Adam’s Dry (Umpqua) – A ‘Must Learn’ Pattern

Guest Blogger: Ben Miller

Essentially fly tying is, “the art of attaching feathers, fur, wool, and silk to a tiny hook to create artificial lures that imitate insects, a skill easily mastered by anyone who can peel a grape blindfolded with a pair of tweezers and a butter knife while wearing oven mitts.”—Robert Traver

I believe tying, or at least attempting to tie, flies is a natural progression for most fly fishers. We start by learning to cast, then progress to fly selection for any given waters or season. As most of us learn the fishing end, we begin to want more. Some get into tying to save money, some to become more in-tune to the fly fishing universe, and some because it’s just plain cool. Tying soon becomes its own addiction, with each fly representing some form of hope. Trust me on this, its hope.
Enter any fly shop or pick up a catalog and one is assailed with patterns, materials, and tools. Where does one even start? Hopefully I can help remove some of the mystique surrounding this fine art.
To begin: There are any number of ready-made kits available to the beginner. They usually include some materials, tools, and a vise. If you’re serious about tying, then I advise staying away from kits. The kits are made up of very basic things. The tools and materials aren’t the best quality or the best selection. Why buy one only to have to re-buy everything later? One can put together a kit of usable things quite easily. If you’re just getting your feet wet, then by all means, a kit is a nice way to see if you like tying without breaking the bank, but again, if you find you want to tie more, then you’ll be back spending more money to replace the components in the kit.
What you will need:
1. The Vise–The number one needed piece of equipment in tying. Hooks need to be held while we twist materials around them. The vise doesn’t need to be top of the line or super expensive. Most fly companies sell entry level vises that work great. I have been tying on an “entry level” vise for about 10 years and it still works great. Look at the way the hooks clamp in. I prefer the spring steel style because they make changing hooks easier, but there are others that have features that are quite nice once they are adjusted to hold your hook. The rotary functions are a great way to spin materials around a hook.
2. Tools–The basic tools needed to get started are:
Bobbins: Get two; The ceramic tubed ones are nice, but not necessary to start out and if you drop it on a hard surface, goodbye ceramic.
Bobbin Threader: Any one will do, but they are essential in threading a bobbin
Scissors: There are a multitude of available shapes and sizes. I would recommend getting a general pair and a pair with a fine point to trim materials close to the hook. Don’t mix them up, use the fine pair for fine work and vice versa, this will help keep your scissors sharp. If you’ve ever tried to cut something with dull scissors, you’ll understand this. If you have large hands, look for the ones that have larger handles, it will make your life a lot easier.
Bodkin/Half Hitch Tool: Just a needle used to apply head cement, clean hook eyes, and adjust materials. The half hitch tool is an easy way to tie half hitches on your flies.
Hackle Pliers: This is simply a clamp used to hold feathers while winding them around a hook. The rotary heads are nice, but not essential.
Whip Finisher: A must have for finishing your fly. There are a few styles available, just choose the one that you like the looks of and learn to use it.
The tools don’t have to be absolute top of the line (translated-expensive). Most suppliers offer their own brand of tools. These are often made by the top companies at a much better price. No loss of quality, just a better bargain.
3. Tying Materials/Patterns-These two go together like thunder and lightning, first one then the other. There are a multitude of materials available to the tyer and it’s a subject that can be overwhelming. I’ve been tying for twenty years and I’m still overwhelmed at the choices available. My advice is to choose your patterns first then purchase the materials to tie said patterns. This will help eliminate waste and unused stuff.
4. Hooks-Hooks are literally the foundation on which each and every fly is built. There are lots of hooks out there for the choosing. Pick good quality hooks. A little money spent here will be worth it in the longer term. Again, choose these based on pattern. It’s easy to find yourself with a ton of hooks and none for the patterns you want to tie.

Now that you have the basics of what you need, it’s time to focus a little. Some must learn patterns are the adams dry, tan elk hair dry, gold ribbed hares ear nymph, american pheasant tail nymph, mickey finn streamer, clouser minnow streamer, glo bug egg, and last but certainly not least the wooly bugger. If you can learn these patterns, then all it takes is changing colors and combinations to tie the majority of flies you’ll ever need, at least for trout. For example: to tie a black stonefly, simply tie a pheasant tail in all black, or a mickey finn becomes a river dace by changing the bucktail to brown, black, and white. The combinations are endless, but you have to learn the basic patterns first. Tie a half dozen in one size, then another half dozen in a different size. Look at each one and be honest with yourself. Where can they be improved? I believe that fly tying is ninety percent material manipulation and ten percent pure will. The more experience you have with handling materials, the easier each fly will become.
So where does one actually learn to tie? In this day and age there are a plethora of resources to help the beginner learn to tie. Google can be your best friend here. There are videos and step by step instructions published everywhere on the internet. Just simply search for your pattern of choice. Another great way to learn is your local Trout Unlimited club. They often offer classes for tyers of all skill levels. Again, search a little and be rewarded.
Fly tying can seem like a huge undertaking, but with a little forethought and planning, it can be quite simple. It’s fun and another way to get involved with the sport we have come to love and enjoy. I will warn you, tying is addicting. There’s just something about twisting thread, feathers, and fur that draws one in.
Good luck and I hope to see you on the water or bench sometime.
This is Fly Tying!

1 Comment

  1. Your advice on avoiding fly tying kits is right on. I’ve never seen a kit that provided both quality of materials and tools while providing the RIGHT materials for the patterns you might need. I’ve always advised folks who want to learn to tie flies three things: 1) Choose one or two patterns you know you’ll fish—if appropriate one dry, one wet. When you obtain materials, get only the materials you would need for those patterns and get the best quality possible. Don’t over invest in materials you may never use and don’t buy poor quality (cheap) materials. Don’t move on to other patterns until you feel comfortable tying the first ones you chose. 2) Don’t over invest in tools until you are sure fly tying is something you want to pursue long-term. An inexpensive vise, one bobbin and maybe some hackle pliers is all you’ll need. J. Stockard has decent entry level vises for rock-bottom prices and Ebay may have 100s of used vises at very reasonable prices. 3) Invest in a decent fly tying book, one that focuses on technique, rather than pattern. The best in my mind is (no pun intended) is A. K. Best’s Production Fly Tying (1983). It may be a bit dated on the use modern synthetics, but it is rock solid on good tying techniques for most types of flies. Of course there are more contemporary works out there and many that are more focused on specific types of flies such as warmwater and saltwater patterns. A really good techniques book along with the plethora of tying videos on the web should give you all the instruction you need to dive into this abyss.

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