Fly tying is the process of producing an artificial fly to be used by anglers to catch fish via means of fly fishing. Probably the most concise description of fly tying is the one by Helen Shaw, a preeminent American professional fly tyer in Fly-Tying.
"Fly-tying is a simple process of binding various materials to a hook with thread.".Many fly-tyers consider fly tying an art, such as E. C. Gregg in introduction to How To Tie Flies.
"The object of this book will be throughout its entirety to teach in a practical manner the Art of Fly Tying in all its branches.”At the other end is the apparent view of A. K. Best, a well known professional fly tyer and writer whose book, Production Fly Tying, suggests practical ways to streamline tying technique. Best emphasizes that fly tying is also a science rooted in careful observation of fish and their prey, and then designing and tying artificial flies to replicate that prey to catch fish. One of the first and foremost of these efforts was by Preston Jennings, in his classic: A Book of Trout Flies.
Fly tying requires some basic equipment, the appropriate materials for the fly pattern being tied and a fly pattern to follow or replicate. Fly tying equipment enables the fly tyer to efficiently and effectively assemble and secure the materials on the hook. Flying materials were originally limited to various furs, feathers, threads and hooks. Today there many different types of natural and synthetic materials used to tie flies. Fly patterns represent the “recipe” required to create the fly--what hook size(s) types to use, what materials are to be used, what colors, in what sequence and by what methods are they assembled on the hook. These are the elements of fly patterns. Of patterns, there are thousands.
Hand-tied flies on the commercial market retail from less than a dollar to several dollars each. Fly tying is a challenging and rewarding hobby for some, a money-saving strategy for some fly fishermen, and a profitable commercial enterprise for the professional tyer. The professional, commercial fly tyer may produce upwards 3000 dozen flies annually, whereas the amateur fly tyer may tie only a few flies each season for personal use.
The history of fly tying (and fly design) is inextricably tied to the evolution and history of fly fishing. Although from the mid-19th century to present times, basic fly tying methods have not changed dramatically. Changes have resulted mostly from the introduction and adaptation of new materials, especially synthetics and new hook designs. Images from early literature devoted to fly tying on the fly construction process are not significantly different from the process used today. Tools associated with fly tying today also evolved as technologies evolved. Flies tied in the mid-19th century were done so without the benefit of a hook vise. Instead the hook was held by the fingers while the fly was constructed. Consider this description: The Method of Dressing a Hackled-fly from Rod Fishing in Clear Waters (London 1860):
Your materials being now in a state of readiness, the hook must be first tied on with waxed silk to the finest end of the hair or gut left after cutting off the curled end, in this manner (Plate vii. No. 1) : Take the bend of the hook between your left finger and thumb, the shank projecting; place an end of the waxed silk, which should be about six inches in length, and the end of the gut along the underside of the shank; pass the silk over until you have wrapped it down to the end of the shank, and two or three turns back for the head of the fly ; take the feather or hackle as prepared (Plate vii. No. 2), put the point of the feather from where it is turned back with the outside next the hook, and hold it there with your left finger and thumb until you pass the silk over it, just where you left off, wrapping it twice or thrice on its downward rounds to the bend of the hook ; take your scissors and cut off the root of the feather, and the superfluous gut under the bend of the hook, leaving it not quite so long as the body of the fly has to be made ; take the thick end of your feather in your tweezers or pliers and wrap it over three or four times close together, following the silk wrappings until it is all, or as much as you deem sufficient, twirled on; then take your silk and pass over the end once or twice; cut off the superfluous part of the feather and wrap up the shank with the silk, evenly and regularly, to form the body of the fly, and fasten off by a loop-knot or two; or,if you want a thick-bodied fly or one of flossed silk, turn down again and fasten off at the shoulder ; cut off the silk left, set the feather right with your needle and finger and thumb, and the fly is made or dressed. This is the simplest method.
One of the earliest references to the use of a fly tying vise is in Ogden on Fly Tying (London, 1887). Other fly tying tools--scissors, hackle pliers, bodkins, etc. have remained remarkably similar for the last 120 years.
Paul Schullery in American Fly Fishing - A History (1996) and The Rise (2006) explains however that although much has been written about the imitation theories of fly design, all successful fly patterns must imitate something to the fish, and even a perfect imitation attracts strikes from fish. The huge range of fly patterns documented today for all sorts of target species-trout, salmon, bass and panfish, pike, saltwater, tropical exotics, etc. are not easily categorized as merely imitative, attractors, searching, impressionistic or something else.
The fly tying process benefits from the fly tyer employing the proper tools. According to Skip Morris, a professional fly-tyer, there are several tools essential to the creation of a properly tied fly. He lists essential tools as being: a vise to hold the hook of the fly to be tied, as well as bobbins, magnifying glass for delicate work, hackle pliers, hackle gauges, lights, hair stackers, and scissors. Other optional tools are pliers, toothpicks, bodkins, dubbing twisters, blenders, floss bobbins, whip finishers, wing burners, and bobbin threaders.
Fly patterns are usually found in fly fishing and fly tying literature and periodicals to include on-line sources. Although fly patterns do provide some consistency, different writers may publish patterns that contain small to moderate differences across pattern descriptions for the same fly. In many cases, the greatest differences are in tying technique instead of form, color and materials. Fly patterns may or may not have an image or drawing of the finished fly to guide the fly tyer. Historically, fly patterns have been included in texts that discuss fishing a particular genre of fly, fly fishing technique or fly fishing for specific species or genre of gamefish. There are however, texts that are pure fly pattern and tying references with little or no instruction on how to fish them.
Salmon flies have historically been the most complex and gaudy of artificial flies. Texts describing fly tying techniques often use an image of a salmon fly to describe all the parts of an artificial fly. The parts described below are typical.
| Key to Parts of Salmon Fly Image |
The following is an example of how flies get their names and those names evolve over time.
Most famous of all trout flies is the Coachman, originated by Tom Bosworth, who drove Queen Victoria's coach
The Royal Coachman was first made by John Haily a professional fly dresser living in New York City. In writing of other matters, he enclosed this fly for us to see, saying "A gentleman wanted me to tie up some Coachman for him to take to the north woods and to make them extra strong, so I have tied them with a little band of silk in the middle to prevent the peacock bodies from fraying out. I have also added a tail of the barred feathers of the wood-duck, and I think it makes a very handsome fly." A few evenings later, a circle of us were together "disputing the fly in question", one of the party claiming that numbers were "quite as suitable to designate the flies as so many nonsensical names." The others did not agree with him, but he said: "What can you do? Here is a fly intended to be a Coachman; but it is not the true Coachman; it is quite unlike it and what can you call it?" Mr. L. C. Orvis, brother of Mr. Charles Orvis, who was present said: "Oh that is easy enough; call it the Royal Coachman it is so finely dressed!" And this name in time came to known and used by all who are familiar with the fly.
I will be forever indebted to Dan [Dan Bailey] for his companionship and inspiration. Indebted, too, because it was Dan who insisted on giving my name to the Wulff Series and gave me stature I might never have had otherwise. We were fishing together on the Esopus in the spring of 1930 when I was trying out some new flies I'd designed in revolt to the then available Catskill patterns. The new flies had bucktail wings and tails for better floatation. I had planned to call one of them the Bucktail Coachman. It was Dan who insisted that I call them Wulffs and he started tying them under that name-Lee Wulff in the tribute in Mist on the River-Remembrances of Dan Bailey.
|Typical Fly Pattern Descriptions|
|Ronalds, Alfred (1836). The Fly-Fisher's Entomology. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green and Longmans.|
Alfred Ronald's, whose ''Fly-Fisher's Entomology (1836) is regarded as the foundation document of that field...
|Blacker, William (1855). Blacker's Art of Fly-making. London: Geo Nichols.|| Online Version (1855 Edition) |
William Blacker (the Irishman who operated a tackle shop at 54 Dean Street, Soho, London) was acknowledged as one of the best trout and salmon fly dressers of this day. His fly dressing methods are described and illustrated in his book The Art of Fly-making which first appeared in 1842 and was reissued in 1843 and again in 1855.
|(1886). Floating Flies and How To Dress Them. A Treatise on the Most Modern Methods of Dressing Artificial Flies for Trout and Grayling with Full Illustrated Directions and Containing Ninety Hand-Coloured Engravings of the Most Killing Patterns Together with a Few Hints to Dry-Fly Fishermen.. London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington.||This was Halford's first book, and it launched the opening salvo in the decades long battle pitting fly fishers favoring the floating fly against those endorsing the sunk fly, an argument which today seems as appropriate as the house cook slipping on boxing gloves in preparation to picking out fly droppings from the black pepper..|
|Pritt, Thomas E. (1885). Yorkshire Trout Flies. Leeds: Goodall and Suddick.|
Flies from the North Country Though it seems reasonable certain now that many European fly fishers, at least since Aelian's time, used similar styles of flies, the first stop on any historical tour of soft-hackle authority and authenticity is a pair of scarce British angling classics, Thomas Pritt's Yorkshire Trout Flies (1885) and Norman Lee's Brook and River Trouting (1916).
|Ogden, James (1887). Ogden on Fly Tying, Etc.. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington.|
|Theakston, Michael; Walbran, Francis M. (1888). British Angling Flies. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington.|
|Marbury, Mary Orvis (1892). Favorite Flies and Their Histories. Boston and New York: Houghton and Mifflin Company.|| |
WHEN Mary Orvis Marbury died in 1914, the English Fishing Gazette acclaimed her as the most famous but one female angling author. (The other was Dame Juliana Berners, an Englishwoman who wrote A Treatyse of Fysshying Wyth an Angle in 1496.) Marbury's Favorite Flies and Their Histories, which became a best seller among anglers after it appeared in 1892 and went through nine printings by 1896, has recently been reprinted by the Wellfleet Press.
|Kelson, George M. (1895). The Salmon Fly-How To Dress It and How to Use It. London: Wyman & Sons, Limited.||
The Salmon Fly enjoys a unique position in the literature of fly dressing since it brought order and system to the classification of salmon flies and the methodology of salmon fly dressing.
|West, Leonard (1913). The Natural Trout Fly and Its Imitation. Ravenshead, St Helens: McCorquodale & Co., Ltd..|
|Rhead, Louis (1919). American Trout Stream Insects-A Guide to Angling Flies and other Aquatic Insects Alluring to Trout. New York: Frederick A. Stokes and Co.|
|McClelland, H. G. (1919). The Trout Fly Dresser's Cabinet of Devices or How To Tie Flies for Trout and Grayling Fishing. London: The Fishing Gazette.|
|Jennings, Preston J. (1935). A Book of Trout Flies. New York: Crown Publishers, Derrydale Press.||Jennings was probably the first American Fly Fishing writer to tie the entomology of trout stream insects to the artificial flies and how to fish them in this 1935 seminal work.|
|Schwiebert, Ernest G. Jr. (1955). Matching The Hatch-A Practical Guide to Imitation of Insects Found On Eastern and Western Trout Waters. Toronto, Canada: The MacMillan Company.||Matching The Hatch was the first American book to cover fly imitiation from a transcontinental perspective and is widely read and reprinted. According to Paul Schullery, Matching The Hatch set the standard for fly entomology and tying studies for the late 20th Century.|
|Marinaro, Vincent C. (1950). A Modern Dry Fly Code. New York: G. P. Putnam Sons.|| One of the most important angling books of the 20th Century A Modern Dry Fly Code, Marinaro revolutionized American trout fishing with his experiences on the Pennsylvania spring creeks in the 1940s and 50s. Dr. Andrew Herd wrote:
A Modern Dry Fly Code was first published in 1950 and it remains a popular work, having been reprinted at least twice. The Code attracted attention right from the start because there was more in it about terrestrials than there was about mayflies and also because the author focused attention on small imitations to an extent that had never been encouraged before. Marinaro was a brave man for doing it and for some time he stood out as a lone voice in the wilderness; he was challenged, for example, for suggesting that size 14 was the largest hook needed for a dry fly imitation (this was in the days before hooks were available in sizes below 20s). In retrospect, Marinaro probably kicked off a fashion for tiny patterns that went just a little too far before it corrected itself, but his basic point was well made.
|Shaw, Helen (1963). Fly-tying—Materials, Tools and Techniques. New York: The Ronald Press Company.||Helen Shaw was considered the First Lady of Fly Tying by Arnold Gingrich and was considered one of the premier professional fly tyers of the mid-20th Century. Fly-tying—Materials, Tools and Techniques was a fly-tying bible in its time|
|Bates, Joseph D. (1966). Streamer Fly Tying & Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books.|
|Flick, Arthur B. (1967). The New Streamside Guide to Naturals and their Imitations. New York: Crown Publishers Inc.||Describes the flies and nymphs significant in trout fishing, and explains the procedures for constructing imitations|
|Bates, Joseph D. (1970). Atlantic Salmon Flies and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books.||A comprehensive look at all aspects of Atlantic Salmon fishing and dressing Atlantic Salmon flies. Eight color plates of Flies.|
|Richards, Carl; Swisher, Doug (1971). Selective Trout-A Dramatically New and Scientific Approach to Trout Fishing on Eastern and Western Rivers.. New York: Crown Publishers.|
And probably the most far-reaching of all American fly-fishing books since World War II, Doug Swisher and Carl Richard's Selective Trout (1971) elevated our thinking not only in fly-fishing theory, but also, through its wonderful photographs of insects, in our basic understanding of what the flies really imitated
|Schwiebert, Ernest (1973). Nymphs-A Complete Guide to Naturals and Imitations. New York: Winchester Press.|
|Wakeford, Jacqueline (1992). Fly Tying Tools and Materials. New York: Lyons & Burford Publishers.||Loaded with color photographs and descriptions of the natural materials such as fur, hair and feathers used in fly tying..|
|Stewart, Dick; Allen, Farrow (1993). Flies for Trout. New York: Lyons & Burford.|
|Schmookler, Paul; Sils, Ingrid V. (1994). Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials-A Natural History Volume 1 -- Birds. Mills, MA: The Complete Sportsman.|
The second is RARE AND UNUSUAL FLY TYING MATERIALS A Natural History. Vol. 1 -- Birds. By Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Paintings and engravings photographed by Robert Rohonczy. Materials and flies photographed by the authors. Foreword by Eric Leiser. A lavish oversize volume about the birds that produce the feathers that produce the lures that flock together in fishing fly boxes. A prettier display than any fish will ever see.-Christopher Lehmann-Haupt-New York Times.
|Schmookler, Paul; Sils, Ingrid V. (1997). Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials-A Natural History Volume 2 -- Birds and Mammals. Mills, MA: The Complete Sportsman.|
RARE AND UNUSUAL FLY TYING MATERIALS: -- A Natural History. Volume 2 -- Birds and Mammals. By Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Illustrations photographed by Robert Rohonczy. Materials and flies photographed by the authors. Plucked from the wild boar, the collared peccary, the common American blue jay and a dozen other unlikely creatures, the fur and feathers in this spectacular volume raise the age-old question, for whom are fishing lures really designed, the fish or the fisherman?.-Christopher Lehmann-Haupt-New York Times.
|Hughes, Dave (1999). Trout Flies-The Tier's Reference. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.|
|Rosenbauer, Tom (2001). The Orvis Fly Tying Guide. New York: The Lyons Press.||The Orvis Fly Tying Guide is a typical, comprehensive contemporary fly tying reference with excellent photographs on technique, equipment, patterns and tying instructions. |
"One of the finest texts on the craft of fly tying ever written ... should be in the library of every tyer."--Dave Klausmeyer, editor, Fly Tyer magazine
|Clouser, Bob (2006). Clouser’s Flies. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.||A fly pattern reference for a specific genre of fly--the Clouser Deep Minnow--authored by the original designer of the fly. |
"Always an experimenter when conventional fly patterns are not working, Bob tweaks patterns, or even invents new ones, to fool fish. His Clouser Deep Minnow is undoubtedly the most popular fly pattern to be developed in the last several decades. Bob shares his solid experience to help you tie better flies and understand why you do or do not catch fish. This book is one of the most useful published in some time." --Lefty Kreh
|Soucie, Gary (2006). Woolly Wisdom. Portland, Oregon: Frank Amato Publications.||A typical contemporary fly pattern reference devoted to a specific genre of flies--Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers. |
Soucie's book clearly demonstrates that the Woolly Worm and Woolly Bugger style of flies have been spread out to a wealth of different types of flies, some so far away from the originals that it's almost crazy to put them in the Woolly family, but anyway. The book describes about 400 patterns, which can all draw their ancestry back to the Woollies. You will find everything from slight variations of the classical style flies, to something that is only vaguely similar. The selection spans from large wet flies for saltwater use to small dry flies, and leafing through pages is just one jolt of inspiration after another.--Martin Joergensen, Global Flyfisher Book Reviews
Some anglers are fit to be tied; Fly-tying can add enjoyment to fishing. Locally, there are several places to learn the craft.
Feb 10, 2002; The lingering fall and warm winter probably postponed many indoor activities for sportsmen. Fishing season will be here quickly,...