the fly tier's Benchside reference

Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody, WY, retired National Park Superintendent

the fly tier's Benchside referenceI started learning how to tie flies when I was twelve years old in 1948. Obviously, my early production of wet flies, Quill Gordon’s, Hendrickson’s, Mickey Finn streamers, and crude nymph imitations were pretty ugly. Some might say my flies are still ugly. My fly tying speed is slow and my skill is average. I tie flies slowly and methodically. Tying flies for me is a pleasurable hobby rather than a rush to produce quantity.  During my early years I collected most of my fly tying materials from animals that I and others hunted or trapped. My first fly tying vise in 1948 was $3.95 from Herter’s catalog where I also bought a lot of fly tying materials, a bow, arrow making supplies, trapping supplies, reloading equipment and even their U9 rifle in .30-06 caliber during their prime business years from 1948-1968.  I used the Herter’s fly tying vise from 1948 to 1994, when I bought one of the popular rotary vises and gave my fully functional Herter’s vise to a young beginning fly tier. But, this is about the only books you will ever need to become a good fly tier.

Over the years I purchased many books on fly tying that explain the details of stonefly, caddis fly and mayfly biology, the construction of their imitations in fur and feathers, hatching dates, and expert instruction on how to tie flies that are as effective as commercial flies tied by professionals. As of this writing there are thirty-two fly tying books in my library, and I learned something of value from every one of them. Over the years I gave that many or more fly tying books to my brother or others who were beginning fly tiers.

Many fly tying authors have published excellent books  on the subject of tying flies including Art Flick, Eric Leiser, Dave Hughes, Ted leeson, Poul Jorgensen, Jim Schollmeyer, Dick Talleur, Ernest Schwiebert, and Randall Kaufmann just to name a few.

Trout Flies, The Tier's ReferenceThis is my personal opinion for a beginner, or even the most experienced fly tier. You only need two books to know all you would ever need to know to tie good flies and be successful as a fly tier and fisherman. They are The Fly Tier’s Benchside Reference to Techniques and Dress Styles. It is 444 pages by Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer; published November 13, 1998. Leeson is an excellent writer and he ties excellent flies, Schollmeyer is also an excellent fly tier and an outstanding photographer as well as a writer. Without question their book is by far the most comprehensive book describing the many methods of utilizing different materials in creating fishing flies. The only other book you would ever need is Trout Flies, The Tier’s Reference by Dave Hughes It is 480 pages, published April 1, 1999. Both are expensive books. Either one or both would be a gift of a lifetime.

Leeson and Schollmeyer’s Benchside Reference explains many techniques, perhaps all the known techniques, and different materials that can be used to produce fly bodies, wings, hackle methods and specific detailed instructions with photographs on how it is done.

Dave Hughes’ book provides the traditional and alternate patterns, with photographs for all the flies you will ever need in your lifetime or the lifetime of your heirs. I believe both books are, or will, be collector’s items. They will survive in the world of fly tying as classic written achievements for many years in the same vein that Richard Rhodes’ Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb has in the scientific world of physics and chemistry. Richard Rhodes book was originally published in 1988 and republished in 1995. That might be a stretch on my part as fly fishing and fly tying books never seem to get any consideration for the Pulitzer Prize though the two I recommended should.

Tying flies is a creative hobby. You can tie all the traditional patterns, or spend countless hours creating your own designs and imitations of aquatic and terrestrial insects.. Store bought flies are expensive. When you are tying your own, you won’t hesitate to attempt a cast into a difficult or likely fish holding spot on the stream even if there is a chance it will snag up in some brush pile or something else where you might lose the fly. Predatory fish hide in those places.


  1. Hello,
    I stared tying flies under my father watchful eye when I was 6 years old 1941.
    I also still have my Herters fly tying vise and two newer vises. I have the 1940’s herters catalogs.
    I would like to get some Chase fly tying bobbins as 2 of mine were stolen when I was teaching!!!
    If you have or know someone who would sell me the Chase fly tying bobbins please email me.
    My email address is [email protected]
    Thank You!
    henry Hollis

  2. The only book I would add is: Dave Hughes, “NYMPHS for Streams and Still Waters”. I am, however, a book lover. I have many, many fly fishing and tying books, including at 1944 seventh printing of “Trout”. While I agree that those two books would be enough, I just can’t seem to part with any of my collection.

  3. I agree both books recommended are excellent. Leeson & Schollmeyer’s “Benchside Reference” is a sort of bible for my fly tying, I refer to it often. I don’t think I’ve ever had a tying problem or question arise that this book could not answer. For a beginner, though, I’d suggest another title these authors have out, “Benchside Introduction to Fly Tying.” This book has a number of brilliant features that make it a lot easier for a beginner to navigate, and the information it contains is much more relevant for most tyers. It’s not nearly as comprehensive as the Benchside Reference, but it’s also not as complicated and intimidating to the rookie. Although the Benchside Reference is truly a lifelong resource, frankly I don’t think there’s one tyer in a hundred who actually needs it.

  4. Clay,

    Great recommendations. Although I don’t have Schollmeyer’s works, I can attest to the efficacy of Hughes’ Trout Flies. It is a fine reference. I would add another essential work to the list of must have fly tying books: Production Fly Tying by A. K. Best (1989). It is probably the most comprehensive guide to tying techniques there is. If you can master A.K.’s recommended techniques for all elements of various types of flies, you will be tying great stuff.

    Mike Cline

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