You may ask why you want to be able to tie many flies quickly but numbers can become an issue for all flytyers at some point. You know the situation; you're going somewhere and you need flies and if you're anything like me, you need lots of them. In fact, the more the merrier. If, for instance, you're going to Norway in June, you're likely to face either low water or flooding. And being prepared for both means having lots of flies. You might be able to reduce the number of patterns to maybe 5, but you'll need them in several different sizes to cope with any situation. And that means tying an awful lot of flies! But it's with the issue of numbers – tying many and identical flies fast – that this article is concerned.
For several years now I have tied a good number of different flies to order for different people and from that I have learned and picked up many skills and tricks that make flytying easier and faster. Don't get me wrong: I also “slow-tie”. There's nothing I like better than to spend hours, even days and weeks, perfecting the movement and mobility of a salmon fly or getting the gills just right on a Baetis-nymph.
The Tying Arena
The tying arena is important. First of all table and chair is very important. You need a chair that can be set to the proper height in relation to the table and ultimately the height of your vise. Make sure the chair is comfortable and gives proper back-support. You'll be seated here for many hours and getting a sore back won't expedite things.
The table is also important, as is your background. The colour is important. I like either dark grey or light olive. You need a background that doesn't blend too much with the colours of the materials you're using. A white background for example seems a good choice since it contrasts with most materials, but tying for hours against a white background is stressful on the eyes.
Also make sure that you have enough space around you on the table to arrange the materials properly, so that they don't tangle and get lost underneath each other.
Arranging the materials
Generally I pre-cut as many of the materials as possible in the number needed for the tying, prior to beginning the tying. This is a boring task, but it really speeds up the process immensely. This includes plucking the right amount and size of hackles from the cape. It's important to think before cutting and plucking. Take into consideration when plucking hackles that many feathers will tie several flies – saddles for examples may well tie 5 or more dries.
Tinsel and flash can also be pre-cut and arranged. With tinsel, I usually cut longer pieces, say 10 inches or so. A long piece of tinsel is slightly more difficult to manage, but it saves an awful lot of material.
I always arrange the materials on the table in front of me in the order they go on the hook, preferably from left to right. That gives me a good overview and also ensures that I rarely forget anything. On a salmon fly for instance, it's easy to forget a butt, a ribbing or a tail since several materials are tied in even before making the body.
Very lively materials like flash and rubber to name two, are best kept on stands. A good mate once made me these from welding thread and they are perfect to hang bunches of flash on. This also gives more space on the table.
First of all, it's very important to use as few tools as possible. Remember that picking up a tool takes time, not just doing it once, but remember you do it over and over again. And this leads directly to the most important tool of the production flytyer – the scissors. It's obvious that they should be sharp and have a very fine point. This usually means parting with some money, as good quality scissors don't come cheap. And when it comes to scissors for mass-production, “There can be only one!” Anvil makes a special pair of scissors, where the rings are displaced in relation to each other making it possible to hold these scissors in your right hand without ever letting them go! This means that you don't have to waste time forever picking them up. These specific scissors are the production-tyer's most important weapon. There are other types, but they are not as good and not so durable. One thing though, if you get a pair of these you'll have to fine-tune them a little. The point is not as fine as it could be from the factory, so with fine sandpaper or a fine file, sand down the point – the scissors won't be damaged if you're careful. And last but not least, one edge is serrated and this is essential. That way fine hair won't be pushed out as you close the blades to cut. And whatever your choice always go for a fine serration on one or both blades.
In addition, you'll want to keep another pair at hand for heavy-duty work like cutting bead-chain eyes, heavy tinsel or wire.
I'd like to also make a comment about whip-finishers. I like the type that rotates – they are quicker than then ones you have to turn between your fingers and you are less likely to drop them. Like scissors, many whip finishers also need a little fine-tuning, especially the cheaper ones. Sometimes the edges on the “hooks” are a little rough and are prone to sever the thread. This is also solved with fine sandpaper or a fine file. I simply file a taper on both hooks, in effect making a long, dull point. In doing this I'll get cleaner knots since the thread slides off the hook easier over a long point rather than over a hard edge. And you'll never break a thread in the whipfinish if you sand them carefully. Unlike the scissors, cheap whip finishers perform just as well as expensive ones after they've been tuned, but the more expensive ones can be nicer to work with. My current choice is Marc Petijean's – expensive yes, but extremely high quality. For small flies a pair of midge-whip-finishers from Tiemco can be an advantage.
Needle – yeah well, a needle is a needle. All I want to say about needles is that you must make sure the handle is such that the needle is easy to grab, whether it lies on the table or sits in the tool-caddy.
Hackle-pliers are also worth considering. I love J. Dorin's yellow U-pliers, but I never use them for production-tying for one simple reason. I can't get my finger through them! So two aspects of pliers must be considered – they must fit around your finger and they must, of course, hold the hackle (or tinsel) securely without breaking them! Once again, cheap hackle-pliers, which are just as strong as expensive ones, may need a little sandpaper of the edges are sharp. Some tiers prefer to add a rubbersleeve on one or both jaws since they find they get a better grip – I don't!
I also have a waste-basket, one of those that attaches to the stem of the vice. It sits to my right and lets me dispose of waste quickly and easily.
And speaking of vices, I find that I tie better with a vice secured to the table with a C-clamp rather than on a pedestal. If the vice stands on a pedestal you will have to reach in over the table ever so slightly and that stresses your shoulders and back. I have a large board I put on top of my table. It extends about 10 inches over the edge of the table placing the vice right in front of me giving a comfortable and ergonomic working-position. A final word on vices is on the setting of the hook. I have a Renzetti Traveller – a brilliant vice by all means, but my standard set of jaws have a screw-lock, and that is slightly time-consuming. If you have the choice, either go for a cam-operated jaw-set or the Regal-type. The Regal-type is extremely fast and easy to operate, the only disadvantage is that it isn't true rotary.
Lars Chr. Bentson