The Art and Science of Fly Tying

By Don Fine

Back on Saturday, February 9th, our Club held its 3rd Annual Fly Tying event. Twenty-five participants, representing skill levels from novice to expert came out to learn about and to tie Wet Flies. As in the past two years, when a similar group gathered on a cold Winter Saturday to respectively tie Cork Poppers and Streamer patterns, everyone learned something new in regards to tying Wet Flies, and fishing with them. More importantly, everyone enjoyed themselves and there was an awesome comradery seen among the participants. That’s what our Club represents and that’s what fly fishing brings to each individual.

During the introductory portion of the event, I tried to stress that fly tying is not an exact science.

In tying a fly which will attract and perhaps catch a fish, one needs to first consider how the imitation (fly), is presented to the fish, and that the fly imitates the natural fish food (i.e. insect, minnow, etc.), in terms of size, shape and features. Lastly, that the imitation represents the natural food in terms of its color. I tried also to emphasize that a fly tier does not need to duplicate a standard fly pattern exactly in terms of the materials that comprise the fly. And I would submit that a fish cannot distinguish between the hen hackle from a mallard duck and a similar hen hackle from a Guinea Fowl.

During the week following our Wet Fly Workshop, I was leafing through one of my fly fishing reference books (The Art of the Trout Fly by Judith Dunham), and came across several quotes from ‘famous fly tiers’. From this book, I would like to share, a quote from Dave Whitlock.

“When I began to tie flies, I would not even show my flies to people, because I did not have blue dun hackle, jungle cock feathers or the other special materials I had read about. But it seemed that those scraggly knots of hair, feather and sewing thread were enormously successful at catching fish. What I later began to realize as an adult was that anyone could be a fly-fisher and that individuality is important in this sport”.

And from another article written by Hugh McDowell, I found the following passage.

“People often ask me, ‘How do you decide when you have reached a satisfactory level of fly tying’? I do not know the answer or indeed if there is one, but you will know that you are on the right track when you find yourself opening your fly box and confidently choosing one of your own flies rather than a store bought one.”

It was years ago that I learned what Mr. Whitlock spoke of, when I started catching fish on my own creations, but I am still in pursuit of Mr. McDowell’s level of fly tying satisfaction. Hopefully, I’ll get there before I make my last cast.