Fly tying

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.". [cite book |last=Shaw |first=Helen |title=Fly-tying—Materials, Tools and Techniques |publisher=The Ronald Press Company |location=New York |pages=iii |year=1963 .]
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.” [cite book |last=Gregg |first=E. C. |title=How To Tie Flies |publisher=A. S. Barnes and Company |locatgion=New York, |pages=vii |year=1940 ]
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 [cite book |last=Best |first=A. K. |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Production Fly Tying |year=1989 |publisher=Pruett Publishing Company |location=Boulder, Colorado |isbn=0871087812 ] . 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." [cite book |last=Jennings |first=Preston J. |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=A Book of Trout Flies |year=1935 |publisher=Crown Publishers, Derrydale Press |location=New York |isbn= ]

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. [cite book |last=Wakeford |first=Jacqueline |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Fly Tying Tools and Materials |year=1992 |publisher=Lyons & Burford Publishers|location=New York |pages=Preface |isbn=1558211837 ] 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. [cite book |last=Best |first=A. K. |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Production Fly Tying |year=1989 |publisher=Pruett Publishing Company |location=Boulder, Colorado |pages=Forward |isbn=0871087812 ]

Fly tying history

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 bendof 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 fingerand thumb, and the fly is made or dressed. This is the simplest method. [cite book |last=Wade |first=Henry |title=Rod-Fishing in Clear Waters By Fly, Minnow and Work With a Short and Easy method to the Art of Dressing Flies |year=1860 |publisher=Bell and Daldy |location=London |pages=132 ]

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.


Tying artificial flies has always been about imitating some form of fish prey with natural and/or synthetic materials bound to a hook. Significant literature exists, especially for trout flies, on the concepts of imitation. "A Book of Trout Flies – Jennings (1935)," "Streamside Guide to Naturals & Their Imitations– Art Flick (1947)," "Matching the Hatch – Schweibert (1955)", "Selective Trout-Swisher and Richards (1971)," "Nymphs-Schweibert (1973)," "Caddisflies-LaFontaine (1989)," "Prey-Richards (1995)" are but a few 20th century titles that deal extensively with imitating natural prey. However, from the human perspective, many fly patterns do not exactly imitate fish prey found in nature, yet they still are successful patterns. As such, a successful or killing fly pattern, therefore imitates something that the target species preys on. This has resulted in fly tiers and fishers devising additional terms to characterize those flies that obviously don’t imitate anything in particular, yet are successful at catching fish. These additional terms are inconsistently, but commonly associated with trout fly patterns because of the huge variety of patterns, both historical and contemporary. The term "Attractor" pattern has been applied to flies that resemble nothing in particular, but are successful in attracting strikes from fish "(Trout Fishing, Brooks 1972)". Dick Stewart in "Flies for Trout (1993)" characterizes these same patterns as "General Purpose". Dave Hughes in "Trout Flies-The Tier’s Reference (1999)" describes the same flies as "Searching flies" and characterizes three levels of imitation: "Impressionistic, Suggestive and Imitative".

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. [cite book |last=Schullery |first=Paul |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=American Fly Fishing-A History |year=1996 |publisher=The Easton Press |location=Norwalk, CT |pages=85-99, 228-234 |isbn= ]

Fly tying tools and materials


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. [cite book |last=Morris |first=Skip |title=Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple |publisher=Frank Amato Publications |location=Portland, OR |year=1992 |isbn=1878175130 ]


Fly tying material can be anything that is used to construct a fly on a hook. Traditional materials were threads, , yarns, furs, feathers, hair, tinsels, cork, balsa and wire. Today's materials not only include all sorts of natural and dyed furs, hair and feathers but a wide array of synthetic materials. Rabbit, mink, muskrat, fox, bear, squirrel and other furs, deer, elk, moose hair and chicken, pheasant, turkey, duck, goose and partridge feathers were and still commonly incorporated into artificial flies. Neck and saddle hackle from chickens, so critical to many artificial fly patterns is being especially bred for fly tying to achieve superior performance and color. Synthetics have allowed fly tyers to replicate rare and sometimes illegal and endangered furs and feathers and well as create completely new types of flies. Synthetics such as rubber legs, plastic wings and transparent plastic cords, chenilles, and all sorts and colors of flashy materials that can be incorporated into wings and bodies of today's artificial fly are available to the 21st Century fly tyer. Whereas lead wire was the traditional method of weighting flies, today's weighting materials include glass, brass and tungsten beads and cones as well as lead materials. Silicone, epoxy, kevlar thread and other modern materials are being incorporated in artificial fly patterns regularly. [cite book |last=Wakeford |first=Jacqueline |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Fly Tying Tools and Materials |year=1992 |publisher=Lyons & Burford Publishers|location=New York |isbn=1558211837 ] , [cite book |last=Morris |first=Skip |title=Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple |publisher=Frank Amato Publications |location=Portland, OR |year=1992 |isbn=1878175130 ]


The hook determines the basic size and shape of each fly and is generally an important part of any fly pattern description. Hooks come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, lengths, and weights, and the hook must be selected to complement the pattern being tied and the method by which it will be fished. Additionally, flies constructed for use in saltwater are typically tied on corrosion-resistant hooks.

The fly pattern

The fly pattern is the recipe for any particularly named fly. In older literature, especially prior to the 20th century, fly patterns were referred to as "dressings". The pattern specifies the size range and type of hook to be used, the materials to use, to include type, color and size and in some cases specific tying instructions to achieve a particular effect or configuration. Fly patterns allow tyers to consistently reproduce any given pattern over time. A Light Cahill dry fly produced by one tyer will look remarkably similar to the same fly produced by a completely different tyer if the pattern is followed with reasonable accuracy with comparable materials. Patterns may also layout alternatives for different materials and variations of the fly.

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.

Parts of an artificial fly

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.

See also

* Artificial fly for examples of different types of flies
* Fly Tyer for a magazine devoted to fly tying


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • fly-tying — fly ty·ing (flīʹtī ĭng) n. The art or hobby of making artificial fishing flies.   flyʹ ti er ( tī ər) n. * * * ▪ fishing       the hobby or business of imitating the live food of gamefish by attaching various materials to a hook. Most often used… …   Universalium

  • fly-tying — flyˈ tying noun Making artificial flies for angling • • • Main Entry: ↑fly …   Useful english dictionary

  • fly tying — the technique of making imitation insects or flies as bait for fish. See fly. Also called fly dressing …   Dictionary of ichthyology

  • fly tying — /ˈflaɪ taɪɪŋ/ (say fluy tuying) noun the making of a fishing fly from feathers, fur, brightly coloured or glittering beads, etc., tied to a hook …   Australian English dictionary

  • fly dressing — fly tying …   Dictionary of ichthyology

  • Fly Tyer — is a magazine dedicated to the subject of fly tying, published four times a year. Fly tying is the art of tying materials to a hook for the purposes of fly fishing. Fly Tyer is an asset of Morris Communications, which also owns publications such… …   Wikipedia

  • Fly fishing — in a river Fly fishing is an angling method in which an artificial fly is used to catch fish. The fly is cast using a fly rod, reel, and specialized weighted line. Casting a nearly weightless fly or lure requires casting techniques significantly… …   Wikipedia

  • fly-dressing — flyˈ dressing noun Fly tying • • • Main Entry: ↑fly …   Useful english dictionary

  • Fly lure — A fly lure, Fly, or pattern, in the terminology of sport fishing and fly fishing, is an artificial fishing lure tied, most commonly, with thread, feathers, and fur, but may also include lead (for weight), ribbon, tinsel, beads, and other assorted …   Wikipedia

  • fly-fishing — /fluy fish ing/, n. Angling. a method of fishing in which fly casting is used. [1645 55] * * * ▪ sport Introduction       method of angling employing a long rod, typically 7 to 11 feet (2 to 3.5 metres) in length, constructed of carbon fibre,… …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.