An apology: I should never have asked Ben to head our flytying section. He is obviously quite insane and dangerous to know. You are advised to ignore everything he writes and please do not associate it with Sexyloops or anyone involved with the site. Thank you - Paul
A feather, some dubbing, a hook and some varnish. To compare tying a fly to a stick of dynamite may seem a little over the top but believe me, the aftermath is much the same. How can something so small create such havoc? It must surely be one of life's great mysteries. Take a hare's ear nymph - in theory I'd need hare's fur, gold wire, a dark feather, thread, varnish and some hooks, the truth is a different heffalump altogether. I reach for a hook, but what kind? I can't decide, so I put the initial choice away and reach for several other packets. Thread follows in much the same manner, as does wire and feather until five become ten, ten become twenty and so on.
The first law of fly tying states that any or all items of the initial choice are replaced in favour of several more for the same purpose therein resulting in the chaos theory coming in to play which for all intents and purposes is way too chaotic to explain.
In the midst of dealing with this other strange phenomena are taking place. Only after at least four foot has been removed from the bobbin can the thread be started and cut before being draped over the bench. I cock it up, repeat the procedure and then go on to tying in a tail. Several chunks are removed to find the perfect clump, whilst an additional wad of fluff created by way of selecting the perfect body material is also added to the pile. After completion the body is removed to allow the forgotten rib to be added and then re-wound twice more after the customary breaking of the wire. Strangely, the remainder of the body and wing pad go by without a hitch, until the now very frayed thread decides to snap, resulting in half the fly falling to pieces. Rebuilding takes place accompanied by a double dose of rubbish (now forming two piles) whilst the varnish is opened in anticipation. Half an hour later, after extracting my scissors from the pile, I sit back for a little while admiring my finished (albeit botched) fly.
The second law of fly tying states that once final items are chosen at least nine times the required amount is selected with the scrap being placed on no more than two piles under which your most useful tools are normally placed.
Now with a glow about me, I reach for my tea knocking over the varnish and spilling it towards the edge of my desk. In a fit of panic I attempt the cupped hands carpet saving manoeuvre but miss to find myself catching the initial draped thread, sending the whole sticky mess tumbling towards my feet. I recover all I can but with the varnish starting to tack and my socks stuck fast to the carpet I have to regain my balance. I arise leading with the elbow (of course), curtain in hand and my new creation firmly embedded in my sleeve. Without haste the red mist - with which I'm only too familiar - takes over and in a fit of rage, I destroyed my bench sending everything on it wall-bound at an alarming speed whilst being hit on the head by a curtain rail. I then put my hands to my face and mutter, "Oh dear, I really must get organised one of these days".
And so has ended my first hare's ear nymph.
The third and final law of fly tying states that upon fly completion all hell breaks loose resulting in an overwhelming urge for alcohol (and thinners).
Okay, my tying bench isn't the tidiest, it may in fact be the worst but I still make the effort (grudgingly). Ending up in a complete mess with your new collection of tools and materials as I did (and still do) can become a little irritating. The 'who needs scissors anyway' attitude to fly tying seemed pretty cool at the time but as it became worse I eventually realised the value of tidiness. This doesn't have to be anything drastic, if you've just started you won't have all that much to organise anyway. Even if you do it needn't be stressful, sorry let me re-phrase that, it needn't be very stressful. These are however temporary measures so I wont lie. You'd think by carefully arranging every ounce of fluff you own might solve this problem but for some reason it doesn't. As a counter measure I always tie with a bin as close to me as possible in the hope that I may avoid the dishevelled look my desk regularly acquires. It doesn't work and although it feels as if I'm putting everything in, I'm convinced some of it drifts back up.
It's strange but when I tie flies I don't really like stopping every 30 seconds to tidy away every snip of thread or scrap of feather, I don't think many people do. I tend to lose my flow and end up taking twice as long as I thought I would. Things that fall hopefully find the bin, whilst things that don't are placed wherever. It's only afterwards I begin contemplating the tidy up - note the word contemplating. I may not do it straight away, in fact weeks can go by, but if I'm aware of having to tie up a selection for the weekend, I'll damn well make sure my desk's in peak condition. Being stuck on the bank staring at feasting trout with an empty fly box is no fun at all.
Pulleys and Wheels
Fly tying is as much about being comfortable as it is tidy and therefore remains best undertaken as far away from any other person as possible. Why? Well last week I got the urge for some muddlers. Deer hair I thought - but wait, the landlord doesn't allow animals. How was I to smuggle my deer in you say. Well it was a complicated procedure using a great many lengths of rope, wheels, pulleys and a comic relief glow in the dark nose. It was almost there when:
"What the hell is that?"
"And what the hell are you doing with it?"
Without haste I placed the comic relief nose upon the deer and said, "You'd never guess it's only three and a half months to Christmas would you?"
It was too late though, we were rumbled and the apartment searched. Upon entry came the, "You have animals don't you?"
"No - what do you mean?" I said.
"What's that in the carpet then?"
Errrr - "Muskrat I think, oh no wait - I think it's rabbit,"
"A-ha! You do have animals" he yelled. Bugger - I thought.
"Well yes - but not whole ones"
"And what's this on my shoe?" he said.
"Can't remember her name" I replied, "dedicated angler though".
To cut long story short we never did return to that place - you see most people don't like bits of dead animal ground into their carpet. I know - I couldn't believe it either. I've now decided it really pays off to find somewhere you can tie that won't interfere with other people (and their furniture). Easy access, low windows, hard floors and back doors are all things to look out for. Even better is if you can actually get a place where you don't have to smuggle squirrel tails down your trousers. Ideally you'd want a room for fly tying alone (shed, spare room etc) but in reality not many people have this luxury and will have to experiment with new approaches - such as confiscating parts of the house and barricading themselves in. You may find it necessary to mark your territory, cats have an effective method of doing so - although I don't recommend it - use a sign or electric fence instead.
In preparation for the exciting world of bench organisation we are to shortly delve in to, it pays off to actually have a bench in the first place. I tried without one once but it was about as useful as spinning deer hair in a wind tunnel. It's therefore essential that your bench be both present and at a height comfortable enough to tie whilst reducing the likelihood of needing a neck brace later on. Adjustable C-clamp vice tiers will have very little problems adapting to bench height but those who have chosen the pedestal may have to look a little farther a field, or UP as it were.
Eyestrain isn't very comfortable either, so for that reason a good desktop lamp is highly recommended. Many are available ranging from simple shielded bulb holders to halogen lamps with flexible necks. I still have the former (but with a bendy neck), which works fine, although after sampling a couple of expensive lamps (including one designed for attachment to the vice shaft) I must admit to being very impressed, if a little blinded. The halogen bulb does provide the greatest degree of light. Lamps of both sorts are available from catalogue shops to hardware stores and will be significantly cheaper than those sold as 'fly tying' lamps.
An additional defence against eyestrain is the magnifying lens. Most give me headaches but I'm assured the good ones don't. I'm confident without a magnifier but for some they prove invaluable. Certain lamps have lenses fitted upon them (think dentist) whilst some are sold separately. I'd go for the integrated kind as it saves buying two things - as well as creating less clutter on your desk.
We already know rather a lot about this now but it's by far and away the most problematic aspect you'll ever face - so I'll say it again. If fly tying gives us one thing it must be rubbish, lots and lots of rubbish, often in the form of flies. You *must* have some way of containing it. It is very easy to push this aside and even though at first you pick up every bit you'll eventually get sick to death of fumbling through the matted jungle your carpet has now become. Gradually it becomes worse and worse. Your environment will begin to change in respect to both colour and texture, whilst you'll probably start finding things you lost three months ago. I know what your thinking, "it won't happen to me Ben", well yes it will. You'll buy more and more stuff (most of which you'll never use), the desk will overflow and the three laws of fly tying will become ever more apparent to you. Fly tying rubbish bags are widely sold, screw on to your vice shaft and should (in theory) catch everything - unless you sneeze. Which reminds me, feather/fur allergies and piles of fur and feather don't really mix all that well. One sneeze in the presence of a freshly prepared pile of hare's fur and you'll be picking it up for months. Hoovers are useless, fly tying materials laugh in the face of Hoovers and will remain sitting in comfort, whilst grinning at you from the relative safety of the new luxury pile you now wish you hadn't bought.
When we reach this stage in our fly tying careers we must look to some form of storage. Materials may look nice and innocent but don't be fooled: when left alone anything spooled will unwind, all loose items will tangle and your prized feather collection will become a damp and moth infested mess. The remedy is simple: take all your thread and divide it by size and colour and find something to put it in. "What?" I hear you ask. Well you could buy one of the widely available fly tying chests (or bags) containing a space for every little thing - or you could look to the coarse fishermen for help. Coarse fishermen carry obscene amounts of stuff to their favourite haunts and have ridiculous amounts of boxes to contain it all. Bait fishing boxes come in all shapes and sizes, with some being more suited to fly tying than others. The carp fishermen's fox boxes are ideal for sitting on desks and are great for smallish items such as dubbing, threads, wires and tools. They even sell little flip-top boxes for spilt shot that are perfect for hooks.
Eventually you'll need to take a step up: the piles of stuff you now have will grow and grow, until after a while having to un-stack piles of boxes will become annoying. This circumstance calls for drawers - lots of them. Again you can buy commercially made fly tying chests but most I have encountered have been constructed using tropical hardwoods and subsequently cost the earth (and in more ways than one). If there is a good cheap set of drawers made for fly tying then please let us know though the bulletin board. It would be nice to know if there is such a thing. If there isn't then hardware stores are perfect for finding things such as tool drawers - the old wooden ones are the best, but are (I think) no longer available. You're most likely to find the steel tool chests which are very good (albeit a little expensive) or the plastic drawer units used for things like screws, plugs and wire etc (see pic). Tupperware containers are most useful for larger items (think capes) and I've also been reliably informed that needlework shops also stock good boxes with useful sliding compartments. Although not being much of a needlework-kind-of-guy I haven't looked into this too deeply.
Thread at ten paces
You have to read this bit incredibly fast. Why? Well that's how I'm typing it - there is a vibe here you know. Take all your thread and divide it by size and colour. Now pick an allotted section or sections for the chosen items and strategically position them for ease of removal. I bet you can tell I do this all the time. Next do the same for all your other spooled suspects. "Yes but they still unwind Ben". Well use elastic bands or else put them in film containers (use colour co-ordination for yet more ease of removal).
Now sort your dubbing into two categories; natural and synthetic. Find them a place and make sure they're sealed appropriately and contain some form of moth repellent such as naphthalene crystals, silica gel packs or socks. Do the same with dubbing a la skin and place accordingly. If you require a further sense of order STILL then indulge your passion with sticky labels and more, yes more colour co-ordination. Feathers in packets can be dealt with in much the same manner as with everything else but, when we come to things like capes, a larger storage option must be sought. All of the above must have the ability to keep out damp and bugs, especially damp bugs (giant man eating ones). With capes (no not Jeff) you may be dealing with some very pricey objects. So unless you want your fly tying wet dream to become a moth bitten reality, seal your containers as effectively as possible. Your new drawers will not be totally sealed so go for large Tupperware containers. You may also want to sort in order of usage by putting your most valued items within easy reach (instead of at the bottom of a tackle box) or by making dubbing and storing the half shaven skins somewhere else. Depending on your circumstances you may want to treat all with the same degree of care, although materials stored in damp garages will obviously need more care and attention than those stored in nice central heated parts of the house.
I am going to finish a little differently to how I'd envisaged but to be perfectly honest I don't think you need any more. You should by now be wondering where to tie, upon what desk and should be aware of the importance of light and comfort. You should know how to contain your rubbish and therefore also the counteraction measures against the three laws of fly tying. Boxes and drawers I expect in great numbers, whilst organisation should amount to nothing more than picking a place whilst keeping it all well and protected from the giant man-eating moths. Simple.
Next week: We may actually start using some tools in the first part of how to skin a deer with a whip finish tool.…………………..