For most fly fishers, the sport is as much about method as it is about success. There are other ways to fish—many of which are more successful, less expensive, and simpler. Fly fishing, the angler’s equivalent to traditional archery hunting, is done for pure enjoyment and challenge. It makes sense that in a sport so obsessed with tradition many fly fishers tie their own flies. Historically, that is how fly fishing worked. You tied your own flies with materials you had on hand and tried to match them to the local hatch of insects.
If you’ve ever wanted to give tying a shot you may have found yourself suffering from analysis paralysis. There is so much information about tying available that it is difficult to narrow it down to the basics. I recently went through this process and began tying and I’m going to share with you what tools you need to get started.
The Hook Vise
The most important tool you will use in fly tying is the hook vise. At its most basic function, the hook vise is simply a set of vise jaws that hold the hook while you tie your materials onto it. The vise is generally composed of the jaws which hold the hook, a stem, and a base. There are two types of bases: The C clamp and the pedestal base. The C clamp base clamps onto any table and you tighten the clamp to hold your vise securely. A pedestal base features a flat weighted base to which the stem attaches. There are pros and cons to both. A C clamp base is easily portable and can be great for travelling or taking to a fly tying class. The pedestal is better for home use.
You’ll want to buy a quality vise as if your hook is moving around on you it will make it very frustrating to learn to tie. There are many inexpensive options in the sub $100 range which may be fine to start, but if your budget allows I recommend going with something in the $150 range and up. The HMH ST Vise, Renzetti Traveller, and Peak Rotary Vise are all great options to get started. My personal recommendation would be for the Renzetti which can be found as low as $170 with a pedestal base if you search for a deal. Either the HMH or Renzetti will both be vises that you could happily tie on for the rest of your life.
The next crucial tool you will need is a bobbin. The bobbin is a set of wire arms that holds your thread under tension and spools it out through a tube while you wrap your hook. You adjust the tension of the thread by bending the arms towards or away from each other. You can get a decent bobbin for under $20, though I do recommend buying one with a ceramic tube. Pick up a standard size to start. If down the line you are tying a lot of nymphs or streamers you can get a large or fine bobbin as well. The Tiemco ceramic tube bobbin is available around $30 in standard size and will last you through many flies.
The Whip Finisher
If you think of a hook vise as the device secures your fly, and the bobbin as the device that builds it—the whip finisher is the tool that finishes it. A whip finisher is a bent piece of thick wire that sits on top of a long thin handle. After you have wrapped all of your materials onto your fly using thread and wire, you take hold of the thread with a whip finisher and tie the whip finish knot. I have no idea how hard it would be to hand-tie this not and I will never have to find out thanks to the whip finisher tool. The Loon whip finisher can be ordered for $13.49 and is a fine tool to use.
A good pair of small scissors is also crucial to fly-tying. They will be used for cutting thread, cutting material (feathers, animal hair, and synthetic hackles among many other things), and cleaning up your finished product. They should be razor-sharp, have a good fine point and be small enough to manuever easily. There are plenty of fly tying specific options available that cost as much as $80. Do you need expensive scissors to tie flies? Absolutely not. You may find, though, that a quality pair of scissors makes fly tying much more enjoyable and stress-free. If you want a great pair, look to the Tiemco razor scissors in either the steel or tungsten carbide versions. They will cost you though. For a quality option at a more wallet-friendly price, the Dr. Slick Arrow Scissors run about $20.
Various Other Tools
When tying your flies, you can get by with the aforementioned four tools and a small jar of head cement. However, there are a few other standard tools that may make tying easier:
- Hackle pliers are a small pair of precision pliers that can be useful for holding material while you wrap it with thread.
- A Bodkin is a thin metal device that comes to a point. It has many uses such as applying glue, manipulating materials, and cleaning hook eyes.
- Precision Tweezers for grasping thin fibers.
- A second pair of cheap scissors to use for cutting wire and other materials that may damage your good pair.
- Hair Stackers in various sizes to align hair before applying to your flies.
- A bobbin threader to help start the thread in your bobbin.
All of these extra tools will help you make the best possible flies and most of them can be purchased for around $10. As you learn and begin to tie you will get a better feel for your personal tying style and what works for you.
That pretty much covers every tool you need to get started tying. You can build a very decent set of tying tools for $250 or less. I found that the most daunting part of the process was starting to understand the vocabulary and equipment needed to tie. Once you have that down, you just need to look up some fly recipes and pick up the materials needed to start tying your favorite flies. I promise that it will be worth it when you finish your first fly. It will also grow your passion for and understanding of fly fishing exponentially. Now start tying!