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How Do You Start Fly Tying? (Beginners)

Fly fishing can seem intimidating, but fly tying is like its own little world. Many folks don’t start tying flies because it seems so foreign. If your local area doesn’t offer fly tying classes, it can be hard to motivate.

The truth is that starting fly tying is pretty simple. You only need a handful of things to get going. Depending on which patterns you want to tie, you can start building your material collection over time. A vise, scissors, whip finish tool, bobbins, thread and materials are the basics to get started.

This guide will go over the main items you’ll need. You’ll see that it’s a pretty small list.

Fly Tying Vise

This is an essential tool. Some folks tie by holding the hook in one hand – but I highly discourage it. Getting a quality vise will make a world of difference.

The main thing with vises is there’s rotary and non-rotary models. Non-rotary models have a fixed jaw and arm. You can’t turn the vise in a 360 degree motion. Rotary models allow for this rotation, and makes it a lot easier to tie in materials, inspect your fly, etc. Once you start using a rotary vise, you won’t want to go back.

While beginners don’t necessarily need a rotary, I would recommend it. By getting a rotary vise right away, you won’t need to upgrade down the road. If you get into fly tying, you will definitely want a rotary vise. Spending the money upfront is often the best decision. As the great fly tyer A.K. Best said, ‘you should only buy one vise for your whole tying career’. This is very true. Once you have a good vise, you should never have to buy another again. You’ll have to replace the jaws from time to time, though.

I have had my Peak rotary vise for about 5 years. Peak vises aren’t pretty by any means, but they’re very well made. The heavy duty construction makes them last for a long time. I’m due for new jaws which I will buy soon – but nothing else has gone wrong with it.

I am partial to Peak because they are a Colorado company, and I am a Colorado native. People tend to like the look of Renzetti’s more, and most folks will end up with a Renzetti Traveler vise. The Renzetti Traveler and Peak Rotary are both around $180 – so they are compared to each other quite often.

My main issue with Peak is the jaw design. If you want to tie small flies, you should go with the midge jaws. For medium flies, go with the standard jaws. For large flies, go with the saltwater jaws. This is a problem because replacing the jaws isn’t that easy, and they’re $40 a piece. In Colorado, our fly sizes vary a lot based on the season. This is one of the main reasons I would get a Renzetti – they will hold a multitude of hook sizes with ease.

Renzetti’s really are designed to hold any hook you want. You don’t have to change out the jaws. Most Renzetti models can hold a #4/0 hook down to a #28. For this reason, Renzetti jaws are far superior to Peaks in every sense.

Fly Tying Scissors

A good pair of tying scissors is an essential tool. You can spend upwards of $50 on these, but I never have. A decent pair of Umpqua Dream Stream scissors is between $10-$20. I have been using these recently, and they are a great value.

Don’t get too caught up in selecting your scissors. As long as they are decent quality with a fine point, you can use them for a long time.

For larger streamers and bigger patterns, I will use the Fiskars small craft scissors. Kelly Galloup recommends these for cutting deer hair and larger materials. They have a heavier duty design, which is great for streamers. They stay sharp for longer when cutting thicker hairs and feathers. Fiskars is not a fly tying brand, but they work great.

Fly Tying Bobbins

A bobbin holds your thread, and allows you to keep proper tension while tying your fly. There are so many bobbins on the market, it is pretty insane. I like to stick with classic bobbins that don’t have extra features.

You can pick up a decent bobbin for around $10-$20.

Some other types of bobbins have extra features. Ceramic bobbins have a ceramic insert which is easier on your thread. Rite bobbins have a tension control feature, depending on which fly you’re tying. For streamers and larger patterns, tighter thread tension is really helpful.

I think every beginner should learn thread control with a standard bobbin. It will give you good fundamentals before you move on to nice bobbins. The Rite bobbins are cool, but they are so much easier to tie with – A beginner will never actually learn thread control with one of these.

Whip Finish Tool

The whip finish is the knot we use to finish our fly. It can be done by hand, and many folks prefer whip finishing by hand. I am used to using the tool – but to each their own.

Learning to use the tool can take some practice, but it gets easier with time. I currently just have one tool, but I should probably get more.

By whip finishing your fly, you are adding a knot that keeps the fly together. Without whip finishing the fly, it will fall apart immediately.

Fly Tying Lamp

For me, a light source is essential. It allows me to see the details of my fly without straining my eyes. You can spend a lot on a lamp, but don’t! I picked up this LED lamp at Wal Mart for $8. You don’t have to go this cheap, but don’t spend more than $30 on a light source. It just isn’t necessary.

If your eye sight isn’t great, you can also get a magnifier. These will really help to see the details of your fly. If your eye sight is good, though, then a magnifier isn’t necessary.

Fly Tying Materials

This is where things get pricey. You can never have enough materials. The collection will never be complete, it is always ongoing.

Think about which flies are your favorite, and start there. You can find any fly recipe online, which makes things easier. Once you have enough materials, they will start crossing over to multiple patterns. You’ll be able to use them for many other patterns, not just one.

In the beginning, hooks and materials will be your biggest expense. Even for veteran tyers, materials are still the biggest expense. Start slow and see what you like to tie.

I have a ziplock bag system that works pretty well. Each of my material categories has a gallon ziplock bag. I keep the bags in a bin so they aren’t all over the place. It works well, but i’m sure there’s better systems out there.

For my threads and wires, I have a sewing rack that I got on Amazon. It keeps them really tidy and organized.

Fly Tying Kits

If all of this seems like too much effort, you can go with a fly tying kit. There are some awesome kits out there that can get you started.

My favorite kit is from Wapsi. You can get started easily with the vise, and materials for 10 different fly patterns. There are many good kits out there, this is just one of them.

The problem with these kits is that the vises aren’t great. They definitely aren’t rotary, and they can be flimsy. If you do get a kit and find out you like to tie, you’ll want to upgrade the vise.

This is why I recommend a Peak rotary or a Renzetti Traveler. They cost a bit more, but there’s no reason you’ll need to upgrade down the road.

The best thing about a fly tying kit is that you don’t have to hunt down materials. You can master several patterns without having to piece together which materials you’ll need. This is really beneficial for beginners, and can shorten the learning curve. As you get more into it, you can start getting materials for other patterns.

Conclusion

Fly tying may seem like a foreign language, but it’s really straightforward. Once you are set up with the basics, you can start learning patterns to build your skill set. The initial costs can seem like a lot, but over time you can start to save money by tying your own flies.