Fly Tying

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Whenever I finally get around to tying up some flies, I like to do it mass-production style. In the case of DHEs, this means tying up loads of hooks with wings and trailing thread for ribbing. I find that this way it’s easier to get the wings consistently good, by which I mean positioned correctly, and standing erect. It also lets me apply a little dob of varnish on the thread wraps around the wing. It takes a few minutes for the varnish to harden properly, but makes an already bullet-proof fly into something bordering on nuclear-armageddon-proof. When working on half a dozen or so at a time, by the time the last hook has been winged, the first one is ready for its body and thorax.


As a tying note with these flies, I find it essential to wack a whole load of thread wraps on the eye side of the wing, as a way to prop it up properly. I like to have the profile of the fly perfected before adding a body or thorax. These days I also tend to make a few turns of thread around the base of the wing, a bit like when posting a wing for a parachute fly. Again, it’s just a wee thing I’ve found to help with consistency in tying, and ultimately in presentation.


My final step before putting on the body or thorax is to check that the wing is reasonably centred. I find it’s quite common for the wing to be slightly biased towards the blind side (as seen from my tying position), so a wee bit of pruning is sometimes required to even things out. I find this to be important in terms of the final presentation on the water. An uneven wing often results in the fly sitting on its side on the water, rather than with the hook point and body under water.

Other flies I’m tying are terrestrial bugs, made from foam sheets and rubber legs. These are fun to tie, and pretty easy as well. The crucial thing I’ve discovered is to always add a wee bit of poly-yarn as a wing, to help with sighting. Without such a visual target, it’s very difficult to spot the fly on the water, as it sits very low. Indeed, one might say a level of ultra-stealth camo has been achieved, which fools both angler and fish. I tend to use white yarn, but I’ve seen other folks using yellow or pink. The wing is usually cut short and thus hidden when seen from underwater, so I don’t suppose it makes any difference to the fish.

A while back I was musing about the great fly tying problem of `waste stuff’. Every time I tie a deer hair emerger a great plume of trimmed deer hair finds its way down onto my bedroom floor. This is not exactly a universe-ending disaster. However, with my new-fangled portable fly tying system, I know I’m going to be doing a lot more tying on the road. That means my tying bench will be B&Bs, campsites and my car steering wheel. With all that waste, I could end up causing a kind of world war with the neighbors, and that’s definitely not cricket. What was needed was a catcher. A Catcher in the Hookeye, in fact.


Take one coat hanger, one old teeshirt, a little inventiveness and a friend with a sewing machine. Boil together in a large pan with garam masala, tomatoes and a Saturday afternoon. Add a chunk of metal, sprinkle with a little Disney magic and out pops this wee gem.


The Catcher in the Hookeye is my version of the waste material bin. It fits snuggly onto most vice shafts with that wee chunk of metal I mentioned, which I found lying around my lab at work. I’m not sure what it’s called, but I call it `the wee chunk of metal’. The frame is made of a bent coat hanger. Of course, coat hangers are normally bent when you buy them, so the idea of bending one is almost ironic. Bending the bent. It’s like asking a duck to quack with a Swedish accent. It’s a bent idea that.

The catching bit is the back of one of my oldest teeshirts. My mother tried for about five years to get me to chuck it, but my line was always “Ma, there will be some use for it eventually, I’m just not sure what it is yet.” Well Ma, here it is. The catcher of the Catcher in the Hookeye.


I like the fact that all my waste gets trapped now. I’ve always found that waste fly tying material is a bit like a dream: if you don’t grab it whilst it’s fresh, it’s lost forever. And that, my friends, is a little sad. Now there’s a right and proper place for waste, and it’s in the Catcher. Every now and then I’ll delve into the bowls of this humble servant, and it’s amazing the bits and bobs of old material that can be used for other flies. As I am an ethnic mix of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Scotland, I’m about as tight as they come. So don’t blame me, it’s genetic.


The Catcher falls nicely in line with my increasingly obsessive policy of home-made fly tying paraphernalia. It functions perfectly well, and cost -£2.50 (that’s the money I saved by not wasting time and petrol on taking my old teeshirt and coat hanger to the recycling joint). I tried for about three months to find something similarly decent in the fishing tackle shops, and the cheapest thing I found was almost a tenner. Ridiculous. Get yourselves a flaming coat hanger and a good old fashioned chunk of metal. Take half an hour on a Saturday afternoon (other days are less reliable) and churn one out for yourself. Then get down to the local newsagent and spend your saved cash on 250 penny sweets. Glorious.

Long hours of quiet meditation. Days of ingesting inordinate quantities of super-curry. With-holding toilet use for three days. There are many things we can do to try to change ourselves. I tried to change, I tried to be a Tuesday-night-tier. I tried to set targets and to stick to them. Ten muddler heads a week, how hard can it really be? Sadly, it just doesn’t work.


I’ve since come to accept that my erratic fly tying behaviour is probably a reflection of something rather unchangeable and hard-wired into my brain. I’ve heard it referred to as ‘personality’, and it ain’t half an arse at times. My newfound zen-like self acceptance means that some kind of permanent solution has had to be found for the issue of fly tying gear transportation. The Stand of Majesty just wasn’t going to cut it on the road, not with all those bobbin antennae. What was needed was a way to transport everything I could possibly need for any possible situation. Fluff, feathers, bobbins, the whole shebang. The system needed to be hardwearing, reliable, small and most importantly, easily transportable. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you… the Far-reaching And Ridiculously Tenacious fly tying System (FARTS to you and I).
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Whilst studiously working to write up some recent work I came across a really nice set of video clips. They are of the famous Gary Borger, and as far as I can tell they date from a few decades ago. A particular classic is the nymphing video series, which starts here. You can find the rest of the clips here. They are well worth a look.

I have a strange relationship with fly tying. On the one hand it has helped me to get more out of my fishing. I love seeing a trout sup down a little sherry spinner tied by my own two hands. It’s a special kind of satisfaction that just doesn’t exist with shop bought fluff. I have also found, however, that it sometimes has a tendency to drive me into a kind of unhealthy obsession. The most bizarre thing of all is that the obsession isn’t actually about tying flies.


Organisation. Where would we be without the simple joy found in sorting stuff out, finding a proper place for every last widget? Fly tying is an absolute class A activity for those of us with a ‘sorting out’ fetish. The endless packets of dubbing, the myriad feathers and capes, the insane variety of hooks. Oh what joy! I am certain that I have a problem. I’m becoming the kind of fly tier that spends more time, a lot more time, sorting out fly tying paraphernalia than actually tying flies. Perhaps the worst thing of all though, the real bottom clencher, is that I rather suspect that I spend even more time just thinking about sorting out fly tying gear than even sorting the damn stuff out.

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