My First Year Tying Flies

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[TL;DR - I started tying flies this year and learned a lot.]


This was my first year tying flies, and it has become an inextricable and rewarding part of fly fishing for me.  I bought a vise at the Edison show, a Rezentti Traveller, along with a few basic materials for tying simple Clousers and Deceivers for stripers, and got started.  


I approached tying with a few key principles:


  1. I tied a lot.  I am lucky enough to have a spot in my basement that I have dedicated to tying, so I can keep everything set up and run down and tie one fly whenever I want.  And I want: I tied hundreds of flies.

  2. I was unafraid.  I’d try to tie anything, no matter how complicated.

  3. I didn’t make mistakes. I screwed up a bunch, but I didn’t worry too much about tying something perfectly. Many were outright disasters. But I learned from each mangled fly. 

  4. I never tied the same fly twice.  I view fly tying as a creative exercise, and the thought of production tying bores me.  So many materials, colors, techniques.  

  5. I watched a lot of YouTube.  Really helped me with technique and how to handle materials.

  6. I tied flies to catch fish.  Fly tying may be a creative exercise, but I’m not interested in framing flies.  


I whipped off a couple deceivers and Clousers based on Tim Flager videos.  I found it easier than I expected to put together something passable - I found it harder than I expected to be consistent. 




Florida - Snook and Reds 


I had booked a trip with Danny Reich, a great friend and NYC striper guide who winters in Punta Gorda and fishes Charlotte Harbor.  I researched some snook flies and tied up a couple Seaducers and something called Drew Chicone’s Peppermint Punisher. The latter caught me my first-ever snook and a nice redfish two casts later, and I was instantly addicted to catching fish on my own flies. It’s particularly rewarding when you can watch it unfold - the movement of the fly, how it reacts to your retrieve, how the fish reacts to your presentation. It was a piece I never knew was missing.




Danny is childhood friends with a very well known Florida artist, fly tier and herpetologist, who imparted a key piece of advice, and served as a bit of a breakthrough:


Key Lesson #1: You want the fly to be moving when it’s not moving.


You will all instantly understand this, but this is the idea to make the fly seem alive, even when you’re not drawing it through the water.  All of those little single hairs, feathers, tinsel fluttering in the water give the flies a life-like appearance and will often draw eats.


Big Moment


I had been popping into fly shops and buying things here and there and had a small collection of materials. But a big moment for me was when @Spigola decided to sell off his collection of saltwater materials.  I don’t know him; but he appears to be a very experienced striper fisherman and fly tier, and he was well equipped to tie lots of different patterns. Needless to say I suddenly had a lot of options - zonker strips, different colors of flash, lots of bucktail, a million different eyes, Farrar blends, Corsair tubing, cone heads. It really allowed me to experiment with a lot of different things.  I’m grateful to you, Lou.  


Massachusetts - Spring Striped Bass


I had a few days planned for Massachusetts in late May on Cape Ann and early June on the Vineyard.  For Cape Ann, I wanted to tie a Cape Ann Baitfish (a deceiver pattern from Skip Montello) and a Kinky Muddler, which I had success with the previous fall.  For MV, the captain Abbie Schuster recommended squid patterns, which I had never fished before. I learned something from each:


  • Cape Ann Baitfish.  By recreating this pattern, I realized I could do just that: look at a fly and figure out how they’re tied.  I was beginning to understand the anatomy of a fly, and I could recognize how it was put together. Incidentally, I caught my biggest striper of the season on this pattern.




  • Kinky Muddler.  This was the first time I had encountered building a head/body and trimming it.  Sounds silly, but I had always thought of fly tying as exclusively adding materials to the hook, not removing material for an effect.  This opened up a lot of possibilities.




  • Squid.  I posted my first attempts at squid on this very board, and got some helpful feedback about the proportions of the squid I was imitating.  Turns out I was imitating what I thought a squid looked like, not what they actually look like. I added an articulated shank and made the mantle much longer, using the stacking technique I learned from the Kinky Muddler.  




The Muddlers and the Squid patterns imparted another key lesson:


Key Lesson #2: Most fish can feel a bait swimming before they can see it, and the amount of water flies push is really important.  


I was hitting my stride, feeling really confident in catching fish on my own flies.  They weren’t always the most effective patterns I fished, but they all caught fish. In retrospect, tying really had a number of unexpected benefits to my fishing overall.


Unexpected Benefits:


  1. Tying flies forced me to focus on the bait.  Not only what bait is present at any time, but what size it is, how it moves and what it actually looks like.  The squid example above is illustrative: I assumed squid was mostly tentacles, in reality they are ¾ mantle.

  2. Tying flies introduced me to new fly patterns.  Yes, I’m a newb, but I had never heard of a seaducer, a Ray’s Fly, a hollow fleye, a Tabory snake fly or a jiggy.  I had never even seen a squid fly before. I had fished a Kinky Muddler but didn’t know what it was called. Tying flies introduced me to a whole host of new patterns that I now use all the time.

  3. Tying flies gave me a much better sense of what flies look like in the water.  Every time I tied something, I was eager to see what it would look like in the water.  I assumed they appeared in the water much like they appeared when wet. Not the case.


New York / New Jersey: Summer/Fall Striped Bass


By the summer I was confident in my tying abilities.  I could quickly spin up a Clouser or a bunny leach and take it to the Raritan and catch smallmouth.  I bought some UV epoxy a tied up a whole host of surf candies for the upcoming albie season. I caught lots of fish on Ray’s flies.  But there were a couple patterns that intimidated me because they looked very complex and technical: the Hollow Fleye and the Flatwing.  I wanted to fish them in the fall, so I focused on figuring them out. Each one provided a key lesson for me.


  • Hollow Fleye.  Bucktail is hard to work with.  It was a while before I figured out what a pinch wrap was, and I was confused by the difference between hair at the tip versus the base of the tail.  Also, did I want crinkly or smooth hairs? Did I have to buy multiple tails in each color? Bob Popovics book was an investment, but I learned a ton about bucktail and how to handle it.  It wasn’t long before I was getting the effect I wanted:




It dawned on me that the fly looked huge, but didn’t really have any more material than a standard deceiver.  Body without bulk, a lesson well expressed by Steve Culton:


Key Lesson #3: Use the water as a material in your fly.  The water will support the other materials and give an impression of body without adding material.


  • Flatwing.  I didn’t understand the flatwing.  I had never fished one, it looked too sparse, I didn’t understand why tying the hackle flat would make a difference.  The patterns seem to require multiple $90 flatwing capes in different colors, and I couldn’t understand why. I’m not sure I understand any of that now - but fishing these flies this fall, I could see what they looked like suspended in the water.  The fly would float horizontally and the multiple colors gave off an iridescent effect. I loved how it looked and I wasn’t the only one: I got several eats with the fly “motionless” in the water.




Important to my understanding of color was Ken Abrahmes book A Perfect Fish.  Color looks different underwater, and all colors are made up of some combination of yellow, red and blue.


Key Lesson #4: Practice impressionism in fly tying.  Study how Manet and Seurat treated color. Fly fishing is art.




That brings us to today.  There’s obviously a lot I have yet to do: despite multiple attempts, I cannot figure out how to work with EZ body, I have never tied a topwater fly, and I have never tied a trout fly.  I’m currently tying some tarpon flies for Mexico, which is fun and has me using a lot more marabou than I have before. I still don’t really understand hook sizing - I know it’s supposed to be the distance between the shank and the hook point, but it varies so much between manufacturer and style that it seems almost useless.


In any case, I hope this might be helpful to new tiers or inspire a newbie to start.  This board has been invaluable in helping my progress, and I am grateful. I’ll leave you with some miscellany.


  • Household items that are helpful to have: X-acto knife, regular shears, paper towels, Dustbuster, post it pad, lighter, hair clips, colored permanent markers.

  • Most helpful books: Pop Fleyes by Bob Popovics, Striper Moon and A Perfect Fish by Ken Abrames, Stripers and Streamers by Ray Bondorew, and Fly Fishing for Striped Bass by Rich Murphy.

  • Most helpful YouTube Channels: tightlines productions, 239flies, InTheRiffle, ssflies.





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Im new to tying as well and had a lot of the same experiences you did. Your flies look amazing! There are people who tie true pieces of art, but even my very first crappy deceivers caught fish. A really good fly tier at an expo once told me we tie pretty flies for us but the fish don’t really care. Most of my really ugly flies, I gave away to friends for teasers and fluke rigs. 

You should try tying some big foam poppers. Easy to tie and getting explosive top water action on fly rod with floating line is addictive

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 Nice story of your progression and education.Time will improve your skills but try to tie several of each fly at a time instead of just one so you can understand what it takes to achieve consistency in your ties.

 By and large your flies are lookin pretty good w/ one minor exception:squid have very short tentacles that amount to 1/3 or less of total body length and when they swim their tentacles present as a solid,undulating mass,as opposed to a multiple of long arms flailing the water as presented by lots of hackles.I prefer a piece of 1/4-3/8" wide rabbit strip about 1/3 the length of the body to imitate the tentacles.Google "short finned squid",as that's our most common species so you can get an understanding of proportions as that's what a lot of fly tying is about:getting the proportions right.

  I fish squid patterns w/ great success and every year I've fished the ocean some of my biggest fish came to a squid pattern.

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Posted (edited)



You have come a long way in a single year. Brilliant in fact. One sage bit of advice a friend gave to me was dont go tying many of the same pattern until you had proved it by fishing it. Fouling is a very real problem and I made the mistake of tying a shed load of Deceivers and they were all bad. That’s painful and made more painful when investing quality Bucktail thats now wasted.

I thought that flies were not that important until I met a guy who ties flies which are translucent and mobile and really do look like a bait fish. He out fishes me always.

In terms of consistency once having proved a pattern you will get more consistent if you tye in small batches.


You are very keen to advance and I can feel your enthusiasm. One area  to look at are the head of your flies. A bit of tidying up will improve the look of them and your fly a lot.  This extra care and attention to detail will feed into other processes as well. The fish might not mind one bit but it can effect confidence when fishing.

You are now in control of the flies you will fish. This can not be over stated.

I started to tye because I was fed up not being able to buy good flies on the style and quality of hook I wanted. Shop purchased  Clousers often are tied with eyes that are too heavy .

You can really match the hatch if you wish. You buy a Rays fly from a shop that’s what you get. But if the bait is extra skinny you can tye em that way. Teeth and scissors on the water don’t always work.

Then there are Rich Murphy’s flies. Hard to find them in a shop.

You made a great decision.





Edited by Mike Oliver

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A small hint when you are tying something new [especially].While it's fresh in your mind,write down the steps and materials used.Even keep one[better than a photo] for your "records".Keep your failures too.As you get better at tying in general you will learn to "tweak" those failures.Especially with the massive amounts of artificial fibers on the market you'll never remember what that stuff is a couple of years down the road.I'm a prime example of this situation.So now I have a library of sorts of everything that I tie.Just a constructive thought...…………..

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8 hours ago, JCH said:

I’m currently tying some tarpon flies for Mexico, which is fun and has me using a lot more marabou than I have before.

Where are you headed?

Toads with rabbit and straight up bunny flies are very effective. 

Dark colors like Black and Purple are also very effective. 



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Great show for a year of tying

Mike O's point about making sure the flye works before tying many makes sense, been there & done that.

I'd add Gunnar Bremmer to your Utube list - especially about doing a pinch wrap and thread types, even tho he's primarily freshwater - Kelly Gallup also freshwater has some helpful videos.

Best for 2020 ...

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21 hours ago, theshadow said:

A small hint when you are tying something new [especially].While it's fresh in your mind,write down the steps and materials used.

I'll second that advice.

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Something I have been doing is tying flies in batches of 2 or 3 this way you don't spend million hours tying flies that don't work, foul, or turn into a ball of snot in the water. But if the fly is good one, and is catching fish there is nothing worse then realizing that was the only one you had, and you have broke it off to a big fish. It happened to me with a 40+ inch bass this year!!

tight lines in the new year

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Many thanks for the shout out -- and good on you for starting down this road. As the great Sylvester Nemes said, "If you have never tied flies before, I urge you to start immediately. The practice is exhilarating."


Speaking of tying, hope to see some fellow SOLers at the Marlborough and Edison shows. This year I'm also doing a wet fly tying class at Marlborough.


Steve Culton

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On 12/30/2019 at 9:35 PM, Kml said:

Where are you headed?

Toads with rabbit and straight up bunny flies are very effective. 

Dark colors like Black and Purple are also very effective. 


Isla Holbox for juvies.  Recommended flies are gurglers, EP minnows, megalopsicles.  I'm tying some tarpon bunnies and toads too (but the flat head on the toads I find hard to tie).


I'm also hoping to try a day targeting barracuda.  

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