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12 Ways to Tie Better Flies Faster

Posted on December 12 2013

Tips for Better Faster Fly Tying
The author, Kyle Shea, following tip #6. Photo: Jordan Sly

Winter is here, and for many of us that means it’s fly tying season. If you’re looking to restock your boxes for next season, try a few of these tips to fill them up faster!

  1. Take Your Time on the First Pattern. Before you hit production mode, take your time on your first fly pattern. Experiment with the most efficient way to tie it. Figure out the most efficient order in which to add materials as well as the direction (up and down the shank) in which you wrap them. Also, use this first pattern to measure how much of each material will be needed per fly (more on this below).
  2. Prepare Materials. Prep any materials that can be prepared. Decide how many flies of a particular pattern you are going to shoot for and prep enough materials for all of them. If you will be spinning hackle or marabou, select and prepare each feather by stripping fibers down to the quill at the correct tie in point. Cut all necessary materials to the appropriate length – chenille, braid, wire etc. If using bead chain eyes, cut enough out to meet your goal. Obviously it depends on the pattern you are tying, but the point is to prep every material possible ahead of time – it’ll save a lot of time in the long run.
  3. Organize. Organize both your prepared materials as well as your tools so that you know where everything is. Fumbling around the tying bench looking for your whip finisher wastes a lot of time, not to mention it’s just plain frustrating! Find a system for your tools and head cement that works for you. You don’t have to spend all your hard earned on an expensive tool caddy – a block of craft foam from the craft store with holes punched in it works great.
  4. Production Mode. If you are looking to tie a lot of the same pattern (like dozens worth), try to think in production mode. Try to do as many of the same step on as many flies as possible. This is most important on steps that require extra time, such as waiting for glue to dry. For example, if tying flies with lead or bead chain eyes, anchor the eyes in the appropriate spot, add some super glue, tie off your thread and repeat. This way, this step is complete on all your flies and you can continue to tie while the rest dry.
  5. Use Two Vises. We’re not saying you have to go out and buy another vise, but if you have upgraded in the past and still have your old vise collecting dust, try setting it up too! Throw a hook in each vise and complete each step on both flies as you go. Not only will this increase speed, it will create better consistency in your flies too.
  6. Hold Your Scissors as You Tie. It may not seem like a lot of time, but if you are tying by the dozen, picking up and putting down your scissors between each step wastes a lot of time in the long run. Practice holding your scissors in your bobbin hand at all times while you tie. That way you never have to reach for them to trim materials. It may feel awkward at first, but after a little practice you will feel naked tying without them in your hand.
  7. Don’t Trim if You Don’t Have To. This depends greatly on the material and pattern you are tying, but sometimes there is no need to trim the excess of some materials, especially at the tie in point. For example, when palmering marabou many tyers will tie the marabou plume in by the tip, trim the excess, and begin wrapping the plume around the shank of the hook. This tiny excess at the tie in point will be engulfed by the rest of the plume and will never be visible. The next time you add a material take note to whether or not it is necessary to take the extra time to trim. If not, eliminating the extra step could save time in the long run.
  8. Use Fewer Thread Wraps. A mistake made by many new tyers is making too many wraps to anchor down each material. Tying thread is surprisingly strong when wrapped tightly. It depends on the material, but for most natural materials, a good 3-5 wraps will outlast the material itself. Also, if adding several materials at the same tie in point, only take a few wraps on each to hold them in place before covering them all at once with a layer of thread. Doing so will save time as well as create less bulk for better looking flies.
  9. Fold Materials Back. When tying in long synthetic materials such as flash or rubber legs, use half the amount you want on your finished fly and add them in by making a couple wraps to hold them in place, fold them over, and anchor down. Less wraps are needed to secure the materials this way and thus will save time. By tying in materials in this fashion, you also waste fewer materials as well as create more durable fly patterns.
  10. Shorten Your Thread. Tie with the least amount of thread outside the bobbin as possible. This may require you to tighten up your bobbin. Big, long wraps of thread not only take longer, they are also not as strong or accurate as small tight wraps.
  11. Applicator Bottle: Try using an applicator bottle when applying your head cement. Applicator bottles can be found at most well stocked fly shops and are typically very inexpensive. These bottles use a needle tip to squeeze out a drop of head cement that can then be used as a bodkin to spread around. This simple tool eliminates the steps of opening a head cement bottle, dipping your bodkin, and closing the cement bottle. It may not seem like much time, but in the long run it adds up! Applicator bottles can be purchased with head cement included or empty if you have a cement of choice.
  12. Practice Practice Practice. This one may go without saying, but tying as many flies as possible is the best way to tie better flies faster. We’re not exactly sure of the number, but according to fly tying guru A.K. Best, you are not really familiar with a pattern until you have tied twelve dozen. We have also seen it quoted as ten dozen as well as a hundred dozen, but the message is clear – practice makes perfect!

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