Illawarra Flyfishers Club

Fly Tying Tips

I encourage anyone who knows of some good fly tying tips and who doesn't mind sharing them with the rest of us, to email them to me here and I will post it up on this page. The majority of these tips can be found under the relevant fly tying recipes. 

Tips for using epoxy  by Andrew Susani

Keeping your fly table clean

To help keep your fly tying material scraps from falling on you floor or cluttering up your desk, simply make a vice scrap bag. All you need to do is tape a small trash bag or plastic bag (Grocery bags work well) to the table edge directly beneath your vice. As you cut scrap materials from your fly they simply drop down into the trash bag.

Ron Williams


Properly securing lead wire to a hook shank

Lots of fly tiers use lead wire to weight their flies, but usually this is done by just winding the lead wire around the bare shank, or a shank covered in thread. Unless you use glue to hold it there, the wound wire is an unsteady base to build the rest of the fly on, and after use, the fly body will sometimes start to spin around the shank. Winding body materials such as dubbed thread or chenille over the wire will usually spread the wire out along the shank as well, which can be annoying. If you have ever had these problems, have a look at the nifty method below for securing lead wire, taken from the fly tier's bible, The Fly Tiers Benchside Reference:

1. Position the thread just behind where you  want the lead wire to be placed.  2. Wind in the lead wire ahead of the hanging thread.
3. Take the thread over the wire (do not wind  through it) and tie it down hard up against the front of the wound wire.
4. Now that the wire is secured at both ends, you can criss-cross the thread over the wire wraps without spreading it all over the hook shank.

Andrew Susani


How to make a retractable dubbing needle

I will try and describe how to make a relatively safe varnishing and dubbing needle from a rotating pencil. Tools required are:

Purchase one or two of the plastic rotating pencils which come with slim lead inserts. When the heads rotated the lead goes in or out depending on which direction you rotate. These pencils are pretty cheap. The wife hopefully won't miss the needle. 

Now for the fun bit! Dismantle the pencil by pulling out the rubber, then grab the spring, that's inside, with tweezers or fine nosed pliers and pull it out. Unwind the little insert which holds the lead and remove the lead. You should find a small hole in the end of the black insert which facilitate the lead pieces. Get hold of a fine needle exactly the same diameter as the lead and snip off the eye. File that end as flat as possible and smooth off the rough edges. Dab the flat end of the needle with a tiny drop of superglue and place it in the hole you found earlier. Be careful of the sharp end of the needle it can give you a nasty jab. 

Allow the glue to dry then re-assemble the pencil which now has a needle insert instead of lead. Rotate the needle in and out as desired re-assured that when you store it away in the drawer or box the point will be wound inside for safety. 

Ron Williams


Preparing Hackles

When a wound hackle is required for a shrimp fly such as the Usk Grub or Curry's Shrimp it's a good idea to prepare the hackle as explained below. I find the prepared hackle is easier to tie in, easier to wind on and it will also take up the minimum of space on the hook. This will improve the overall appearance of the fly, especially if there are two or three hackles to be tied in.

Always pick a suitably sized hackle which in this particular case could be tied onto a size 2, 4 or 6 Salmon iron. This hackle measured four and a half inches from the tip to the end of the stalk. Most fly tiers will strip the fluff from the thick end off the stalk and leave about 3 inches or more with all the good fibres on it.

Only stripping the fluff means that the fattest part at the base of the stalk will be tied in. This will only add to the bulk of the fly as three turns of a fat stalk really sticks out. If you strip at least another inch of fibres you will still have plenty of length to wind the hackle. The thinner part of the stalk has less volume, uses the minimum of space on the shank and I find is easier to control.

After trimming off at least the bottom half of the fibres, "square off" the remainder. This is done by gripping the tip of the feather in your fingers or hackle pliers from your right hand. Gently draw the stalk between your left thumb and forefinger from the tip to the end until the fibres are separating roughly.

At this stage I normally tie the hackle onto the hook by the thickest end and grip the tip firmly with the hackle pliers. Pull gently on the tip to put the feather under tension and draw the fibres forward, this action doubles them over. Make sure not to pull too hard as you will break the stalk or pull it away from the hook.

When drawn forward and doubled ready for winding round the hook. During the process of winding round the hook you must keep the turns of the stalk tightly grouped together, but not on top of each other.  

Ron Williams


Flashy Heads

Next time you are tying salt water, salmon, or trout flies with a red or any other colored head, form a neat head with the tying thread, then tie in a single strand of Lureflash Holographic Tinsel. Coat the head with clear varnish, and wind the Holographic Tinsel over it. Tie off and give the tinsel several coats of clear varnish. You will love the effect and you will be striking a blow for experimentation. 

Ron Williams


Starting a fly

One thing I see a lot of tiers do (experienced as well as newcomers), is to always start the thread behind they eye of the hook. For the majority of flies, it is more efficient to start thread at the middle or the bend of the hook instead of at the eye. If you start at the eye, you will normally cover the entire shank with thread so you can start tying in material at the tail. 

Why not start the thread at the tail?

It is old practice to use a base layer of thread over the hook shank so that the body material will be held securely to the hook. While this is true a lot of the time, if you start behind the eye of the hook, then wind the thread down the shank to the tail to make a base layer, once you have tied in the tail and body material you will then wind the thread all the way back up to the eye of the hook. So in effect there is 2 layers of thread over the hook shank. By starting at the tail, once you have tied in the tail and body material, you can wind the thread up to the eye of the hook and there will only be the one layer of thread on the hook shank.  

Not only do you save time and thread, you also cut down on the bulk of the fly, which can be very important for delicate dry flies that need to be made with as little weight as possible so they float properly and don't get waterlogged after a few casts. You will also be able to have more control over the size of the head of the fly, as there will be less thread at the eye of the hook.

Andrew Susani


Properly securing lead dumbbell and bead chain eyes to flies

I fish for flathead with Clouser minnows a lot, and found that flies tied with heavy lead dumbbell eyes would often be write-offs after a few hours casting as the eyes became loose from the shank and the whole head and eyes would start to rotate around the hook shank. I tried adding epoxy to the thread wraps over the eyes but that didn't do anything to solve the problem. What I didn't realise is that the eyes needed to be fixed to the actual hook shank, and epoxy only fixed the eyes to the thread wraps. The unbalanced force caused by the dumbbell eyes when casting was too great for the thread to hold onto the hook shank. So the solution to this problem was going to involve an improved method of holding the thread to the hook shank.

1. Before tying the dumbbell or bead chain eyes to a fly, run a light bead of super glue on the bare hook shank. 2. Add a layer of thread to the area where the eyes are going to sit. 3. Add a small drop of glue onto the thread wraps where they eyes will be positioned.
4. Tie the eyes down with a couple of tight figure 8 wraps. It is very important that these initial wraps are tight so there is no range of movement for the eyes, so be careful not to apply too much pressure if you are using fine thread. 5. If you like, you can add a small drop of super glue to the front and rear of the eyes so they are glued to the thread wraps. 6. This applies also to machined and moulded eyes. Following these steps should keep the eyes from slowly working themselves loose and spinning around the hook shank after a few hours of casting.

While it may seem like a fair bit of extra effort to go to, remember that with robust flies you will be spending less time changing flies on the water and also less time tying new ones at the bench.

I was happy to learn that Paul Joergensen, recognised as one of the world's best fly tiers, came to a similar conclusion. Another of his tips when tying down bead chain eyes is to not cut the eyes from the chain before you tie them onto the hook, as shown above in Step 4. A single pair of eyes can sometimes be hard to hold onto, so if you keep them on the chain and tie them down with a couple of thread wraps, you can then cut them from the chain and continue with the figure 8 wraps until they are tied down securely. Many more helpful tips can be found on the Global Fly Fisher site, under the fly tying section.

Andrew Susani


How to efficiently use chenille and lead wire

Sometimes it can be hard to judge how much chenille you will need to tie a fly, especially if it is a new pattern for you. Some of the ice and crystal chenille can also be fairly expensive, not to mention hard to find, so keeping wastage to a minimum becomes even more important. 

The easiest way to solve this problem is to roll the chenille onto empty bobbins. A lot of the fly tying chenille on the market comes on cards, but a bobbin is much easier to use, especially if used with a large bobbin holder. In this way, you can use the chenille much the same way as you would thread, and can achieve a much better level of control when winding bodies. This idea applies also to other string-like materials such as wool and lead wire.

If the chenille is too large to wind onto bobbins, the easiest way to minimise wastage is to not cut a length of it in the first place - simply tie it in and wind the body while holding the rest of the chenille in your hand. Once you have finished the body, you can trim the chenille off right at the hook.

Andrew Susani


How to tie flash material down the easy way

Flash material that comes in long thin strands is probably the most used form of flash used on flies, but unfortunately it can be difficult to handle. This is especially the case when you are trying to tie down a bunch of material and the ends misbehave as you try to tie the thread down near the end of the flash, so you don't have to trim it much...of course this never works, and you end up trimming off the short ends anyway. 

This tip should solve two problems - 1) The fact that it can be frustrating to try and get the flash tied down where you want it to go, especially if you are trying to tie it onto the sides of flies, and 2) Wastage of material (ie. the ends you normally trim off) is usually minimised. 

I was put onto this tip by Andrew Wheeler, who in turn got it from an American fly fishing magazine. We are not sure of the original person who thought of it, but it is a great way to use flash, so the knowledge may as well be shared.

1. Take the flash material and hold it between the fingers of each hand. The distance between your hands will be double the length and amount of the flash needed. 2. Move the flash horizontally and catch the hanging thread.  3. Lift the flash and the thread so the flash slides under the thread and sits on top of the hook.
4. In this position, the flash can be moved around to any position on the hook shank.  5. Holding the flash in your left hand, take a few wraps of thread over the base of the tied down flash. 6. The finished step, with the flash tied down securely and positioned properly.

I suppose another benefit of this method is that no matter what you are tying down (be it flash or other long, thin streamer material), by taking it around the thread you are actually making it totally secure on the shank. There are no cut ends in front of the thread wraps so there is no way the material can be pulled loose, which can often happen with the incompressible modern synthetic materials.

Andrew Susani