Fly tying isn’t just a way to beat the cost of buying pre-tied flies: it’s an art in itself.
But it can be a tough transition from buying those beautifully crafted nymphs to creating your own, and where to start can be confusing.
We’re here to help, and if you want to get started tying your own flies, we’ve got the info you need. Below, you’ll find an in-depth discussion of how to get started, answering your questions about kits vs. individual components.
You’ll also find no-nonsense reviews of some of the best starter kits on the market, as well as explanations of key components and recommendations as to the best options to buy.
Here’s a quick glance at the the best fly tying kits:
Table of Contents (clickable)
Creative Anglers Wooden Tying Station certainly has the aesthetics fly anglers are looking for, but does it deliver the fly-tying utility they need?
I’d answer with a qualified “yes.”
This kit comes with an EZ rotary vise that attaches to the tying station to hold it steady. It’s not a bad vise for the money, and it’s a reasonably good place for a beginner to start. For my money, I’d say that this is the lowest quality vise I’d consider, and only then since it comes with an additional C-clamp to attach it to a table of your choice, obviating the sometimes sketchy quality of the wooden station.
This kit also includes tweezers, several bobbins, a bobbin threader, two tying tools, a hair stacker, a bodkin, and plenty of basic materials to tie flies.
You’ll find an instructional book enclosed as well, and it covers the basics of fly tying and how-to-guides for a variety of popular flies.
The tool quality is acceptable, as are the included materials, but don’t expect top-of-the-line items.
The wooden base itself is most often the problematic component, as it’s far too flimsy to hold up to much use. Indeed, some bases have arrived broken and needed to be repaired or returned before they could be used.
Do yourself a favor and reinforce the base with finishing nails (and wood glue) from the start, or just skip the box and clamp the vise to a convenient table.
Overall, this kit delivers the basics you’ll need to get started, including a better-than-average vise.
I doubt you can find a fly angler who isn’t familiar with the Orvis brand, and it’s a name that’s legendary on every stream in America.
Their fly tying kit, while one of the more expensive possibilities, is also among the best options for beginners, including everything they need to begin tying and offering quality that most other kits simply don’t.
This kit comes with a vise, tweezer, whip finishing tool, bobbin holder, scissors, bodkin, and hair stacker, as well as the wire, thread, hooks, cement, beads, and assorted dressing materials you’ll need to make 160 flies. It also includes an instructional DVD, a nice touch that’s probably better than a booklet for getting novice fly-tyers started.
The vise and tool quality is pretty good, and while it won’t rival Dr. Slick or Peak, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Considering that this kit will set you back only a bit more than a Peak rotary vise, that’s not a bad buy at all!
If I were buying a fly-tying kit, this would be the one I’d pick as it offers the best ratio of price to quality.
Scientific Anglers Deluxe Fly-Tying Kit is bargain-priced, but in fishing as in life, you typically get what you pay for.
This kit supplies a vise, scissors, bobbin holder, whip finishing tool, bobbin threader, hair stacker, and scissors. You’ll also find enclosed cement, hooks, thread, wire, and the assorted materials for fly tying.
The issue is that for the money they’re asking for this kit, quality is going to be questionable--and you really should be asking about it!
The vise is adequate at best, and especially for smaller flies, it just can’t hold them with enough authority to allow you to wrap thread or wire around them. The tools, too, are pretty sketchy, and while I have no doubt that you can tie flies with them, getting good results will be harder than it should be.
That’s never a good thing for beginners, and while you don’t need name-brand tools to learn to tie, you don’t want to be fighting your lack of skill and poor tool quality at the same time.
For fly anglers on a tight budget, this is worth giving a try, but I’d recommend holding off until you can afford the Orvis kit.
Hareline is another serious name in fly fishing, and they make the only kit that I’d consider buying other than the Orvis.
First off, be warned: Amazon offers the “premium” kit, but what’s actually for sale there is the “economy.” The difference is stark, as you can see from the vises each kit contains.
The “economy” vise.
The “premium” vise and tools.
That premium vise is the best on our list, and the scissors, bobbin holder, bodkin, tweezers, hair stacker, and tying tool are nice quality as well, rivaling if not exceeding the Orvis kit’s components.
And Hareline is in the business of making fly dressing materials, so the feather, dubbing, wire, thread, and other assorted items are top-notch.
Indeed, if you can afford to spend about 30% more than the already pricy Orvis kit, it’s very hard to beat what Hareline offers, even if you’re buying the individual components yourself to put together the same set of tools and materials.
In a sense, then, this kit is the diametric opposite of the Scientific Anglers option: in this case, you get what you pay for, and that’s a lot!
For novice fly-tiers, it’s tempting to buy a pre-assembled kit.
Not only can this take the guesswork out of component choices, but it can also get you started faster, helping you make the jump to tying your own flies.
The problem with kits, as pretty much all old-hands at tying agree, is low quality.
With some tools, this isn’t a deal-breaker. For instance, in my experience, one bodkin or dubbing needle is pretty much like another. But try to tie a fly without a good bobbin holder and vise, and you’ll quickly discover the difference quality makes!
I can’t tell you what’s right for you--and I won’t try.
Instead, I’ll offer the pros and cons of each option.
Keep in mind, however, that top-flight kits like those from Orvis or Hareline offer quality tools--but you’ll pay for them!
Pre-assembled kits are typically the least expensive option, but that’s not always the case. And since they’re designed to cover your bases, especially for novice tiers, you can be pretty sure that you have what you need to get started.
That’s a good thing. They demand the least forethought from you, making them ideal if you don’t know where to get started or if you’re buying a kit as a gift for that special angler in your life.
The downside to pre-assembled kits is that it’s tough to balance an accessible price with high-quality components. While the pheasant tail, beads, wire, thread, and other materials should be fine, the vises supplied with kits tend to be flimsy affairs that just don’t work as well as they should. The bobbin holders, scissors, and other tools can be OK, but even there, you’ll want to upgrade if you decide to tie your own flies long-term.
There are exceptions to these quality issues, and we’ve recommended the Orvis and Hareline kits precisely because the tools they include are high-quality.
The other option is to do your homework, scour reviews like this one, and figure out what you need on your own. You can then purchase the individual items you want, choosing each one to suit your budget and needs.
With this option, you get the quality you’re willing to pay for, so you know the tools, vise, and materials are exactly what you’re looking for. But it can take more time than you think to research each component of your custom kit, and this can get expensive fast!
A fly tying vise holds your tiny hooks while you wrap thread and wire, apply dubbing and feathers, and form your knots to hold everything together. The single most important piece of fly tying equipment, a good vice makes tying easier, while a bad one will have you struggling to wrap tightly and tie solid knots.
Among the best on the market, you’ll find the amazing Peak.
Ideal for beginners as well as experts, if you’re looking for a stand-alone vise to complete your personal kit, you can do a lot worse than the Peak.
Sharp, tiny scissors are a fly tying essential, and snipping the tiny threads and other components you’ll wrap to a fly takes precision that a standard kitchen shear just can’t deliver.
Dr. Slick’s got you covered, and if you’re looking for a pair of scissors to get you started or complete your kit, look no further.
Dr. Slick Hair Scissors are perhaps the best option out there.
Bobbin holders come in several different designs, but they all share a common purpose: holding a bobbin full of thread and feeding it smoothly as you wrap your flies.
Ceramic is the best material for the “eye” of the holder, allowing smooth flow with no chance of breaking the slender thread.
My favorite: the Rite Ceramic Standard Bobbin Holder. It won’t let you down.
A bodkin is essentially a long needle that’s great for applying cement in precise drops.
Dr. Slick’s Bodkin is a top choice.
Hair stackers come in different materials and sizes, but they all work to achieve one goal: allowing you to create a uniform, clean fly that looks life-like.
As with many other fly tying products, Dr. Slick is the name to trust, and I really like their Hair Stacker.
This strange-looking device allows you to tie the tiny knots that hold a fly together, and without one, you may as well not start tying a fly!
Dr. Slick’s Whip Finisher is my personal favorite, and it’ll quickly become yours, too.
Head cement is fly glue, and a drop or two keeps your knots intact and holds everything together on your fly.
Loon’s Hard Head Non-Toxic Head Cement is the industry standard and the most popular brand you’ll find.
If you live in a dry climate, you may need to apply a bit of dubbing wax to get your fly to look right. If you do, reach for Loon’s Outdoors Swax High Tack Dubbing Wax.
Most flies today are made with a bead, adding weight and shine to the front-end. These tiny beads from Angler Dream work really well.
Shiny, metallic wire is used to wrap a fly, creating the appearance of segments and adding a bit of flash.
I really like UTC Ultra Wire, and it’s available in a rainbow of colors to match the hatch in your local stream, wherever you happen to live!
When you’re looking for material to craft a fly’s wings, nothing beats pheasant tail. And the brand to trust is Hairline.
Hareline Ringneck Pheasant Tail Feathers are a fly angler’s trusted choice, and they’re available in a range of colors to help you make the ideal fly for your local area.
Dubbing creates the body of your fly, and no one does it better than Hareline.
I like Hareline’s Superfine Dry Fly Dubbing, and I’m pretty sure you will, too.
A fly tying staple, strong thread is a must, and nothing’s more frustrating than trying to wrap a fly only to have the thread break continuously.
That won’t happen with Danville's Flymaster Plus 140 Denier Thread. It’s crazy strong and available in a fantastic range of colors.
From the appearance of legs or feelers to the delicate details that make a fly fool a trout, experienced fly tyers know that peacock herl is a must.
Dr. Fish’s Peacock Herl is among the best, and it’s been the trusted choice for years.
Worms and wingless larva are made from colorful, fluffy chenille.
Greatfishing’s Chenille is inexpensive, effective, and available in a host of hues that’ll trick any trout.
Whichever choice is right for you, we hope that this article has helped clarify your options and started you down the path to tying flies at home.
We’d love to hear from you if it has, so please leave a comment below.