Fly Tying Materials Buying Guide

Posted by  Thursday, June 20 2013 4:00 pm


FlyTying 1
Tying with high quality materials will be make tying flies easier and much more enjoyable.

Similar to purchasing the tools for fly tying, trying to decipher what materials are necessary can put a beginning tier into a head spin. Many of the materials available are not absolutely necessary for the beginner, but rather are used sparingly on nontraditional patterns. In fact, most first-rate fly tiers are capable of producing high quality flies created with a minimum of equipment. For anyone who is seriously interested into entering the fly-tying ranks, one important consideration should be addressed and that is tying material quality. Poor quality materials are destined to discourage beginner tiers and cause greater expense when the time comes to replace them.

Using quality materials from the start has its advantages. First off, not only will the flies that get tied be better simply because the quality of the materials used, but also tying with high quality materials that are produced specifically for fly tying will be make tying flies easier and much more enjoyable.

The materials listed below are the basic materials needed to outfit a beginner's fly-tying kit. They have been selected to provide the beginning fly tier a wide range of materials to tie the largest selection of traditional and common patterns that can be used to fish worldwide.

Dubbing Mixtures: Dubbing is the material that makes up the majority of the bodies on fly patterns. Dubbing gets "spun" onto the tying thread and then wound on the hook to form the body of the fly. Basically dubbing can be categorized into a few different broad groupings: natural and synthetic, fine and coarse. The finer dubbings are used to tie smaller dry flies while the coarser materials are used to tie nymphs.

Dubbing comes in a wide variety of colors and shades and can be blended together to get special shades to match the bugs hatching in your area. Certain animal furs make better dubbing than others. Rabbit, beaver, muskrat and squirrel are hard to beat when it comes to natural fur dubbings and can be used to tie the smallest of flies to the buggiest of nymphs. Beaver and muskrat fur is great for forming tight dry fly bodies due to the fur's ultra-fine consistency and natural water-repellent nature.

FlyTyingMaterials RabbitDubbingAssortment

A good idea is to start your dubbing collection with earth tones.

Rabbit fur on the other hand is handy for creating underwater patterns such as nymphs and leeches. Rabbit fur absorbs water quickly and produces a seductive undulating motion when moved underwater. As far as synthetics are concerned, there are many varieties available that offer anything from sparkle to rubber varieties. A good idea is to start your dubbing collection with earth tones. Most of the natural insects you will be trying to imitate will be a shade of these earthy colors. Some of the colors you should look for should be: black, brown, natural tan, rust, olive, cream, near-white, gray, pale yellow.

Thread: Fly-tying thread comes in a wide variety of different colors and sizes. 8/0 size thread is best for tying the smaller sized flies (12-22) and especially good for dry flies. 6/0 thread is what is considered to be the general purpose tying thread. It can be used for tying anything from large streamers to small nymphs while 3/0 sized thread is used for large bass bugs or baitfish imitations. Tying thread comes in two different styles, a monochord thread or a flat prewaxed multistranded thread. The monochord is the best for beginners since it is one single strand of thread and has less chance of fraying while tying. A good idea for beginners is to start out with 6/0 tying thread seeing as it is strong and has a small diameter. Once you become a little more advanced a good idea is to get the thinnest thread possible to tie your patterns. This is particularly important when tying dry flies so that you can reduce the bulk at the head of the fly.

Hackle Feathers: Hackle is a type of feather taken from birds (mostly chickens). The hackle feather can be from either a hen or a cock, but generally "hackle" refers to the feathers of the cock unless specified as hen hackle. In addition to this, hackle feathers can be harvested from two areas of the body, the "neck" or the "saddle." Generally the "neck" hackle feathers have a smaller and finer grade and are more expensive than the hackle taken from the "saddle." Hackle fibers can be still be further separated into three grades: grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3. These grades refer to the quality of the actual hackle feather, where grade 1 is the best and grade 3 is the worst. For beginners a grade 2 is the best choice. You still get high quality dry fly hackle feathers but also a few feathers of larger sizes to practice a few bass bugs or streamer flies. Again, if you are starting out, hackle fibers in black/white grizzly and furnace brown will be the most useful.

FlyTyingMaterials StrungSaddleHackle
Hackle fibers in black/white grizzly and furnace brown will be the most useful.

Dubbing Wax: Dubbing wax is a substance used to provide a tacky surface on the thread so that dubbings will adhere. Dubbing wax is a very useful material for beginners to experiment with. Each dubbing wax brand has a different tackiness so asking around and testing out a few different products can help you decide what will best suit your needs.

Hooks: One of the most important rules to remember when learning to tie flies is that you cannot build a proper fly on the wrong hook. Hook shape, size, and strength are some of the most important aspects to fly tying. You would not want to fish for tarpon with a light wire hook the same way as you would not use heavy nymph hook for tiny dry flies.The hook size is defined as the width of the gap. This is the distance from the shank of the hook to the point. The length of the shank of a standard hook is roughly 1 1/2 times that of the gap.

The shape of the hook is defined by the bend. There are two other descriptors: the diameter of the wire and length of the hook compared to the standard hook sizes. If the diameter of the hook is thinner than that of the standard hook, it will be noted as X-light, likewise if it is thicker; it will be noted as X-strong. Similarly, the length of the hook is also compared to the standard hook length and depending if it is longer or shorter it will be denoted as X-long or X-short. In general the X-fine hooks are used for dry flies and the X-heavy for nymphs. The X-short flies are used for small flies and the X-long for streamers. Specialty hooks like curved shank and scuds are also available and are for used grasshoppers and small shrimp imitations.

As fly tiers, we try and imitate the size of the insects we see, so it is the length of the hook shank that is important rather than the hook gap. The length and shape of the hook will determine if the pattern looks like the natural, and if the fish will be fooled by it.

Head Cement: Quality head cement is something that fly-tiers cannot be without. Head cement serves two general purposes. The first purpose is to seal the head of the fly and protect the thread wraps so that they do not become undone. For this protecting purpose head cement that is thin is needed so that it can penetrate the thread wraps completely and seal the thread together tightly. The second purpose of head cement is to make a glassy coating on the fly head so that eyes can be painted on top. If you are going to be tying baitfish patterns that require a build-up of cement to finish the head then a thicker variety of cement should be used. For smaller dry flies a thinner variety of cement should be used so that there is minimal build up on the head of the fly.

Basic Furs

Hare's Mask: A hare's mask gives you a wide variety of shades of color and a choice between stiff guard hairs or softer fur. The hare guard hairs are great for tying tails and legs or just providing a buggy look while the softer under fur is great for dubbing tight tapered bodies.

FlyTying 4
Squirrel tail fibers make great pincers on crayfish patterns.

Squirrel Tail: Most commonly used for tying wings on traditional salmon/steelhead patterns as well as streamer patterns, squirrel tail fibers also make great pincers on crayfish patterns. The barring coloration of these hairs give flies a natural lifelike appearance in the water.

White Calf Tail: Kip tail as it is commonly called is a semi-translucent, crinkly wing material. This must material is great for tying split-wing dries or parachute patterns. Calf tail fibers are an important part to dry fly anatomy due to its ability to be stacked together tightly, adding floatation and its ability to be seen from far distances away.

Zonker Strips: Zonkers are center cut rabbit strips that are used for tying big bushy life-like streamer patterns. A great material for tying bass patterns, zonker strips seem to almost come alive when in the water making them hard for hungry fish to deny.

Natural Deer Hair: This hollow high-floating hair has endless uses for the avid fly tier. Deer hair is great for creating wings and tails to spun clipped bodies on flies. The types of flies this material can be applied to are endless, ranging from bass bugs and terrestrials to baitfish imitations.

Natural and Bleached Elk Hair: Elk hair is similar to deer hair in its uses in fly tying from making clipped hair bass bugs to elk hair caddis's. Being hollow, is has good floatability and dyeable nature make it a top choice for a natural material.

Bucktail:This long tapered hair is perfect for tying baitfish streamers, bass flies and all saltwater patterns. Bucktail is the most widely used wing and body material in fly tying; fly tiers should carry a wide variety of colors of bucktail handy.

Basic Feathers

Pheasant Tail Feathers: This special material is versatile enough to be used on anything from tails and legs to wing cases and bodies. Pheasant tail feathers is one of the more popular materials used for nymph tying this realistic looking fiber will give your standard patterns a life like look and feel.

FlyTying 5
Peacock herl is used for tying shimmering bodies on dries, nymphs and streamer patterns.

Partridge or Quail Back Feathers:Partridge feathers are used for legs and swept soft hackles on wet fly patterns. Partridge hackle when submerged seems to almost come alive with a soft undulating action. Any pattern tied with these hackles is a sure bet to get attention from forging fish.

Marabou: Marabou feathers have long and delicate barbs that will deliver incredible undulating movement under water. Made out of soft turkey under-feathers, these marabou plumes are also very handy for winging larger streamer flies used for catching all species of fish.

Peacock Eyes/Herls/Swords: Peacock is a great iridescent material that fish bite and won't let go. Peacock eyes are great for tying stripped quill-bodied patterns or for producing top-quality herls. Peacock herl is used for tying shimmering bodies on dries, nymphs and streamer patterns while the swords are used for tails and wing cases.

Turkey Tail Feathers: These Turkey feathers feature natural coloration that is perfect for wings on hoppers and muddlers, and wing cases for stoneflies and other nymphs. Also a good staple to have for tying wings on traditional salmon flies.

Goose Biots: Goose Biots are ese pointed quills make excellent tails, legs, and antennae for your favorite stonefly nymphs like the prince.

Miscellaneous Synthetic Materials

Thin-skin: This smooth skin like material is primarily used for shellbacks on scud or shrimp patterns. Thin skin makes flies look super realistic and protects them from wear and tear.

Chenille: A rouged and tough material, chenille is used primarily for streamer flies. One of the most versatile materials on the market, chenille can be used for every type of fly and body of water you ever come across.

Gold Tinsel: Wrapping tinsel over the bodies of nymphs, wet flies and streamers adds flash and attraction, getting lackadaisical fish to strike. Gold tinsel is perfect material for ribbing on prince nymphs, hare's ears and other popular patterns.

Brass and Copper Beadheads, and lead dumb-bell eyes: Add these weighted beads to nymph patterns to keep them down in the strike zone and to add some extra flash.

Krystal Flash: The original flash used by fly tiers for years, Krystal Flash is a fish attracting fiber that is great for large streamers like Wooly Buggers and saltwater baitfish imitations.

FlyTying 6
A beginner fly tier needs to keep a healthy supply of Antron yarn on hand at all times.

Brass and Copper Wire: Used primarily for ribbing flies, these fine wires are also good to add extra weight and flash to your favorite nymphs. Many classic patterns use these wires as a staple in there construction such as Copper Johns and the Brassier.

Antron yarn: Posts on your parachute bugs, trailing shucks for your emergers/cripples, wings for your spinners and bodies for your caddis flies; antron yarn is a synthetic yarn that's taking the fly tying world by storm. A trilobed synthetic fiber and has endless possibilities and a beginner fly tier needs to keep a healthy supply on hand at all times.

Egg glo-bug yarn: This brightly colored yarn is used to make popular egg patterns that are a must-have for steelhead fisherman.

Floss: Comes in single and four-strand varieties, floss is a used for many types of fly bodies on traditional steelhead/ salmon streamers. Also makes good wet fly tails.

Obviously, there are many more useful items that a beginning fly tier could incorporate into his or her fly tying arsenal than those listed in the above paragraphs. The materials listed here will amply serve to cover the basic patterns beginner fly tiers will attempt to tie and as one skill level progresses over time so should ones collection of tying materials.


Tagged under
Read 1076 times
Last modified on Thursday, July 31 2014 4:00 pm
Jason Akl

Jason Akl is a writer, commercial fly tyer and guide with 15 years in the industry. Professionally, he's been a seasonal guide and fly tier that ties commercially and teaches tying classes to both adults and children. Most of his flies make their homes in fly shops in the northern Midwest but some have found their way as far as Europe. As a freelance writer, he's had many written pieces appear in both Canadian and American publications, as well as numerous global websites. When not on the bench or behind the computer, he spends time working with companies such as Daiichi Hooks, Monic Fly Lines or Gatti rods as part of their pro-staff doing product testing pieces and seminars.

You must be signed in to post comments on Bass Pro Shops 1Source. Don't have an account? Please join Bass Pro Shops 1Source.
  • No comments found