before you walk, walk before you try to run, and then the sky is the limit!