It really doesn’t matter if you are new to fly fishing or not, fly fishermen use flies. Some guys buy flies and others tie flies. Does it really matter? Ultimately it’s up to you, there is no right or wrong answer. Thankfully fly shops have plenty of flies to choose from and online buying of flies is easier than ever before. But why new fly fishermen should tie flies has nothing to do with convenience and everything to do with flies and what are they really. When you learn about flies you’ll catch more trout and catching trout is why we fish.
Why new fly fishermen should tie flies. Fly tying takes your fly fishing to another level of understanding. Learning to tie as you learn to fly fish completes a circle, elevating your game, thereby helping you catch more trout. Why? Tying automatically takes you into the world of insects, the primary food of trout. Tying helps you discover and understand the insect’s lifecycles and lets you match your offerings to trout for the streams you fish.
As a beginner, learning to tie flies as you learn to fly fish will help you understand the environment you are fishing in and how it relates to “Mr. Trout”. Trout eat bugs and the more one learns about bugs, the more trout one will catch. Frankly when starting out, buying flies is your only choice, but as you begin fishing more often, tying your own flies will quickly change your approach to fly fishing.
Who Should Tie Flies And Who Shouldn’t?
Statistically speaking, of all the fly fishermen in the world, only about 25% of them tie flies. Time and money are the crucial factors in deciding whether to tie or not, not your skill set.
Time is a general problem for all of us. We never have enough time and not having the time is a great excuse we all use. The angler who’s job has demands that leave little time for being on the stream regularly will most likely buy flies. The fly fisherman who likes to get out a few times a year or spend some time with the guys for an opening day, probably won’t be tying either.
So my question of “who should tie and who shouldn’t tie” doesn’t go mainly to those of you who are beginners to fly fishing. This question is for everyone, “will you make the time to learn and do it”? In my opinion, anyone can tie flies, but it will take a little practice and, of course, time.
Enjoyment or Passion, It Can Be Both
If you find yourself trying to be out on the water as often as you can then you may be developing a passion for the sport. “Passion” for something creates the time necessary to pursue it. When we love doing something, then we make time. I know guys who wouldn’t miss an opening day to rifle season “no matter what”. I also know Dads and Moms who’ve made every game their kid played in. Heck, I once was going from a wedding to the reception and had an hour to kill. I managed to fish a creek on the way. I’m sure the white shirt, tie, and waders looked pretty funny to passersby.
There are some things we just enjoy doing. I for one like to cut my grass. I sit on the tractor, enjoy a good cigar and ride. But do I have a passion for cutting grass? No, not at all.
The point here is, if you enjoy it you’ll make the time to learn to tie and find the time to tie. Most tying for me gets done through the winter months and early spring when temperatures and conditions have me bottled up indoors. This is a great time to be tying.
Pros And Cons To Consider Whether Buying or Tying
The fly shop is a great place to visit for buying, not only flies but many of the things we need to pursue our fishing. The shop personnel probably fish the nearby streams regularly and know and understand the hatches that take place on the stream. If you are new to a stream and there is a fly shop nearby, chances are the shop is tying flies specific to that stream. Their advice and flies are worth the buying for that stream. Even seasoned fly guys will buy a fly or two, when offered by a shop owner, for a stream they are unfamiliar.
The Pros of Buying
- Fly shops make it easy to buy flies having large selections to look over. Buying online is convenient and everything is shipped to your door
- Buying difficult to tie flies is always a good idea. If a certain pattern is too difficult for you to tie or you are struggling to get it right, then supplementing with a purchased fly makes sense.
- Common flies like Wooly buggers, San Juan worms are easy to tie and can save you money in the long run by tying them yourself. But, buying them either online or discounted at a shop makes sense too. These flies are extremely popular because they work.
The Cons of Buying
- Buying online has some drawbacks. Not all flies are tied well or not proportioned correctly. Sometimes certain materials are missing or head cement hasn’t been applied in order to “cheapen” the fly. They aren’t always as durable and a couple of trout later they fall apart. Specific patterns aren’t always available either.
- Buying flies over time will get pricey too. Flies can be as little as $2.60 or as expensive as $10 bucks or more.
The Pros of Tying
- Tying teaches you about the “bugs” on the trout stream which will increase your ability to catch trout.
- You can tie exactly what you need and as many, as you need, I believe for less money too.
- Tying lets you escape the pressures of life for a few hours.
The Cons of Tying
- Tying your own flies has an initial cost that can be a bit pricey when you consider buying the vice, tools and starter materials.
- There is a learning curve to starting out and your first flies may not catch you many trout.
But learning to tie will, over time, far out weight the beginning learning curve. Being able to tie specific flies for specific streams puts you at an advantage. As an example, there is a stream I fish here in Pennsylvania that hatches a mayfly who’s wings are chocolate color. It’s kind of rare. The Professor, my friend Paul, tied a couple of these chocolate-colored flies for our outing on that stream and we had a field day catching trout while using them. (The 5 Bugs of Fly Fishing Entomology to Know?)
Is There A Cost-Benefit To Tying Your Own Flies?
The million-dollar question I am always asked: “Do tying flies save money”? This has been an argued question for eons I’m sure. I often think about hunting and fishing in general when it comes to this question.
Starting out, the procurement of equipment, clothes, gear, etc. can really add up in a hurry as we build our inventory. But over time the overall cost will decrease because you won’t need to buy certain things anymore. Guns, rods, bows, or vests will last a long time if cared for properly. The future purchases of these items will be more a matter of choice rather than necessity. But, other items need to be replaced regularly like waders, tippets, weight, floatant, ammo and the like.
When evaluating “Why New Fly Fishermen Should Tie Flies” start by eliminating the initial outlay of cash from the equation. These tools will last a long time and pay for themselves over time. I’m still using my Renzetti vice I brought 25 plus years ago and still have my original vice from way back.
But materials like feathers, dubbing materials, thread, beads, hooks, are examples, of on-going costs. These items get used up as you create the various patterns. They aren’t cheap either. A Pheasant tail could run you $10 and a Cock Saddle upwards of $63. How many flies can you expect to tie from each of these depends on many factors. The exact number of flies you tie from these materials is elusive.
But a Pheasant tail might yield 60-80 flies. Add in the hook, wire and some thread and you could be saving 1/3 to half the price of the store-bought version. Buying materials in bulk helps reduce some of the costs too. Consider the on-going costs only and tying flies will be cheaper than buying.
An overview of the basics of a vise and tying courtesy Bob Reese.
Time is Money
But, the old adage that “time is money” is what is really at play here. Cost is also related to the time spent on the bench. Do you know what your time is worth to you? Some flies take a few minutes to tie while others can take a lot longer. If you take your current salary and put it into an hourly wage, an hour at the bench for 5 flies may make them the most expensive flies in the world.
Trying to evaluate my time at the bench has always been difficult and to be brutally honest, I don’t care to do it. Sitting at the bench is fun and most of my tying happens through the winter when I have more time to dedicate to tying. Ever figure out how much it cost you to watch TV? Of course not, so my time on the bench is priceless. But if you are thinking of making and selling flies, time at the bench has to be accounted for and that drives up the cost of each fly tied.
Saving Money Isn’t The Reason To Tie
The real reason why new fly fishermen should tie flies doesn’t have anything to do with money. Also, we can buy flies almost anywhere, so why tie flies at all? The bottom line from my experience of tying is you may save a few dollars tying your own flies. But over time that will not be the motivating factor to tying your own flies. Catching trout and the thought of catching trout will be your motivator and why new fly fishermen should tie flies.
Fly tying inherently has a bonus for the fly fisherman. Learning to tie starts with tying traditional or standard patterns at first. These patterns were designed to generally mimic many different types of insects found on trout streams. A Hare’s Ear or Stimulator, for example, doesn’t really resemble any individual fly but rather looks similar to many types of insects.
Once you tie and catch a few trout on these flies, expanding your tying repertoire to include additional patterns is natural. Here is where the bonus comes in. As you begin to learn more about tying you will naturally learn more about the insects that inhabit the streams you fish. As your knowledge of the bug life on the creek improves so too does your skills at the vice.
Becoming more aware of the “bug’s life” on and around a stream means paying closer attention to the details of the creek. Tying seems to put you onto this path without you really knowing it’s happening.
Observation is the Key to Successful Fly Fishing
As a person becomes more involved in fly fishing they can’t help but pay closer attention to the insect life on the creek. It’s a good practice taking time to observe the water and surroundings to see what the bug life is doing.
Watching insects in the air or turning over rocks to inspect what creatures may lurk there helps determine what should go on the end of a tippet. These details will also travel back with you to the tying vice when you discover you don’t have one of them in your fly box.
The cool thing is tying “that specific insect” teaches you more about the phase and phases of that bug’s lifecycle as you learn to tie it. Each experience like this increases your knowledge and will increase your success at catching trout.
Tying flies keeps you in the world of trout when you are away from the creek. Your bench becomes a place where you daydream and reminisce and conjure. As you tie each fly you can’t help being swept away to your favorite stream in your mind replaying catches or the ones that got away.
What trout feed on is the whole world of trout fishing. Fly fishing is using a special type of rod and reel as a delivery system to present a trout with a replica of what he is eating right then. (What Are The Basic Skills for Nymph Fishing Success?)
Tying Flies “Completes the Circle” of Fly Fishing
The greatest reason for why new fly fishermen should tie flies is the satisfaction of catching a trout on a fly you tied. It is difficult to explain the feeling or emotion you experience landing a trout on a fly you tied. But what is certain, fly tying will take your fly fishing to another level. Tying connects the fly fisherman to the world of trout by connecting the angler with what trout feed on most, insects.
As a tier learns to tie, he learns more about the insects and their lifecycles. Many of the patterns being tied relate to various periods in a “bugs” lifecycle. Bugs, like Mayflies, Caddisflies, Stoneflies, Midges, which are the main food source for trout. These families of bugs begin life as a nymph and eventually hatch into an adult.
As these bugs go through the phases from a nymph to an adult, trout key in on each phase and feed on them. Throughout the course of the year, trout feed on these bugs as nymphs, emergers or adults. As a tier, the fun is tying a “replica” matching a phase in the bug’s development that will satisfy a trout into a strike.
The fly tying vice is more like a kitchen stove where diner gets conjured up and you’re the chef. The fly tying desk is an inventory center holding all the ingredients and tools you need to create the perfect “meal”.
But seriously, the vice is your connection between the insect world and the trout you hope to catch. “Completing the circle” is sitting at the desk, tying a fly, taking the fly to water and fooling a trout into taking it.
I have found when I tie a fly pattern it is a good idea to tie several of the same flies. Sure, I want to have enough for my fly box and a reserve amount for the inevitable lost fly, but also because flies have a tendency to be given away. I routinely give flies to my buddies and often have flies taken from my box by those same buddies who as they say “I don’t have one of those”.
Giving flies to my newcomer crowd happens often too. It is fun to share the creations you tie and especially fun when you hear “I caught some nice trout on that fly you gave me”. I too end up with flies offered to me by the guys proud to share their work at the bench as well.
But what stands out as a real privilege and honor are what I call the “trading of the fly ritual”. This is when a total stranger, fly fishing the stream you are on, engages you in general conversation. And somewhere in that conversation, he offers to share a fly he has tied with you. In turn, you offer up one of yours in return. This “trading of the fly” is a small insignificant moment but solidifies membership to the fly fishing club. Most of all, it just makes you feel good.
No store-bought fly will excite you the same way catching a trout on a fly you tied will. Not everyone has the time to dedicate to the vice and that’s ok. Why new fly fishermen should tie flies has nothing to do with saving money or buying a fly, but everything to do with helping you catch more trout. If you are willing to put in the time and develop the interest, tying will open up a whole new world for you. Tying puts you closer to nature as you learn to tie the traditional patterns that resemble many of the species of insects that inhabit a trout stream. There is no question streamside entomology will help you catch more trout and tying will automatically help you learn it. It’s what tying flies is all about. How will you know if you’re a good enough fly tier? Mr. trout will let you know. Fish on!
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What Flies Should I Use for Trout?
Flies for trout mimic the main food source for trout which is insects. Mayflies, Caddisflies, Stoneflies, and Midges make the families of flies used to trout fish. Many patterns of flies have been tied to mimic these families of insects.
What is Needed to Start Tying Flies?
You will need a good vice to hold hooks for applying materials, scissors, a bobbin for thread, hackle pliers and tying materials like feathers, dubbing material, and hooks.