The art of tying a fishing fly has been practiced for centuries. One Roman author in the the 2nd century wrote of fastening "red wool round a hook" and attaching "two feathers which grow under a cock's wattles" so as to "snare" a fish. Another Roman 200 years earlier described the use of "fraudful flies" to catch a fish. For much of the history of fly fishing tying one's own flies was a matter of necessity, rather than an enjoyably rewarding side line to fishing. Commercially produced flies became available in the 18th century, but were marketed to the aristocracy. Today, commercially mass produced flies are widely available and certainly popular with fly anglers. Yet, many still choose to do it themselves.
There are two principal reasons why a fly angler may want to learn this art and its techniques. First, in learning to tie dry and wet flies as well as nymphs and streamers, the tyer gains essential knowledge of the life forms (and their life cycles) that are fishes' diet -- knowledge which is crucial to catching them. Second, in angling there is nothing more rewarding than catching a fish on a fly that you yourself produced. Well, there is something more rewarding -- catching a fish on a fly that you produced with a fishing rod you yourself made. But that's for a later discussion.
Just as there are varying fine art movements, running the gamut from Representationists and Realism to Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism, so too there are different approaches to tying flies. Some patterns seek to replicate exactly insects and life forms that inhabit the water, while others create patterns that do not look like any real living thing, but, because of color, shape and action, are inexplicably attractive to fish.
There is no intent in these pages to present a comprehensive tutorial on the techniques and materials used in fly tying. There are innumerable books, DVDS, and online resources that address the subject. We only hope to spike an interest in a creative and rewarding pursuit that each individual can take to whatever level he or she may desire.
Classic Atlantic Salmon Flies, tied by Charlie Thoman, Siouxland Fly Fishing
A good starting point for the beginning fly tyer is to purchase a book or DVD that describes the tools, materials and techniques that form the basis of this art. It is also extremely helpful if one has access to an experienced tyer who can provide some personal one on one guidance.
Recommended Books in no particular order:
The Benchside Introduction to Fly Tying, by Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer, Frank Amato Publications, Inc., 2006. www.amatobooks.com. Somewhat pricey at $45, but a very comprehensive guide to many fly patterns and, more importantly, the techniques needed to execute the patterns. It has a unique design that gives the tyer to both the pattern steps as well as the necessary techniques at the same time.
The Fly-Tying Bible, by Peter Gathercole, Quarto, Inc., 2003. www.barronseduc.com. A very solid instructional by a well known and respected British fly tyer.
Lists at 24.95.
Essential Trout Flies, by Dave Hughes, Stackpole Books, 2000. www.stackpolebooks.com. An excellent resource. What sets this book apart from others is that it shows how to tie the same pattern, e.g. an Adams, as a traditional dry fly or in a parachute form or as a midge. This gives the tyer a number of significant alternatives to chose from. The choice will mean more as a tyer becomes more experienced at tying and fly fishing. At least two members of Siouxland Fly Fishing will tell you that the most deadly fly you can use in fishing for trout is a Parachute Adams.
Simple Flies, by Morgan Lyle, Stackpole Books, 2015.
A Good DVD for Beginners
Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple, by Skip Morris. Brian Rose Productions. Video instruction is always an effective learning experience.
A Website for Panfish and Bass
The Warm Water Fly Tyer, created by Ward Bean. www.warmwaterflytyer.com. Ward gave a fly tying demonstration to Siouxland Fly Fishing in May 2011. He hails from the Council Bluffs, Iowa / Omaha, Nebraska area, and has developed an obvious expertise in fishing for the local species. His patterns are extremely effective. This is a terrific site for those who fly fish for Bluegill, Crappie, Bass and other panfish. Two of Ward's patterns are club favorites: the Plan B and the Micro Jig.
The colorful flies pictured at the top of this page are Classic Atlantic Salmon Flies developed in the latter part of the 19th century primarily by British fly tyers. Today they are tied for presentation as works of art.
The fish we seek are much smaller than Atlantic Salmon. Thus, we tie much smaller "working" flies meant to catch trout, bluegill, bass and other local species. We class our flies according to two fundamental criteria: (1) the size of the hook; and (2) where the fly will placed in the water column, i.e. the depth at which it will be fished.
The hook sizes most widely used by fresh water fly tyers range from the minuscule #24 up to #01 and even larger (the higher the number the smaller the hook).
Different types of flies are used to fish at different depths. A dry fly sits on top of the water and is meant to catch fish feeding on insects that have either risen to that level as they morph from swimming bugs to flying insects, or insects that have already matured, mated and fallen back into the water. To complicate matters another artificial fly fished on the surface, called a popper or popping bug, is not an insect by any stretch of one's imagination, but attracts and catches fish. Traditional wet flies and nymphs represent insects that are on the bottom of the pond or stream or are in the process of morphing as they rise toward the top. Many fly anglers will fish an emerger fly that is part dry fly and part wet fly -- it sits just below the surface of the water in the film, imitating the final stage of metamorphosis where an aquatic bug shucks its exoskeleton and becomes a flying insect. Streamers are also fished below the surface at various depths, replicating bait fish, leeches and other life forms.
Most of the artificial flies we tie for fishing imitate (to one degree or another) a group of aquatic insects that includes mayflies, caddis flies, midges and others. It is important that a fly angler develop a basic understanding of these insects and their life cycles. Each individual will need to decide how deep he or she will delve into the Entomology of aquatic insects.
Left to Right: #24 dry fly hook, #16 nymph hook, #10 nymph/streamer hook, and #2 streamer hook