Home fly fishing Why Should I Learn to Tie Flies?

Why Should I Learn to Tie Flies?

Fly tying is an exciting extension to an already exciting sport. It allows the use of natural and synthetic materials to construct flies that have the potential of attracting fish and allowing you to hook up for great sport.


Many of the materials used for fly tying are natural materials that may be the result of your or a friend’s hunting experience. These may be duck, pheasant or grouse feathers or squirrel tails, buck tails and fur of various animals. In the event that you do not have access to these, most fly shops or online resources had chicken hackle, various duck feathers, fur and a myriad of synthetic materials to construct every fly fisherman’s favorite pattern.

Commercially available materials that you might need will include tying thread in various sizes and colors, hackle, dubbing and head cement.

Fly Categories

Dry Flies – As you might suspect, this category of flies simulates an insect floating on top of the water. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of patterns. Fly fishermen may swear to the success rate with certain of these, but presentation of the fly may the be most important aspect.

Hook sizes may run from 10 to 24. It is often amazing that a huge trout may be caught on a tiny fly.

This category of flies offers the most visual takes by trout as they eagerly rise and engulf the fly.

This category has many sub-categories, based on the insect being imitated. Many of these, such as mayflies, caddis and stoneflies are aquatic insects. Land based insects such as grasshoppers, crickets and similar insects are called terrestrials.

Emergers – This category is aquatic insects that have recently ascended to the surface of the water and they ride very low in the surface film. They are newly hatched insects and the fish may be keying on them at times.

Nymphs – This category simulates insects that are still in an intermediate stage of development and may be attached to underwater debris, under rocks or floating freely in the water column.

Streamers – Streamers are used to mimic small fish that larger trout may pursue. These are usually tied on larger, long-shanked hooks.

Note: Nymphs and streamers may be tied with copper or tungsten bead-heads or the body weighted by wrapping the hook shank with lead wire during the tying operation. In some cases, you may choose to add weight by pinching the appropriate size split shot onto your leader, several inches about your fly.

Tools Required

  • A good vise is the most important and a rotary vise is the best choice.
  • Bobbins for assorted sizes and colors of thread.
  • Scissors
  • Hair stackers
  • Whip finisher
  • Tweezers
  • Good lighting

Tying Instructions for the Elk Hair Caddis Dry Fly

This pattern was selected as an example because it is a favorite of many anglers, but many of the steps are relevant to tying various other flies.

  • Select hook size and place hook bend into vise jaws and tighten. Shank should be horizontal.
  • Insert selected thread size and color thread into a bobbin and wind thread around hook shank, started about a hook eye length behind the eye of the hook and wind to the bend of the hook, building up a good foundation for the fly.
  • Select a hackle feather of the proper color and strip the barbs from one side of the feather and tie the tip end near the hook bend.
  • Select proper color and type of dubbing and pinch off a small quantity and spin it onto the thread. Moistening the fingers or using dubbing wax may help in the beginning, but is not required once the technique is mastered. Wind dubbing around the shank, stopping about two hook eye lengths from eye of hook. Note: Caddis body should be thicker near the back and thinner toward the front of the hook. This is the opposite of mayflies and many other insects. A couple of extra revolutions of thread will secure the dubbing near the front of the fly.
  • Now the hackle that was previously tied in at the hook bend should be spiraled to the front, leaving adequate space for tying in the wing.
  • Select the desired color of elk hair and clip off near the skin. Strip out the underfur. Place elk hair, tip down, in a hair stacker and tap several times on tying table to even the tips. Carefully remove hair from stacker and remove any remaining underfur.
  • Pinch the hair securely and lay it against the shank of the hook where the dubbing ends. Wrap the hair securely, binding it to the hook shank. You will have to offset the hair because when you tighten the thread, it will rotate the hair. Use half hitches or whip finisher to secure the hair.
  • Use scissors to cut off bulky shank of hair. It will turn up where it is compressed by the thread and form the head of the fly.
  • Apply head cement to final wraps of thread to secure them. Use a bodkin, needle or pin to clear the eye of the hook. You can do it now or struggle with it on the stream later.

Guess what? You just tied your first fly and you’re all set for many hours of enjoyment. Fly tying will teach you about entomology and make you a better fisherman.

Have fun and practice catch and release!

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