To Tie or Buy your Flies

For fly fishermen, one questions we’re asked by both fellow fly guys & gals as well as other non-normal people, “hey, do tie your own flies?”  For some reason, when I get asked this, and I say “no,” I feel less like a true, died in the wool, fly fisherman.  I mean after all, that’s a part of the allure isn’t it?  To tie your own fly and see if it’s good enough to actually catch a fish?  If you don’t tie your own flies, are you really a full-fledged participant?  Then I shake my head to silence the devil, and answer, “uh, yeah!”

When I first started fly fishing, for Christmas my wife bought me my initial rod, reel, line, and a small fly tying kit.  My buddy TJ, who got me to drink the kool-aid in the first place, came over and showed me how to get started tying flies.  I ties two wicked looking wooley buggers.  And then shortly thereafter I put all the materials I had back in the box and haven’t touched it since.  It’s been 20 plus years.  In fact, I think I gave that kit to one of my uncles who had mentioned he needed something to do in retirement.

Now before you get all up in arms about my lack of trying to really get into the essence, the art, and the Zen of fly tying, I have an “excuse” (Ha!, Don’t we all).  My hands aren’t steady enough to master the fine motor skills required to cut, hold, spin, and glue the materials into a recognizable fly… when I said earlier that I had tied two wicked looking wooley buggers, the term “wicked” wasn’t used as a compliment.

Ever since I’ve bought all my flies; dries, wet, nymphs, emergers, attractors, spinners, streamers, etc.  I’ve probably spent a small fortune over the years but hey, there is no shame! 

Why Buy

As mentioned my number one reason for me buying and not tying my own flies is my physical limitation, my hands just aren’t steady enough.   Of course I have other excuses, like; I just don’t have the time, I don’t have the patience, and I can’t see well enough, but all of those can be refutted as my buddy TJ reminds me.  The other reasons I buy my flies are three-fold: 1. It’s easier, 2. It takes less time, 3. You can maintain a better assortment, and 4. You’re supporting the local fly shop.  Points one and two don’t need much embellishment, but points three and four perhaps do.          

You can maintain a better assortment.  I like to keep a ton of flies at the ready; multiple sizes, colors, and species, not to mention those odd recipes that round out the menu.  To have tied all of that would take me countless hours and several paychecks in materials.  I simply don’t have either to maintain my arsenal.

You’re supporting your local fly shop.  This is the better reason.  Are the flies at a fly shop way more expensive?  Most of the time, yes.  However that’s how these shop owners make a living, and I’d rather spend my money with someone who is working hard to keep the sport alive than anyone else.  Do I buy all my flies from a local shop? No.  The far more common flies like the BWO’s, the Hendricksons, and a few others I buy from an online shop.  Those that I do buy at the local fly shops are those that are, well, local.

selection of fly fishing flies at a local fly shop

Now, are all these local flies in your local fly shop hand tied?  Probably not, but that’s o.k.  However it is highly likely the majority are because these flies are usually recipes crafted by the local guides and shop owners who have spent years on the waters, and have come to find several unique creations that just plain work.  Also, where are you going to go to pick up what the local’s use?  Flies like “Purple Haze,” “Royal Patriot Skunk,” “The Magnus,” “Bar Guac Hopper,” and so on.  You won’t find those at the online shops.  When I go, I’ll stop at the local shop and ask them to put together a dozen of those flies that are working on the section of the river I am fishing, and they rarely disappoint.     

Why Tie

Tying your own flies can provide rewards that people who don’t just miss out on.  I am amazed by this whole area of fly fishing that I just won’t be able to experience.  It’s just flat out cool.  As mentioned, my buddy TJ ties many of his own flies.  You name it, he ties it.  From simple egg patterns to massive double-hook, swivel streamers that look like they’d be a meal for the loch-ness.  He has his own “permanent” station in his home where he’ll go and spend hours tying flies while watching the game or listening to his favorite tunes.  For him and others, the benefits can be many: relaxation, satisfaction, something to do on a rainy day, wider variations, (insert your own here).

fly fishing tying bench to tie your own flies

Is it less expensive than buying?  Probably not, after buying all the equipment and tying materials, but that’s not the point.  The point is you’re doing something that supports “your habit” when you can’t be on the water.  It maintains the excitement and passion.

Once you have your set up and have gotten decent at tying your own flies, then it’s no holds barred.  You can experiment and create your own variations of your favorite flies.  You can tie a bunch of that one unique fly you bought at the fly shop that had the fish eating out of your hand.  And as the old saying goes, “give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, but teach a man to tie his own flies, and you’ll have him fly fishing for life!” Not to mention, you, yes you tied a fake bug which fooled a wild trout to bite.

All of this doesn’t even get to the craftsmanship of the art of fly tying.  Some people create wicked (in the good sense) dare I say, works of art.  Yes, tying flies can become an obsession.  Is it wrong?  I think not.

If you’re interested in learning how to tie flies, there are many ways to get started.  Of course there is YouTube, but a better way would be to contact a local fly shop to see if they hold classes, or maybe your local chapter of TU.  Heck, I even know a kid, yes a kid who ties flies and doesn’t even fly fish.  He just enjoys it. The good news it you don’t have to decide to do one or the other.  Tie when you can/want, and buy when you need to.  Either way, as we like to say here at The Wicked Fly, just Tie One On!™


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