Category Archives: Fly Tying

Let’s settle this shall we

The Expensive part of fly tyingBanish the thought from your mind, tying your own flies is not cheaper than buying them. Measured simply in dollars, the two aren’t even in the same zipcode. There are some benefits to fly tying that can’t be quantified and may tip the scales a bit.

The Numbers Game

If we look at the cost of trout flies, they range from $1.50 to $2.50, with the bulk of the standard patterns at the lower end of that scale. Assuming the typical urban angler gets away 6 times a year for a fishing excursion, and buys about 2 dozen flies for each outing, he is out of pocket about $300 per year.

For his flytying counterpart, if he had to tie that same 12 dozen, it is a different story. If we assemble a kit of the materials necessary, it may include:

Genetic Necks – 1-Rhode Island Red, 1 – Grizzly, 1 – Cream/Ginger

Dubbing Fur – Black, Brown, Olive, Grey, Cream, Yellow, Tan, Rust

Skins/Bird Parts – Partridge, Speckled Hen saddle, Mallard flank(natural and dyed woodduck), Teal, Pheasant Tail, Peacock Herl, Ostrich, Dyed Hen saddle (Olive, Brown), Saddle Hackle (grizzly, badger, brown), Turkey Tail, Goose Biots. Marabou (olive, black)

Animal Parts: Calf tail, Hare’s Mask, Moose Body, Deer Hair, Elk Hair

Synthetic/Man Made: Copper wire, Gold wire, Lead wire, Polypropylene yarn (white), Pearl Flashabou (or equivalent), Prewaxed Thread (black, brown, cream, olive), Floss (red, yellow), Brass beads (small, medium).

Hooks: Dry Fly (12, 14, 16, 18), Nymph (12, 14, 16, 18), Specialty (3XL 8, 10)

I wouldn’t be accused of flamboyance in the above items, this is a basic kit that can tie quite a few different patterns. There will be plenty left over after our 12 dozen flies, some of the above items can tie many hundreds of dozens before being exhausted. The above tying kit retails for approximately $461.00.

Note that no tools, vises, or other tying paraphernalia is counted in the above, this is simply a raw list of items that could tie 12 dozen assorted flies. Our assumption is that the angler buying flies is likely to pick 2-3 of each, and 12 dozen would be around 50 different fly patterns.

Using the “dollar” indicator only, $300 < $461, so buying flies is cheaper.

Granted, the additional flies we can tie from this kit will lower the per fly price in each subsequent year, but we’ll start to run out of items and have to restock. If you supplement the items with road kill, and catastrophic loss due to moth infestation, the calculation become unwieldy almost immediately.

Hexagenia DunIf we acknowledge some of the intangibles, that may shift things. What a flytyer gets is a deeper understanding of fly design, movement, and aquatic entomology. He can tailor a fly exactly to the bug he sees on the stream, whereas the guy buying flies has to find an approximation – a standard pattern close enough to the natural that he can use effectively. This is easy, as fish are stupid. On rare occasion, nothing but the custom pattern will do, this is more the exception rather than the rule.

Assimilating all that tying knowledge will put the crafter into learning bug behavior. Reading countless articles on new patterns and absorbing their recipe will also convey how and where to fish it, how to recognize the natural when he sees it, and what unique qualities exist in the sillouette or style of emergence. Simply put, fly tyers will know more about bugs. How much is that worth?…A plugged farthing at a cocktail party, but useful as hell when fishing.

The second major benefit for tyers is that their season is longer than a fellow purchasing flies. Them cold winter months give the perfect opportunity to replenish those holes in your fly box. It ain’t fishing, but it’s the next best thing.

As a byproduct of tying, angler confidence is increased. You were there last year, they were eating “little yellow mayflies” – you spent all winter perfecting that pattern, now you’ll reap the reward. Confidence is akin to superstition, as we have all met the guy that claims, “I catch all my fish on a #16 Adams” – the fact that he has been successful (confidence) is enough for him to continue to force feed that fly for hours, regardless of what’s hatching.

The Deep End

The GordonMany fly tyers go off the deep end, and although it can be expensive, it is still a rewarding hobby. These tyers wind up owning huge stashes of fly materials, far in excess of what they can use in multiple seasons. Often these collections result from interests in fly crafting, attempting to tie traditional Atlantic Salmon flies using the original materials, and other esoteric forms of tying. They might live thousands of miles from any salmon, but it is the art and skill displayed that is the main event.

These tyers spend many thousands of dollars in materials, and have long surpassed any thought to the economics of their flies, they’re as interested in their craft as they are in fishing. Many sports have this same unbridled accumulation hobby, it still beats blowing your cash on cheap rotgut and hookers.

A “Deep Ender” is easy to spot, watch him make a fuss over the neighbors Pale Blue Dun cat, seven minutes later he’ll be throwing rocks at an orange tabby. He’s the guy that swerves his car at a porcupine, and is up to his elbows in the gut pile at the local duck club.

Word’s of Wisdom – always go fishing in his car, that way you don’t have to explain the rotting fox carcass under the seat to your wife.

No finger lick

The Colonel ain't the trouble this timeIn reading the recent developments about Lead contaminated toys, it struck me that I may want to abandon all weighted nymph use and become a dry fly purist.

Fly tyers use lead fuse wire to weight all underwater flies. Lead wire acted as the metal filament seen in today’s fuses, burning through at the appropriate amperage and killing the circuit. Dropped from commercial use long ago, but still remains the preferred choice to sink a small hook.

Lead is absorbed most readily through airborne dust and ingestion. It can also be absorbed through the skin when mixed with sweat. While tyers handle lead a short time during fly construction, tying a lot of flies prolongs the exposure.

The best information I can decipher, is that you want to wash your hands. Slightly more sinister is the finding that “oxidized lead” – lead that has discolored via contact with the air, is absorbed at a much higher rate.

In short, if you handle lead, it’s on your fingers, if you smoke while handling lead, its in your mouth as well. If you have old spools of oxidized lead in your tying bench, those pose more risk than newer spools of clean metallic lead.

As a defensive practice, and if concerned, I would suggest that you lead all of your hooks in a quick session, wash your hands, then complete the flies. In this fashion you are not replenishing the lead on your fingers with each new fly.

Now that all us tyers have no hope of reproduction, current research also suggests that consumption of iron, zinc, and calcium, assists the body in getting the lead out.

Nice to know that SingleBarbed was all over the vitamin issue in a prior post, cutting edge medicine free for the asking.

Don’t use your cooking pots

redmohawk.jpgI find it cheaper to buy bulk white/badger saddle and dye it into all the colors I need for trout, steelhead, and salmon flies. Commercial supermarket dyes like RIT work very well on the earth tones needed for trout, but for the vibrant colors for steelhead and salmon I prefer aniline dyes.

Aniline is called many things on the Internet, you can find them referenced as “coal tar” dyes, and sometimes, “acid” or “protein” dyes. They have been in use for at least 100 years, and are now regulated to ensure they are not used on food.

I was interested in what they were using to dye hair in hair parlors. We’ve all seen the kid on the block with the “Day-Glo” Mohawk, I was wondering if the dye used for people’s hair might be either cheaper, or easier to use.

Still looking for that answer, but I did stumble upon a nice dye primer site that explains all of the dyes in commercial use for fabric, and synthetic fibers. Plenty of useful links to vendors, and some nice explanations on which kind to use for synthetic fibers.

Don’t be scared of the term “acid dye” white vinegar (5% acetic acid solution) or muriatic acid (38% HydroChloric – used to balance swimming pool Ph) is commonly used as the fixative.

For the urban vigilante this can be used to silence neighbors that play the stereo too loud, just lob a pound of dye in his swimming pool. Humans are protein also (grin).

The $5.95 dilemma

nylon_thread.jpgThere are only three prices at a fly shop; $5.95, $3.95, and $TrustFund.95 – with fly tying the worst offender.  Miniscule glascine envelopes with brightly colored lint, 13 color choices, and your wife waiting impatiently in the car…

As mentioned before, most of the synthetic materials are retreads from existing industries. The hard part is finding out what that  industry calls them so you can buy in bulk. “Crimp covers” are the brass beads we make bead head flies from; used in the jewelry and bead industry to hide crimp marks on necklaces. Most of them are real gold and silver – so you need to find the copper or brass flavors for real savings.

Polypropylene yarn is available at most fabric stores in the knitting section, it has many industrial uses including automotive trim and upholstery.

I am still tracking down a good source for nylon thread. Most commercial uses are for sizes 2/0 (size 15 to the thread industry) and larger, but at $10.99 for 28,000 yards – it is a steal. On occasion you stumble upon something unanticipated that meshes well with your tying, like these 120 spool wood thread racks – if you can’t put it away where it belongs – you can keep it from underfoot.

Natural materials are also used by other crafters and businesses. The costume industry is dominant for the feather side of the business, taxidermists sell hides and scraps. You have to be careful however – as hides for garments are very expensive.

15 colors of copper wire? I had no idea…

That is a bargain

pure_cashmere.jpgLike any canny shopper I am always prepared to pounce on a bargain, however common sense occasionally overcomes my lust to acquire fly tying supplies.  Many of the synthetic materials we use for flies come from other industries, on occasion I stumble across a lifetime supply, when only a couple hundred yards will do.

Anyone need chenille? Pretty fair deal, 2500 yards for only $14.00 . Five colors available,  Taupe wooly buggers times infinity – 46 lbs available. Need some lead wire for all those buggers? 25lbs is a tad much  for me, but you’ll  need it.

Sometimes I hate Google.

Commercial Tyer wannabe

zugbug.jpgThe fellow that throttled the peacock in Burger King’s parking lot should be a lesson to aspiring commercial fly tiers. The good news is that he was a beginner, the bad news is probably the fate that drove him to cracking publicly.

Many anglers decide to defray the cost of their next fly rod via tying flies, most forget the part about the mindless repetition that’s part of tying many hundreds of dozens of the same fly in at most a couple sizes.

You might’ve assumed there’d be groupies, free Hoffman saddles, and membership in the Hilton Posse, but to sustain that level of popularity, you’ll have to crank many thousands of Zug Bugs in size 18 and 20.

Yes, people actually use those sizes, and if you’re any good – you’ll get tagged with the bulk of their production.

So why was this fellow a beginner? He was astute enough to kick the tail feathers loose – but a grizzled veteran would have thanked everyone for finding the bird, rushed home and skinned it using his wife’s favorite fillet knife.

The Great Cunard Conspiracy

peachywave.jpgI have often wondered whether the feathers from a duck’s arse  weren’t akin to bottled water; give it a fancy french name like Cul Du Canard and sell it to the pretentious rubes that lick the pages of anything Ziff Davis.

Heresy? Yep. But having been exposed to duck behavior for the better part of 40 years, neither myself nor science is convinced the preen gland is there for flotation as popularly thought. Preening, is the act of smearing oil on feathers, oil floats, so do ducks – and the common assumption is that oily duck’s arse floats like a cork. But does it?

Most fowl feathers are exposed to a cleansing process that removes and sterilizes the feathers prior to commercial resale. How much of that precious oil remains in the feathers has never been examined – likely it’s damn little, as the feathers are dry to the touch.

A scientific work on the the Uropygial gland of birds suggests there is an uncertain relationship between gland function and flotation:

On the other hand, birds living in aquatic environments not always have a more developed gland than non-aquatic birds … The role could be more complex than a feather waterproofing function.”

As such, are we paying bottled water prices for a run-of-the-mill feather whose floatation qualities largely lie in its surface tension? Facts make this assertion plausible.

A study by the British Royal Society of Science suggests that the preen gland in sandpipers changes its secretion during the mating season, and is in part used to “sign” the nest. Similar to what your dog does to your carpet when his backside itches, only more photogenic.