Fly tying season is upon us.
I don't know about you, but before I started tying flies full time I would get super excited at the beginning of fly tying season only to have my excitement fade into disappointment heading into spring when the fishing started to get going and I hadn't even tied 10% of the flies I planned on tying.
It doesn't have to be this way for you.
1. Ask yourself where you are going to fish.
Before you can really start cranking flies out en masse, you have to know where you are going to fish.
Are you going to fish only your local river all year, or are you going on a fly fishing vacation to an exotic location? If you normally only fish your local creek for trout, you'll prepare your boxes differently than an adventure angler who will fish 10 states and dozens of rivers for multiple species.
Once you know where you are likely to fish, and when you are likely to fish there, you can start doing research on hatch charts, condition reports, and any other resources to give you the best idea how to best prepare your boxes.
2. Schedule the time.
It sounds lame but if you don't schedule time to tie flies, you inevitably won't find enough time to fill all the boxes you want to have ready. Depending on your level of ambition, you may only want to fill 1 new box of the hottest euro nymphing patterns, or you may want to fill 6 or more boxes. It doesn't get done by putting it off and tying only when you feel like tying.
Tying season is typically December through March, which gives you 121 days minus a few holidays. If you tie just 3 flies per day during this period, then by April 1st you will have 363 new flies, or just over 30 dozen!
Conversely, if you only tie a dozen flies once a week when you manage to squeeze it in, you'll end up with 204 flies, or just over 17 dozen.
30 dozen, or roughly half of that? I know which one I'd choose.
3. Don't skimp on fly production.
Thug Buggers tied with Fish-Skull Baitfish Heads.
This goes back to Tip #2, but it needs to be said. While you could tie 363 one-off patterns, it would make for a hectic day on the water when you lose the one fly that is working. It would also take much more time than tying in production sequences. My general rule of thumb when tying is as follows:
The latest and greatest Instagram euro nymph. I wouldn't waste my time tying more than 3 of any color/size because it is new and unproven. Once it's proven successful you can increase fly box space for it.
In fact, if you are going to test many new flies I recommend having a test box so you don't take away needed space for proven patterns.
These are flies that catch fish year in and year out. They will always have a spot in your box. Wooly Bugger. Skulpin Bunny. Zebra Midge. When I sit down to tie these flies, I tie a minimum of 6 at a time. If you are ahead of schedule, tie a dozen.
You are going to fish these regularly and they produce. It doesn't take much more time to prep for 6 zebra midges than it does 1, so why limit yourself?
Confidence flies are your best-performing flies and the flies you fish on every outting. This is something that spawned from the european nymphing guys, and something I adapted when organizing my fly boxes. I have two confidence fly specific boxes. One for bulk where I will have upwards of 3 dozen of any one pattern per color/size, and one smaller working box that I fill every day before I go to the river.
Examples include: The Walts Worm, The Frenchie Nymph, Double Barrel Popper, etc.
Whatever your top 6 flies are that produce year round regardless of location, I recommend tying a minimum of 12 per color/size. I often have many more in my bulk box ready to refill if I lose some flies on the water.
4. Tie with purpose.
Casual and professional fly tyers alike tie for many different reasons. Beyond all else, we enjoy creating something new. There is no better feeling than tying a fly that you later catch a fish on.
But with busy schedules and distractions all around you, you need to be clear what you are sitting down to do. Sure, you are going to "tie flies," but are you there to get away from your job, spouse, the world, etc., or do you want to get stuff done?
I tend to tie in 3 different modes and each has drastically different results on my fly boxes.
Mode 1: Production Mode
I sit down, pick my pattern off my pattern list, prep the necessary components, and bang them out. 3, 6, 12, 48 — it doesn't matter when you are focused on getting it done. Time doesn't apply. I've looked up more than once only to realize I tied for 10+ hours, and it felt like I just sat down.
Mode 2: Research and Development
Experimenting with Surface Seducer Howitzer baitfish popper heads.
Tyers come across new materials, tools, even techniques, and there needs to be an appropriate time for this creative outlet. I set aside one day per week just to try out new materials I've accumulated. If I didn't, I would never get to use them. This is best enjoyed with a good beer, and a game on in the background! Put on a podcast and have fun experimenting.
Mode 3: Zombie
Not a fly was tied today...
Fly tying is a great hobby, but sometimes your mind just isn't there. I never realize I'm in this mode at first, but there are some telltale signs that you can spot to figure it out sooner, rather than later.
You start tying without a purpose. You aren't tying orders, you aren't trying something new... you are just tying, and usually you are starting and stopping at different points to check Facebook, or watch Instagram Live videos. You might sit down to tie 6 zebra midges, but after the first you move onto something else. If you can't tie 6 thread midges in a row (takes about 3 minutes), you clearly aren't focused. You might be annoyed, or just plain tired. Everyone has bad days. But you don't need to compound it by tying 12 flies that don't look anything alike.
If I'm not tying for production (my own boxes, or orders), or doing some R&D with the newest Flymen Fishing Co. material, why am I tying? That is when it's best just to clean the bench and take the dog for a hike or go fishing.
Nothing good will come from tying in zombie mode. You'll only waste materials, dirty your bench, and end up disappointed.
5. Share the experience.
When I sit down to tie flies, I typically do so while listening to college football, music, or a fly fishing podcast in the background. This is great because it helps as you tie hour after hour staring at the same area for prolonged periods of time.
If you have a bunch of flies to tie there is no better way to pass the time than tying with a friend or two. Sit down with your lists, break out your favorite beverages and have fun. It doesn't have to be an all-day affair — a couple hours will suffice and the time will pass quickly. At the end you'll have a pile of files ready to be sorted.
Best of all, if anyone is having any trouble you have someone next to you that might be able to figure out a solution. You can learn a lot by watching how someone else ties their flies.
Bonus Tip: Keep a pattern list.
When it's time to tie flies you don't want to be searching for a fly pattern to tie. To keep track of them, I like to use a program called Evernote. It's a free computer program that is easy to use, and you can easily import fly pictures from your favorite blog or social media page. I used to use a plain notebook for this, but it's a lot easier to remember why you wanted to tie a certain fly with a picture than without one. It also helps that you don't have to read your rushed handwriting to figure out the recipe. You can then easily sort your lists into categories like caddis nymphs, streamers, etc., and have a visual clue when you go to tie them.
Of course, if you don't like to use digital programs you can simply keep a journal. Best advice: be as detailed as possible on the fly and the recipe. I would also write a reminder why you want to tie the fly. Do you think it will work for an upcoming hatch, or river condition?
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About Daniel Podobed III:
Daniel Podobed is a custom fly tyer and designer and the owner of In Pursuit of Trout, a website for fly fishers and tyers to learn tips and tricks to become better anglers and tyers, faster. His inspiration for In Pursuit of Trout spawned from his realization that when he was first taking up fly fishing he almost gave up on it due to a lack of direction and immediate success. He says, “I would hate to see anyone give up on this sport before they got to meet some of the kindest, and most generous people or visit some truly beautiful corners on this Earth. Fly fishing can bring that to you.” Follow In Pursuit of Trout on Facebook and Instagram @inpursuitflyco.