Tying Flies: An Angler’s Rabbit Hole

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I recently posted pictures of several flies I tied to a Facebook group that I belong to, partly because I enjoy sharing what I’ve recently tied and partly to dilute the never-ending ice fishing posts that overwhelm this particular page in the dead of winter. Unsurprisingly, the first comment that was posted questioned if tying flies of my own was less expensive than buying them from the local fly shop. My immediate response: good heavens, no.

tying flies mayfly emerger

When I first started fly tying two years ago, I was under the same delusion as my Facebook commentator – surely tying flies would be beneficial to my wallet, in the manner that buying individual ingredients at the grocery store for a family dinner is far less expensive than taking your clan out to the local Olive Garden. But two vises, eight bobbin holders, feathers from seemingly every known bird species, and countless packages of hooks and dubbing later, and I’ve come to realize that I will never save a single penny on this venture.

Why Bother Tying Flies?

So why exactly should one decide to take up tying flies when pre-tied flies are so readily available? If I could sum it up in one word it would be this: winter. If you’re anything like me and the prospect of braving snowy mountain pass roads to be able to stand thigh-deep in a surprisingly crowded tailwater when it’s 18°F with ice rapidly building on the guides of your fly rod isn’t your idea of a good time, tying flies is a great way to pass the time until that first 45° day comes along.

I imagine there comes a time in everyone’s fly fishing career when they contemplate getting into fly tying. For some, it might just be a rapidly passing fancy, an idea quickly dismissed for lack of time or perceived inability. Others may heed the call by acquiring a starter kit and tying a few flies, but the passion never develops and the tying kit recedes to the dark recesses of a closet alongside those handmade father’s day gifts from your kids and that jump rope you swore you were going to use every morning.

tying flies

Then there are those of us who decide to compliment a fly fishing major with a minor in fly tying. A visit to the fly shop no longer limits us to the bins of pre-tied flies. We’re now on a first name basis with the guy in charge of stocking fly tying materials (Kigen, Sam, Cheech, and Curtis – I’m talking about you). We now come in to the fly shop with a list of materials needed to tie the pattern we watched so-and-so create on the most recent YouTube video they released. And like going to the grocery store on an empty stomach, you’re guaranteed to walk out of the shop with far more than you intended to purchase. Our vocabulary has expanded beyond dries, nymphs, and emergers to include words like cree, biot, herl, and coq de leon, not to mention bodkin, denier, whip finish, and peccary hair.

I think you can start calling yourself a serious fly tyer when you start looking at roadkill differently, or wondering what kind of dubbing you could create from the family pet. Before you started tying, the thought of a visit to the local craft store with your spouse would send shivers down your spine. But now, you find yourself spending an hour just in the bead section alone.

So if you’re a fly angler who is sitting on the fence about whether or not to take up making your own flies from feathers and fluff, I would encourage you to take the leap, not only to add another dimension to your fly fishing lifestyle, but to be able to stay connected to the sport even when your favorite streams are inaccessible during those cold winter months. But don’t get into fly tying as a means of saving money on flies, because that’s nonsense. Think of it as a new hobby that could bring years of enjoyment but will likely cost you many thousands of dollars in the long run. And that doesn’t even factor in the cost of bourbon.

Peter Steen is currently pursuing a major in fly fishing with a minor in tying flies from the state of Utah. He lives in Cottonwood Heights with his wife and three children. Follow his fishing adventures on Instagram @fly_fishing_pete.