Fifty Tips Tips/Tactics

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #11– Tie your own flies — Here’s why

October 9, 2017
Every top-notch fly fisher I know ties his or her own flies. The only exceptions are a couple friends who used to sit behind the vise but now have friends who tie custom patterns for them.

Custom. That’s the important word. And having your own set of flies, tied just the way you like, is the key reason for rolling your own. Custom flies are confidence flies. The slight variations on a Hare’s Ear nymph that a fly tyer wraps onto his hooks are what make them more personal, more individual and ultimately more effective. He fishes his own patterns with more conviction, certain that his adjustments and refinements are what make the fly a fish-catcher.

In the beginning, the fisherman chooses a fly with some measure of hope. Maybe a friend recommends the pattern, or perhaps he sees it on a list of go-to flies written on the fly shop’s dry erase board. If the lucky fisherman and fly tyer has some success with the pattern, he goes back to the vise and changes a thing or two. Maybe the gold rib is a bit too flashy, so he substitutes it with copper. He might decide to dub the body in a slimmer profile, thinking it’s a more accurate match for the nymphs he finds living among the weedy limestone rocks of his home water. And when those changes work — when more fish come to the net — his hope for a fly changes to faith. That’s how confidence flies are born. And without tying his own flies, the fisherman doesn’t have that chance.

Truthfully, tying your own flies significantly deepens your involvement in fly fishing. It fundamentally affects the way you see things on the water. It’s another aspect of fly fishing that draws you further into the sport. Tying your own flies provides more control over the outcome on the water, more to prepare for when off the water, and more fly fishing stuff for you to ponder on the way to work.

Forget the idea of saving money. Sure, you can cut costs by tying your own flies, but most of us go a little overboard with the materials list at first. So it takes a lot of fishing trips and lost flies to overcome that startup cost.

With a little restrain, however, fly tying quickly pays for itself. I recommend a decent set of tools, a simple vise and the materials for just a few favorite patterns. Buy only what you need, not what you plan to need in the future. And learn to tie one pattern at a time.

In a few years you’ll have a box full of faithful confidence flies that look a little different than the rest. And you’ll be a better fisherman.

Here are a few more Troutbitten articles about fly patterns:

READ: Troutbitten | It’s not the same

READ: Troutbitten | Pattern vs Presentation — Trout eat anything, but sometimes they eat another thing better

READ: Troutbitten | What Moves a Trout to the Fly?

Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky


Read All of the Fifty Tips Series
1 Comment
  1. Reply

    Phil Foster

    October 9, 2017

    Another excellent take. They just keep getting better. Can’t wait for #50. The ‘gold’ here is a simple vise. My first flies were tied at age 11 (1965) on my Dad’s 4” bench vise in the garage. I used size 10 Eagle Claw baitholder hooks, thread and wool from my Mother’s sewing kit, soft hackles and wing quills out of Dad’s hunting vest and dry fly hackle either scavenged from the chicken yard, plucked off a deranged rooster, or sorted out of the pillows that were filled with mixed hen and rooster feathers. And…. they caught fish. I believe what made the difference for me was my parents bought me a copy of “McClane’s Standard Fishing Encyclopedia” published that same year, and I tried to make every fly look like it was tied by Elsie or Harry Darbee. I had never seen anybody actually tie a fly and learned in a vacuum. How easy it is to learn today. Thank you for being a part of that.


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Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, writer, musician and fisherman. I fly fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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