Working with materials

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 pattern. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

Carded micro straggle, fine lead wire or just odd bits of stringy stuff, how do you store it? Is it difficult to use, i.e. does it all fall off the card or the small bobbin fall out of your hand when dressing the fly? A simple way is to store and use it is on sewing machine spools. My local fabric shop sells the metal ones for 23p or the plastic version for 17p. Storing the spoolsis simple Hobbycraft sell a clear purpose-built boxthat holds 25 spools for about £4.00. For using it to dress flies, you don’t need to find “wizzy do” bobbin, as in most cases you do not have to feed much material out.

Just use a bit of bent wire to make yourself a holder that will stop the material from unravelling off the spool or falling out of your hand. The bend in the wire is pretty easy to make –make a right angle bend in the wire, then bend it back on itself to make a taper. The taper goes through the spool and is tight enough to lockit in place so that it does not spin without pressure. The rest is down to an individual’s choice on how much pressure is needed.

Wetting natural raffia prior to winding as bodies on Daddy Long Legs is better than winding it dry. The dry material is prone to splitting, whereas soaking the material in water for a few minutes prevents splitting.

Trim the ends off CDC wings – the stiffness of the quill stops the wing from collapsing and it shakes dry faster.

Plait ostrich herl to strengthen it before using it for bodies – it becomes virtually unbreakable.

Hackles that have been crushed or badly packaged can be brought back to life by holding them over the spout of a steaming kettle. This works for all cock and hen hackles but also for peacock herl. (Obviously, find a way to hold them over the steam without burning yourself – e.g. a long handed sieve or tongs …).

When working with peacock, ostrich, pheasant tail or any feather herl, remember that the tips may be weakened by wear. It’s therefore a good idea to cut off a small section of the tip – around an inch off peacock herl, a quarter of an inch off pheasant tail – to have a stronger tying in point.

The bottom ¼ of most cock saddle feathers and some cock cape feathers has some “basal fluff”. On the larger size feathers this can be used for short tails in the same way as marabou. On the shorter feathers this fluff can be cut off and dubbed onto the silk to form a soft body, ideal for making nymphs.

Game bird feathers used as soft hackles are usually tied in by the tip. Having stroked back some fibres to expose the tip of the feather, instead of cutting the tip off square, cut a V shaped notch into it and tie the feather in with the V on top of the hook. This has two advantages. The first is that you get a bit more hackle, the second is that if your feather slips out you will still have something to tie back in with.

Tying with peccary: soak the hairs in a glass of water before tying with them to soften them up. This prevents splitting when winding the hair. Peccary hairs are hollow, so as you wind them round a hook, the profile will flatten giving a good segmentation and pleasing colour changes.


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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

To stop Flexi Floss, Spanflex or similar from slipping when you tie it down, take your tying thread round the Flexi Floss before tying it down.

To keep mayfly tails separated, apply a small blob of varnish or Bugbond to the roots and set them in place.

When making Wulff-style wings from deer hair or calf tails, it is often difficult to get the wings exactly equal. You may find it easier to trim a few hairs off the larger wing rather than dividing them repeatedly.

Creating a smooth underbody on Wulff style flies: having tied the tail in, cut the butts at an angle. Once the wing is tied in, before setting the wing in position, cut the wing butts at a matching angle to the tail butts but in reverse, so that they are wrapped down, they meet and splice together with the tail butts.

When using hackle pliers to wind a body on a fly, if you want the fibres to lie flat, remember to counter rotate the hackle pliers after every turn, to take the twist out of the fibres.

When tying off a parachute hackle it is often difficult to be sure you have caught in the feather. After your last turn of feather, take the silk around the feather twice near to the hook then make one wrap holding both feather and silk together. Release the feather and make a second wrap with the silk. As you tighten up you will see the feather move into place and lock. Whip finish as normal.

When winding your rib on a hackled body it is easy to trap the hackle. If this is happening, wiggle the rib from side to side as you wind it. This allows the hackles to spring out of the way and makes a neater and stronger body.

Dubbing: sparse mats of material are easier to dub onto the thread than big blobs. If you are using dubbing with a long staple (length of fibres = staple) it is much easier to add the dubbing in stages than it is to try and take off any excess.




Bobbin holder tips – Phil Bilbrough

Facocchi-style flies – Wolly Bayer

Married wing slips – Mike Schimdt

Polypropylene spent wings – Phil Bilbrough

Simple booby eyes – Phil Bilbrough

Two tips for tinsel bodies – Frank Moors

Winging technique – Trevor Jones

Crocheted bodies – Alice Conba

Herl and herl and hackle bodies – Phil Bilbrough

Parachute hackle – Alice Conba

Separating fibbet tails – Phil Bilbrough

Tip for cutting off thread – Trevor Jones

Winding partridge hackles – Phil Bilbrough

Technique for divided feather fibre wings – Teddy Patlen



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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

Organise. Organise 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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

Trim away half the fibres of your nail polish brush, for greater precision on application.

A film canister packed tight with wire wool is a useful way of storing and cleaning dubbling needles. Use your dubbing needle to pierce a hole in the lid and try to use the same hole thereafter. You can use a salt cellar instead, with readymade holes. 

Look after your fly tying scissors – don’t cut wire with them – tie it off tight and then wiggle the end around in circles to worry it off.

A pen top or any smooth tube with a hole at the end makes a good half hitch tool.

Don’t drop scissors on the floor, chances are they will land point down and break or bend the point … But if you do drop them, don’t snap your legs together to try to catch them – speaking from personal experience, chances are you will impale yourself on the sharp end … This is good advice for dubbing needles too!

Tying and Storing Flies

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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

Use two vices. We’re not saying you have to go out and buy another vice, but if you have upgraded in the past and still have your old vice collecting dust, try setting it up too! Throw a hook in each vice 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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators)

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. (Source: Deneki Outdoors email newsletter, via The Wandle Piscators) – NEW! (Dec)

Always carry an empty fly box when fishing so that on changing flies, put the used flies into the empty fly box and at the end of the day, empty the fly box into a wad of tissues and leave overnight to dry. The next day you can then clean them up and return them back into the main fly box avoiding rusted hooks.

Dry flies – Unless you are tying a specific pattern, dress all your dries with full hackles. Don’t trim off any hackles until you’re on the river bank and you know how low in the water the fish want the fly to sit.

Store flies carefully, always dry them after use and never leave a wet fly box in your pocket. Fur flies such as “Zonkers” need special attention as the leather strip (skin) takes much longer to dry and will rust the hook at the tie in point and where tied off at the tail.