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

by | Oct 9, 2017 | 13 comments

Every top-notch fly angler I know ties his 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 here. 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 on the hook are what connect us to the fly. It’s more personal, more individual and ultimately more effective. We fish our own patterns with conviction, certain that our adjustments and refinements are what make the fly a fish-catcher.

In the beginning, we choose a fly with some measure of hope. Maybe a friend recommends the pattern, or perhaps we see it on a list of go-to flies written on a fly shop’s dry erase board. If we’re lucky enough to have some success with the pattern, we go back to the vise and change a thing or two. Maybe the gold rib is a bit too flashy, so we substitute it with copper. We might decide to dub the body in a slimmer profile, thinking it’s a more accurate match for the nymphs we find living among the weedy limestone rocks of our home water. And when those changes work — when more fish come to the net — our hope for a fly changes to faith.

That’s how confidence flies are born.

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 provides you with more control over the outcome on the water. It keeps you involved. There’s more to prepare and more to do when you’re off the water. And there’s more fly fishing stuff for you to ponder on the way to work.

Forget any 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 just 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.

Fish hard, friends.


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


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I 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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  1. Dominick,
    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.


  2. Another reason to tie your own flies is that you can be a little more adventurous on the stream knowing that a few hours at the vice can replace a lot of lost flies. I know that you can buy replacement flies too, but, somehow, at least to me, that seems more of an obstacle to risk taking than knowing that you can replace lost flies by tying up a bunch yourself.


    • My flies are all”cripples” to the fish. Sometimes they do just fine.

  3. Just bought my vise and tools for this very reason. To learn. If you know a pattern to that detail you will know why. And that leads to a better understanding. Confidence matters so much. 3 months in and I see the difference when I am confident and when I am not.

  4. Hey Dom, that nickel black bead PT is still producing for me. 🙂 Go figure. Tight lines.

  5. This is why I will be diving fully into tying this winter. Thank you for your excellent advice.

  6. Love ALL your posts and you are such a diplomat. but I don’t agree here. I used to tie my own in the Swicher/Richards, Marinaro days. But there are such great custom fly tiers today I just order what I want and great stuff shows up. I think tying is an art of tying and the trout.

    • Ha! Thank you, John.

  7. Just started tying my own flies for a trip to Ascension bay tomorrow. It’s funny you said ‘confidence’ flies because I’m deeply skeptical mine will work. The guys at the local fly shop assure me they will, but they’re all so sloppy compared to the ones I bought from the store. Hopefully I’m wrong! In any event, i’ve had a blast tying them. Thanks for the enjoyable read and Merry Christmas.

    • Joe. When tying your own flies, avoid the most common mistakes: keep the profile thinner than you probably think it should be. Don’t try to cram too many materials on the hook, and don’t crowd the eye. If you do that, and you follow any standard fly pattern, I have confidence in saying that YOU should have confidence.



  8. Dom,
    I started tying over 20 years ago, but I never stayed consistent with it. When the world shut down in 2020, that all changed. I wrote a post that tells the story of how I became a consistent fly tier. Hope you will check it out


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I 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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