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My Fly Tying Space: A Reluctant Tyer

I’ve gone back and forth on writing this blog. My tying experience is limited and sporadic. I start, make an effort, and then stop. For 2023, though, I have made a commitment to go all-in. No more excuse: tie up some flies. So my fly tying space is that of a beginner. Maybe it will help others who are tip-toeing around the idea of tying their own flies.

False Starts

A little background: In January 2019, I retired from teaching English and my 32-year career in Education. Writing has probably been my longest held passion. I have written stories, essays, articles, even some poetry for over 45 years, ever since working the swing shift at Whitco in 1977 where we made canvas tops for Jeeps. I have kept the blog for Angler’s Covey since 2012. Three years ago I started teaching the 201 classes on Sundays. And I began guiding. Not a bad retirement gig: fly fish, teach fly fishing, and write about fly fishing.

So now I am adding tying flies to the mix.

I have gone back and forth on fly tying for a handful of years. I make a half-hearted commitment to tie. I’ll tie a few flies and then stop. I joke around that I invented the unraveling mole fly. Good for one cast before the thread unwraps itself. I rush myself too much: don’t master the whip finish, use too much dubbing. But no more. Half measures never get us very far in any new adventure.

New Year, New Commitment

My tying space is a small tying station that I won several years ago at the Fly Fishing Film Tour. That station can be found right now on top of my writing desk in my office. It’s a well-lighted place (to borrow a phrase from Hemingway), I can listen to music, and I am already comfortable spending lots of time there when I am writing.

When I am not tying at this station, or writing at this desk, evidently our cat, Trout, basks in the sun here.

You can see in the photo that I purchased a magnifier and LED light. Guys and gals, I’m 65 and just starting out on tying. I need every advantage to make it comfortable, efficient, and successful. The light and glass has been a game-changer. It makes even size 20 and 22 hooks seem manageable and I can actually whip finish with such clarity. (You can also see that our cat, named Trout — a rescue from the Black Forest fire — enjoys the view and the winter sunlight streaming in.)

Not pictured but to the right of my station, I have a copy of Charlie Craven’s Basic Fly Tying book. I have committed to working my way through it, fly-by-fly, page-by-page, step-by-step. I am sure there are other books out there that offer similar guidance for beginners. This book works for me. Craven’s book is completely sequential; each fly helps the tyer develop a set of skills, then moves on to the next fly that builds on those skills while introducing others. It’s pretty much exactly what I needed.

In terms of other features of the space, the tying station has posts for thread and wire. Its basic design makes scissors, bobbins, packets of dubbing, and hooks all very accessible. For my purposes, too, I can slide the station to the bask of the desk and against the wall to open up the space for my laptop.

Early Success

Last week, “I tied up” (who knew I would be using that phrase?) some Black Beauties and variations identified in the book. I am happy, really happy, to say that I caught fish on the “Olive Thread Midge” that Craven features in the chapter on Black Beauties. It is midge season, after all, so I spent some time working on those. This week I will start the third fly in the book, the RS2.

This fish ate the Olive Thread Midge.

I spend an hour or so for three or four days on each fly to develop the specific skills that the fly requires. In terms of production, I tie about two dozen flies in that time. Is that slow? Probably. But it is only slow if I am comparing myself to others — and I have discovered that comparison is toxic. The guys I tend to compare myself against have been tying for years. So I have to set my own pace, produce some flies, and then go fish them.

The top two rows were early attempts. The bottom two rows were tied the following day when I gained a little more skill, got some feedback from Easdon, Hilbert, and Gossage), and got back to it.

Learning Opportunities

For other tying spaces featured in our blog, check out guides Neil Luehring‘s tying room (a whole room dedicated to fly fishing) and Joel Walker‘s tying table.

Wanting to learn to tie? Check out our free Fly Tying 101 class. Want to develop your skills further? We have Fly Tying 201 and other advanced classes. If you want to hang out with other tyers and shoot the breeze while spinning up some patterns, why not come to our Open Tie Night, every Wednesday (weather permitting), 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm, through March?

Next week, I will be featuring the tying space of long-time Angler’s Covey Guide, Greg Blessing!

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