Like many in the fly fishing community, I began tying flies as a way to be able to participate in the sport when not actually on the water. I took a class at my local Orvis store, bought books, tools, materials, and tentatively started tying without a great deal of faith that any of my creations would actually fool a fish.
I began with the ubiquitous wooly bugger. Try though I may, my versions never seemed to quite emulate the pictures in the books. The bodies were lumpy, the proportions seemed wrong, and I couldn’t for the life of me keep the thread from crowding the eye as I tried to make a neat head.
Next came the hare’s ear. Then an Adams. All were equally misshapen and ungainly. It was clear from my early work that I was no threat to any professional tiers, other than the potential of them hyperventilating from laughter upon viewing the fruits of my
Most of these early attempts ended up in my discard bin, though I gave some away and actually fished a few.
As I slowly began to compile more information about fly tying through books, videos, and tutoring, I became familiar with the fly “recipe”. This, for the uninitiated, is a list of materials used in the construction of a fly.
For example, a standard wooly bugger recipe might look like this:
Hook: TMC 5262, 5263 or Daiichi 2220 #2-12
Weight: lead wire sized to hook, 6-12 turns
Thread: Black 3/0 Monocord
Tail: Black Marabou
Flash: Black Holographic flashabou
Rib: Small wire, color of choice
Body: Medium olive chenille
Hackle: Black rooster saddle
(photo and recipe from Charlie’s Flybox, )
So as a new tier, I would gather my shopping list for supplies and run off to the local fly shop to purchase each needed item. Often, one or more of the “ingredients” could not be found locally, and sometimes not even on the web, because the materials had been discontinued or re-branded.
Usually a helpful fly shop employee or local tiers would recommend alternate materials. They would say, “Sure the recipe calls for black monocord, but really any black thread will do”. I usually received this advice with skepticism, and to this day I really don’t like substituting materials. It can really put a tarnish my day if I can’t find the specific feather, bead, or hook as recommended by the recipe’s author. I base that on the potentially naive belief that the author of said recipe has already done a good bit of experimentation before settling on the published version. Perhaps that is a jump of logic, but that’s were I land.
To use a cooking analogy, I think fly tiers fall into two basic categories; bakers or cooks. Baking is a fairly exacting culinary art. At its core is chemistry and physics. If the recipe calls for general purpose flour, using cake flour is not going to yield the results you hoped for. If the measurement calls for one teaspoon of baking soda, you had better use exactly 1 teaspoon. Want to bake something twice as fast? Not a good idea to double the oven temperature.
My wife is a great cook, and she is at her finest when she improvises with a recipe. She looks at a recipe as a place to start, but prefers to create her own interpretation by substituting this for that, or adding this spice and that flavoring to make the dish her own. But if she tries that approach when baking, the bread may not rise, the cake may fall, or the cheesecake may not set.
I tend to lean more to the side of the baker than that of the cook, but as I gain experience, I am becoming more comfortable tweaking the fly a bit. I still prefer to tie it first as written, and deviate for fun, rather than from necessity due to missing materials.
So where do you fall as a tier? Do you try to stay true to the recipe and tying instructions, or do you tend to walk on the wild side? And if you are a more adventurous tier, did you start that way, or did you stick closer to the recommended recipe early in your tying endeavors?