Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Try fly tying this year

In keeping with the tradition of New Year’s resolutions I will share one of mine with you.

I have been a somewhat inconsistent fly tyer, both in commitment and quality. This year I resolve to improve both.

What is nice about this resolution is having the chance to share the virtues of this wonderful pastime with you.

If you like to fly-fish and have not learned to tie flies, why not start now? It is a great winter activity. There is something magical about catching a fish on a fly you have tied yourself. Even if you only catch an easily fooled sunfish.

I got started when I was a teenager in the late 60’s. My maternal grandfather taught me.

Like grandfathers will, as soon as he saw I enjoyed it, he got me my own set-up.

It was pretty basic; a vice, some tools and materials. He also let me raid his stash of more exotic materials whenever I wanted.

He taught me the basics and then let me go. He was a good teacher, not insisting on perfection, just happy that I was enjoying myself.

That is the great thing about fly tying — you can do it with kids. The basic tools and materials are not particularly expensive. The basic techniques are easily mastered. Many of the most effective patterns are easily learned.

Can you imagine the smile on a child’s face, fishing with you and catching a fish on a fly they tied themselves? Yup, magical.

Even if you don’t fly-fish, you might like fly tying if you like working with your hands or doing crafts.

One of the fellows I teach fly-fishing with was tying flies for fun and selling them to his fly-fishing friends. After seeing how much fun folks had fishing with his flies he decided to learn how to fly-fish himself.

Here are some suggestions on getting started with fly tying.

First you will need a fly tying vice. The vic is used to securely hold the hook you will be tying the material to form the fly. It stands upright to give you room to work.

The basic beginner vice costs less than $25. Better models will run from $50 to $250 and the top of line models can go for more than $500.

The key thing in a vice is to hold the hook securely. Even the least expensive vices can do that. After that,it is a matter of what your budget is.

The one feature that makes tying easier is a vice that rotates as you tie the material on the hook. Rotary vices of course cost more.

For years I tied dozens of flies without using a rotary vice but I later invested in one. It was worth the money because I could tie flies more efficiently.

I kept my old non-rotary vice for traveling. I can pack the basic equipment I need with my fishing gear and tie up some flies on location.

Next you need some simple tools. While you could find many if not all of these tools around the house, it pays to get the right tools for the job.

As with all work, good tools make sense. You should use the best tools your budget will allow.

Small, sharp scissors designed for fine work are essential. Like vices, they can run from plain to fancy. I have two pairs. One is used only to cut soft materials like fur, feathers, yarn and thread. This one is the more expensive pair.

The second pair cuts wire, tinsel, or other materials that will dull them. A fine substitute for this second set of scissors is a pair of nail trimmers.

Because you will be using spools of thread as you tie your flies, a tool called a bobbin is must have. Having more than one will save you time if you have different spools of thread pre-loaded on their own bobbin.

To make loading the bobbins with thread easier, there is a bobbin threader. It is a “must have” just for the ease of loading bobbins.

You will be working with feathers. The tool, called hackle pliers, holds the feather as you wrap it around the hook. The simpler ones are best for beginners so you get a feel for wrapping feathers.

Other material you are apt to use a lot is hair. Elk, deer and moose are the common ones. A hair stacker comes in real handy to help get all the ends lined up for tying them on to the hook.

Another handy tool is a dubbing needle also called a bodkin. It is just a needle in a handle. For years I just stuck various size needles in wine corks. They are used to separate feathers, fluff up hair and clean out the hook eyes.

Hooks and materials for fly tying are so dependent on the type of fly you tie that it would take a whole column to cover them. The best advice is to get a good fly tying book, pick some patterns to try and then buy what you need.

My favorite fly tying books are “The Benchside Introduction to Fly Tying” by Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer and “Inside Fly Tying” by Dick Talleur. Both are good for beginners and great reference for any fly tyer. My favorite DVD is “Fly Tying Yellowstone Hatches with Craig Mathews”.

Locally you can find tools, materials and good advice at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing in Harrisonburg, Albemarle Angler in Charlottesville or Murray’s Fly Shop in Edinburg.

On the Web you can find tools and materials at Orvis, L.L. Bean, Cabelas and Bass Pro Shop. The Caddis Fly Angling Shop in Eugene, Ore., was especially helpful when I asked for ideas on Twitter.

My favorite place for materials and tools anywhere is Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Mont. Craig and Jackie Mathews are good friends and consummate professionals. They are truly the one-stop shop for fly tying.

There is something relaxing about fly tying. The whole creative process is enjoyable. If you need a new “vice” for the New Year this one might be fun.

You can read more of my columns in the News Virginian here.

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