My Fly Tying Stuff – AvidMax Blog

By: Andy Marks

I bought a Hareline Beginner Fly Tying Kit when I started fly fishing in March 2020. Pandemic was new and strange. I bought a sewing machine and made double layer masks for my family using instructions published by a group in northern Europe: How to sew masks was demonstrated in a YouTube video.. This is often how fly tying works. Someone, somewhere, gets an idea for a fly, ties it, tests it, distributes copies to friends, and eventually publishes instructions allowing everyone to tie, or try to tie, their own copies. My fly tying stuff has cost a lot more than my starter sewing machine.

There are two types of fly tying items, capital equipment (hooks, tools, lighted viewers, boxes and drawers) and materials (hooks, thread, feathers on skin, fur, wire, metal and glass beads, dubbing). A starter kit will introduce you to most of this, but it hides the recurring problem of not having the right materials for the flies you want to tie. Both types of things often come from the same places. You can find it either at a local unique shop, which although small has a bit of everything, or at one of the many well-stocked and recommended online retailers like AvidMax. The local venue offers instant gratification or, if not, there are two or three enthusiastic individuals who can put you on an equally good substitute. Some things you will look for (perhaps from a book published in the 80s (18 or 19-80) will surface their oldest member who will say: “When I heard Mustad I knew I would to talk to someone with gray hair.”

I started with the cheapest link fly I could find and bought it because of its price and because it had an image of an old salmon fly on the box. I could connect everything I do today to the dash I now connect to my Renzetti Traveler, but it wasn’t as easy to use, and I was very disappointed with its smaller base. My Brightech Lightview magnifying lamp is my second most expensive ($100) and essential piece of equipment. Finally you will connect things too small to see with my old eyes, and this magnifies them and provides uniform and consistent illumination. It’s also great for taking pictures of things you’ve connected to share with people who couldn’t care less. Imagine getting this in your messaging app (TenkaraGuides Roaring graves). I will use this as an example of the types of materials you will need to find, purchase, use and store for the next opportunity that comes along. This is a size 4 Gamakatsu Octopus hook, wound with Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift Purple Haze yarn, with a “magic cat underhair collar, natural quail feathers, with a primary base of UV Chartreuse 70D Uni (or possibly Ultra) thread.

Its creators, citing “don’t forget that hole, in Provo, yes, that one” said they fished it at a depth of 4-7 meters and caught their biggest brown ever on it. I’m not good at digging like this, especially with a wet fly, but I tied four of these to try when I find a 4-7 foot deep hole or run carrying big browns. There it is, and I like things like that. The co-workers who created this used “magic dog down hair” brushed from the family dog, but not having access to their pets, I furrowed one of our cats and used that mix of under and guard hair. Be flexible. Some very professional levels will send you for paintbrush bristles (Charlie Craven) or Tyvec (Pat Dorsey). A fellow named Tristan, owner of, ties many very useful flies using colorful yarn like Purple Haze above. While waiting for my package of 1” x 1” thread to arrive, I tied one of his flies using a pink shrimp synthetic dub that fooled some local trout: they didn’t know it wasn’t Gucci thread.

Briefly, the steps to connect a Digger of graves as they are:

1.Put the binding thread behind the eye, wrap it around the hook all the way past the turn, then back ¼ of the way.

2. Tie over the purple mist yarn and wrap back over it to the bend, then forward just behind the eye.

3. Twist the thread, tying it to the cord, then wrap it forward where the hair collar goes.

4. Make 2 or 3 tight wraps over the end of the thread and cut off the excess.

5. Choose one hackle quail feather, bind it spoon forward on the hook and wrap around the hook once.

6. Expose 3” of thread, wet or wax the tips of your index finger and thumb, and wrap pet hair around the thread.

7. Wrap up pet hair dubbing around the hook behind the quail, forming a fuzzy collar.

8. Magically work the yarn up to the eye of the hook.

9.Make several wraps around the hook, forming a small but visible chartreuse head.

10Make three or four wraps with the whip finisher and grab the line close to the head.

11. Done

You will never have enough materials on hand until one day, magically, you do. It’s either that your cabinets, boxes, and piles of desks are eventually full or pretty high, or you start to mature and realize you can make do with what you have, or not. You’ll need two or three drawers, Home Depot plastic boxes with dividers, the box your starter fly tying kit came in, plus three or four boxes for hooks of many shapes and sizes, and yes, maybe three boxes for tying thread. Then, the tools.

You will need bobbins (they hold a spool of thread between two prongs and run the thread through a small tube that you will run it around). Two should be enough. I have come to use only short spools. Try several braiding pliers until you find one you like: they hold the tips of the feathers as you wrap the feather around the hook. You will need a bobbin thread (or you will need to use the suction you provide to pull the thread through the bobbin). A pair of small, very sharp scissors, a pair of tweezers, nail clippers, a whip trimmer (that can make you feel like a Renaissance wizard), and other cool and useful items you’ll see in fly tying books and videos. I made a small (8×10) shallow box to hold my tools and stuff, and I use a separate thing to hold my most used tools. Here is my regular link area. The shallow tray is on the right. My most used tools are in the multi-colored ceramic gizmo in the center. My cool blue based Renzetti visa is on the left. My short spool is forward at the end. The large cup with a T-Rex tail holds debris: use a large cup, the small ones return when you don’t want it anymore. Wait until you use the UV resin! I try it on everything I think could benefit from it: I glue parts of my mesh together with it. The Nissin trim level is new and gets that real estate front and center. Fire pit hooks are stacked three deep in the bottom right. I think thirty-six hooks per cell.

There are MANY professionals who have published books and recorded videos on fly tying. Here is my short list:

  • Charlie Craven, the pro behind, who ties 50,000 dozen flies/year and has been doing it since he was 8 years old, something like that. A magical perfectionist artist with very clear photos.
  • Pat Dorsey, a CO guide with practical fish-catching fly patterns. I did well with his suggested flies last winter.
  • John Barr, author of Barr flies, a book about his legendary fly patterns and how to use and tie them. It is said that he only fishes flies that he has designed. This is huge.
  • Dave Hughes, of the Pacific Northwest, author Fifty essential flies and a dozen or two other wonderful books. Fifty essential flies shows 6 or 8 variations of each essential fly to bring you, well, lots of productive fly patterns.
  • TenkaraGuides, three or four 30 year olds who know a lot about Tenkara gear, fishing and fly design. They brought us Grave Digger, Red A** Monkey, and they use Tristan threads. Rob Whiting has two videos on YouTube about advanced Tenkara casting. You should check them out if you’re into the elegant simplicity of Tenkara.
  • There are others, but these will put you on the right track. They appoint other masters, follow their instructions.

Butterfly tying fills in some of the days when you’re recovering from a grueling fishing adventure, or too much sun, too little warmth, or a nice mix of all of the above. It’s best to keep it fresh in muscle memory: try to connect it a few times a week. There should be a project book in your fly tying kit that will introduce you to the tools, vocabulary, and intricate techniques you need to perfect to truly enjoy this branch of fly fishing. I think it’s worth the time. If I see a fly in a book or video, I can usually make half a dozen of them before lunch on the next miserable sunny blue sky day. Thanks for reading.

Andy Marks: I am 65 years old, live in UT, fish in UT, in WY, Yellowstone and ID. I have been fly fishing for 2 1/2 years, I have 15 fly rods and 3 Tenkara rods and since using the latter I have not touched the former.

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