Fly tying materials
a short review on what to buy at the beginning...
At the very beginning we're always facing a dilemma of buying proper fly tying materials. One can be easily discouraged and lost among the vast range of different products; especially when lacking experience. I often get messages from people who simply don't know which materials should they choose.
Probably most fly-anglers agree that fly tying materials are something one collects, buys and gathers for many years. What is more, if one likes to experiment he or she will have plenty of room to display one's talents; not mentioning loads of joy, since there is nothing more satisfying than catching a fish with his or her home-made pattern :) .
We should start from choosing appropriate hooks. As most of you already know, there are divided into two types: barbed and barbless.
If we are going to fish on fisheries, fishing districts or take part in competitions where barbless hooks are required then I suggest to buy them. When you get familiar with towing fish not too loosely there is almost no difference in the number of loosing fish off the hook. Such hooks have one very important virtue – both for me and the fish – namely, getting the fish off the hook is quick and it doesn't damage the fish as in the case of the barbed hooks. When we have a small fish hooked, we simply loose the fishing set and this is often enough for the fish to get off the hook by itself. This way is even more pleasant for the fish, since we don't have to take it from water; it's as simple as grabbing the hook and turning it without even touching the fish.
At the beginning I recommend buying:
- streamer type: if just one, size no. 6; if two no. 4 and 8 (The streamer hook may also be used for tying bigger nymphs, i.e. imitations of stoneflies or caddisflies)
- dry type: with a straight shank no. 12 and 14 – these sizes are perfect for imitating spring mayflies and caddisflies (when you get familiar with tying them, smaller hook sizes will be better)
- nymph type: oval-shaped size no. 8 and no. 12.
- wet type: between 8 and 12 are most often used. If you are going to buy only one hook no. 10 is enough.
Considering barbless hooks I recommend FMFly models (very good quality-value relation); especially streamer type but also more expensive types, competition hooks Hanak and Dohiku.
Many fly-tiers underestimate this element – what is a huge mistake. It is significant while tying tiny flies. Many people use dark threads (black or brown), which tend to darken the fly when it gets wet, therefore the intended effect is simply spoilt. That's why I recommend having about a dozen different colours to faithfully achieve the desired effect. In the beginning I recommend buying the following threads:
- black 6/0 is a basic thread for streamers (if we need something even stronger for tying really big flies for pike, trout or sea flies I recommend buying 3/0 thread or UNI BigFly).
- brown 8/0 for nymphs, wet and dry flies will be just fine.
- if you have a bigger budget, it is good to buy 8/0 olive, grey and white (or at least equally bright colour) for dry flies and extremely small flies (not only dry) UNI Trico 17/0 and the Veevus 16/0 which is – in my opinion – the best thread on the market.
In terms of choosing different brands, for me the best tying threads are made by UNI and UTC – these are very strong threads and I have never had any problems with them.
There is a huge variety of different feathers, which can be used to tie practically everything you want. We won't need too many materials in the beginning. As classic basics I'm going to mention:
- Mallard wings (for dry and wet flies' wings)
- CdC feathers for dry-fly wings and bodies (natural colours: grey, brown, yellow, white)
- Pheasant Center Tail for tails and bodies, the popular Pheasant Tail Nymph is tied from this fly tying material (natural colour, to begin with it so we need to have it)
- Marabou feathers for simple but efficient streamers, imitations of leaches, dragonfly larvas, etc. (it's good to have black and white; later on I recommend buying red, olive, brown and fluorescent colours)
- Peacock feathers (the eye and it's barbs), can be used for many efficient dry and wet flies and nymphs.
When it comes to feathers' quality, there's no rule. The best I encountered and at the same time fairly expensive are products made by English company Veniard. All the rest are repackaged fly tying materials bought “by weight” and of poor quality.
Definitely most of the fly-tiers use two types of feathers to tie hackles; these are: for dry flies – cock capes and for wet flies, nymphs and streamers – hen capes. However there are also many feathers from different bird parts that many people omit.
- Dry flies
The differences are significant. Cock/rooster feathers are stiffer and not lined with down what makes them resistant to soaking and allows them to stay on surface for longer. Of course they also imitate legs of the fly.
Here I recommend using neck capes (wider variety of feather sizes – including even the smallest ones used for tying midge dry flies) and saddle capes (lesser variety of sizes but very efficient). Such feathers are much longer and consist of more regular barbs than their cheap Indian equivalents.
A grizzly colour cock from Howard Hackle genetic bird farm – the photo provided by John Howard
As a comparison; we can tie only one hackle from one Indian cape (to make the hackle along the whole body – a so-called palmer – we often have to use more than one feather), however using a feather from genetic cock's saddle we can make even ten hackles/palmers (the length of such a feather is at least 20 cm or even more).
Obviously the caps' and feathers' quality depends on the price.
Comparison of feathers for dry fly hackle
There's an exception to the rule, namely dry fly hackles such as March Brown, but not only. Such a hackle is tied using one feather from cock's cap and one partridge feather (first the partridge then the cock)
Except the cap feathers for tying dry fly hackles we can also use CdC feathers and here's fur, which is stiffer. Such hackles are tied by twisting the material in split thread or by dubbing method in a loop.
- Wet flies, nymphs and streamers
Feathers from hen's neck caps are basic material in this case. Such feathers are soft, they easily soak and work well in water.
For bigger wet flies and streamers we can successfully use hens' saddle caps (additionally these feathers are used for classic, Matuka type streamers, where the wing and the tail are made from one or two pairs of these feathers).
It's good to have some partridge feathers in our collection. Mostly we'll be using grey and brown-spotted feathers from neck to tie hackles and tails of many classic patterns. In my opinion it's the second best material (just after hen's neck cap) and you just need to have it.
In many situations we will also use covert feathers of such birds as partridge, woodcock, grouse and beautifully coloured feathers of jay. All of these have interesting patterns and colours therefore I simply advise to make use of them.
In this case, the basic list isn't that long:
- hare and muskrat fur for tying zonker streamers' wings; it's good to choose the muskrat in it's natural colour – these furs are sold as ready-to-use thin stripes (zonkers) or as whole pieces of fur, which need to be cut down with scissors, razor or scalpel to appropriate size.
- Deer fur for tying streamer heads and dry caddisfly imitations of wings
Besides these three fly tying materials listed above, next I suggest to buy hare's mask, which is invaluable material for tying bodies of dry and wet flies and nymphs. From longer hair you may also make imitations of legs and heckles using the “dubbing in a loop” method.
And now it's the time for a fox tail, from which you can tie tails and wings of many streamer patterns. The fox tail is one of the most popular fur for salmon flies. The fluffy lining, which is located just above the skin level can be used to tie bodies of bigger flies.
It is synthetic, natural or mixed material for tying bodies of all kinds of flies, also used to tie streamer heads and so-called woolheads (I use it very often).
We simply buy dubbing – when needed – and in time it may change into a collection. Each time I'm buying dubbing I choose something new, since there are differences between particular kinds of dubbing. As the variety of products is huge I suggest buying:
* rabbit, hare dubbing (it's good to buy hare in it's natural colours: grey, olive, brown, etc.) and squirrel
* several colours of some glossy synthetic, for example Hareline Ice Dub or other synthetic to tie colourful accents near the head of a nymph (thorax).
* It's also good to have a few dubbing colours for tying scuds. Obviously you can tie these imitations using most kinds of dubbings, however from my own experience I can recommend the dubbings, which are specially mixed since they guarantee the best results.
There are also different mixes of natural and synthetic dubbings available, which give quite an interesting effect of slightly glossy body after they get soaked.
Beads are used for various fly patterns, in particular for nymphs. In principle, they are divided into three types: made of brass filled with lead, made of tungsten (almost twice heavier and more expensive – often, however, indispensable) and light, made of plastic used for under surface imitations.
Taking a look at fly collections of many fly-anglers I saw only flies with heads coloured in gold and only. I think it's a mistake. The bead's colour does matter, therefore, using silver, copper or fluo-orange head in many cases settles the effectiveness of the lure. Obviously, there are many colours of beads, however gold, silver, copper, orange and black are worth-having!
There are also heads designed for streamers. Cone Heads – I'm talking about them – are used for imitations, which have to sink fast. Their advantage is that they don't cause the fly to rotate.
Eyes can be divided into two types: the ones which can be tied and the ones which can be sticked.
The first type is used mainly for tying small sized streamers or for larger nymphs larvae, for example stoneflies. Here, we can distinguish these which are moulded, for example Twin Eyes (heavy) and eyes in the form of an empty, metal chain – Bead Chain Eyes (light), which need to be cut down in pairs using clippers/pliers and then tied. Personally, since many years, I have preferred the light ones and I've used them for most of the streamer patterns. It doesn't mean however that I don't use the heavy ones at all. They cause the fly to sink faster while fishing on the vast waters in spring.
The second type of eyes look very realistic and may be used for tying all types of streamers – for fresh and salt waters. These eyes are sold in small sheets and even though they have glue attached to their inner side, it is very weak and they need to be sticked with additional amount of quick-drying glue, epoxy or transparent varnish in order to strengthen them up.
Brilliant fabric for beginners but not only. In just a few seconds we can tie a neat body of a fly. Available in many kinds and thicknesses.
It's perfect for tying bodies of streamers, wet flies, lake blobs and extended bodies.
In the last few years this has been the most dynamically developing fly material assortment. Many interesting synthetics fly tying materials were introduced and each year producers surprise us with something new.
Materials for nymph backs
A few years ago these were mainly Body Stretches and different home-made materials. Recently we may choose various shiny foils (including pearl foils) – which I advice not to omit – braided materials of shining properties and many more. Every nymph-tier should have them in his or her arsenal, since nymphs tied from these materials are very efficient.
In the beginning, I recommend buying the traditional Body Stretch in a few basic colours and the pearl foil, which can be cut down to any size; next, I encourage to try with some other materials since these are also effective.
We can use these materials to tie whole wings, tails and also their additives. It mainly applies to tying streamers, however flashes are also used to tie ribs in smaller flies: dry, wet and nymphs.
In the beginning I recommend buying Krystal Flash and Flashabou, pearl colour for first.
Artificial tails for dry flies – in my opinion these are excellent materials in comparison to traditionally tied tails consisting of feather barbs.
Their biggest advantages are far better fly buoyancy and lesser amount of barbs (3 are enough) needed to tie it – the imitations look more natural in comparison to those, which consist of natural barbs.
Flies tied with floating foams are very popular in America, however if you'd like to have a few imitations of beetles, grasshoppers, ants and other similar bugs (excellent lures for chubs, ides, trouts). I recommend buying several sheets in a few basic colours, beginning with black, green, yellow.
Certainly, the application is much wider than lures mentioned above, for example caddisflies bodies, which float even in very rapid waters.
Additional information: for foam flies I am using UTC thread, 140 or heavier.
Tinsels and wires
Tinsels are another basic and interesting fly tying material, which in many patterns can make the difference. Components or even whole elements – such as bodies – significantly increase effectiveness of the tied flies.
Particularly in the last several years, many interesting tinsels has appeared varying in colours (pearl and mylar are especially worth-checking – UNI Mylar is also available in two-colour version so when buying one we actually have two) and sizes so that they can be used for bigger streamers and small wet flies or nymphs.
Of course, gold and silver are the standard tinsel colours and I recommend buying them in the first place.
Wires belong to the next group of materials, which – in my opinion – is even more important than tinsels. If we're going to tie nymphs, we should use a lead wire as the base for most of the patterns – we begin by winding it around the hook. The lead wire makes our fly heavier and in order to achieve the proper weight we need tho have several types of wires in our inventory – each of different thickness. From 0,4mm to 0,8mm; of course there are also thicker types, however this range should be enough to deal with most of the cases.
Except of lead wires we also have traditional wires in different colours and diameters. They are used to strengthen and segment the bodies of different kinds of flies, attaching fur stripes to zonkers' back or even whole bodies of nymphs and wet flies. The three basic colours are: gold, silver and copper – it's good to have them in the beginning. In time there will be infinite room to manoeuvre with additional colours.