Over many years of tying flies in a variety of capacities; recreationally, as a guide and commercially, I have picked up several rather helpful tricks that make the process less of a grind and more enjoyable. Whether you are a casual fly tyer or a grind 'em out in numbers kinda person, efficiency and short cuts will be your best friend.
Let’s face it, no matter how much we all love to tie flies, the desire to fish is always greater than tying.
So here’s a list of tips that will not only help tie more consistent patterns efficiently, it should also keep you behind the vise less and on the water more. So without further adieu here’s 8 tips that have allowed me to do just that.
1. Invest in Quality Tools
The top of the food chain in your list of equipment should be a solid vise purchase. If you are into tying your own, then chances are you’ve already spent ample time tying on some sort of beginner set up and realize the truths that I speak. A good vise is a sound investment that will make the entire process much more enjoyable. The secondary by-product will be greater efficiency. If you are spending more time adjusting a slipping hook in the jaws or fiddling with doodads that prevent you from tying, you are eating into your time on the water.
There are dozens of choices out there on the market and you don’t necessarily have to break the bank to get your hands on a good vise, but a little more money spent in this category will usually equate to a much more streamlined and enjoyable experience. My advice is identify a helpful hand at your local fly shop, and try out several before making the purchase. What one person may recommend may not fit your specs for a variety of reasons. Take your time and see if the vise meets your criteria before making that purchase. Some things to consider are if you want a rotary vise or a standard vise; if you wind and wrap hackles or other materials frequently, then a rotary vise might be your best choice. Always inspect the jaws of the vise you are interested in, and make sure that the options available meet your needs. If you are a saltwater only angler, then the vise you choose better be able to hold some heavy irons without slipping or else you will be wasting your money. If you tie a wide spectrum of flies, be sure that your vise can accommodate the variations in hook size, or at least have the capability to switch jaws at an affordable cost.
A couple of different pairs of sharp scissors for trimming natural and synthetic materials as well as a handful of good bobbins will round things out. Everything else will be secondary tools that you shouldn't have to do much research on before buying. Experience has shown me that standard bobbins are pretty much all you need. Those crazy tension mechanism style bobbins have too many moving parts and will more often than not result in problems down the road. I have been tying with standard ceramic insert bobbins for years and they have yet to let me down.
2. Inspect Before you Buy
Sounds kind of elementary, but it is a very overlooked concept by many fly tyers in regards to the purchasing of tying materials. When buying natural materials like fur and feather, take the time to inspect what is in the package. You will soon learn that not all too pieces are alike, some being shorter, longer, coarse, soft, pliable or brittle for starters. Make sure if the product is dyed that the coloring is consistent throughout the allotted amount of material. Dye lots can change and often what is listed as one color may have several slight variations from package to package. Same holds true for those items that aren’t dyed, you will soon see that coloring and texture are attributes that can be widely different from fur and feathers due mainly in part to the fact that each creature they came from are unique.
Snowshoe rabbit’s feet, for example, can vary tremendously in regards to the texture of the fur as well as the length. It often pays to spend a little more time in your local fly shop thoroughly inspecting those natural materials in hand, reassuring you make the right purchase, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best in an online purchase. If however you are to make an online purchase, discuss what attributes you are looking for with the seller and go from there. Most of the merchants I have dealt with have been rather helpful either via email or over the phone and will gladly hand pick your items.
Natural materials are an investment, take the extra time to seek out what you're looking for otherwise you will have a pile of unwanted material and a couple of empty pockets.
3. Organise Your Materials.
Sounds pretty obvious I know, but you’d be surprised how many of us, including myself started off with a few boxes of materials that slowly grew into a truckload of disarray. The easiest way to track your inventory is to have some sort of system in place. Whether its a desk of drawers, filing cabinet or labeled tupperware containers, having things in order will make your whole tying operation much more fluid. Personally, once I started tying commercially the only way for me to accurately track my inventory was to have it all out there where I could see it.
My shop has about 80% of my entire inventory on pegboard so that I can see for myself what my stocks are. The other 20% is filed away on shelves and drawers where I can easily track what I have. When I get a bit disheveled from tying a large assortment of flies, I make sure to do a thorough cleansing of the area and check my stocks. This way I can not only track what I have and see what I may need, but I also prevent myself from over purchasing items I may already have in stock. I can now work much more efficiently and waste much less. For what it takes in time to set up your work station in this manner will equate to less time and frustration spent digging through your mountain of materials to find what you're looking for.
4. Stage Your Materials.
5. Don’t Put Down The Scissors.
Getting used to tying flies without putting your scissors down requires a little getting used to, but once you break the habit you'll see that you're saving time. I have oversized fingers so I have found that I only use the thumb hole on my scissors and opt to leave the other loop in my palm rather than on my pointer finger. Plus this little trick allows me to roll the scissors out of the way when I am not using them without putting them down on the desk. A snip of any material is a quick task when you have the scissors attached to your hand at all times.
6. Nails Trimmed And Hands Smooth.
Sounds kind of corny, but in all actuality keeping your fingernails trimmed and smooth as well as your hands well hydrated will prevent mishaps at the vise. I can’t tell you how many times I have let both go by the wayside only to catch my tying thread on a knick on a finger or a jagged finger nail, fraying my thread into a mess. There’s something to be said about hydrating your hands with lotion and a neat nail trim regularly. You will find that the whole entire tying process will go much smoother, and you don’t need to get a manicure at your local nail salon either - so don’t worry!
7. Take Frequent Breaks.
If you find yourself tying for a prolonged period of time, be sure to factor in periodic breaks from the vise to reduce fatigue. I will often set aside hooks in a set number, say 6-12 for example. Once I have tied that pile of flies, I will make sure that I get up from the chair, stretch out a bit and get the blood flowing. I find that this is very beneficial when tying en mass or when tying minutia.
Your eyes are typically the first thing to strain, followed by your shoulders if you don’t have your vise set at the proper height. Take the time to figure out what your threshold of fatigue is and go from there. Bare in mind it is more beneficial to take that quick break well before you become fatigued, this way the whole production experience of tying will be a bit more enjoyable. Make sure you set your vise at a good height as well. I prefer mine about mid to upper chest level once seated; too much higher or lower can put unwanted strain on your neck, shoulders and arms and will quickly decrease the time you will be able to tie without getting tired.
8. Keep An Old Sponge On Your Desk.
Sounds kind of trivial, but a sponge is one of the most overlooked household goods that you can use regularly when tying. Besides cleaning up spilled resins and glues, a sponge is the safest way to wet any materials that you are using to tie into a pattern.
Marabou plumes for instance have all sorts of chemicals on them, especially if they are dyed. Simply wetting the tips of the marabou is the quickest way to align the tips before tying them onto a hook. Rather than running all those chemicals through your mouth, a slightly damp sponge can solve the problem. I often use the damp sponge method for wing materials such as snowshoe rabbit and cdc on dry flies. By the time you are ready to fish the flies they will be dry anyway.
So there you have it: 8 more general tips that have worked wonders for me, give them a try and see for yourself the time that they will save.
Trout fisherman to the core, Rich loves to chase Pike and other warm water predators too, but he’ll be quick to tell you that as long as it swims and will eat sizable flies, it’s pretty much fair game in his book.
It was no coincidence that his first fly caught trout was fooled on a muddler minnow, and 25 years later his passion for streamer fishing continues to evolve. Although he can hold his own in many facets of fly fishing for trout, streamers are his passion, and he likes them big. His passion for streamer fishing goes beyond the water, expanding to his vise where he constantly tinkers with materials both new and old to create fresh patterns that push the limits in hopes of being solid producers both near and far.
Visit Rich's website here: www. catching-shadows.com