Fly Tying Materials: Where Do You Start?
It is a bit overwhelming, standing in the fly shop and looking at the walls covered in fly tying materials with endless colors. Where do you start? As someone who just recently experienced this, I want to share my solutions and offer a way to make sense of it all.
Before jumping into what materials to purchase, it is important to focus on a fishery and/ or targeted fish. In this case, we are going to focus on salt water flies used for Bonefish, Permit, Tarpon, Snook, and Redfish – all in South Florida.
Let’s talk materials…basic materials. If you only purchased a few materials/ colors, the following suggestions will give you a running head start.
HOOKS: In the beginning, start with a standard length and standard strength fly tying hook. Anything equivalent to Mustad 34007 will be fine. Don’t worry about the finish or coating of the hook at this time. Later, if you wish to only fish with stainless or tin coated hooks, many are available to choose from. For our targeted fish above, sizes 2, 4, 6, and 8 will be of interest. For those just starting to tie salt water flies, start tying with larger hooks first. In this case, use some #2 hooks initially.
THREAD: Many types of thread are available and are made from several different materials. To get started, larger gauge thread will be easier to use, but not necessarily produce intricate flies/ designs. Picking a gauge in the middle will work well for several reasons. I suggest using anything equivalent to UTC 210. For our targeted fish, your first five colors of thread should include white, tan, fluorescent chartreuse, fluorescent shell pink, and fluorescent red. If you reached for a second set of colors, grab burnt orange, rusty brown, black, fluorescent pink, and fluorescent fire orange. Having this color set gives you endless combinations of fly designs applicable for patterns used on the above fish. If you wish to take things one step further in creativity, pick up some UTC fluorescent pink vinyl-rib (medium), Veevus silver/ gold holographic tinsel (medium), and UTC clear mono-filament (.006).
EYES (weight): Having the ability to add different amounts of weight to flies gives your flies the ability to sink at different rates. Light weight flies are used in shallow water (skinny water) and heavier flies in deeper water. To initially build your stack of materials, pick up some silver and gold Bead-Chain eyes (large) and some nickel and gold Brass Dumbbell Eyes (medium). Initially, this will offer some options for your larger sized hooks. Eventually, if you begin tying smaller flies, step down a size in both Bead-Chain and Brass Eyes. The smaller size will work nicely for the smaller sized hooks.
BODY MATERIAL (sparkle braid): Flat Diamond Braid or sparkle braid is a great option for quickly wrapping the shank of a hook to build up a reflective body, similar to those found on many Gotcha flies. A good suggestion would be to pick up sparkle braid in cream, pearl, and peach/ pearl.
BODY MATERIAL (dubbing): Dubbing a fly really gives a fly some girth and fuzz, taking authenticity up a notch. See some pics in our posts titled Flaming Shrimp, Sandy Shrimp, and Dubbed Shrimp for examples of what dubbing can do for a fly. Some initial dubbing colors we suggest you purchase would include shrimp pink, pale pink, flame, and tan. Maybe find some dubbing which incorporates UV flash. It will offer that subtle flash of blue and purple.
WING MATERIAL (buck/calftail): If there was a staple material in fly tying, it would have to be bucktail or calftail. Keeping this simple, best thing to do is pick up a sample pack of multiple colors. The idea is to stay with bright colors initially – I suggest fluorescent bucktail. If you wish to pick up a second set of colors, get another sample pack with standard colored bucktail including white, cream, taupe, brown, olive, and black.
WING/ TAIL/ ANTENNAE MATERIAL (crystal flash): In fly tying, crystal flash may be considered the most magic ingredient or material of all. Back in the day when materials were all natural, it was so difficult to get that “fish scale” flash in flies. crystal flash brings multicolored fish scale flash to your flies. This material is a must-have for any salt water fly tying bench. Initially, I would suggest purchasing colors including olive/ pearl, fluorescent shrimp pink, UV pearl, rainbow/ pearl, and black pearl. If you reached for a second set of colors, grab silver, gold, copper, black/ red, and “mirror”.
BODY/ TAIL MATERIAL (Marabou): Marabou will be important for fluffy tails among other things. Suggested colors to purchase would include white, fluorescent orange, and anything resembling taupe. Here’s a look at “banded” Marabou – great for shrimp flies!
WING/ BODY MATERIAL (EP fibers): This synthetic EP fiber is the best material for making so many salt water flies. EP fiber can be used for wing, body, and tail material. Depending on how you tie EP fiber, a fly can take on unimaginable shapes. It doesn’t take too much of the EP fiber to complete a fly either. Your fist five colors should include white, pale olive minnow, pink, chartreuse, and orange. This will get you tying shrimp, crabs, deceivers, clousers, and many other salt water patterns out of the gate.
SILICONE LEGS: In an effort to keep things simple, having standard sized rubber legs in orange, pink, root beer, or clear offer you a great selection for beginning to incorporate legs into flies. Great thing about clear legs, you are able to color them with permanent markers to give you the color pattern of choice. Make sure the rubber legs you purchase have black specs (peppered) or some barring, as this offers a more realistic set of crab or shrimp legs.
WEED GUARD MATERIAL: Flies used in areas with turtle grass or other forms of sea grass will need a weed guard. Tying in a weed guard is simple. Purchase some 30 pound monofilament (clear). You shouldn’t need more than a 20 yard spool for now.
PERMANENT MARKERS: Don’t underestimate what a Sharpie can do to a fly. Sharpies in multiple colors give unlimited options for custom coloring rubber legs, body material, and touching up body thread exposed in awkward areas. Sharpie offers a mini variety pack which has worked very well for me. I use a few of their fluorescent colors too.
A few things to remember:
1) Take advantage of digital media for examples and tying tips (i.e. videos, step-by-step photos, specs/ recipes, etc.)
2) Less is more. Tie flies with less material than expected.
3) Keep it simple, especially in the beginning. Flies are created in layers, one layer at a time.
The information above should offer some insight prior to purchasing your initial set of fly tying materials. Questions or comments? Please feel free to reply to this post below – We will be glad to offer additional advice or information specific to your needs.
See related post titled Fly Tying Tools: Where Do You Start? for suggested tools to get you started tying flies today.