I love to tie flies. Clearly. I’ve been tying flies for 14+ years and almost every day of those 14+ years. I might be able to count on one hand how many flies I have bought to fish with and if I use my other hand I can add the flies that I’ve bought as a template to tie off of. Being a young millennial I think I grew up in the golden years of free fly tying instructional content with it being quality and accessible. I started with the books with black and white drawings from the library and 140p quality Youtube videos and now the type of fly tying videos available now are almost cinematic in their production levels using different lighting and camera angles to not just effectively show you how to tie a fly, but almost tell a story at the same time. This has made tying more and more accessible to someone that may not have a mentor or friend to show them how to tie or the time or money to go to a class. The down side to it all is it can be overwhelming and you either think, “I can’t tie that fly, it looks too complex,” or like what I did you start tying everything you see and they all look terrible because you have no foundation principles or skills. My first flies were way too over-the-top for my own good and the flies I chose to tie didn’t build or reinforce anything for me. So, after a year or so of doing that I had to start all over and learn the basics. Because of that every year I set up a plan on what I plan to tie for my personal collection down to every box I fill. If you look at my social media you’ll see all the boxes I fill and the only way to do that, in my opinion, is to have a plan and schedule that keeps me on track. I’m going to share with you how I plan out what flies I want to tie, how it evolves, and what the finished product looks like.
You have to figure out why you are tying this “run” of flies. A lot of the time I’m tying flies to fill new boxes for a specific fish, trip, or style of fishing. So I start with a notebook or my notes app and writing out all the flies I want to tie. Then I figure out what box I want to use for my flies. This could be a new box or revamping an old one, but I need to figure out how many flies fit per row and how many rows there are in the box per side (if there are multiple sides/leaves). I have fat fingers and I don’t like to cram all the flies in every slot unless properly spaced out. Plus for euro nymphs, for example, the beads will touch and rub against each other which will cause damage over time. I rather space out the flies so they are easy to grab and see. The rule of thumb I use is like the tent rule, whatever the manufacturer says the capacity is, cut it in half, just like tents. The only exception to this for me has been tacky fly boxes and cliff boxes.
Next is to narrow down the flies you’re going to tie. When I am first taking my notes I’m writing down every fly I think I might want to tie. I see a new video, new Instagram post, new fly at the local fly shop, a buddy sends me a pattern he’s tying, I see a natural bug fishing, I see a color combo out and about that I think would work for a fly, etc. and I use that to get more ideas on what to tie. But there is only so much time in a day, week, or month and there are only so many slots in a fly box so you have to cut some players. So I pick what I know or think will be winners and fill out the roster. I have pictures saved in my Instagram, Facebook, and Google Photos that go back years and years. some I saved and haven’t used yet some others were the basis of patterns I still tie and fish today. Sometime they are a direct copy but most of the time I’m taking elements from that pattern and using it on anther fly or subbing out elements with materials I’m more comfortable using or have more access to. Also feel free to message or comment on patterns you see if you can decipher the recipe just based on looks, I’ve never had some one tell me to go pound sand.
Now I need to figure out how I want to tie these flies and what materials I want to use. The example I’ll give is with a parachute adams. I need to know the hook shape, size, and brand. I need to know the body material; dubbing, quills, biot, thread. Then post color; white, pink, chartreuse, gray. Lastly, I want to know the material to make the post out of; poly yarn, EP fiber, treated material, natural materials. Once I figure it all out I can then source any materials I may need and price out a box. Sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach when it comes to the amount of flies you want to tie. If I wanted to fill a standard tacky box I would need to tie 168 flies to fill it to how I like to fill one. If you tie with a standard hook and tungsten bead for all you flies in the box that will be about $100 dollars in just hooks and beads not including the other materials. This adds up pretty fast because no one sells beads or hooks based on the size of fly boxes so you will inevitably end up with a hot dog and hot dog bun situation every time. If you plan to tie at production levels like myself then it adds up even faster. This is why I plan out lots of boxes at once to see if I can find ways of cutting my costs. Buy in bulk, simplify patterns unilaterally, eliminate patterns that are too costly, or swap out materials for cheaper subs; this has helped me keep cost manageable for myself in my personal flies and for customer’s flies. I have started using spreadsheets to help organize it all. Below is the spreadsheet I used for my attractor stillwater box. This has helped me keep things organized and on track as well.
Tying the flies changes everything too. Once I have the flies figured out, a plan either digitally or hand-written out, and my material sourced I get to work. This is when there might be some evolution to your plan. You may tie a pattern and it turns out so good that you want more of them so you need to bump one of the honorable mentions, you may tie a pattern and find it too time consuming and want less of them so you pull a pattern from the list. I had this with my euro anchor box. I like polish woven nymphs a lot but they are a pain to tie. The weaving is annoying and I wish I didn’t need to tie them at all, but the fly works so they’re in the box but not in the same quantity as my stoneflies for example. As I fill a box I make trades and cuts constantly. I maybe half way through a new box and find a pattern that is stellar while out fishing and I need more of them. This happened with the blue glo-brite perdigons, for trout, and the olive fireflies 2.0, for smallmouth. Those patterns were tied on a whim and turned out to be excellent flies, and I had to have more of them.
This method has helped me for years now on staying focused and tying flies I want to fish and flies for customers. Without it I think I would get way too distracted and I would not be at the level of fly tying skill I am at today. This method may not work for you and your brain may like a more freestyle tying pattern. I also think the method above has made me a better angler as well because instead of focusing on the flies and what I’m missing or wish I had I can focus on the technique and angling itself instead of dwelling on the missing fly in my box.
Please comment down below if you have anything to add or questions you have. You can also reach out through our contact page as well if you want a more direct line of communication.