A Hero's First Tying Experience

Orvis of Madison
      "You don't tie your own flies?" he asked, "You're a fishing guide."  Those words have stuck with me since last summer when a client asked me about getting the pattern for the fly we were using.  I said, "I just buy them at Orvis."  I could tell he was shocked and maybe a little disappointed with my answer.  "Why would I tie my own flies when I can purchase perfectly good flies that work right here in town?" I said to myself.  Turns out most guides do tie the flies they throw.  Asking around I found that they had numerous reasons.  Some liked the satisfaction that they received having caught a fish on something they made.  For others it is the ability to change the colors of common flies to better suit local bodies of water.  Many just like to experiment and having custom flies in different sizes allows them to watch an idea evolve right in front of their eyes.  Long story short I needed to start tying some flies of my own, but where do you go to learn something like that?
     I headed to the internet and in typical newbie fashion got caught up watching videos of large extravagant musky and saltwater patterns.  Huge time consuming bait fish patterns that required specialized knowledge and expensive tools.  Asking around I found out that this isn't how most people start out tying flies.  The old timers I talked to said to follow the directions in fly tying books.  I decided that this made the most sense and I headed out my door to the Madison Public Library.  What I found was Fishing Flies: A World Encyclopedia of Every Type of Fly.  That's right over 1,300 flies and how to tie them.  This book would be awesome if you already knew how to tie flies.  I don't, so what I had in my living room was page after page of recipes I didn't understand.  Non standard hook sizes, thread charts that didn't make sense, and more specialized terms for chicken feathers than I knew existed. It was crazy!  I grew up in Iowa, we raised chickens on our farm, and I had never heard of these feathers.  It was actually worse than those internet videos.  At least I could watch the YouTube videos.  I can honestly say I almost gave up on the whole idea.  Seriously, for the first time in my life I was intimidated by a book!  It was clear I needed to find out how other anglers new to the wonders of fly tying got started.  Something that would help me tie common patterns, that caught fish, maybe with step by step instructions?  Then I found it, starter kits (duh), that introduce you to simple patterns with little books that show you exactly what to do, one step at a time.  These kits provide a rudimentary vise, necessary tools, and all the materials you need to tie the common patterns.  The only issue is these are kind of pricey, especially if your not 100% sure you will even like fly tying.  Then out of nowhere I got an email from Orvis of Madison about a FREE Introductory Fly Tying Class.  It was as if the universe itself was looking out for me.
     Soon the day of the class arrived and I found myself staring at a well laid out table in the middle of the store.  Turns out we would be learning how to tie flies right in front of every customer that came through the doors that day.  I signed in and filled out my name tag (I drew a little fish on it).  As we waited for other class participants to arrive I got the chance to get to know some of the stores employees.  Some were your typical driftless area trout bums, others were smallmouth specialist in the local rivers, and one was just working in the shop over the winter to make ends meet before he headed back to Alaska were he guides in the summer.  A very diverse and talented crew of anglers that were eager to pass on the knowledge they had learned from a lifetime of fishing.
     We gathered around the table and gave our introductions.  We were from all walks of life as well.  Some of us active fisherman.  Others recently retired anglers who wanted to get back to the fishing they had done in their youth. A couple were just curious about how the flies they used on a regular basis were put together.
Keep your hook level with the work surface.
     The class started with an introduction of how to setup your vise as well as the basic tools and how they worked.  We talked about the benefits of different types of vises both rotary and pedestal, and why you should own more than one pair of scissors. 
Finally an explanation
Our instructor for the class Tristan, who is also the fishing department manager, explained the differences in materials as well as how to read the recipes you find in fly tying books.  He explained the differences in hackles, hairs, marabous, ribbons, and how to pick quality materials.  We would be tying two flies in today's class.  The first one a small panfish streamer, would get the tools and materials in our hands.  The second a wolly bugger would build on what we had learned tying the first fly.  It was exactly what I was hoping for as far instruction.  We did each step as a group so it wasn't a big deal when I dropped my bobbin on the floor, or when somebodies fly started to come untied because they accidentally changed thread direction while tying.  He even got another associate involved to help us all understand how to use a whip finisher to tie off the thread when we were done with the first fly.
     We took a short break after finishing the first fly for some refreshments and to let the last hour of instruction kind of sink in.  Next up would be the wolly bugger fly.  I have bought many of these in the past because you can catch almost anything that swims in freshwater with them.  This fly would be more advanced relatively speaking, because it involved weighting the fly with a non toxic wire, as well as learning how to wrap with hackle.  I am not gonna lie I struggled a little bit at this point, but the Orvis team had my back and soon I had a fly on my vise that I am sure will catch some panfish and brook trout when spring arrives.
Wolly Bugger
I also learned a couple insider tips I wanted to pass along if your new to tying

  • Start with simple patterns in large sizes to learn the dimensions
  • Only buy material for the flies you want to tie
  • Own 2 pairs of scissors.  1 for cutting wire, 1 for cutting feathers
  • Leave plenty of room at the hook eye to finish your fly
  • When using expensive hackle tie smaller sizes first so you get more flies out of each feather
  • Tie each fly with different weights, eyes, or colors to see what works best in your area or fishing conditions

     So am I gonna start tying my own flies?  I honestly don't know.  What I do know is that the team over at Orvis of Madison did an amazing job of instilling tying confidence in each and every one of us.  If you are curious about fly tying you should check out these classes the next time they come around.  They are a great way to check out tying without any type of monetary commitment.  Already have experience tying and want to take your skills to the next level?  Then get in contact with Orvis since intermediate and advanced classes will be starting soon.  Until next time...
2 new flies to add to the box
       Tight Lines.

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