Tying flies is already a challenging enough hobby that requires patience and practice but it’s easier if you have the proper tools for it; tools made specifically for tying flies. Fortunately you don’t need too many and they aren’t too expensive. You can get a quality fly tying kit for under $100.00 possibly even under $50.00 but as is with most things, if you wanted to you could spend much more. I’ve seen fly tying vises alone costing almost $800.00. I started out with a kit that was either included with the fly tying class I took or it was something I had to buy before I took the class. It doesn’t really matter either way but the kit came with everything I needed to tie some pretty popular trout and salmon flies without having to buy anything extra except the materials. But no matter whether you choose to buy a kit or buy each tool individually, you need to make sure you get the right tools. There are some tools that are essential for tying proper fly patterns and some that are optional but still useful.
It’s obvious that you should start out with the essentials first and buy the optional tools if and when you feel you need them. The essential tools include a vise, bobbins, hackle gauges, hackle pliers, scissors, hair stackers, lights, and a magnifying glass. The optional tools include bobbin threaders, wing burners, blenders, floss bobbins, whip finishers, dubbing twisters, toothpicks, bodkins and pliers. As you can see, it’s really not that big of a list, especially if you stick with just the essentials. Since fly tying may be new to you and some of the tools aren’t usually encountered elsewhere so I’m going to explain what each one is.
Knowing what each tool does before you start buying tools will be useful since you can decide for yourself what you feel you need or don’t. It doesn’t matter if you going the kit route or the individual route. Some kits have too much and some have too little. You may see a kit you like but it comes with a few tools you don’t need which is reflected in its higher price. Or you may see a kit you like at a lower price with fewer items that’s maybe missing one or two tools you need. You simply by the kit and grab the individual items you need, and pick up the other tools later if a need for them arises. I like tools just as much as the next guy not matter the project, but I don’t like having or buying tools that I’m never going to use; anyways, onto the descriptions.
Vise – this important tool is what holds the hook firmly in place while you tie materials to it. I don’t just mean any vise either, but a fly tying vice. There are different types of vises on the market not intended for fly tying, that could probably work but I don’t recommend them. Prices for a vise can range from inexpensive to very expensive. They can be simple in function and features or complex. For a beginner I recommend a quality but inexpensive and simple functioning vise, such as this one.
Bobbin- This tool holds the spool of thread you are using while you work and allows for the thread to be fed out from the line with precisely controlled tension. Proper tension is extremely important if you want to tie a proper and durable fly. This isn’t a tool you want to go without.
Hackle gauge- A hackle gauge is used to measure and select the correct size of dry fly hackle.
Hackle pliers-Hackle pliers are used to grab the ends of feathers to allow for the fly tier to warp the hackle around the fly evenly.
Scissors-no real explanation needed here except that most scissors are not going to work. You need small, sharp and extremely pointed scissors. Not all fish are stupid and not all fish eat everything that moves. A northern pike will likely strike at anything that’s moving or smells like food but with arctic grayling…if it doesn’t look like what they are eating, the wont go for it. Tying a sloppy fly will decrease your chances and enticing a strike and bad scissors will leave nasty long threads all over place. Don’t skimp on the scissors.
Hair stackers- A hair stacker is used typically with deer hair/fur. It allows you to evenly match and align the ends of the hair that’s in the stacker.
Lights- These magical devises allow you to see when it’s dark. But in all seriousness, good lighting is important when doing pretty much anything that requires visibility and fly tying is no different. Since flies are typically small a quality light with good illumination is a must.
Magnifying glass- The name says it all and honestly you should know what a magnifying glass is. But when it comes to tying flies I recommend staying away from handheld ones since you need your hands to tie the fly. The have goggle type versions of magnifying glasses and they also make lamp/magnifier combos. I recommend something like the two types I just mentioned but get what suits you best.
Bobbin threaders/cleaners- The threader helps you pull the thread through the thread tube in the bobbin. The cleaner is like a punch rod and is used to clean out wax build up in the thread tube if you use wax coated thread.
Wing burners- these tools allow you make wing patterns.
Blenders- Not something to blend drinks with. Fly tying blenders or mixers allow you to blend different types of dubbing.
Floss bobbin- A tool used to organize cross stitch floss.
Whip finishers-This tool allows you to tie a nice tight knot at the head of the fly you just tied. Some people use their fingers for this but I like the whip finisher. Fingers would work just fine but can be sloppy at times and if you screw up this knot you entire fly may come undone.
Dubbing twisters- This is a useful tool for making very shaggy dubbed bodies if using the loop method with dubbing and other materials.
Toothpicks-Just standard toothpicks; nothing special.
Bodkin- This is often used to apply small amount of cement to the heads of flies, but many fly tiers use them for other tasks too.
Pliers-these are useful for anything you may need pliers for obviously. Aside from hackle pliers, I’m not sure if they make pliers specifically for fly tying. So just know the materials you are working with and select a pair based on your needs.
Well, that’s going to be about it for tools. Again I recommend quality but inexpensive quality if you are just starting out. You may not even like tying flies. Pick a few fly patterns to start with and get the tools you need to tie those flies then go from there. Oh and I forgot to mention, a good fly-tying books is pretty much an essential. You could possibly get by without it; say by getting patterns from the internet through YouTube or having a friend show you some of their fly tying knowledge. However, these are always around when you need them but you can take your personal book with you where you need it. I not going to recommend a specific book because there’s a ton of great books out there but they don’t contain all the same information. When selecting a book or books however, I recommend books that a spiral bound for ease of use and ones that focus on the fish you are trying to catch. I live in Alaska so I focus on fly tying books that have to do with Alaskan fish. No matter your method of obtaining fly patterns; just be patient, have fun, ties some flies, then get to fishin’.