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Florida Outdoors

Article Index

Alligator Hunting: A One of a Kind Experience -
by Kris Thoemke

Why They Call it Hunting Instead of Killing -
by Kris Thoemke

Florida's Other Crab - by Kris Thoemke

The Waiting Game - by Kris Thoemke

Mounted Memories - by Kris Thoemke

Eco-Touring in Collier County - by Kris Thoemke

Beyond the Largemouth Bass - by Kris Thoemke

Tying One On -- Some thoughts on how to get started tying your own flies -- by Kris Thoemke

The Big Cypress: Adventures in a Vast Wilderness
-- Kris Thoemke spends the day exploring the Big Cypress National Preserve with Preserve biologist Debra Jansen

A Basic Guide to Saltwater Fly Fishing in Southwest Florida -- by Don Phillips

Four Strokes on the Water -- The sound of the future for marine outboards is likely to be much quieter --
by Kris Thoemke

Birding Big Cypress Swamp and the 10,000 Islands --
by natural history writer and photographer Jeff Ripple

Recycling Your Fish -- by Kris Thoemke

Peace, Paddle and Hunt -- by Kris Thoemke

 fish, camp, golf Florida outdoors

Tying One On
Some thoughts on how to get started tying your own flies
by Kris Thoemke


In the angling world, I think of fly fishing as the fine art of fishing. From the custom crafted rods and hand built reels to the ornate hand tied flies used to entice a fish to bite, fly fishing is, in the minds of those who do it, more than fishing; it is an art worthy of a lifetime of dedication.

On of the major differences between fly fishing and other types of angling is the skill level needed to be successful. No disrespect intended, but just about anyone can learn to catch fish using a conventional spinning rod. After someone shows you how to hold the rod, open the bail on the reel and cast, perfecting the finer points are only a matter of a time, and that usually takes less than a day. If this weren't true, fishing would not be the ultra popular outdoor activity that it is.

Casting a fly line with the precision and accuracy necessary to be successful takes considerable longer to master. Usually you learn from an experienced friend or by taking a class, either of which is followed by hours of practice. But being a proficient caster is only part of being a good fly fisher.

The best caster in the world won't catch fish unless they use a "bait" that will attract the fish. Bait for fly fishers is an artificial lure called a fly although very few actually look like the insect. Flies are hooks adorned with varying amounts of animal hairs, feathers, and man-made materials tied to them in a pattern that resembles something that a fish would like to eat.

Fly fishers always use flies and most dedicated anglers eventually start to tie their own flies. To look at some of the intricate patterns of these miniature works of art you might be tempted to think that tying flies is beyond your abilities. Actually, tying one is much easier than you think.

Veteran guide and fly fishing angler Todd Geroy summed it up best. "There's a pattern, but no rules as far as colors go." The pattern is a recipe that details how to combine different materials in order to produce a fly. Where the tyer's talent and fishing knowledge plays a role is in determining which color or combination of colors to use to produce a fly that will entice a fish to bite. With a vast range of colored materials to choose from, there are thousands of ways to combine the raw materials to produce the finished product.

The key to making a fly is to build it in layers. In the first class I attended, Geroy had us make a "bendback," a popular redfish fly. It gets its name because the eye of the hook is bent downward. This causes the fly to run through the water with the barb facing up. That's an advantage because it helps minimize the seagrass and sea weed accumulation on the hook as it's retrieved in the shallow grass flats where redfish like to feed.

We started by wrapping the shank of the hook with chenille to give the fly some body. After that we added some buck tail which is the white hair from a deer's tail. Next we used a few strands of green crystal flash and then a final layer of a dozen or so of peacock herl feathers. Each layer was tied to the fly with thread with a drop of epoxy cement added to help hold everything together. In a learning situation, it took us about twenty minutes to create this fly. An experienced tyer could do the same lure in five minutes or less. My first fly is not as pretty and polished as one made by a pro, but Todd assured me that it was good enough to fool a fish.

If you don't tie your own flies, pre-tied ones will cost from two to five dollars each. At that rate, it won't take long before you will have a couple of hundred dollars worth of flies in your tackle box. You can save money by tying your own flies but it will take a while to recoup your initial expense for the equipment and materials necessary to get started.

The most important tool that you will need is a good vise. When building a fly, you clamp the hook with vise and wrap the raw materials on the hook. Vises run from $50 to $500 dollars. To wrap the thread around the fly you need a hand held bobbin and most fly tyers have several of these so they don't have to stop and change spools of thread each time they need a different color. Bobbins cost abut $10 each. Add a pair of scissors and a few other inexpensive tools and your are ready to start tying flies.

The other expense comes from buying the raw materials. How much you spend depends on how much you want to buy. Visitors to Mangrove Outfitters will find almost one wall of the store devoted to fly tying materials Arranged on the wall are small packages of hooks, eyes, feathers from animals like guinea hens, mallards and ostrich, and hair from elk, deer, and rabbit. For man-made materials there are packets of secret streamer hair, crystal flash , flashabou, and ice chenille to name a few. To round things out there is a wide selection of thread and several types of glues, lacquer and epoxy. At Everglades Angler, the Orvis store in Naples, owner Mark Ward has an entire room devoted to fly tying materials.

What I discovered about fly tying after my first two creations were in hand is that learning the basics of fly tying isn't difficult, but learning to be a craftsman at tying flies and creating new patterns takes a lot of time, skill and patience, traits that are part of a successful fly fishing angler.

The easiest way to learn how to tie a fly is to attend a class. With the popularity of salt water fly fishing growing in Florida, there are many opportunities to attend fly tying classes. In Naples there are classes at Mangrove Outfitters and Everglades Angler. Check out Mangrove Outfitters home page or call Everglades Angler call (239) 262-8228.

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