Why did you first want to tie flies? Answer, to save money? Ask that same question 12 months on and you'll most likely be faced with nothing more than a wry smile and an unusually calm intake of breath. It's an extraordinary feeling being engaged in conversation with someone so full of innocence and good intentions when all you really want to say is, "look, I know that feeling and despite the cleanly oiled cogs whirring a way inside that largely unspoilt mind of yours you'll still probably end up in a gutter somewhere grasping a pheasant tail desperately in need of an oil change and a new gear box".
It's a fact of life and comes part and parcel with all obsessions. I'll try not to be too pessimistic about this but you *will* move to the dark side. We've touched on it a little before and I've left it a little later than most would have expected for two very good reasons. One, after having been advised - by me - to buy tools, materials, boxes etc you're now realising how utterly stupid the whole idea of saving money is and are contemplating hiding the cheque book. And two, your progression into this fascinating world should not be clouded by thoughts of breaking even, but rather widening your horizons and gaining an ever increasing appetite for one of the most satisfying experiences we as anglers can partake in.
Have no illusions, to break even with the simplest of flies would require every scrap of fur, feather and thread be used in its entirety, it never happens and it never will. The little things don't really matter anyway, but when it comes down to larger items things can change quite dramatically. I don't know how many feathers the average cock cape contains and I can't see myself counting them either, thousands probably. You'd get four or five flies out of a decent saddle hackle, times that by a thousand and tie them up, hopefully by the time the local farmer's pigs have taken flight you may have broken even. Some would say on this evidence that it is possible, well maybe if you only ever make one fly, kill your material sources yourself, make your own lamp, magnifier, tools, boxes, desk and tie millions of flies until your dying day then ok, maybe, but I've never seen it and if your reading this thinking yeah I do all that then you're probably an alien and don't know it yet.
Can you stop it? I'm not even going to answer that question. Can you limit it? Yes I believe you can – you see there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all. Start with nymphs, wets and lures before you ease your way into dries; they're cheap and good to practice with. I spent a year experimenting in this manner before even thinking of shelling out on a dry fly cape. Start slowly, think limiting factors, chill out, eat muesli, lie back and contemplate the meaning of life, digital cameras and Boobies. Once the first batch is finished and your frame of mind settled contentment comes quickly, leaving you foreseeing beds of ranunculus wavering in the current separated only by swift flashes of white and gold to the scale of which are seldom seen anywhere else.
I'd love to leave it at that but further curiosity will put pay to premature contentment. It's not a bad thing, some things just aren't meant to last and life would be boring if they did anyway. There are very few cheap ways of spending leisure time and if there were we wouldn't have all these new toys to play with, would we? Now we're getting to the crux of the matter. Fly tying is neither a saving money nor fly box filling exercise; it is an enjoyable hobby in itself that just happens to make you a better fisherman whilst ensuring that when you do eventually meet the Swedish under twenty-one ladies fly fishing team, you'll have at least have something to impress them with.
You may not agree with me now, but you will fall for the salesman's puppy dog eye routine as he hands you that box of dubbing with the familiar "that's the good stuff that is" as he precedes - unopposed - to fill your basket and empty your wallet. You may not even need the encouragement; do you know how many £1, £2 and £3 items you can find in the average fly tying section, how many feathers on a dry fly cape? Need I say more? The pure fact that you could fill a wardrobe to within bursting point with items costing no more than £3 gives you artistic licence to buy as much as possible. So what if this in for a penny out with a wheelbarrow philosophy forces you to re-think you credit situation? Tipping a big brown paper bag full of endless possibilities out onto your desk is great fun and should be sought after at all costs. I know I'm probably going to start contradicting myself but a little while ago I spoke of taking fly tying in whatever direction you please upon finding your feet and I still maintain that position. So what if your marriage falls apart or your girlfriend runs off with a casting instructor; lap dancers aren't that expensive.
Why put this in now? I had planned to get started this week but felt I had to reiterate on the why and the wherefore a little more. Why? Well I'm in a rather odd mood as of late, curious discomfort I think they call it, when your behaviour begins to contradict your mind. I've tied as few flies as I can ever remember; I even had a couple of commercial patterns in box (shock horror) and despite trying I just couldn't get into it. I've had batches to do for people on several occasions and it took a surprisingly long time to dawn on me that I've been inadvertently treating it like a job, the complete opposite of my primary reason for doing it in the first place.
I hate tying in batches, I know most recommend it but I just lose the will to live after tying two dozen of the same thing for people who lose them in trees anyway. I'd rather have ten new ideas than twenty of the same thing, don't get me wrong it has been one of my main ambitions in life to fill one of those quadruple tier, six foot high fly boxes with every size and colour of every fly I'd ever need but I never seem to get past anymore that about six before I have a new idea. Ok I know, it does have its disadvantages such as running out or when you do finally make that killer fly, but that's living on the edge for you. The formula will be set in your mind and eventually, by working in this contemplative manner, you'll start to realise that genuine satisfaction comes through cocking up everything else before hand.
So I'm going to leave it at that – it's not textbook stuff so if I fail to return next Thursday I'll probably be bound and gagged, locked in the basement of the fly dressers guild main headquarters.