I’m an accidental fly tyer. But, doing so has changed my game: I’m now catching more fish and bigger fish.
It all started when I was at one of my favorite shops, Concord Outfitters. A fellow angler was there, and we started chatting.
“Do you make your own flies?” he asked.
“No, I’m too busy.”
“You really should. It changed how I fish.” He proceeded to quietly and persistently tell me why I should take the plunge.
Now, I went to a fly fishing clinic in 1991. I started tying flies only six months ago. My only regret is this: I wish that I had started tying earlier. This guy was totally right, and I’m grateful he took the time to chat with me.
So, ICYMI, I want to “pay it forward” and share some lessons learned:
- You can start low-budget. Here is a $30 starter kit comprised of tools.
- Over time, it isn’t the cheap option–true dat. Some tools and materials are expensive. That’s all true. But, I’d rather invest in fly tying, personally, and buy a cheaper reel.
- It is insanely fun. I feel like I’ve really accomplished something when I’ve mastered a pattern.
- It is very rewarding. It’s a great feeling to catch a fish on one of my own flies.
- Spillover benefits from working with materials. Handling and working with materials gives me a better sense for why they attract trout. For example, I often now fish with 100% marabou streamers, as I know how lifelike that material is. So, I’m now able to better pick a fly based on its features rather than its name.
- I can tweak patterns. There’s value to throwing something new to savvy fish. I caught a 19″ brown a bit ago with a streamer-nymph (more here, including the recipe). Many local anglers on that day reported no strikes, and many fish every weekend–and, it was my first trip to that stretch of the river. Conditions were challenging, and throwing out my standard Frenchies and Midges resulted in…nothing. So, I threw a curveball. And, all of my hook-ups were on that streamer-nymph.
- I can fish hard-to-find flies. Many of the big ‘bows I caught on the Swift this past winter were on small midges, some as small as #32. I couldn’t find flies that small.
- Hot spots. Color contrast ups strike rates. I’ve looked at the nymphs competitive fly fishermen use (check out the pic below, for example). They nearly always use nymphs with hot spots. I couldn’t find those.
- If you nymph, you’ll want to control weight. Buying flies was frustrating as I didn’t know how much those nymphs weighed. Getting down to the right level in the water column is key for me, and now, I can control for bead type (tungsten or not), bead size, and wire (I add wire to most patterns to add weight and bulk for tapering). I find that, with purchased flies, weights were all over the map.
- I can ensure quality control. I bought some flies at a local shop. Not cheap. Well, wouldn’t you know, but those flies each unraveled after one fish. So, I put head cement on my thread wraps–I’ve never had a fly unravel since I started tying.
So, how to start?
Focus will limit your materials costs. I’d focus on: Pheasant Tails, Zebra Midges, and Elkhair Caddis. I’ve found that perfectly matching the hatch is over-rated, and instead, I focus on patterns that are good all-round attractors or mimic quite a few bugs (e.g., PTs).
Hope that helps!