Tools for Fly-Tying Class

by Mike Fisher, Wintergreen Sporting Club

Fly tying kits tend to be a waste of money.  Lousy tools and materials are the problem.  I don’t recommend them as if you get into this you will end up throwing the kit out.

Here's the basic tools you'll need for the class. ( Hooks and tying materials–fur, feathers, etc.–will be supplied during our course for all the flies we will be tying.):

Vise: Holds the hook while you tie.  Don't scrimp here.  A good vise is the single most important thing you need.  Cheap ones tend to slip and can be very difficult to learn to tie with.  I tie with an HMH Spartan, but these can be hard to find.  Usually I recommend a Renzetti Traveler (if you tie mostly trout flies) or Regal (if you will tie a lot of smallmouth patterns too).  I am not up on new vises, but a good fly shop like the South River Fly Shop can give recommendations.  They also have the best selection of tying materials in the immediate area.  Mossy Creek fly shop in Harrisonburg also has good info and plenty of tying materials.

Bobbin: Holds your threads while you wrap them onto the hook.  Curved ceramic ones tend to be the best.  I have five on my desk right now and sometimes wish I had more.  One will get you started.  Metal tipped ones are cheaper but the thread will cut into them over time resulting in sharp edges that will fray or cut your thread.

Hackle Pliers: Holds your hackle while you wrap them on the hook.  Many models are available and most work satisfactorily.  One good one is among the cheapest–a Dorin.  It is nothing but a wire covered in rubber which helps prevent slipping.  Herb Howard is another excellent brand.  Another cheap but useful one is a power tester.  I have a couple of these, but only rarely use them.  Some swear by them.  Radio shack carries these.  The pliers with rubber tips work very well, but over time the rubber tends to break apart.

Whip Finisher:  Helps you tie off your fly so it won’t come unwrapped.  Materelli types work best for me--optional, but highly recommended.  Many tiers do the whip finish by hand, but I don’t.  A half hitch tool is also useful for this and is easier to learn to use.  We will go over each type of finishing technique during the class.

Scissors: Two are recommended, one heavy straight one for deer hair, wire, etc and one fine for hackles etc.  The fine one can be curved.  Buy the very best fine one you can afford.  You will find yourself cutting lead, tinsel, and wire with the heavy one, so big bucks are not in order.

Needle nose pliers:  These are used to pinch down the barb, a requirement on many if not most trout waters, plus you’ll be thankful if you get a hook into flesh.  Buy one that is smooth inside the jaws which will minimize breakage of the hook.

Hair Stacker:  Used to stack materials such as deer hair to even the tips.  We can share at the class, but you need one if you intend to do much with deer hair.

Wax:  Helps hold materials such as fur on your thread.  Most brands are comparable, but some patterns work best with really sticky wax.  Many patterns work well without wax but some require it.

Dubbing needle:  Allows you to pick at materials to give a fuzzy effect needed on many patterns.  This is simply a needle with some sort of handle and you can make or buy these.  The one I use is a needle superglued into a champagne cork.

Head cement:  Used to glue the head of the fly to avoid unraveling. Most brands work fine. You will need the cement and some thinner (sold in small bottles).  I use Dave's Flexament or make my own from Shoe Goo and toluene.  Toluene is nasty stuff, so be careful with it.

Emory Boards:  Used to “sand” your fingertips so rough skin won’t catch threads on rough skin. Available at drug and grocery stores or in a woman’s make up kit. 

Thread:  Generally 6/0 is the most useful size for beginners, although for larger flies 3/0 is better. Ideally get one of each for the class.  There are new threads sold by denier which is a measure of thickness.  A fly shop can tell you what denier is the equivalent to 6/0.  For the class we can get by with black thread although in time you will want a selection of colors and sizes.