Fly Tying Basics


Some people tie to re-create flies they see on their local water. Others tie to learn a new skill and pass the time between trips. Whatever reason you choose, it’s immensely satisfying to fool a fish on a fly you created. To begin fly tying you'll need a basic understanding of the tools and materials involved and a few fly recipes, so you can start putting your new skills to work.


To begin, you'll only need a few basic tools:

  • Fly Tying Vise —A vise holds the hook still while you tie the fly. It's always in use, and it creates your work space, so selecting a good one is very important.

    We recommend the Renzetti Traveler 2000 to all skill levels. Why? This vise is sturdy, and its size and rotary functionality allow tying from any angle or position that's comfortable or convenient. Selecting an uncooperative vise can impact your overall enjoyment of fly tying, so if you're going to make an investment in anything, start with the vise.

  • Scissors—You'll need these to trim materials and cut thread. Consider purchasing two pairs: one for general cutting and a second pair of hand-sharpened scissors for details. Look for varying grades of steel based on the types of materials you'll be cutting. Generally beginner flies will have smaller hooks and materials, so you won't need strong cutting power off the bat. Common features are serrated or flat edges, curved tips, extra sharp blades or an included wire cutter.

  • Bobbin—The bobbin holds the thread while you wrap your materials on the hook. While there are many features and options available, the primary factor may be the inserts. Look for ceramic or polished inserts that are funneled or flared. Traditional straight-edge inserts can cause frustrating thread breakage or fraying. Review product descriptions for features that will assist smooth application and reduce thread breakage.

There are a few "nice-to-haves" that you'll want to consider purchasing as your skills start to develop:

  • Hackle Pliers—These specialty pliers grip small, delicate materials and help you apply them to the hook. These pliers need to grab reliably, but without cutting or damaging materials. And they should be just heavy enough to weigh down materials while dangling, so you can let go of the pliers momentarily without losing progress on your fly.

  • Lamp—Nothing fancy needed here, but you'll want plenty of light while tying flies. You may want a lamp with an adjustable neck, low bulb temperature or a type of light that you favor. There are hobby lamps available with magnification that may be helpful for the smallest of flies.

  • Hair Stacker—Evens out hairs for consistency. Certain fly recipes like simulators and comparaduns need full, even hair stacks.

Absolutely, this may be the easiest way to start. This kit from Dr. Slick has everything mentioned above and a few additional nice-to-haves you'll appreciate as you develop your skills.

The best way to start collecting materials is to decide which fly you would like to tie, then research the material list for that fly. Most flies will require:

  • Thread—There are several different types of thread. For beginners, the most important thing to look at is thread size and color. A good starter thread would be a 140 denier in black or tan. This should cover most flies that beginners tie. Threads are always specified in the recipe's material list.

  • Hooks—Each fly also has its own hook listed on its materials list in the recipe. Hooks provide the basic body and shape of the fly, and they'll typically be sized for the type of fish you want to catch. Hooks are categorized by size, strength, color, and design.

  • Other Materials—Some flies will require other materials such as feathers, hair and fur and beads or eyes. You can also purchase a basic materials kit like this one to give you a nice supply of essential materials. Material kits should indicate which recipes/patterns you can make with their materials and should have recipes and instructions included.

We recommend checking out North 40 Fly Shop's fly tying recipe videos or stopping by the shop and asking for advice based on your local conditions.

A few suggestions for beginner recipes include the Parachute Adams, the Griffiths Gnat and the Pheasant Tail.
A fly tyer can never have enough fly finish. It's used in many different applications to reinforce fly construction and to give body and shape to certain flies. Many of the best finishes require ultraviolet light to cure, so a UV flashlight is also helpful.

A dubbing spinner allows the fly tyer to easily apply dubbing (the fuzzy material that makes the body of some flies) to a hook.

The whip finisher creates a tight knot at the fly's head. This knot actually holds the fly together, so it's critical for the strength of the fly.

And almost anyone can look "fly" in a North 40 Fly Shop trucker hat.