Tour de France tying
Why tying many identical flies can be a good thing - and can be better than tying many different flies
By Martin Joergensen
I think it was Andy Wharhol who has been quoted for saying "many are better than one" upon presenting his multiple colourful portraits of Marilyn Monroe, H.C. Andersen and Mona Lisa.
With respect to flies, I can only agree with him. Many are better than one. Tying a bunch of identical flies will lead to many improvements in your tying and fill up your boxes with a uniform selection of patterns.
This article will give some hints to how you can improve your tying by tying many flies of the same pattern and how to easily set up routines for that.
A perfect occasion
Last year I spent three weeks of my summer - as I do every summer - seated in front of the television every afternoon watching the live broadcasts from the Tour de France bike race. This is a recurring event every summer - both in my home and in France - but this summer I used the time twofold: I watched bike race and I tied flies.
I was stocking up on flies for a trip to Iceland and needed to tie flies for two people because my companion did not have time to tie his own.
This was a perfect occasion to hone my skills on particular patterns and set up some small routines for increasing my efficiency and get as many flies from the vice as possible.
The race just started again as I write this, and I'm getting ready to crank up my tying again.
How many is many?
I know that AK Best has been quoted for saying "I don't really know how to tie a pattern until I have cranked out a hundred dozen of them". A hundred dozen! That is about 1200 flies!
I don't even tie 1200 flies in a year…
So how many is many to us ordinary fly tiers? For me personally it is about 10 of the same pattern tied in a row. Sometimes I just get 6 finished, and sometimes I do 20 or maybe even 30. That depends on the pattern - and in this case - the bike race.
In order to tie my conception of many flies I apply a certain method - a small series of rituals.
And the term Tour de France tying is quite suitable. Each day the same repetitive tasks and the same result, but still with just a bit of variation.
My first ritual in getting production cranked up is to tie somewhere else than at my tying desk.
You might think this is silly because most tying desks are designed to be perfect work benches for fly tying. So is mine. I have every tool and material within reach and both table, seat and light are set up for that one purpose. But… I tend to get distracted when I tie at my regular place. Having everything within reach means constantly being distracted by options: different color thread, another material, a smart tool or a new type of hook. I am often "creative" in my tying (read: messy) and will follow every whim I get to do something new and different.
But if your aim is to tie many uniform flies of the same pattern, whimsical is the last thing you want to be.
By moving away from my desk, I instantly remove all these distractions.
All you need
But moving away from the desk has implications. You have nothing nearby! No tools and no materials.
So you need to bring that.
When I set up for my Tour de France tying session I do the following:
Selecting a pattern
- Decide on pattern
- Get vice and tools
- Get materials and hooks
- Get waste basket
Choosing a pattern to tie is quite important. And that is one pattern. And a particular one.
This might sound like a paradox, but if you tie like me, you often sit at the desk with some general direction but no particular pattern in mind. I tie "salt water flies", "salmon flies", "hair wing flies" or another generic type of flies more than I tie "Tan Gotchas", "Blue Charms" or "Beis Flies". That means that I often improvise a pattern and let one fly lead to the next, improving and experimenting on the way.
Not so when I am Tour de France tying!
I select a particular pattern and stick to that. It might be a well known classical pattern and it might be one of my own. Sometimes I know the materials list and sometimes I get out a book and check it out. For Iceland I had some pictures sent from my local contact, and I printed them and brought them to the table. I tend to select simple patterns for these sessions. It keeps my pace up, and the number of materials down. And - honestly - when it comes to fishing, simple is all you need.
But before I commence, I know exactly what I am tying and how it will look.
I then get my vice and light. My LAW vice is set on a heavy pedestal, and I just grab it and put it on the coffee table in front of me. It has a McKenzie vice light permanently attached to the stem, so moving the tying light is just a question of plugging in.
Then I get the tools. Scissors and a dubbing needle are always brought. Sometimes a dubbing spinner, a Velcro brush, a dubbing rake, cutters, hair stacker and what have you. But only what I need for the particular pattern. I do not get a set of tools or a selection of scissors or needles. Just what I know I will use.
Now I pick out the materials I need.
Again I only bring what I must. Only one neck in the right colour - not a selection for me to choose from as I tie. Only one size: the right one. Just one bag of dubbing, one width of tinsel or one bunch of flash straws. Not the whole drawer full or my entire stock of a particular material.
I want to limit my selection to avoid a mess on my table and to avoid distractions - things that can lead to unplanned variations.
I also select one colour of tying thread and bring one bobbin holder with that colour - in spite of the fact that I have a dozen bobbin holders hanging, ready with any colour I might fancy.
The last material I get is the hooks. I have thousands of hooks, and leafing through them is a ritual in itself. I bring out the alternatives, assess them and select one type and size. Then I return the rest to the hook box and store it.
This whole process usually limits me to a few bags of material plus a couple of spools.
The whole drill of selecting beforehand is done in order to get around having to decide while tying. I tie with what I bring.
Waste and supplies
I also bring a waste basket. Tying anywhere else than in your enclosed tying quarters - in this case in the living room - can severely damage the good summer mood in the house. Feathers, bits of wire and loose dubbing floating around is rarely welcome in any home.
So I make sure that I have a place to dump the waste in ample time before producing it.
I also make sure that coffee, water, snacks and remote controls are within reach.
I am ready to tie. Let the race begin!
Depending on the pattern I take out a number of hooks. Six for more complex patterns, ten for the simpler ones and 12 maybe 16 for the really simple ones. My aim is to tie on all hooks before I stop.
In most cases I start tying the first fly right away, but sometimes I have to prepare some of the materials.
Salmon flies might call for even size, nicely curved GP crests. I select a dozen, moisture them and put them on a curved surface to dry.
Other patterns may be tied with bead heads. I prepare a bunch of hooks with beads and let varnish or glue dry before I start tying on other materials. Same thing can be done with lead or other weights.
By the time I have prepared hook number 10 the first one is ready for tying.
Nymphs may utilize dubbing brushes. I spin these in advance.
Shrimps might call for monofilament eyes. I melt and paint them before I start.
I tie the first fly according to plans: either a familiar pattern or a pattern description that I get from a book, a magazine or the web.
The first fly usually comes out as I want, but sometimes it's not quite what I fancied. Then I tie a second first fly and adjust the things that went wrong in the first first fly.
I keep on tying and the flies are now quite uniform in appearance.
I rarely sit down and tie flies day after day, but tend more to tie on a Time-to-fish-base only. Because of this I have tried to develop a bit of routine.
My rules of thumb for rational tying
- Tie at a clean table - clear your usual tying desk or move away from it
- Decide on one pattern and one pattern only
- Collect materials and hooks exclusively for that one pattern
- Prepare materials for several flies
- Devise routines while tying that single pattern
- Measure proportions for each fly against the best you tied in the bunch
- Varnish or epoxy all flies at once when all are done
Tying now becomes a second nature. I try not to think too much, and can usually easily concentrate on bikers and vice at the same time. I'm no speed tyer, but still I can get into a good rythm.
I minimize the turns of materials and thread. I tie in more than one material at a time, covering the butts of both body, ribbing and tail material in one go in stead of three. I minimize the cutting by breaking with a yank - or just don't trim before I am done. I put scraps in the same spot and useful leftovers in an other. In other words: I rationalize.
I do this in order to get uniform and nice looking flies, gain speed and in order to save materials.
I become a miser with materials and don't waste a bit. When cutting tail material I measure exactly what I need and no more. I use hackles to the limit. Dry fly hackles often span three or four flies. I don't cut bits off yarn or spooled material, but leave it on the spool and trim when I have used what I need.
I also do an other thing to ensure a good bunch of uniform flies: I measure. As soon as I have tied a specimen that I like with regards to proportions and look, I use that as a template for the rest. Whenever I need to decide on a placement of a certain material or the length of a tail, wing or hackle I grab the template fly and hold it behind the fly in the vice to compare. In this way I can secure a homogenous stack of flies piling up on my table.
As soon as I have tied a few flies, I also have the amount of materials in my fingers, and need not trim or remove dubbing, hair or other materials, but can select the proper amount right away.
As I finish each fly I set it in a large piece of cork that I have beside me and continue on to the next fly. As I tie my way through my small pile of hooks, the cork slowly gets filled with flies.
I leave the varnishing until all flies are done and then give them all a couple of layers to finish the job. All I need to do now is lean back and wait for them to dry while I watch the reruns of the sprint in todays stage.