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Fly Tying Articles Articles on fly tying skills, techniques and experiences.

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Old 02-25-2015, 12:38 AM
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Default Tying versus Buying

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Tying versus buying is the conundrum that all anglers face eventually. Some hear the voices earlier into their fly fishing lives than others, but it is something that we all should consider (or have considered). Personally I have been tying flies for about twenty-five (25) years so I get asked this question quite often by those that are relatively new to the sport, and my answer is a three-pronged one that has never changed… The only way you can be 100% in control of the; design, quality, and availability of your flies, is to tie them yourself.

Now that is not to say that you absolutely must tie your own flies to be a satisfied and successful angler. I have a few friends that have been fly fishing for decades that still buy all of their flies and are quite happy doing so. Having said that, there have been times when one or all of those three prongs have gotten to them… and each has muttered the phrase, "I really need to start tying" right before they would borrow flies from me (or ask me to tie replacements).

I won't even touch on the degree of satisfaction one feels when duping fish on a fly you have actually tied, or about the fun in developing custom patterns and sharing them with others, or that fly tying can be a great cure for cabin fever. Instead I will keep to a brief elaboration on the three (3) "prongs", and let you decide for yourself which (if any) are important enough to motivate you to start tying.


DESIGN

Unless you order flies from the same catalog (or buy them from the same shop), all tyers have their own style and slight variations in the same pattern will occur from tyer to tyer. Plus, there are always local hot flies or tweaks to existing patterns that make them more effective compared to the traditional design. New materials are constantly being introduced and folks find ways of spicing up older patterns with different materials. So the randomness of supposed "common" designs is already there.

If you do decide to tie you will invariably start imparting your own tweaks or style into the patterns that you carry and fish. This is one of the great advantages of tying your own flies in my opinion… the ability to decipher situations in the natural world, and then work those ideas into your own successful patterns. Few things in angling are more gratifying.

Some shop or catalog flies are tied outside of conventional design purposely for the sake of convenience, saving time, or just plain old corner cutting … which leads us to the next topic.


QUALITY

When buying flies, sooner or later, you may encounter issues with (poor) quality resulting in either; a short life span of the fly, or a fly that fishes poorly. Just looking through the mass-produced bins of retail outdoor stores you can see that the level of quality varies greatly within each bin. This is not to say that all purchased flies are of lesser quality. Quite the opposite actually as most flies produced by reputable tyers (or suppliers) are of very fine quality; however, in some cases as it is with any other manufactured product, the "Clint Eastwood factor" is always a possibility… there's the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Think about it, time and materials are "money" to the average commercial tier. And they need to optimize the usage of both in order to remain profitable. It is as simple as that. Tying your own flies allows you to chuck a couple of feathers here or there, or send a fly or two into the recycle bin because you don't like the way it looks, or take those extra steps necessary to ensure a longer fly life. Two flies that come to mind that I use a lot are Soft Hackles and Comparaduns… I've seen show tyers, YouTube videos, and flies in mass bins routinely tied incorrectly (at least for my purposes). But tying them right, and tying them to last may take twice as long, per fly! This added work times a thousand flies means nothing to the person at home tying their own flies, but it is money flying out the window for some trying to make a living at it.


AVAILABILITY

It used to be a running joke in fly shops when I lived back in PA, "You want to know what's hatching? Take a look in the bins and see what's sold out!" This was especially true during the highly-anticipated "sulphur" hatch. If you didn't have your season's worth of #14, #16, and #18 Sulphur Dun patterns by the time May rolled around… you had to do some real searching! Not a problem for those tying their own flies, but a potential disaster for those relying on store bought supply. This could be the same for any pattern really. Stores can randomly sell out of popular patterns at any time. We've all heard the excuses, "Yeah, I just ordered some more and they should be here by Monday." And while comforting in some small way, that won't help you NOW!

Then there are those patterns that are simply not available everywhere, or at all. Every fly shop tyer has a home-spun pattern or two that they can recommend. And truth-be-told they usually work out… sometimes so well that you want to try them elsewhere. Now if these "specialty flies" hit a home run on your local waters, you had better be able to tie some replacements yourself. Or else you may have to wait until your next fishing vacation to grab some more (if they're still around).

One last note on availability with respect to soft hackles (and flymphs)… If you find yourself really loving these types of patterns (like I do)… your only option for total involvement is to tie them yourself. Sure you will find the Partridge & Orange and Partridge & Yellow in most shops, along with the occasional other random pattern. But if you are looking to fish Slattery's Triple Threat Caddis, Libertone's Lil' Dorothy, Leisenring's Black Gnat, Nemes' Syl's Midge, (all highly recommended by the way), or the dozens of other relatively obscure – and highly effective - patterns out there… you simply have to tie them yourself to guarantee their availability. And I'm sure this applies to many other genres of fly types as well.


So there you have it… three (3) of the most important things to consider (in my opinion) when it comes down to tying versus buying. Although I do claim to tie all of my flies that is not entirely true in that I do sometimes purchase flies when visiting fly shops in new areas… mainly because I would feel guilty about asking shop owners for fishing information without buying something. So even though I am capable of tying all of the flies that I use, nothing greases the gears of fly shop conversation quite like a fresh purchase.

In closing, there is one more (controversial?) topic to cover, and that is on the proper way to get started. Let's say for example that you have made the decision to start tying. The very next thought that comes to your mind is, "should I buy a fly tying kit?"

The answer to this question can be a simple yes or no, but the precursor to that answer is wherein lays the problem. If you can somehow decipher definitively that "YES, I want to tie flies!" Then my (strong) recommendation would be to buy a decent vise, good quality tools, and fill out your hook and materials needs a few flies at a time. Kits are enticing with their array of "everything you need to get started" but in most cases what they really should say is "you will need to replace everything in this box immediately if you really want to keep tying." And that is the sad truth for those committed to taking the plunge, but it could also be the answer for those that want to try it to see if they like it before jumping in with both feet. The problem is that not all fly tying kits are created equal, and the tools/materials may be of such poor quality that using them will amount to nothing more than frustration. The truth however is that most folks ignore this advice, get into fly tying via tying kit, soon regret ever buying it, and then need to replace everything in it (and that includes myself, many years ago).

In the end, fly tying is a lot like fly casting (or fly fishing), it matters little how you got there… the important thing is that you got there.


Tight lines!
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Old 02-25-2015, 05:08 AM
hairwing530 hairwing530 is offline
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Default Re: Tying versus Buying

stenacron...

You make some very valid points in your observations, and I concur with your thoughts, especially on almost all of today's "kits." Better to buy "the better or best" in the beginning, choose and tie a few patterns instead of them all, and add more of the "good stuff" as one goes along...

Nicely done, Joe, and food for thought for anyone considering tying their own. Thanks for raising the "awareness factor" a notch or two...

Jerry, aka hairwing530
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Old 02-25-2015, 08:12 AM
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Default Re: Tying versus Buying

Quote:
Originally Posted by hairwing530 View Post
stenacron...

Better to buy "the better or best" in the beginning, choose and tie a few patterns instead of them all, and add more of the "good stuff" as one goes along...
Until you reach the point that whenever some great new floss or dubbing or whatever comes out, you buy one each of all the colors just cuz ya never know when it will come in handy.

Of course, that's the point when you realize you're tying mainly to amuse yourself, not to save money on flies. If you only wanted to save money on flies, you'd buy them all from Jerry.
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Old 02-25-2015, 11:19 AM
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Default Re: Tying versus Buying

Joe: Very well written, this subject comes up so often I made this thread a sticky so others can find it.
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Old 02-25-2015, 11:52 AM
bigjim5589 bigjim5589 is offline
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Default Re: Tying versus Buying

Joe, I agree with what's already been said, very well done and some excellent points that should be considered by anyone who may desire to start tying their own!

I started tying before I started fly fishing so all of this was a non-issue for me. I also started at age 11, mainly because I felt I could tie the flies I saw in magazines. It was a matter of doing something myself, with my hands, which is something many at that age may look to do, even though I lacked obvious talents at the time, or at least none that had become obvious at that point in my life.

Now, all these years later I've accumulated quite a large stock & investment in tying. (Not to mention lure making too. )

Had I known then, what I know now as far as the money spent along the way I likely could have reduced it considerably by simply buying my flies.

However, as you've pointed out, there are other factors to consider besides the investments in dollars spent.

IMO, I'm a better angler because I've been tying flies & making many of my own lures all these years.
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Old 02-25-2015, 01:50 PM
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Default Re: Tying versus Buying

Thank you for the kind words guys, it means a lot!

I specifically avoided the "tying flies is less expensive" topic, because I secretly know the answer to that one!

Also, I tried to avoid sounding too preachy on the subject of tying "kits" because I myself fell for it TWICE! Like BigJim I started tying flies before owning a rod from a kit that my uncle gave me when I was around 9 or 10 years old. All junk of course and the flies (along with my interest) faded away. Then I started fly fishing here and there and suddenly got real serious about it about 10 years later and decided to start tying. I convinced myself that the kit I had was simply not as good as the one's on the market at that time, so I bought a second, "quality" tying kit, and you can guess the rest. Luckily the bite was bad enough for me to stick through kit disaster #2 and I forged on with wiser investments.

Larry, you're absolutely right... the topic does come up quite often... which, oddly enough provided the inspiration to write this. Thank you for pinning it.

P.S. Strange how the lighting near my tying desk makes my hair look gray... What's up with that?
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Old 02-25-2015, 04:13 PM
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Default Re: Tying versus Buying

I've been tying for 28 years, I got into it for many of the reasons given and it has become a hobby.
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Old 02-25-2015, 08:06 PM
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Default Re: Tying versus Buying

Joe, I love your post, and it really resonates with me. You've described exactly the reasons I started tying flies, and why it has made my fishing that much more meaningful.

I still have a long way to go before the quality of my own flies is up to the standard where I want them, but I love being able to make those small changes that make me believe this fly--this one!--is going to catch a fish. And, as you mentioned, the feeling you get when you catch a fish on a fly you've tied yourself can't be beat. Your smile is just that much wider.

A quote from the great Tom McGuane is apt here:

"I still have many friends who prefer leaving this to the experts, as I once did. But now that I know that the object is to please myself, that the machinelike finish possible for the professional who ties a hundred-dozen of the same pattern doesn't matter much to the fish, nor does it necessarily subject the tyer to repetitive motion diseases or dark hours at the county nut farm. I try to tie flies that will make me fish better, to fish more often, to dream of fish when I can't fish, to remind myself to do what I can to make the world more accommodating to fish and, in short, to take further steps toward actually becoming a fish myself."

--from Tying Flies, The Longest Silence

Scott
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Old 02-25-2015, 11:15 PM
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Default Re: Tying versus Buying

The best (or worst, depending on how you look at it..$$) is when you have enough materials to stock a fly shop. You then collect bugs with your entomology kit. Next, you brainstorm to create you own patterns using your extensive materials......The downside, if you're like me.....unorganized....is you end up with 4 of the same thing a lot cuz you forget you already have 3 when you're buying materials!

I do like to tie tried and true patterns such as prince nymphs and parachute Adams....but I typically prefer to come up with my own patterns. Its fun.
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Old 02-26-2015, 07:35 AM
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Default Re: Tying versus Buying

In the beginning.....of when I started fly fishing, all my flies were hand me downs from a buddy who got me into it. It quickly became apparent that learning to tie was going to be the most cost effective way to reasonably pursue this hobby. Nymphs were the way to go at fist since I didn't have the money or knowledge for dries. Collecting road kills rabbits, shooting some pheasants and woodies in the fall, an perusing local craft stores was the norm.

Once my hobby became more than a hobby, the money poured into tying and buying gear (still does). Up until a few years ago, I tied all of my own flies. Guiding, fishing, giving them away necessitated the production of 80-100 dozen flies yearly.

Now I buy 8-10 dozen a year, mainly things that I'd rather not fart around with at the bench - rubber legged stimies, for example.

Looking back, buying flies early on might have been more effective in giving me the variety to catch more trout, but being forced into learning how to tie certainly put me in a better spot in the long run.
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