Will tying my own flies mean that I will catch more fish and save me money?”
It won’t make you a better caster to make that accurate presentation and certainly having flies that you have tied yourself won’t make fish materialise in areas where they don’t usually inhabit. However, learning to tie your own flies will cause you to become more observant as to what forage species are present and providing a food source for the fish in your particular area. As you become more involved, tying will tend to broaden your horizons by allowing you to use different patterns to target a more extensive variety of species. Many people find tying relaxing and fun but one of the great satisfactions of the sport is to catch a fish on a fly you have devised and tied yourself.
Because of the initial set up costs, it is expensive to tie your own flies if you are only fish a couple of times a year. In this case, take up tying knowing that it is a new hobby and don’t expect to save money. However if you fish regularly, after the initial setup, the cost per unit decreases with each fly tied particularly if you select and use “multi-purpose” materials that are suitable for producing a number of different flies.
Fly tying is undoubtedly an art form that has had more books written about it than any other aspect of the sport. Whilst many of these publications provide excellent reference material, the abundance of information tends to be confusing and daunting for many tiers. Once you know the basics, you can imitate virtually any form of forage species that fish feed on.
Many people hold back from giving tying a try through fear that they won’t be able to replicate a fly as it appears in that glossy tying book. Fortunately, fish are not the smartest of creatures on earth and generally don’t pass judgement on the way the fly is put together.
You finally succumb to your creative instincts and have decided to try your hand at fly tying. Be warned, once you start tying – you’re off and irretrievably addicted.
“Where do I start?”
One look inside a fly shop will reveal a multitude of tools, vices, and materials that all cost money. The confusing variety has been enough to dampen the enthusiasm of many a budding fly tier. We advise that the best way to begin with, is to start small and start cheap while you are “giving it a try”. Fish can’t tell if a fly is tied on a $40 or a $600 vise.
Avoid buying a lot of materials and expensive tools until you have tied for some time. After tying for some time you will develop your own style and knowledge. Consequently, you will be in a better position to choose tools and materials to suit the tying you do.
“Initially, is it best to purchase a kit?”
Many of the commercial kits available on the market although seeming good value, contain a lot of materials that are not suitable for the flies being tied. In many instances the quality of the tools included is debatable and will not do the intended job efficiently and may need replacing after a short period of use.
“What are the basics to get started?”
These come in varying price ranges and designs. It is recommendable to select one of good quality with hardened jaws so that they don’t wear out and lessen the holding grip on the hook. For saltwater fly tying, it should have the capacity to hold large range of hook sizes from 10 up to 5/0. Some brands have interchangeable jaws that allow smaller hook sizes to be handled. A rotating head is useful to enable the fly to be turned over without removing it from the vise.
This holds the reel of thread so that the tension is maintained on the thread between tying stages. They can range from a few dollars for the basic model up to many dollars for models that have ceramic inserts to lessen the risk of damage to the thread as the lip of the tube wears.
FINE POINTED SCISSORS
Used for cutting and trimming materials. It is important that they be sharp to provide clean cuts. A Laser cut edge is beneficial as it helps to prevent materials such as hair sliding along the blades as it is being cut.
WHIP FINISHING TOOL
The Maratelli tool enables a whip finish to be applied to tie off the thread so that it doesn’t unravel when the fly is finished.
A sharp pointed implement mainly used for the application of glues and other fixing materials. A cheap alternative is a darning needle in a wine cork.
There are many other tools used and these and/or alternatives will be covered in subsequent issues along with their use in the manufacture of particular.
The traditional ingredients used, hair and feathers, are favoured by many tyers because they impart very lifelike swimming actions to the fly. They are available in a wide variety of characteristics and colours. A knowledge of the characteristics of the different materials is important in the construction process. For example, bucktail (deer tail hair) can vary from thin at the tip of the tail to thick and coarse at the butt of the tail. Flies tied with the thinner hair will not be as bulky and will absorb water faster so will sink more quickly. The coarser hair will provide more bulk to the fly and will not absorb water as quickly so will sink more slowly. Calftail is not as long or as thick as bucktail therefore it absorbs water more quickly and is used for making smaller flies. This knowledge allows the use of different combinations of materials to construct flies that exhibit different characteristics to suit varied situations.
In recent times, a vast array of synthetic substitute materials has been developed and these are particularly useful for saltwater flies, as they tend to be more robust. Many of these materials (particularly the nylons) are very resistant to water absorption therefore flies tied with these materials are easier to cast because they tend not to become as waterlogged as those tied with naturals. On the conservation side, many of the synthetic materials have been developed as a replacement or substitute for the natural materials. Another major benefit that has resulted is the development of a vast array of flash and highlight materials. These provide an infinite number of options to produce flies, particularly for saltwater, that closely resemble the real thing.
These include purpose formulated preparations, varnish and fingernail polish. They are generally best used to seal or finish various parts of the fly, as their adhesive strength is not particularly high. The most important properties of these forms of head cement are the viscosity and the quick drying time that makes them ideal to use to secure materials during the tying process and to secure the finished head whipping.
It is quite viscous and gives a durable finish with a strong bond making it ideal for forming smooth hard heads, finishing bodies and gluing eyes. It consists of 2 parts – a resin and a hardener that must be mixed in equal quantities before use. The most common type used takes 5 minutes to cure and consequently the fly needs to be rotated to ensure an even distribution of the glue. This can be achieved by turning by hand, however if constructing a number of flies using epoxy, some form of rotisserie that rotates at between 12 and 18 rpm will be beneficial and time saving.
These remain pliable when dry, have good adhesive qualities and are fairly durable. The more viscous types can be used as head cement and to reinforce the materials used in tying the fly. They include commercial preparations such as Softex and Softdip as well as silicone.
CYANOACRYLATE (CA) GLUE
More commonly known as super-glue, it is extremely thin and therefore penetrates well. It dries quickly, does not shrink and is clear making it ideal for use as head cement, affixing eyes and attaching other body parts.
The majority of threads used are manufactured from either polyester or nylon. The thickness is defined by a series of zeros – 000 or 3/0 is thicker than 000000 or 6/0. The thicker treads are used for larger flies for additional strength when tying larger quantities of materials as well as giving a faster build up of threadbulk. Thinner threads are used on small flies where bulk needs to be kept to a minimum. Generally, 3/0 will cover most saltwater tying applications. Many threads are available in waxed and unwaxed versions in a vast array of colours. The waxing helps to resist fraying and aids in the forming of finishing wraps.
There are many different styles of hooks from different manufacturers and any discussion on the relative merits and the individual uses of the different styles is beyond the scope of this summary. Most saltwater flies are tied on stainless steel hooks to overcome the problem of rust ruining the fly.
Holographic eyes are printed in various colours and sizes on flat “holographic” paper. 3D eyes are moulded dome shaped eyes produced in a variety of colours and sizes. They are more expensive than the holographic type however they do give a very realistic appearance. Both are sticky backed and application is simply a matter of peeling them off the sheet and putting them in place. To ensure that they do not come off after immersion in water, a light coat of epoxy or flexible cement is applied over them when in place.
Hourglass eyes and beadchain are manufactured in a wide variety of materials, sizes and weights. Some types are supplied with eyes already applied, some have recesses in the extremities that allow you to apply holographic eyes of your own choice while others are left plain for simplicity. These are widely used to give varying sink rates to the flies.
This is in either wire or sheet form and is usually attached to the hook shank during the tying process. It is used to keel the fly to make it swim in a particular way or to add weight to increase the sink rate.
STARTING THE THREAD
Clamp the hook in the vise so that the jaws grip the hook at the bottom of the bend. The shank should be parallel to the work surface and the jaw tension should be adjusted so that downward pressure applied to the eye does not cause the hook to slip. If the vise has a rotating head, the hook shank and the barrell of the vise should be in a straight line.
Strip about 10cm of thread from the bobbin and hold the tag end in the left hand and the bobbin in the right hand. Fold the thread over the top of the hook shank at the tie-in position. Hold the thread under slight tension and bring the bobbin around the shank to trap the tag end against the shank. Wrap 4 or 5 tight wraps towards the bend. The tag end can now be trimmed off with scissors.
Note the direction the thread is wrapped – wrapping in this direction maintains the direction of twist used in the manufacture of the thread.
Letting the bobbin hang between tying stages maintains the tension on the thread and prevents it from unravelling.
TRANSFERRING THE THREAD
To move the thread between tie in points, either use close wraps or sparse transfer spirals. The latter method is useful in keeping the bulk of the fly to a minimum particularly on small flies as well as saving thread if long shank hooks are being used.
Finishing wraps are used to secure the thread at the completion of the fly and to form a neat head. Half hitches can be used but are hard to place accurately making it harder to form a neat well-shaped head. Most tyers prefer to use a form of whip finish – it is essentially a number of half hitches that are tightened all at once.
The whip finish is more secure than a number of individual half hitches and allows the thread to be placed more accurately to control the shape of the head. It can be achieved either by hand or using a whip finishing tool.
When trimming the tag, some tyers prefer to cut it close. However if monofilament thread is used it will tend to unravel and some threads shrink during finishing. Leaving a short stump of 1mm will overcome this problem.
USING THE MARATELLI ROTATING WHIP FINISHING TOOL
Prevent the head of the tool from turning in the handle with the forefinger. Lay the tool on the thread and catch under bottom notch and top hook. Bring the bobbin end of the thread up to the origin of the tread at the wrap
Maintain tension on the thread and shift the fingers to the handle in the position shown. The tool will spin in the handle to the position. Note that the thread is held along the hook shank.
Holding the handle only, rotate the handle in a circular motion around the hook shank. The notch should remain in line with the hook eye.
Repeat Step 3 another four times. As the thread shortens, gently rock the tool back and forth to feed more thread off the bobbin
To finish, slip the thread off the rear notch and maintain the tension on the loop with the tool hook. Pull on the bobbin using the tool hook to guide the thread and seat the knot. Slip the hook from under the thread and pull the knot firm. Trim the tag end.
ATTACHING BARBELL AND BEADCHAIN EYES
Start thread behind eye of hook. Make a bed of thread consisting of two or three layers. Finish with the bobbin hanging about one and a half hook eye widths behind the eye.
Position a set of hour glass eyes where the thread is hanging (about one and a half hook eye widths behind the hook eye). This distance is important to allow the attachment of additional materials. Secure in position with 6 wraps using a figure of eight wrap.
Make sure the eyes are straight on the hook. Complete six more wraps by moving the thread over the eyes then under the hook shank and over the eyes on the other side of the eyes.
To lock into place, do three or four turns of thread around the bindings between the eyes and the hook shank. A drop of head cement will ensure that they do not twist or move.
PINCH AND PULL TECHNIQUE
This method is used to hold the materials such as feathers and hair in place while tying it in. It enables you to hold the materials along the hook shank and eliminates the problem of the materials spinning down the side of the hook shank. This means that the materials are kept straight which results in the fly swimming straighter.
1. Hold the materials along the hook shank between the thumb and forefinger. The fingers “pinch” the materials to the shank. Move the thread up in the “pinch” between the thumb and the materials maintaining the pressure on the materials at all times.
2. Maintain a firm hold, form a loop and take the thread down between the forefinger and the materials on the far side of the hook.
3. Still pinching the hook and materials pull down on the bobbin until the thread is firmly securing the materials in place. Do not pull down too hard as this will cause the hair ends to flare out.
4. Keeping the pressure on, repeat the above steps another 4 or 5 times so that the materials are held firmly in place.
This technique is mainly used for attaching flash materials to form tails and body wraps.
Simply double the materials around the thread and slide them down to the base of the thread and bind down with a few turns of the thread.
If you hold the materials with firm tension at about 45 degrees to the hook shank as you do the binding, it will ensure that the materials are bound into place on top of the shank and not twist around the shank as the binding is carried out.
Making even bodies on flies that have a tail underbody and over wrap can present some problems and can result in an uneven body.
One way of tying in the body material is to strip off the end of the chenille.
Tie in the stripped end of the chenille and wrap the body. Make sure that the stripped end is tied in securely. This end will tie in flat and not make a bump.
A second way is to tie in the material behind the eye of the hook, wrap the thread over the material back to the hook bend.
To form the body, wrap the body material to the tie off point, tie off the material and cut off excess.
Weed guards are sometimes a necessity to prevent the fly becoming fouled on weed growth and foliage.
Weed guards can be broken down into 2 basic materials – hard nylon and wire. Generally a very stiff monofilament gives best results – Mason leader material is a good choice while stainless trolling wire in a strength of 20 to 30 pounds is used for wire guards.
Double Strand Mono Weedguard
Cut a piece of mono that is twice as long as you need and double it over and pinch the double point with a part of pliers. This is tied on top of the hook shank at the bend of the hook.
After tying the fly, bring the two strands forward and position on either side of the hook shank behind the eye of the hook. This will make the strands of mono flare out to the sides giving more effective protection to the hook point. Make sure that you have more than the required length sticking past the eye of the hook. Wrap the weed guard with enough thread to hold it in place. Mark the required length, push the mono from the rear so that it extends past the binding, trim to length and melt a small ball on the cut ends. Put a drop of superglue on the mono and pull it to the rear. Finish wrapping the thread.
Double Wire Weedguard
Mason brand single strand in about 30lb test is suitable. Take care when using this wire as the material is very hard, stiff and of small diameter. It will penetrate you like a needle if you are careless and catch your finger on it.
The downside of wire weed guards is that they can sometimes become bent and don’t work as efficiently. You will need to check them occasionally to correct this problem.
This type of weed guard is a little more difficult to tie on because you have to measure to ensure that it fits properly and while tying the fly, you will need to go around the weed guard when you are wrapping the thread.
Take a piece of wire and bend it into a “U” shape. Bend the “U” end of the wire. This will be the end that sets on the point of the hook.
With the “U” end of the wire on the point of the hook, hold the wire under the bottom of the hook. Make a slight bend in the wire at the point on the wire where it is aligned with the middle of the eye of the hook.
Slip the cut ends of the wire through the eye of the hook from the underside of the hook eye. Make final adjustments and bind the two cut ends of the wire to the hook shank. Cut off excess. You should have about 1/4 inch of the wire on top of the hook shank when you have trimmed the wire.
Place a drop of superglue on top of the thread securing the wire.
HINTS ON USING EPOXY
The use of epoxies has allowed the construction more durable and realistic flies. A lot of the flies tied with hair and feathers (while extremely good flies) are short lived. Anyone who has fished for tailor can vouch for how quickly flies are destroyed. An added advantage of epoxy is that it also provides weight to give a faster sink rate when fishing deeper waters.
There are basically two uses of epoxies in fly tying:
As a finishing coat: As an example – over thread wraps, coating popper bodies,
Used in the construction of the fly: As in Surf Candies
If you are applying the epoxy as a finishing coat, only one coat is usually needed. For making flies such as the Surf Candy, then a minimum of two coats are required. The first coat will be absorbed by the materials allowing the body to be shaped. Once the first coat has cured, additional coat/coats are added to achieve a smooth even body. Remember, a number of light coats will give a better result than one heavy coat.
Cheap disposable art brushes are ideal for applying the epoxy as a finishing coat. Simply brush the epoxy on and spread to achieve an even coverage. If excess is applied, the epoxy starts to run and sag. To remove, take the brush and gently touch the sag to get the excess off the fly. Take care with some of the synthetic materials such as streamer hair as the epoxy will tend to “leech back” along the fibres and this should be taken into account during application.
Avoid using wooden tools for mixing and application because the wood could contain chemicals or dyes that will affect the epoxy. Stainless steel and plastic are more suitable. Use cheap stick-it note pads to mix the epoxy on. When finished, just tear off the top sheet and throw it away. Be careful of using ones that are colored as the epoxy could pick up the colouring dye.
There are a number of brands in various curing times available. DEVCON and Z-Poxy are the most popular epoxy used and are readily available in tackle, hardware and hobby shops. No doubt, there are other products available that can be utilised. Whatever brand, the epoxies should have several properties. They should be waterproof and remain clear when mixed. Try to avoid any of the epoxies that are tinted. Clear epoxy allows application of finishing coats that remain clear and permit the under colours to show through.
Epoxies have a working time and a curing time. Generally, the working time is what is noted on the packaging container. The curing time on epoxies varies from several hours to 24 hours or more. Generally, the longer it takes to cure, the harder the epoxy is. The working and curing times quoted are under certain conditions mainly temperature. Most epoxies cure within an optimal temperature range. A higher temperature will cause the times to shorten while a cooler temperature will require a longer cure time.
The working time can also be controlled by adding a 70% or higher rubbing alcohol solution. A lower % solution is not recommended because it has a higher content of water. Acetone (nail polish remover) can also be used. Adding a few drops to the epoxy mixture, it will extend the working time but at the same time, it will thin out the epoxy. Numerous applications of alcohol to an epoxy mixture can cause the mixture to discolor, particularly with acetone.
Regardless of the liquid epoxy used, it will yellow over time. This is an inherent characteristic of liquid epoxy. The epoxies with a longer working time, generally do not yellow as fast as the faster curing epoxies.
It should be noted that any of these products should be used only in a well ventilated area.
Because epoxy comes in a two part mixture, it is important that it is mixed correctly – there is some margin for error but not much. Most of the problems incurred when working with epoxies are caused by not mixing equal parts. The best option is to produce a number of flies and then use measuring spoons (a different one marked for each part) to obtain equal amounts of each part. For small amounts, lay equal “beads” side- by-side on the mixing surface. With experience, you should be able to “eyeball” the amounts. The two tube syringe to push out equal amounts is a good idea however, after a while these tend not to function properly and lead to problems.
When mixing the two parts, normal stirring tends to cause air bubbles and these are trapped in the mixture as it cures. To minimise the bubbles fold the two parts together with a thin flat tool.
To clean up metal tools only use acetone – plastic will melt. Place a small amount in a glass jar and put the tools in. When they are clean, remove and put a lid on the container as the acetone evaporates very quickly.
Flies finished with epoxy need to be rotated to ensure that the epoxy dries evenly on the fly and does not sag. If making one fly at a time, this can be done by rotating it in your hand or in a rotating vice. If making numerous flies, a rotator of some type is a must. Rotation at 12-18 RPM is ideal – anything slower and the epoxy will fall off and anything faster, the epoxy could be slung off. Tiewell produces a battery operated rotator and these can be purchased from most fly tackle shops.
Some nice effects can be achieved by adding colours to the finishing coats. Dissolve the desired amount of dry Rit dye in 70% rubbing alcohol and add to the mixed epoxy one drop at a time until the desired tint is required. Another way to color epoxy is to simply mix the epoxy with a good hobby/craft acrylic paint. Dying will give a semi-transparent epoxy while coloring the epoxy with paint will make it opaque. The addition of some very fine powered glitter in pearl colour will produce a good scale effect on minnows patterns.
Many of the saltwater species in Australian waters respond well to 3D baitfish imitations. The normal finishing, comprised of either epoxy or flexible cement such as Softtex or Softdip, proved to have some shortfalls for a few reasons.
The problem with epoxy is that it adds weight and it is impossible to produce a fly with neutral buoyancy. Another disadvantage is that it yellows over a period of time. Fish probably aren’t put off by the latter but it doesn’t look too attractive to the fisherman’s eye.
Flexible cements don’t have the same problems however they do shrink as they cure and tend to “crush” the 3D profile that is being produced. This is particularly applicable when using some of the soft materials such as Polarfibre and SLF.
Silicone is an alternative to overcome these problems however, the thickness in the pure form, makes it is hard to get an even coat. A smooth finish can be obtained by using Photoflow or a drop of wash up liquid in some water to prevent the silicone sticking to your fingers however it is still difficult to control the uniformity and evenness of the finished coat.
The real breakthrough came when it was discovered (where the idea came from now escapes me) that clear silicone could be thinned down to a runny consistency with a few drops of “Zippo” lighter fluid. No doubt there are other solvents that will do the same job, but lighter fluid is easy to purchase and does the job admirably. Diluting it this way means it can be applied thinly and evenly.
Use a small airtight glass jar, squeeze in some silicone (Allclear by Selleys give a good result), add a little lighter fluid and stir until absorbed. Keep adding a little fluid at a time until the desired thickness is obtained. If you have difficulty dissolving the silicone, put the lid on the jar and let it stand for an hour or so. By varying the consistency it can be used for different applications. A thin runny consistency can be used to stiffen materials to help prevent tail wrapping while a thicker consistency can be used to produce an air-pocket in the body to give a fly a neutral buoyancy. The mixture will stay liquid for some time as long as the jar is airtight. When it begins to become too thick, just add a little more fluid.
To achieve a thick coat, it is preferable to apply three thin coats as opposed to one thick coat.
The downside of silicone is that it takes longer to cure and remains tacky, particularly in hot weather – the latter can be overcome with a coat of Sally Hanson’s “Hard As Nails” (clear nail polish) which adds a nice luster to the finished fly. A coat of nail polish over the eyes also helps to fix them and make them more bulletproof.