Everyday Fly Tying Tips
A couple things I've learned over the years
By Bob Petti
My tying desk. Chaos, but organized chaos!
I do not tie like that, and chances are neither do you.
You don't really know how to tie a fly until you've tied a hundred dozen
Not a pro
I am not a professional "I feed my family by selling the flies I tie" fly tyer. I do not sell my flies at all, nor have I ever tied a hundred dozen of any specific fly. The closest I came to mass fly production is one of Byard Miller's whacky caddis fly swaps back in 1999 where we had to tie a hundred. I am as likely to sit down and tie six different streamers as I am to tie six of the same pattern. Probably more likely, since most of my tying is for fun these days.
Speed is not a concern, but I don't want to waste my time either. There are things I can do to make my life easier which may be different from the advice of someone like AK Best. True, there is plenty of overlap (like learning to tie with your scissors in your hands), but while I'm not likely to pluck a whole dry fly neck and store the feathers according to size, I will pluck as many as I need when I sit down to start tying instead of plucking hackles for each fly.
That being said, even though I am not a professional fly tyer, after twenty plus years of wrapping thread I have learned a thing or two that might be of interest, even if you're not a wet behind the ears beginner. We're never done learning new things. Just last month I was watching Ted Patlen tie a fly and he used a different technique to mount his streamer wings than I use - and it got me thinking. So I tried it. And I liked it.
In the interest of sharing, I thought it might be fun to give you a little tour of my fly tying area and offer up a few thoughts along the way.
Notice these are not pretty "smile and pose for the camera" type pictures that you often will see in magazines. This is a working fly tying desk, and I took the pictures after two days of tying featherwing streamers. The messes are real, which is what I believe would be most helpful to show. As Emeril would say "this is a cooking show."
So c'mon in.
While I keep a trash basket handy next to my desk, the primary "how do I keep things clean" tool is a paper towel. I keep a roll on my desk and use half a sheet or a single one of those "select a size" sheets that I use to put all my waste bits. When I'm done, I just wad it up and toss it away.
One of the better investments I've made in recent years is this drying wheel from Cabelas. Since I tie a lot of streamers and use a rather viscous cement for the heads, I need a way to spin the fly as they dry to avoid drips and sags. You can either rotate your vise and whistle dixie, or stick it on a drying wheel. This wheel is always to my left on the desk and usually covered in flies like it is here.
Clothes pins are another indispensable item on my desk. They hold flies as the head cement dries (wet flies and nymphs and such), they come in handy when you need a place to put a few stray strands of flash material, and they serve as an emergency aid if your thread breaks and you don't have a hackle pliers handy. You can probably steal a few from the house without anyone noticing.
You can't have too many bobbins, but they don't all have to be the very best quality. I have two good ceramic bobbins that hold my white and black thread (Danville 6/0 Flymaster), and random other bobbins for other stuff that I use a lot. I really hate changing threads on bobbins, so I always try to have the threads I use most often ready to go. The next time you order some materials, add an extra $10 investment in a couple cheap bobbins. You'll be glad you did.
Remember when Tiemco sold hooks with those little magnetic pads in the package? I stuck one on the base of my vise for holding hooks. It's not foolproof, but it sure does come in handy.
You can either pay the $15 for a specific material spring made for your vise, or you can buy a 75 cent coil spring and build up the space with tape like I did here. That little rig is older than my daughter, who is now a freshman in High School, so it'll last. I hate paying money for silly things when a cheaper solution works just as well.
|Save old thread spools
Ever need to tie a couple flies with a red hackle beard and feel guilty about tossing away the rest of the feather? Save your old thread spools and put those partially used feathers in the holes in the end. Next time you need a pinch of hackle, look there first before digging out your box of feathers. Danville spools are really good for this.
By all means get one of those multi-drawer organizers at the hardware store meant for storing nuts and bolts and other small parts. Keep it right in front of you to sore all your spooled goods and label the front of the drawers with what's inside. How would I deal with all those things without this? No idea. In-freaking-dispensible.
|Feathers readily available
I like to keep some feathers handy and readily available. Here you see some peacock pieces and a couple pheasant tails. I used to haunt a local craft store and pick over their peacock feathers when their flower arranging department had a sale. I'd get full sticks for fifty cents apiece, so I stocked up. I keep a couple on my desk and the rest out of the way. On the right is a waterfall of dry fly saddle hackle. I reach there first before diving into my bin of hackle, as chances are I'll find the hackle I need. When I'm done, I tape the hackle on the waterfall with a piece of masking tape so I can use the rest next time. Problem is my daughter has an eye on those feathers for her hair. Hands off, Sarah!!
Craft stores sell cheap plastic compartment boxes that are great for fly storage. These were all in the neighborhood of a dollar. The same box from Myran or some other "name brand" would be eight bucks. You need somewhere to put flies before they go into your box, unless you are tying straight into your box. These work beautifully, and they are available in a bunch of different compartment arrangements.
|Spool plastic bins
Threads are usually sold by the dozen, and the plastic bins a dozen spools come in are very handy for spool overflow - things that don't fit in your organizer anymore. Just set them off to the side, you'll use it eventually. Fly tyers throw away nothing.
|Snap lid plastic boxes
When my kids were young, baby food came in jars (which were handy in their own right). Now Gerber sells food in these little snap lid plastic boxes! When my nephew had his first son and I saw these things - my eyes lit up! Had to have a couple. I use one for storing loose exotic feathers that I don't want to throw away and want to keep track of. An extra jungle cock eye, a blue jay feather, maybe a golden pheasant crest. If I've plucked it but haven't used it, in here it goes.
You've probably all caught on to the plastic bin craze. These are a buck apiece and a true life saver. Not only do they keep your things organized, they help prevent bug infestations. I always have a couple empties on hand, for new aquisitions and the occasional overflow or reorganization. Mothballs inside these plastic boxes aren't as apt to stink up your room. (Well - not as bad at least).
And shoe boxes are handy, too! I keep a bunch of duck and goose quills in one of these because they are big enough and I'm not as worried about bug stuff.