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Freestone Fly Fishing Guide: The Basic Fly Tying Tools

Winter, it's cold and being in the PNW it rains a lot. I mean A LOT. This year in January we had 250 mm of rain (10 inches for our American friends). It doesn't seem like a terrible amount but it's risen our rivers and made them chocolate soup for most of the month. It's been the 6th wettest January on record! Not biblical flood worthy, but the sun sure would be nice. So with the weather not cooperating and the fly boxes empty this is the time to get into fly tying mode.

Pete has a great fly tying blog going over specific patterns that we cherish and use ourselves. I'm not going to mess with a good thing and try and copy that. Instead I'm going to dive into the more basic skills and go over the few things any beginner needs to know. The great thing about Freestone boxes is you're going to get a dozen new flies every month (shameless plug, I apologize). The great part about tying is if you fall in love with one particular pattern, you can use our flies as a guide and decontrusct it to fill your own need!

Now I'm just going to dive right into the nitty gritty and start with the tools your going to need. Scissors are a must and you'll be thanking yourself if you buy sharp ones. Not craft scissors or shears but a nice small pair that can get up close and personal with your creations. Next you'll need a bobbin. A bobbin is your thread holder. There's multiple different styles and made of different materials. Ceramic tiped are nice and I'd suggest that to start. A whip finish tool isn't mandatory, but it definitely helps. Some people prefer the classic half hitch in hand method, others whip. It's personal preference in the end, but try both. The best advice I can give for using a whip finisher (some people have a real tough time grasping this tool) is to YouTube it. My weak descriptions will only confuse you more, use the power of technology to learn this skill. A nice heavy hair stacker is also a must. It makes all your hair even and nice, whether you're doing small elk hair caddis or big hair wing Atlantic salmon flies. A nice heavy stacker takes all the frustrations out of doing it in hand (a mistake I learny first hand). 

Apart from those basic tools everything else is just a luxury. Dubbing brushes, dubbing spinners, bodkins etc. can all be replaced with things around the house. Have an old toothbrush? Cut the bristles down even and use that. Or add a little piece of velcro (the claw part) to a popsicle stick. A toothpick works just as well as any bodkin I've used and they're nicer to chew on when you're in deep concentration. If you're just starting out, save your money for materials instead of fancy tools. Your hard earned dollars go way farther on a nice hackle instead of the $45 scissors.

There's one more item that is needed to create your own flies, a vise. Just like anything there's a huge selection of different styles and makes out there. All dependant on how much you're willing to spend. For a beginner, buy what you can afford. If you're doubting your ability and dedication buying a cheap vise is fine. I must say though a true rotary vise (one where your fly stays verticle as you rotate your vise) is highly recommended. It makes a world of difference to be able to turn the fly and not lose your material to an ill placed hook. Head cementing is a breeze, it just makes everything that much easier.

A little extra tip here about gearing yourself up. Ask your friends and family if they have ever tied or know someone who does and gave it up. I've literally been handed boxes of fly tying materials and tools from friends and family who I had no idea tried tying, lost interest and have them sitting in the attic. Sure most of it was useless, but there's been some gems tucked in there. Vises, tools, threads, hooks, everything I'd ever need to start out. I've since returned the favour and gifted most of my duplicates out to friends that are beginning as well. Hey, we're all in this sport together might as well help each other out as best we can!

This is just a snippet of what you'll use and need to begin fly tying. Next week I'll go into the very basic beginnings of putting all these tools together and how to pick out materials and a few surprising places you can get a few deals. I hope you start letting the fur and feathers fly, it's a great fulfilling skill that makes winter shorter and there's literally no better feeling than fooling a trout with a hand tied fly.

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