• How to Set up the Ultimate Fly Tying Den
  • Post author
    Bart Lombardo
  • fly fishingfly tying

How to Set up the Ultimate Fly Tying Den

Having a dedicated fly tying space is critical for taking your tying skills to the next level.

If you always have to set up and break down your fly tying area you are apt to tie less often. Setting up and breaking down will soon become an unpleasant chore. If there is any negativity associated with your tying sessions you will tie flies less often, guaranteed. Also, time setting up and cleaning up is time taken away from tying flies. 

Tie more flies and become a better fly tyer

The key to getting better at anything is repetition. It’s simple, the more you tie flies, the better fly tyer you will become. Having a dedicated tying space with your tools and materials at the ready will allow you to tie flies more often.

Your tying space should permit you to store your tools and materials so you can access them quickly easily. You will no longer have to dig out that shoe box containing your vise and fly tying tools. Tool holders let you store your fly tying tools safely yet keep them accessible. Your vise, sitting there at the ready, will beckon you to sit down and tie every time you pass it.

Being able to store and organize your fly tying materials will make life easier as well. Time spent digging through boxes, bags and bins can now be spent at the vise when all of your stuff is organized and accessible.

Good lighting is key

Tying up some Double Barrel poppers.

Once you have somewhere to tie, it is critical to have a well-lit workspace. Give careful consideration to lighting; access to natural sunlight is a bonus, but failing that an artificial light source will do the trick. Daylight spectrum lightbulbs will show colors as they would appear outdoors.

Before I set up a permanent space I was tying flies at the kitchen table and proper lighting was always an issue. I used a portable desk lamp, but it quite provided enough light for fly tying. I have noticed as the years pass the need for well-lit workspace has become more and more critical for my aging eyes. I now have several light sources on my tying bench.

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In addition to excellent lighting, a clean background to tie against is helpful. A profile plate attached to you vise works well but a piece of light-colored cardboard propped up behind you vise works as well. 

Give yourself room for expansion

A small, sturdy table will work, a desk with some storage is even better. Give yourself more room then you think you need, you will fill it up quick. When I moved into my first desk, the drawers of the desk swallowed up my meager supplies with plenty of room to share. Unfortunately, that did not last long. The problem with having a dedicated tying space meant I did more fly tying. Tie flies more often, and you will need more materials. Buy more materials, and you will need somewhere to store them. Do you see where this is going? 

As the years passed all of the desk’s drawers were overflowing and plastic bins of materials started showing up in the corners of the room. Something had to be done to clean up the clutter. My search for a solution resulted in me buying a massive roll-top desk, with plenty of drawers, nooks, and crannies to put my stuff. This solution worked for a while. In time, the tie more/buy more/store more dilemma caught up with me. The desk drawers were overflowing, the nooks and crannies became filled, and the roll top stopped rolling because there was too much on top of the desk. A new desk needed to be purchased. This time it was a beautiful, custom, purpose-built fly tying desk with cedar-lined drawers, hidden compartments, it's own power and lighting systems and a ton of storage room.

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This new desk swallowed up all of my materials and all was right with the world, for a while. Fast forward nine years later and you guessed it.  The tie more/buy more/store more syndrome has once again reared its ugly head. The plastic bins and boxes have reappeared. I don’t know if I will ever have enough room for this hobby of mine.  

Happy spouse, happy house

Having a dedicated tying space will also keep peace in the household if you share it with someone else. This could be the single most important benefit of having a dedicated tying space!

When I first started fly tying, my material collection was small and fit into a few boxes. I would set up on the kitchen or dining room table and have at it. When I was done it often looked like a small bird or mammal blew up on the table. Try as I might, I could not contain my mess to the table. Inevitably debris, including hooks, would end up on the floor only to be tracked elsewhere into the house. The quickest way to find a hook on the floor is to walk around barefoot!

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Living alone it was not a big deal, I could always eat standing at the kitchen counter, and a little rabbit fur in your dinner never hurt anyone. Once I found true love, married, and starting sharing a home, it was a different story. It was not long before the boss put her foot down and demanded I remove my “dead animals” from anywhere food is consumed. The kitchen and dining room table were strictly off limits. Fortunately, there was an extra bedroom in the house for me and my “dead animals."

Find a place to set up a fly tying area of your own. You will become a better fly tyer if you do!

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About Bart Lombardo:

Bart, the creator of Panfish On The Fly, has been fly fishing and fly tying for over thirty years and writing about it for almost as long. Although he is known to fish for trout and salmon all over the country, his true passion is chasing bluegill and other panfish with a fly rod. He is a member of the Flymen Fly Tyer program as well as a featured fly fishing and fly tying instructor for Orvis and LL Bean. Follow him on Instagram @panfish_on_the_fly.

  • Post author
    Bart Lombardo
  • fly fishingfly tying

Comments on this post (11)

  • Apr 15, 2021

    Wondering if you would be willing to share the plans for the fly tying desk featured on your site?

    — Jim Leyden

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Greetings, I was just taking a look at your website and submitted this message via your “contact us” form. The feedback page on your site sends you messages like this via email which is why you’re reading through my message at this moment correct? That’s half the battle with any kind of advertising, getting people to actually READ your message and that’s exactly what I just accomplished with you! If you have an ad message you would like to promote to thousands of websites via their contact forms in the U.S. or anywhere in the world let me know, I can even target particular niches and my costs are super low. Write a reply here: lethamidurr@gmail.com

    — Herman Mulkey

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Thanks for the article. I just downsized my tying desk. In that, I mean I put away all the thread, wire, floss that I haven’t used in years. What a difference. Did the same with my feather drawers.
    I’m now tying the basic flies for the Northeast. There are a lot of them but I find that I can use 2-3 thread colors and I’m good. I’m on a UV resin kick now…haha. It never ends but I loved tying in the winter as I get ready for the next season.

    — Jeff

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Thanks for the article. I just downsized my tying desk. In that, I mean I put away all the thread, wire, floss that I haven’t used in years. What a difference. Did the same with my feather drawers.
    I’m now tying the basic flies for the Northeast. There are a lot of them but I find that I can use 2-3 thread colors and I’m good. I’m on a UV resin kick now…haha. It never ends but I loved tying in the winter as I get ready for the next season.

    — Jeff

  • Dec 03, 2020

    “Dead animals”! Ha – that was precious!

    My 17 year old brought me home a fresh turkey (tom) road kill recently as a gift for his fly tying dad. I don’t know who was more excited, me or my son!

    Great post; awesome insight! Thanks!! I’ve been collecting materials and tools for about three years now and gearing up for a much needed dedicated tying desk. I had one setup for a week of vacation but fell sick so only a handful got tied. Once I have a dedicated space, you’ll know where to find me!

    — Fred

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Is such a tying bench,desk available for purchase?

    — Douglas B Remsen

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Great article. I am one of those who spend more time setting up and putting away than I do tying flies!

    — John

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Is there a reasonable substitute for regular moth balls to prevent invasion of materials by ‘critters’? Are the ’scented moth balls ’ effective? I do not want to be banished to the back yard.

    — Larry Holmes

  • Dec 03, 2020

    I enjoy the content

    — Terry

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Related subjects
    So you just spent $77.00 on a new WhitingFarms Bronze Saddle … hopefully when you purchased it you took your hackle gauge to the flyshop and measured your new saddle’s feathers to make sure you got the right sizes

    Next step is to sort thru the saddle size 14s, 16s, 18s, 20s,
    put the sort feathers in 1gallon zip lock bags and you are ready to go

    Your going to type up pattern. 1. Plan on tying a set number of the pattern maybe varying the hook size ..
    2. Set out all the materials (that’s where the pre sort hackles some in) … have the tools organized so you have what you need.
    3. If you are going to use a tutorial from the internet arrange your fly tying space so you can see the laptop or whatever device you are going to use (iPad and tablets are nice here…phones will play YouTube videos but screen is somewhat small.

    4 . Tye the suckers … remember that practice makes perfect or atleast better so doing 1/2 dozen at a time will result in better flys tied in less time. Maybe make some “rulers” using a 3×5 card with the length of the hook shank for that size 16 Mustad 9480 marked out from the edge of the card …. note on hook sizes a 16 Mustad 9480 is the same as a TMC 101 18 … there appears to be no real standard on hook sizes.

    — Geoffrey S Wasson

  • Dec 03, 2020

    What is the fly tier program?

    — Terry Chester

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