After awakening one Saturday morning I glanced over to my new and sparkling collection of fly tying equipment. I stared for a while desperately trying to come up with some kind of use for my new toys. It was no good, there was nothing to tie, they were just 'there' tormenting me.
It's really amazing how even the simplest items of tackle seem to inspire new meaning to the word 'fiddling'. My new fly line arrived this morning; I opened the box, stroked the coils, looked at it for a while and began to read the list of statements on the back. My head became filled with images of perfect loops (2 inches wide) travelling great distances and landing like a feather. Up until you can actually use your new toy this is how it is. The terrible thing with fly tying is that you will have just bought about eight things. The degree of fiddling will have been magnified eight fold, you will start to feel tense, excited and even although they're not toys you can't help playing with them. The torment grows until you can't take it any more; you grab the nearest mail order catalogue and start randomly selecting anything that looks cool. Thread, varnish, wax, hooks, fluff and feathers. Three days later they arrive, Kevlar thread, two-part epoxy, super tacky wax, lama hair, a packet of size 16 hooks and something called Ibis.
Now, there are some fundamental flaws in these choices, not that 'I' made them of course. No, I bought size 10 hooks. Buying anything and everything as quickly as possible may seem like a good idea at the time but it's not. My first fly box was a horrific sight; it contained all of the above and more. Ever seen a two part epoxy lama hair midge, well pray that you don't. When I started I spent a significant amount of time ignoring magazines and books, I just wanted everything and even though I was supposedly making things to catch fish it never really crossed my mind. Itchy trigger fingers, need I say more?
This was only a short phase and ended with the realization that gold head dry flies missed the point slightly. Incomplete fly tying resources didn't help either. On reflection they missed the point, beginner to them suggested advanced to me. Something as simple as thread didn't seem to warrant much of a mention, it is after all, 'obvious'. They wrote from the point of view of a 'beginner and three quarters' whilst skimping on the rest. It's bloody confusing.
The items missed out weren't extensive, little things like hooks and thread. Things I like to call base items, not quite tools and not quite materials. Having that little extra bit of information on these items will smooth out both your tying and buying.
Hooks, thousands are available. There seems to be over ten kinds of 'standard' dry fly hook alone, It's ironic that some manufacturers seem to have over looked the actual meaning of the word 'standard'. One good point is that nowadays it's difficult to find a genuinely badly manufactured hook. Good quality hooks are therefore relatively easy to find, I use those made by Partridge, Tiemco and sometimes Kamazan. I was thinking of doing a rather popular fly tying item known as 'the anatomy of a hook'. Take a hook, the hole is the eye, the bend is the curved bit, the straight bit is the shank, the point is the sharp bit, and the gape is in between. Oh yes, there is also a barb; this is the little item that prevents extraction from one's finger.
Hooks are made for every kind of fly you can imagine: insects, fish, frogs, pink fluffy things and more. For each of these there can be several hook variations... sorry no, several hundred hook variations. The differences between them usually amount to things like different shanks, special points or fancy bends. The first set of tying instructions I attempted to follow suggested a nymph hook. I opened my mail order catalogue to find about 20 nymph hooks. Fortunately confusion such as this is relatively easy to sort out and you shouldn't be concerned with complications such as super nugget special grub competition hooks yet, or ever in fact.
During the tying portion, I will be going through two dry flies, two wets, two nymphs and two streamers. These are the four main fly types. There is a standard hook for each one, four hooks for all seasons if you like. Practically any basic dry fly, wet fly, nymph and streamer can be tied with them. I was going to do more on this subject; in fact it's been halved twice already and the initial aim of these pieces is to get people tying. It's worked towards tying a fly and will only contain information leading up to that goal. It's trickier than I thought (writing for beginners) so I am just going to give you my personal favourite top four hooks. Ok, eight.
Wet fly - Partridge Captain Hamilton wet (YL2A). (The Kamazan B-170 Wet is also good)
Nymph - Partridge Captain Hamilton nymph (YH1A)
Dry fly - Partridge Captain Hamilton (yet again) dry (YL3A) or the Tiemco 103BL
Streamer - Kamazan B-800, the Fulling Mill Traditional Streamer (32220) and the Tiemco 9395
Personal preference will eventually dictate your choices as will your fishing situation. You can tie all kinds of flies on all kinds of hooks, it's one of those subjects with no real rules. The hooks mentioned above are a starting point and offer a good base from which to branch out.
So now you've got both tools and hooks, were getting closer, can you feel the tension? Next on the agenda is thread. Thread is of vital importance; it quite literally holds everything together. Materials are both tied down and worked around it. Thread can be seen as being both a tool and a material. Regarding the former it should not provide any unnecessary bulk and only be seen at the head of the fly. For these reasons the thread should be both as fine and strong as possible. The latter is a different kettle of fish altogether. Some flies have bodies made entirely of thread whilst in other cases light materials are worked around very dark threads to provide dull translucent effects, and visa versa. Outer materials can remain the same but slight changes in thread colour give very different results.
Other important factors include size and profile. Thread is sized in a 'similar' manner to hooks; the lower numbers such as 3/0 and 4/0 denote very strong thread that would be used for big flies whilst the smallest 17/0 would be for the opposite. 6/0 to 14/0 are the most common trout fly sizes. A comparison if you like would put the larger sizes along side sewing thread, the medium with dental floss and the finest with… something very fine indeed.
The most common threads available today are made out of either nylon or polyester. The former comes in twisted, semi twisted and flat profiles. Fully twisted thread will have a round profile, it will take up quite a lot of room but will benefit the tier of large flies with its strength. Benecchi and Uni-thread Strong are good examples of this type of thread. Semi twisted can be used for all applications, it can be spun into a round cross section for strength or it can be worked flat (unwound) to reduce bulk. Semi twisted (multistrand) thread is a good all rounder, I recommend Benecchi Fine and Ultra Fine.
Some threads are completely untwisted but I avoid them mostly since they're prone to fraying. A single fibre of multistrand is not very strong and will break if treated roughly. There is one I use, it's called Power Silk from Roman Moser, made from dyneema which is, I believe, the main component of many braided fishing lines. It's the strongest 'fine thread' on the market and lies completely flat. I use it on flies from a size 8 to 18 (highly recommended). Unlike nylon thread polyester fibres are bonded together, for this reason polyester threads cannot be untwisted and due to their round cross section will take up more room on smaller flies. However, as with the fully twisted nylon threads, they are excellent for large flies where strength is essential.
Wax on wax off
You will notice thread being talked about in the context of being either waxed or un-waxed. Thread is slippery; it is waxed to provide a tacky surface to which materials can adhere. Whether you need to wax or not can be gauged by this little experiment. If you already have some tying material then find some fur, if not then find any kind of fluff you can see, such as carpet, fleece etc (check your belly-button - Paul). Pinch and roll it between you fingers, if it forms a rope easily then it wont need a waxed thread. If the material remains relatively open or doesn't roll at all, then wax is necessary. Wax is also recommended to prevent the thread from rotting (in non-synthetic cases). Thread can be bought both waxed and un-waxed. I don't buy waxed thread, most of my tying is done un-waxed and when I need otherwise I run it through a lump of beeswax/cobblers wax. When done quickly the wax melts and adheres to the thread.
There are various waxes available, tacky, super tacky, extra super tacky etc. The idea is to use very tacky with big flies (coarse materials) and tacky with small flies, depending on what you plan to tie you may want to experiment but if you are a first time tier then go for beeswax or cobblers wax, it's cheap and effective.
Dribs and drabs
So far I have dealt with the in betweens, items that are not quite tools and not quite materials. Varnish is the last of these items. Varnish is applied to the finished fly head to protect the thread from angry trout teeth. The only point to consider is that of varying consistencies, some varnish is very thick and is used to either coat or form entire fly bodies. The kind of varnish you need for normal tying applications needs to be fairly thin. Basic clear cellulose varnish is fine, cheap and can be thinned easily whereas commercial varnish is more expensive, needs its own special thinner (allegedly) but had the advantage of not stinking out the house and making you high. Loon head cement is a good example of this. I do know of people who use no varnish, well two people that is, (Paul & Lars). Apparently waxed thread is just fine although never having done it I'd just be waxing lyrical.
Hooked, Tied Up and Covered in Wax
Well if you are then good, we must be getting somewhere.
Next week: The fur flies, PLUS! Fly tying practical jokes for the beginner. Oh come on, one sane article is enough for anyone.
I'm going fishing now.