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Salmonfly.Net Salmon and Steelhead Fly Tying Guide  In Memory of Scotty Howell In Memory of Yuri Shumakov

Getting Started with Basic Tools

Getting Started with Basic Tools

Fly Tying

Basic Tying Instructions

Anatomy of a Fly

Salmon and Steelhead Hooks

Fly Tying Tools

Materials Glossary

Fly Patterns

Fly Search

Match Flies to Species

Contributing Tyers

Show Your Flies Here

More Information 

Steelhead Facts

Pacific Salmon Facts

Tips and Techniques


Site Map




Photo Gallery


These are the basic tools that you will need to tie salmon and steelhead flies. You may want to purchase some tools like this or start with a fly tying kit. Keep in mind that fly tying kits usually do not have the best tools available. It might be a good way to start if you are not sure if you want to stay with tying as a hobby. If you get the tying bug, like most of us, you can replace them with more advanced tools as you become more advanced in your tying. If you don't feel that tying is something you would like to continue, you haven't made a huge investment that will be wasted. Most fly tying kits may not have the materials you need to tie most salmon and steelhead flies, but you can use the materials you get with them to practice before buying more materials. Try substituting some materials in a pattern with different materials and you might come up with a "killer fly."

The fly tying vise is the most basic necessity. It is used to hold the hook in place at various angles while tying the fly. The vise pictured here is an Orvis Edition HMH Spartan Vise. It looks like a basic vise, but it is not inexpensive because of the quality of the materials that it is made from, and because it has features that less expensive vises don't have. Most beginner's kits come with much cheaper vises, but of a much lesser quality. I started with a Thompson "A" Vise and tied with it for years and it only cost about $30. I was never really satisfied with it, because it just could not do what I wanted it to do, like turn the fly at different angles, so I could work under the fly. A true Rotary Vise  allows you to turn rotate the fly while keeping it in the same plane. My "A" vise eventually would not hold a hook tightly because the cams in the jaws wore out. Vises like the Spartan are designed so that will not happen. The bottom line, though is that you must decide on whether to buy a cheap vise or buy a kit with a cheap vise. If you are just beginning, you may be better off starting with a cheaper vise like those that come in a fly tying kit before making an investment in an expensive model.

Fly tying scissors are another tool that are vital for getting started. It is tempting, but you do not want to skimp on quality with this tool. The best scissors may cost more than you would wish to pay, but you will be happy that you did. They absolutely most be sharp enough to cut cleanly and evenly and they must stay sharp. Cheap scissors will become dull in a quickly. The ideal pair of scissors for tying flies should have well-meshing blades and taper to a fine point. The finger holes should not be too small and should fit comfortably for you. Large finger holes that let you tie with the scissors kept in your hand at all times make tying a joy rather than a chore.

You see here another important tool to get you started - Hackle Pliers . The purpose of hackle pliers is to grab the tips of hackles and other materials to be able to wind them around the shank of a hook. A good pair of hackle pliers will grab the hackle without slipping off or cutting it while it is being wound. If you buy a fly tying kit, you will most likely have a pair, but they also may not be of real quality. I had a pair that I fooled with forever, but they never worked well. The tips did not mesh and would often slip and loose their grip. That can be very frustrating when you have wound a collar or palmered a fly and the hackle slips out of the pliers just before you have secured it with thread. The pair to the left have rubber tips that hold tightly without slipping or tearing. If you buy a kit and have that problem with your hackle pliers, replace them with a quality pair like these.

The bobbin is another tool that you will not be able to do without. The bobbin is used to hold the spool of thread while winding it on the hook shank. The spool of thread is held in the ends (also called feet) of the bobbin and the thread is threaded through tube (called the thread tube). The tension on the two sides holds the spool in place while still allowing it to spin as the thread is being wound. The bobbin pictured on the right is a basic model. I have used this type successfully for years, but I have also purchased some that cut the thread as soon as I try to wind. The reason is that they were manufactured with a defect in the end of the thread tube. They were cheap. If you buy a fly tying kit and you get a bobbin that does this, throw them away and get a better one.

                           A fly tying bodkin is a sharp-pointed instrument used in fly-tying for picking out dubbing fibers or for applying small drops of head cement to your flies. It is what I used to use, but now they call them dubbing needles. You very rarely see the term used anymore because the instruments are used differently. The tool to the left is an example. It is actually a nice tool for doing the tasks I mentioned but this one is a combined dubbing needle and bobbin threader. You will find this tool very useful when it comes to getting that thread through the thread tube on the bobbin. I used a piece of wire with a loop for many years and I am happy to have this tool now. Whether you buy them separately or combined, you should have a dubbing needle and a bobbin threader as part of your basic tools inventory.

I have mentioned here, what I consider to be the basic tools you need to get started. Materials, hooks, threads, floss, etc. are not included and are a separate discussion. There are other tools of course that are very useful and that make the job easier, but you can tie flies without them. Some of those tools are listed below.

  • Whip Finisher - This tool is designed to tie a whip finish to the head to complete the fly. The whip finish can be applied without this tool, but it makes it quicker. It is quite useful for professional tyers.

  • Hair Stacker - This tool is very useful for aligning the ends of stiff hairs like bucktail together for making perfect tails and wings

  • Fly Tying Tweezers - A good pair of fine-tipped tweezers are very useful for things like plucking out single hairs or fibers, holding materials out of the way while tying, applying artificial eyes to fly heads and many other things.

  • Dubbing Twister - This is a tool that facilitates the spinning of dubbing by the dubbing loop method.

  • Hackle Gauge - This tool is used to measure the correct size hackle for the size of the hook you are tying on.

  • Hackle Guards - keep hackle fibers out of the way while tying heads.


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