Saturday, December 12, 2009
Some tips from the tying bench
There are so many good books out there on tying that I am reluctant to add my mediocre voice and skills to the chorus, but most articles and books focus on patterns and materials and are light on advice.
I am not a great fly-tyer. Period. However, I do spend a bit of time at the vice, and over the years have learned much from my own mistakes. In do tie enough that friends often pick errant pieces of feathers and fur from my clothes. I now smile ruefully at the flies I tied in years past, and showed to colleagues. Some were good, some bad, and some downright ugly. Some very accomplished tyers looked at my flies and said, “Hmm… this fly should catch fish.” As time went on, I realized that this was a catch-all response to avoid tearing the fly apart and discouraging the tyer. As an obsessive perfectionist, I am rarely satisfied anymore with results, but do realize that to ere is human.
So, permit me to bore you with a few select generalized tips from the vice and bench. (Far from definitive…)
1. Know your skill level, and do not attempt to tie patterns that are far beyond your skills. Trying to tie full-dress salmon flies when you are struggling to get a pheasant-tail nymph down can lead to frustration.
2. Use a vise that you are comfortable with. No need to break the bank, just use what you have until your skills outgrow the vise.
3. Use good tools. Your wife’s old craft scissors just won’t (pardon the pun) cut it. Good tools make tying a joy. Bad tools just lead to more frustration.
4. At the beginning, practice with cheap hooks and second-grade materials. Practice technique. Don’t waste that floricon bustard until you know what you are doing.
5. Have a plan when you sit down at the vice.
6. Try to tie four or more of the same pattern at one sitting. Try to make each one a carbon copy of the others. This builds consistency and proportion.
7. When tying a fly, work for correct technique at each step. If you are having trouble mounting wings, then practice the wing until you get it right. Don’t just tie six flies with bad wings. This teaches nothing.
8. Learn about thread tension and length of thread. This is an overlooked and critical aspect.
9. Learn about materials: how to work with feathers, wrap hackle, fold collars, mount the feather without a bulge, etc.
10. Study proportion in your flies. Divide the hook into halves, thirds, and quarters as necessary. Start the fly in the proper place and finish it without crowding the head.
11. Learn to tie in materials with a minimum of thread wraps. Using thirty wraps where four are needed leads to unsightly bulges.
12. If you make a mistake, undo it, and start again. Since the canvas of a hook is so small, mistakes tend to domino on each other and end up as a mess at the front of the fly.
13. Tie with a picture of a perfect completed fly in front of, or near you. Refer to the picture often.
14. Use the correct hook for the fly. Learn about different hooks and hook terminology.
15. Learn to dub properly with different materials.
16. Instead of using pre-made body wraps, make them yourself. Spin a dubbing loop of flashy seal substitute. It is amazing what one can do with a dubbing loop and blended materials.
17. Challenge yourself by tying flies just a bit harder. This is how you get better. Don’t go too far though. (See #1)
18. Take a tying class. However, first make certain that the instructor is not just a good tyer, but also a good teacher. Otherwise, the class is just a tying demo.
19. Fish with your flies. See how they move in the water. See how they float or sink, test the durability. If they fall apart quickly or unravel, something is wrong.
20. Once you have some competence, be creative. All the flies in existence started this way. Let inspiration be your wings.
21. Tie a bit every week. Long dry periods tend to decay skills.
If I had to pick one thing to tell new tiers, it would be to develop solid technique with materials and thread. Solid technique builds a foundation. Once that foundation is built, one can look at a fly in a book and instantly duplicate it.
Above all, have fun. Catching a fish with a fly you tied yourself adds a new dimension to the sport.