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Fly Tying Basics: Part 2 - Materials
written by Steve Galea

Want to tie your own flies? Part two of this three-part series focuses on how to choose fly tying materials.
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Fly Tying Materials Kit
A fly tying kit designed for your target species is the fastest way to gather the materials, as well as the essential tools and instructional media, required to get started in tying.

Fly tyers are a creative bunch. Because of them, there isn't much feather, fur or synthetic material that hasn't found its way into modern fly patterns. This innovation is great, but it also begs the question, "When it comes to the purchase of material, where do you start?"

Of course, there's no one right answer. Every fly tyer has different ideas about what's needed and much depends on how and where you fish and what's available locally.

That's why choosing materials can be intimidating for the new fly tyer. There's a lot of neat stuff out there, but buying it all could be expensive and unnecessary.

While it would be foolhardy to advise on specific material purchases, there are a few general principles that can help the new tyer sort things out. Let's being by discussing what a well-stocked fly tying bench should have. Then, we'll discuss how to get there.

The essentials

There are certain essential materials that every experienced fly tyer eventually stocks. Black 6/0 thread is one of those; fly tying cement is another; so too are a variety of hooks for wet and dry flies, as well as nymphs and streamers.

Fly Tying Materials - Hooks
The hook is the foundation of your fly. The fly patterns you choose to tie will dictate hook style.

With these basics are standard materials that almost everyone has at their fly tying table -- things that have proven indispensable in many of our most popular patterns. These include a variety of threads in different diameters, wire and floss, marabou, flashabou, saddle and neck hackle capes, bucktails, elk, bear and deer hair, chenille, duck, goose, pheasant and grouse feathers, gold and silver tinsel, calf tails, red wool, hare's mask, dubbing, rabbit hair strips, a variety of weighted beads and dumb bell eyes. Oh, and you should have all these items in different colors.

So how do you go about it?

Let the patterns be your guide

I'd advise the newcomer to begin slowly. To do this, select an easy-to-tie fly pattern that has a reputation for effectiveness -- there are plenty that fit the bill.

Once chosen, buy the required material and learn to tie the pattern correctly. Pay attention to the tying instructions and techniques; make quality and proper proportion your focus.

Fly Tying Material - Thread
6/0 is considered by most tyers to be the general purpose tying thread. Opt for 8/0 for very small flies or 3/0 for large bass bugs or baitfish imitations.

Say, for instance, the wooly worm is what you've decided upon. That would mean you'd purchase the hooks that your pattern calls for in a size you prefer. Add to that some chenille in one or more colors (black, olive and yellow are good choices), matching saddle hackles, 6/0 thread and glue. Then acquire a length of red yarn for tail material and you're ready to tie what is universally recognized as a simple, but useful pattern and a few of its variants.

In doing so, you've also collected a slew of useful materials: black, olive and yellow chenilles, saddle hackles in black, olive and grizzly, red wool, thread and hooks. That's a great start.

Next time out, you might consider purchasing a package or two of marabou, say in olive and black. When combined with leftover materials from your first purchase, this would enable you to tie woolly buggers too. Buy some brass beads and you now have all the ingredients for beadhead wooly worms and woolly buggers -- two incredibly effective patterns. And, again, you've expanded on your inventory of useful material.

The idea is simple; with each new fly that you learn to tie, your stockpile of tying material grows. This is easy on the wallet and a good way to learn.

Fly Tying Material - Dubbing
Start your dubbing collection with a variety of natural colors. 

Collect some yourself

Buying materials is convenient, and, often, it's the best way to go. But, if you hunt or know someone who does, there is also the option of collecting your own. Most hunters have access to bucktails, deer, bear, moose, squirrel or elk hair and various feathers from ducks, quail, pheasant, turkeys and grouse.

Road kills are another valid source of fly tying material, if you don't mind the collecting process. Needless to say, only stop when it is safe to do so.

You should also be on the lookout for synthetic materials. Old motor windings, for instance, will keep you in copper wire, forever. Tinsel from Christmas trees is also useful, as is scrap yarn from any knitter you know. Once, I was given a patch from an old mink coat that was going to waste. I'm still making good use of it.

If you are lucky enough to know a taxidermist, hint that you might want a few scraps of feathers or fur. You can acquire some interesting material that way.

Lastly, consider trading materials with other tyers. Most are willing to do so and some actually enjoy the process. The point is if you make your intentions known, people are often helpful.

Fly Tying Material - Cement
Add a bit of Head Cement to the head of your fly to prevent knots from unraveling. 

Buy quality

Here's an important bit of advice that's rarely repeated: purchase quality materials.

First, your flies will look better. I'm not suggesting that an expensive neck hackle cape will make up for poor tying skills, because it won't. It will, however, add to the quality and effectiveness of any fly you tie with it.

Good materials tend to be more durable, hold their color better and act the way the pattern originator intended. Each of these is reason enough to consider spending just a bit more.

Store properly

Having gone to all this effort, it's important that you store tying material properly. This means placing natural materials in bug proof containers such as those made by Tupperware. Zip-Loc bags are also good for this purpose.

It took me a while to learn, but now, when it comes to materials, I also make an effort to keep them organized. This is essential to fly tying efficiency and it also helps you keep track of your inventory.

These days, I have a nice, antique fly tying cabinet with plenty of drawers. Before that, I kept all my materials organized in a cardboard box and pulled it out whenever the urge to tie struck me. There are a ton of great storage options these days. So there's simply no excuse for not being organized.

Last wrap

As was noted earlier, the purchase of fly tying material is a highly personal thing based on your target species, your style of fishing, level of skill and aesthetics. Follow these simple tips, however, and you'll discover that the materials you buy won't be wasted. Instead, they'll fill fly boxes and eventually hook fish. And that's a very good start for any fly tyer.

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