As the winter frosts kick in, Turrall’s Chris Ogborne sings the praises of fly tying as the perfect tonic on cold nights, along with our top 10 fly tying tips for beginners and improvers.
“Autumn slips inexorably into winter. The final leaves are ripped from trees, leaving bare branches for the next five months. Frosty mornings become normal and lights come on at 4pm. For many anglers, the rods are put away and in the next few months all we can do is ‘dream’ fishing, rather than ‘go’ fishing.
Well, not always true actually (and for those down in Devon, our guide to Winter stillwater fly fisheries is well worth a read). But for most of us, we will fish less and daydream more in the winter. Which is why, for many decades now I have been resorting to the one thing that keeps a real flyfisher sane in the long dark months. An activity that lets you switch from the world in front of your eyes with its rain and fog and snow into another world of sunshine, running water, and long soft evenings. It’s called fly tying.
The joy of this amazing branch of our sport is that you don’t have to be an Oliver Edwards or a Charles Jardine to get real pleasure from it. Even the most modest of tyers can create perfectly usable flies for themselves and this simple act will add hugely to the enjoyment and reward that you get from your fishing. Flies tied by beginners or novices may not all win prizes, but they WILL often catch fish, which is surely what it’s all about.
Fortunately for people like me, whose limited tying skills are legendary, the fish don’t actually mind if the proportion of the fly doesn’t precisely match the tying notes or is a touch scruffy! Above all, the main thing is to give it a try and see what you can create; and on that note, here are a few tips to set you in good stead.
Fly tying tips for beginners & improvers
1.When investing in tools, always go for quality. A really sharp pair of scissors is an absolute must and always money well spent.
2. Practice applying tension and making tidy wraps of thread. Learning how much force can be applied without breaking off is something you learn by practice, but do test your materials and get a “feel” for this.
3.What are the essential materials for fly tying? High on the list would be black, white, olive and brown threads, closely followed by dubbing in similar colours. Basics such as pheasant tail, peacock herl and hare’s mask tie a huge range of traditional flies, while the stillwater angler can tie a great many lures from simple marabou and fritz style body materials.
For a really easy starter option, Turrall’s beginner fly tying kits have all the essentials at good value.
4.When you starting out tying flies, or making new or unfamiliar patterns, try slightly bigger hooks at first. These leave more margin for error. Then, once you’ve had the practice, you can try smaller hooks.
5.Try simple flies at first, made using only 2-3 materials other than thread. The F-Fly, Black & Peacock and the good old Hare’s Ear are among the easiest flies to tie for beginners.
6. Look around for decent resources online and in the shops. There are many online fly tying tutorials out there on YouTube and other sources, but one of the best is Davie McPhail, who produces stacks of handy videos for free. That said, there are also some excellent books, such as the long-standing favourite, the Beginners Guide to Fly Fishing (Mann & Griffiths) which is very clear and easy to follow.
7.Do get involved on forums and with fly fishing and fly tying clubs to add to your knowledge. The Fly Dressers’ Guild have groups all over the country and are a great source of information and events.
8.It is often best to tie flies in batches of the same type. Notice how you get better and quicker with each successive fly! A little block of foam is ideal to keep a little selection together when the varnish is drying.
9.And on the theme of fly tying “by numbers”, one of the golden rules is to make three of each pattern: One to fish with, one as a spare and one to give away to a friend, should that particular fly be the one the fish really want! This might come up at the bar later too, because one good turn deserves another.
10. Perhaps the most important tip we can give you is simply to give it a try and go for it! You don’t need to be an expert to make flies that tempt fish, and little beats the thrill of catching on something you made yourself.
For further fly making tips, do also look out for our tying challenge in Total Flyfisher Magazine, where you can win prizes for sharing your ideas each month.
Winter nights at the tying bench
So, it might be dark and cold outside, but I know of no finer way to spend an evening than to settle at the tying bench, with glass of red wine and an extra log on the fire, and let the mind drift away. It makes you completely forget the wind howling outside, or the patter of rain on the roof.
Sometimes I’ll tie up a load of ‘essentials’ such as the buzzers I know I’ll need in big numbers come June next year. On other occasions I’ll try variations on proven themes, like the new sand eel patterns that I’m currently working on. And then at other times I’ll just sit there with the tying equivalent of a blank sheet of paper and just let my imagination run wild. Sometimes the flies from sessions like this are rejected out of hand, but at others you can be surprised at the results. It’s how new patterns are born. And it’s fun!
Turrall have one the most comprehensive ranges of fly tying materials and equipment in the world. As your skills progress you can upgrade to a better vice and tools and try more advanced procedures; but at the end of the day it matters not how good you get. Tying a fly that catches a fish is an achievement and one that gives you more pleasure than you ever thought possible.
At no time in the history of fly tying has there been such an amazing selection of fly tying materials available to us. Just look at the Turrall website to see how vast the range has become! From natural furs and fibres through to incredible synthetics and the fantastic UV tying materials – there are things in the range that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.
So if the advent of winter is getting you down, try a little fly tying. I promise you that as a therapy for out of season anglers there’s nothing better!”