Saturday, 16 November 2013

How to Tie Flies for Fly Fishing


If you love fishing in general and fly fishing in particular, here is a little guidance on how to tie flies for your personal use or for sale as a side income.
By Stuart Silverstein         
Silverstein Fishing Flies
A selection of ten popular fishing fly design styles.

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I first learned to tie flies when I was a boy of 13. After watching a man up the street create beauties with such magical names as Parmachene Belle, Silver Doctor, Cowdung, Rio Grande King, March Brown and Black Ghost, I couldn't wait to make my own attempt at this old craft. Every Sunday afternoon for several weeks I carefully observed by mentor in action, then finally took the plunge and invested $5.00 in a fly-tying kit.
The quality of those original supplies was poor, but I didn't care . . . I only wanted to get my hands on the fur, bright feathers, and glittering tinsels and combine them into enticements for trout and salmon. When I wasn't actually in the process of tying a fly or fishing, I would often sit mesmerized just admiring the raw materials: raffia grass from Africa, silver and gold tinsels from France, rabbit skins and glossy rooster plumage, to name a few.
My initial efforts were very sloppily executed, but the fish didn't seem to notice. With just a little practice I was soon able to make a few of the simpler trout baits quite proficiently (and to sell them to local fishermen).
At present I tie flies only for myself and for friends who go trout and salmon fishing here in Maine but, in the near future, I plan to start selling my creations once again to earn some extra money. It's an absorbing and profitable craft at which you might like to try your hand.

What is Fly-Tying?

Fly-tying is basically a method of securing various materials such as furs feathers and tinsels to a fishhook. The resulting fly may or may not imitate an aquatic creature which fish feed upon: A Royal Coachman doesn't look like anything you'll ever see swimming in the water, whereas Roche's Dragonfly does . . . and they both catch fish.   

The Skills You'll Need

Although a hand-tied fly looks like a complicated creation, it's actually put together in an orderly, step-by-step process that can be mastered by anyone able to form a knot in a piece of thread. You needn't even be a fly fisherman, though it certainly helps.
The best fly-tier I know—and one of the most outstanding in the United States—is Lou Stanford of New Haven, Connecticut. Lou is a massive, 300-pound construction worker with fingers as thick as the pipes he welds on the job . . . but he can produce the most delicate, aesthetically pleasing baits any fisherman could hope to own.

How to Learn

The best way to learn to tie flies is to have a master of the craft teach you. Such people flourish wherever trout or salmon are caught, and can be found even in cities like Chicago, San Francisco, and New York . . . so ask around and you'll find someone to start you off. If you live near West Forks, Maine, stop in and see me. I'll be glad to give you some lessons.

If you can't find an instructor, the other possibility is to get a manual and follow the directions. In fact—though I can hardly recommend the use of a book alone—you'll need such a guide even when you have someone to help you.
A few of the texts I use include: Professional Fly-Tying, Spinning and Tackle-Making Manual and Manufacturer's Guide by George Herter. This guide is very complete, even a little overdone. The condensed version is more to the point and less confusing for the beginner. Flies by J. Edson Leonard, published by A.S. Barnes, New York. A complete manual with a list of 2,200 patterns. Noll Guide to Trout Flies and How to Tie Them, published by Davis-Delaney-Arrow, Inc., New York. Beautiful color plates of flies and materials, but not very much how-to information. Nevertheless, because of the illustrations and the low price, every fly-tier should have a copy.

Fly-Tying Materials

Here are the basic supplies you'll need when you begin to practice your new craft:
VISE. Not the heavy workshop variety but a most handy tool that clamps securely to a table and holds a hook firmly in place while a fly is being formed around it. Buy the best you can find . . . the Thompson vise is of excellent quality.
SCISSORS. Purchase two pair of good steel scissors that taper to a fine point. One should be very small and the other have blades about 3 1/2" long.
DUBBING NEEDLE. This small tool is used for numerous precision jobs such as removing cement from the eye of a hook or releasing feathers that may have been tied down by mistake. You might try a hatpin, or make a substitute by embedding a needle in a wooden dowel.
BOBBIN. A little gadget that conveniently holds down your tying silk as you work on a fly. Some craftsmen don't use a bobbin, but it might make matters a bit easier for a beginner.
HACKLE PLIERS are a type of small, spring-action forceps which are used to turn hackle feathers around a hook. Not all fly-tiers use this tool but the majority who do wouldn't be without it.
FLY-TYING CEMENT comes in small jars and helps hold bits of material together.
FLY-TYING WAX. Unless your tying silk is prewaxed, you should coat it with this substance to add strength and adhesion.
ASSORTED FEATHERS, FURS, SILKS, TINSELS AND HOOKS. Caution: never purchase any feather or fur which comes from an endangered species, even though such materials may be for sale. Unfortunately, many fly patterns call for supplies like condor quills and polar bear hair and other substances which are now definitely "off limits" . . . you'll see what I mean when you look through the catalogs. Although it's currently illegal to sell many of these products, some may still be offered, and I urge you to be very careful when making purchases. Always use substitutes if buying the real thing may jeopardize the future of a species.

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