Updated: May 24
What equipment do I need to start tying flies?
To start tying your own flies you will need the following equipment:
Whip Finish Tool
Vise This is the vertical standing device that holds the hook in place while thread and materials are wrapped around it. Vises can come with many different features, including a rotary function that allows the vise to spin 360˚. The spinning function isn't necessary (there're very few patterns that can't be tied with a fixed vise), but they can be helpful. If you do decide to purchase a rotating vise, be sure to also get a bobbin cradle/holder (most rotary vices come with them).
The bobbin is what holds the thread spool and allows thread to feed out while attaching it and other materials to the hook. They come in several different varieties and I would recommend one that has adjustable tension. This is helpful when attaching materials with various widths and textures to the hook.
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Probably obvious, but I've found a sharp pair of scissors to be essential for tying clean flies. The arrow tip scissors are my favorite, as they allow me to reach in and cut very close. Note* When your old scissors get worn down and you buy a new pair, don't throw away the old ones. Use them to cut deer hair and other materials that dull scissors quickly. This allows your new scissors to last much longer.
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Hackle Pliers are used to grip hackle and other materials that would otherwise easily slip through your fingers. I've tried several different pairs, and found it essential for them to have durable rubber "grips" on the tips of them. Without these, the material you're trying to hold slips out easier than it would with just your fingers, which defeats the purpose of having them in the first place.
Hair stackers are used to even the tips of deer, elk, and other hairs in preparation for attaching them to the hook. Having all the hair tips the same length helps assure the proportions of the fly pattern are correct.
Whip Finish Tool
Whip finish tools are used to create the finishing knot on a completed fly. The tool assures the knot is tight, so the thread won't unravel when it's being fished. I recommend a whip finish tool that has a half hitch tool on the opposite end of the "whip hook". A half hitch knot can be used to finish a fly, and I've found it comes in very handy when tying smaller (size 22 and smaller) flies.
Note* A whip finish can be tied by hand. This takes a lot of practice, and unless you've mastered it, does not tie as tight of a knot as a whip finish tool does. Click here to learn how to tie a whip finish knot by hand.
Any hard surface 3-4ft in length will work. As long as it has enough room to lay out all your materials. When staring out, I used a portable table with folding legs so I could move it into different rooms throughout the house. I could practice tying flies in front of the TV, on the back porch, and anywhere else my wife would let me.
Reading glasses help when tying smaller flies, as well as the details on larger one. You don't need anything fancy, but having a pair that you can wear around your neck and snap together are very handy because they won't get sat on the tying desk and buried in fur, feathers, and all the other materials.
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Proper lighting is essential when tying flies. This is often over looked and underestimated by new fly tiers. I prefer a lamp that's portable, cordless, and adjustable. This allows me to move it anywhere throughout the house, as well as take on fishing trips where I may not have electricity or an outlet to plug it into.
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Pattern materials are used to dress the fly. To determine which materials you need for a specific pattern, just google the name of the pattern followed by "recipe". Example: "parachute adams recipe". The results that come up will be overwhelming. I would suggest going to the Orvis learning center for step-by-step videos.
How much does equipment cost to start tying flies?
It costs between $110-$250 for the equipment to start tying flies. After the initial start up investment, the costs to replace the equipment itself is minimal.
The following can be purchased with an all in one starter kit:
Whip Finish Tool
Orvis makes a great one that includes all the tools, as well as a few materials and an informative video. All the tools and accessories included in the kit are designed for someone who is serious about perusing the art of fly tying. This kit usually runs between $199 and $225. Check out current Amazon pricing by clicking the image below.
Creative angler has a budget friendly option for anyone who wants to "dip their toe in the water" with fly tying. This kit usually costs between $65 and $80. Check out Amazon's current pricing by clicking the image below.
A word of caution. If you see fly tying as a long term endeavor, don't skimp out on equipment. You'll quickly learn that by investing more on the front end, it'll save you from "needing" to upgrade the tools you could have purchased in the first place.
Below is a table showing the cost of what's needed to start tying flies
Fly tying kit: One that includes all the essentials $65-$225
Desk/Table: Any 3-4 foot surface in the house or garage. Price: Free .99
Glasses : Nothing fancy, just a pair with a little magnification Price: $9
Lamp: I prefer a portable battery powered one: Price $14
Materials to tie 100 flies (average): $86
Total cost to start tying flies including pattern materials: $174-$334
Note: To learn more about material costs needed to start tying various fly patterns, check out this article.
Of course just like any other hobby, fly tying can be as expensive as you want to make it. As you progress through your fly tying endeavor, you'll probably upgrade your equipment, as well as purchase additional materials to tie different patterns.
You can reduce your costs by:
Finding used equipment at garage and estate sales
Ask around to see if anyone has equipment you could borrow
Take a fly tying class to see if you enjoy fly tying before spending any more up front
Patterns to start with when learning to tie flies
One temptation you'll have when starting to tie your own flies, is the desire to try every new "cool" pattern you see. If there's any one thing you can do to help yourself flatten the learning curve, it's sticking with a handful of patterns until you've tied enough to become proficient at them. For some this takes a few dozen, for myself it was more like 100 or so!
A good mix of early fly patterns to tie would be:
Elk Hair Caddis
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Hare's Ear Nymph
Hare's Ear Soft Hackle
These 5 patterns cover a wide range of tying technics and materials that will teach baseline knowledge, which will be useful when it's time to try your hand at other patterns.
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