Fly Tying 101: Ultimate Quick Start Guide for Beginners 2021


Hey, I’m glad you are here. It means you’ve started on a journey that is one of the most rewarding experiences in fishing.

Well done you. Seriously.

Fly tying for beginners starts with a steep learning curve, and it can be a mountain that you never summit, but man, the journey alone is worth it.

And you’ll catch plenty of fish on the way? Sounds great, right?

I love tying flies and want to share my passion, so I’ve produced this handy quick start guide that will get you on the right path.

Are you ready to begin? I’m excited.

Disclosure: At BonfireBob, we recommend products based on unbiased research, however, BonfireBob.com is reader-supported and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases if you shop through the links on this page. For more information, see disclosure here.

Why Start Fly Tying?

Here’s a better question…

Why wouldn’t you start fly tying? Honestly, it is one of my passions.

Want to know why? Let’s run through the reasons.

Thank me later:

fly tying scissors knife vise bobbins and other tools

#1 It is Really, Really Rewarding

Fly fishing is all about deception. It is literally you vs nature. You’ve used your clever human brain to deceive a wild animal into thinking something artificial is real. This is achieved by the way you have fished a fly and presented it on the water. Right fly, right place, right time.

So far, so good?

Now let’s take that principle to the next level. This is what fly tying achieves.

You’ve not only fooled the fish, but you’ve also actually created something with your own hands that has fooled the fish. It’s literal art… Like a painter who has created a portrait so realistic, people think it’s a photograph. It’s the same level of reward.

#2 It Can be Cheaper

Notice something in the above?

I said it can be cheaper, not it is cheaper. Once you get hooked (pun intended) on fly tying, it literally is an addiction. There’ll always be more tools to try, more flies to tie, and more materials that will give you that edge.

Put off? Don’t be…

Generally, suppose you are sensible about your budget and manage your materials and tools wisely. In that case, I reckon you could tie about 200 flies for less than $100. That’s less than a dollar a fly. Good luck finding such a great deal at your local tackle shop!

#3 It’s an All Year Round Pursuit

Nobody likes closed season or fly fishing in winter.

But let me tell you something.

If I’m not fishing, there is nothing I like doing more on cold winter nights than pouring myself a stiff drink and settling down for the evening with my toolkit for an epic fly tying session. There’s something reassuring about the repetitive action of fly tying. I can practically imagine the flies on the water (and how many fish they could catch).

If the weather isn’t good enough to go fly fishing, sitting tying flies comes as a close second.

Seriously it’s like fishing and meditation in one great package.

#4 You Can Make a Fly Exactly to Your Specifications

Let me tell you a very quick story…

I remember a day I had arctic char fishing. And the fish were about. But they weren’t biting. I happened to bump into an angler who was a little older than I (rare)… He’d caught several fish and asked to see his fly.

Now, here’s the thing.

It was exactly the same as mine, except for one key difference… It was smaller… And I didn’t have one in my fly box

So guess what I did that evening?

I took out my fly fishing kit and whipped up a batch of smaller flies. The next day, there wasn’t a char left in that stream that I hadn’t caught.

By adapting and changing your patterns, you can create variations that money simply can’t buy. Want an orange tail instead of a green one? You’ve got it. Wish your lure had a longer tail? Make it so!

Tying your own flies gives you unlimited options and flexibility in your fishing… literally.

Does all this sound like a good thing? That’s because it is. Right, let us show you what you’ll need.

fly tying vise and bobbins for fly fishing

Fly Tying Essential Tools

Ok, full disclosure.

You can spend a fortune on fly tying tools. But let me warn you now, some are intended to catch more anglers than fish.

I’m not going to beat about the bush. My list is short for a reason. It is all you need to get tying some great flies. Buy this gear, and you’ll be good to go. No ifs or buts…

Here’s a list of the best fly tying tools you’ll need and what they do:

A Vise

The vise is the focus of your fly tying setup. It’s a sort of clamp with a thin set of jaws. The vise will hold the hook securely while you fashion your materials around it to make a fly.

You’ll generally find two types:

A Clamp Style Fly Tying Vise

This attaches to the edge of any flat surface. They are generally a little cheaper and are often what you’ll find in premade fly tying kits.

A Pedestal Based Fly Tying Vise

These are a little more expensive. They can be positioned on any flat surface. They are great as you can move them around to get comfortable.

If you are interested in vices, I’ve got a fully comprehensive guide just here.

Hackle Pliers

Hackle pliers?

Sounds weird, right. Think of these more like a set of lockable tweezers. A hackle is a name given to a singular feather used to make the legs or wings of a fly.

Feathers aren’t the easiest thing to grip and twist around a hook. A pair of hackle pliers makes this easy. Many will feature a finger loop so you can wind your feathers onto your hook really easily.

This video demonstration shows how they are used.

Scissors

Obviously, you will want to trim your materials and cut your thread at some point.

But here’s the thing…

Feathers are really hard to cut. You need a small pair to allow you to work with individual strands and are also sharp enough to make light work of tiny fibers.

Fly tying scissors are probably a little different than what you would expect. I’ve got some great examples of fly tying scissors here.

A Bobbin

Along with your vise, a good bobbin is essential for fly tying. The purpose of the bobbin is to dispense thread or silk used to tie a fly.

Want a tip?

Get a good bobbin. You are going to be using it a lot.

The thread or silk is what you will use to secure all of your materials to your hook. It needs to be tight, but not too tight that the thread breaks.

Here is what a bobbin looks like. There are a few different styles.

A Dubbing Needle

Dubbing is the name given to fly bodies that are made entirely of hair. (kinda reminds me of my ex-wife).

A dubbing needle is used to tease sections of hair out of the body to make it more fluffy. It is essentially a large thin pin with a handle.

Dubbing needles fulfill a couple of roles. They can also be used to apply varnish and lacquer to the fly’s head, making it last much longer.

A Whip Finisher

A whip finisher is maybe a little luxury, as you can get by without one, but once you learn to use it, you’ll find that it 100% guarantees that the head of your fly is super secure and tied tight. Plus its really quick,

There is a bit of a technique to using one. I could explain it, or I could show you.

Which would you prefer?

Thought so…

Materials Used in Fly Tying

All kitted out?

Good, but we need something to make the flies out of. And that means buying materials.

Now I’m going to be straight with you…

I couldn’t even begin to list every material you might buy. But what I will do is give you a general overview of the kinds of materials used in tying flies. It’ll definitely be enough to get you started.

Fly Tying Hooks

The hook is the backbone of any fly. After all, without it, you aren’t going to catch a single fish. Fly tying hooks come in a whole manner of shapes and sizes. They certainly aren’t one size fits all.

You can see a great selection in my fly tying hooks guide just here.

If you are staying with me, then let me make a suggestion.

Start with a large hook around size #12 with a long shank. It’ll make life easier.

set of different accessories and hooks for fly tying

Fly Tying Thread

Thread is the basis of every single fly you’ll tie.

The thread has two purposes.

It is used to line and bulk up the hook shank, and it is used to secure other materials to the hook.

Which thread should you buy for fly tying? There is literally every color under the sun, but as a barebones starter, I’d suggest the following…

Get 5 separate spools in the following colors. Black, white, red, brown, and olive green. That will cover you for about 80% of the flies you’ll tie.

There is a finer thread available called silk. But it is a little too fine for a beginner.

Hackles

Hackles are small individual feathers that are used to create wings, legs, and bodies of flies.

You can buy packs of individually plucked feathers, or you can go the whole hog and buy a full cape. This is literally the skin of a dead bird that is dried.

A cape may cost a lot of money. Still, it gives you great flexibility and is actually really good value as there are thousands of feathers on a single cape.

Maribou

Maribou is great for tying lures. It is basically soft ostrich feathers dyed in different colors.

Maribou is really mobile and imparts a lifelike swimming motion to tails and bodies.

Take a look at this fly. It is super fluffy.

Fur

The fur is used primarily to form the body of many flies. It is twisted onto the waxed thread, which is then wound around the hook shank.

Unlike hackles, fur is really cheap. You can pick up an assortment of different colored seal furs for a few bucks. And it lasts for ages.

Large Feathers

You may need other feathers for making things such as wing cases and tails.

Now, I’m going to give you a top tip. And you’ll be able to tie quite a few flies.

Get a pheasant tail and a peacock feather. There are hundreds of patterns that use both!

Chenille

Chenille is a type of fluffy wool used for making bodies on lures. It isn’t expensive. If you get, say, 5 colors of chenille and another 5 of maribou, you’ll easily be able to tie hundreds of lures.

My favorite is called a cat’s whisker. It’s a real trout catcher.

Fly Tying Wax

Wax is pretty simple to use. It helps your thread grip onto the body material. It comes in a tiny tin. All you do is slowly pull your thread through the wax. It melts due to friction and becomes a little tacky. It’s great when you are making dubbed seal fur bodies.

Varnish

The varnish isn’t strictly necessary, but it will increase the lifespan of your flies.

It’s so simple.

Just apply a bead or two to the heads of your flies after you have whip finished them.

An All in One Fly Tying Kit?

So you might feel a little overwhelmed.

I don’t blame you. But here’s the good news. You can find really affordable fly tying kits that contain absolutely everything that you will need to get started.

If you are looking for beginner kits, I’ve dedicated a section to them. They contain tools, materials, and vises… In fact, some contain all three!

An all-in-one kit is a really great solution for starting your journey. Most come with a pattern book, instructional material, not to mention all the bits you will need to jump right into making your own flies.

fly fishing flies and fly fishing rod

Easy to Tie Flies for Beginners

Ok, so I said I’d get you started, and I meant it.

You might have seen all sorts of complex-looking flies with legs, arms, super realistic eyes, and swimming tails.

But I’m going to tell you a secret…

Sometimes the simplest flies catch the most fish. If I was to keep a score of which flies had caught the most fish, the ones I am about to show you would feature in my top 10 for sure.

And the best bit?

They are all super easy to tie. Click on the titles, and you can see what they should look like. From there, it’s just a case of learning some basic techniques.

I’ll include a video of how to tie each, along with the materials you’ll need. So if you found the above list of materials a little too much, just get each item on the pattern, and you should be able to tie around 30 flies right from the get-go.

I’m also going to tell you what each fly is designed to represent. Feel free to ‘alter the recipe’ to make different variations. When it comes to hooks, don’t spend a fortune either, I’ve got a guide here to show you how cheap it can be to buy hooks.

San Juan Worm

  • Hook: Size #12 curved
  • Thread: Red
  • Body: 1 piece of red Chenile

The San Juan Worm is designed to imitate a bloodworm. Bloodworms live in the mud on the bottom of lakes and rivers. When they are washed up into the current, they wiggle enticingly. This pattern uses a body of red chenille, a hook, and a little red thread.

It’s simple and deadly.

How to Tie the San Juan Worm:

Pheasant Tail Nymph

  • Hook: Size #14 straight shank
  • Thread: Black
  • Body: Pheasant tail fibers
  • Tail: Pheasant tail fibers
  • Rib: Gold wire

You’ll hear the Pheasant Tail Nymph described as the ‘PTN’. It is designed to imitate an aquatic larva that eventually morphs to become a fly. This is a proven trout catcher and can be fished on either a floating or a sinking line.

How to tie a Pheasant Tail Nymph:

Black Epoxy Buzzer

  • Hook: Size #14-20 curved
  • Body: Black thread/varnish
  • Rib: Silver wire

The Epoxy buzzer is designed to look like midge larvae. They make up the bulk of a trout’s diet. Along with the San Juan, this may be the easiest pattern in the world to try, and it great for practicing your skills with a bobbin.

The best thing is with different color threads, you can tie multiple variations!

How to Tie a Black Buzzer:

Fly Tying Patterns

Ok, did you find the above a little too simple? Or have you mastered them already? Well, you are in luck.

Let me give you some more suggestions…

Here are my top easy-to-tie fly patterns for beginners!!!

My Best Wet Fly for Trout

Woolly Bugger

  • Hook:#14 (long shank)
  • Thread: Olive green
  • Body: Green chenille
  • Tail: Green maribou

Best Dry Fly for Trout Fishing

Griffiths Gnat

  • Hook: #18
  • Thread: Black
  • Body: Grizzle Hackle and peacock feather

Trout Catching Nymph

Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

  • Hook: #14 straight
  • Thread: Green
  • Body: Green seal fur
  • Tail: Green feather fibers

Top Tips for Beginners

Ok, So that’s more than enough to be going on with…

Still, need a little guidance?

Let me run through some top tips that will help you along the way

#1 Practice Fly Tying!

Like anything new, learning to tie flies takes a lot of practice. Your first few efforts may look nothing like the picture.

Keep going!

The only way to improve is to practice. If it doesn’t look perfect, then don’t worry, sometimes I have found that my messy flies are the ones that catch the most fish! The trout don’t seem to mind if a head is a little big or a tail is a bit short.

#2 Keep Your First Ever Fly!

Trust me, don’t fish with it. Keep it and treasure it. Making a fly is the start of a journey of discovery that lasts a lifetime.

I still have mine from years ago, I tied it using a paper clip, and a few feathers pulled from an old duster.

And do you know what?

I’m still proud of it!

#3 Expensive Doesn’t Always Mean Better

Buying the best fly tying kit is about choosing what works for you. Go too advanced too soon, and you are going to struggle. The best fly tying setup will be easy to use and shouldn’t cost you the earth either.

#4 Measure Twice Cut Once

If you have seen my article on fly tying scissors, you’ll know that they are seriously sharp. And they’ll cut through almost anything. It can be easy when you are starting off to give your flies a good haircut…

But here is a tip.

Remember, you can take it off, but you can’t glue it back on, so cut and trim in sections. I prefer a longer tail or wing, especially on my dry flies.

Plus, leaving things a little longer gives you the option to make last-minute changes when you are down on the bank and fishing!

#5 Take Care of Your Kit

The only time I have ever needed to replace gear is when I have dropped it or damaged it by storing it incorrectly. Scissors have become chipped, the ceramic lining of my bobbin has cracked, and I’ve let the varnish dry on my dubbing needle. All of it ended up costing me more money.

If you look after your tools, they will look after you. Be sure to clean them and put them safely away after each tying session. The last thing you need is to find a nice sharp pair of fly tying scissors down the side of the couch!

#6 Be Organized

I remember when I just started out tying flies. I used to heap my tools and materials and just pick and scrabble around.

Guess what the quality of my flies was?

Nowadays, I am super organized. A tidy bench equals tidy flies. I have a jar for my feathers, a box for all of my other materials, and a compartmentalized section for my hooks. My tools are all to hand in a foam cut-out container.

Be organized, and you’ll advance so much quicker.

fly tying vise and fly fishing tying tools

Fly Tying FAQ

Fly tying is a whole new world when it comes to fishing, so you are bound to have questions.

Here are some of the things that I get asked regularly about fly tying:

How do I get started in fly tying?

There has never been a better time to get started with fly tying. The ability to access online resources to learn is something that you can use to your advantage.

My advice is this. Get a great fly tying kit, sit down, load up a video and get tying. You’ll learn by doing, and it won’t take long until you are knocking out flies regularly.

What is the best fly tying kit for beginners?

There is a whole range of fly tying kits available for beginners. You can buy the parts individually are get an all-in-one set that will leave you fully equipped. You can see examples of both right here.

Is tying your own flies cheaper?

Yes… It can be. Granted, there is an initial outlay for the kit and materials. But provided you tie a lot of flies, the price per fly is certainly less than store-bought versions. Tying flies can be really cheap if you choose the right flies and materials.

And the best bit…

Even cheap flies catch plenty of fish!

Can I make money tying flies?

Let’s be truthful.

It is actually really hard to make money tying flies. By the time you’ve invested in the gear and materials to produce a substantial collection, you will need to tie a few to make any profit.

On top of this, you have to factor in the amount of time it will take to tie a bulk order of flies. One issue that you would definitely face is quality control.

If you are selling flies, they have to be perfect. I don’t know about you, but even after 30 years of tying, mine still aren’t to a level that I’d be comfortable selling.

Here’s a better idea. If you want to show off your new-found skill, gift your flies to people. They’ll appreciate the effort and will think you are a magician if they catch fish using them.

How long does it take to tie a fly?

That all depends on the pattern. I can whip up a black buzzer nymph in about two minutes. Once I start making and cutting deer hair-spun bodies, I can be there for an hour or more getting it right.

As a good average, I’d say it take around 15 minutes to tie a fly. That’s four an hour. Still, think that a fly-tying business empire will turn a profit?

Is it worth it to tie your own flies?

Absolutely! It is so worth it to tie your own flies. You will save money in the long run and get a real sense of satisfaction when you reel in your first trout on a homemade fly.

Furthermore, it is a useful hobby and skill in its own right. I’d advise any fly fisherman to give it a go without any reservations.

What is the best place to buy fly tying materials?

There are numerous stores to buy the best fly tying materials. A quick online search will give you results. For a cheaper alternative, look around for materials.

I befriended a local hunter who would keep me in a good supply of hare’s fur. Another guy used to give me pheasant tail feathers on a regular basis.

Hell, when I have been short of tinsel, I have been known to use pieces of potato chip bags in some of my patterns!

You can tie flies with almost anything. Experiment, and you might just come up with the next iconic pattern!

Summary

Honestly, I’m excited for you. Fly tying, for beginners, is tricky to start off with, but it gets much easier really quickly.

Provided you get the right gear, have patience, and practice, I guarantee you will get rewards.

Got any crazy ideas for a fly? Do share… I love tying random patterns. Let me know in the comments below.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Recent Content