Fly Tying Tools

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Ok, it’s time to jump right in and learn about the fly tying tools you’ll need to have in order to get started tying flies. This is not an all-inclusive list of all the fly tying tools you’ll ever need. This is simply a list of tools that will get you started and will allow you to tie the majority of the flies that you’ll tie in your first couple of years. Remember, to get started, you don’t need the absolute best fly tying tools available but you also don’t want the bottom of the barrel either. Find something that’s middle of the road. If you buy cheap tools and they don’t work well for you, it will only lead to frustration and a premature exit from a very worthwhile and satisfying hobby. Here we go…

One option to consider is to go ahead and purchase the tools in a complete set. This isn’t always the wisest thing to do but if you purchase from a reputable supplier like Orvis then it is definitely worth your while.

Bobbin – A fly tying bobbin is a thread holder that puts tension on the thread spool. The weight of the bobbin hanging down from the hook holds the thread in place while you prepare to tie in additional material.
Bobbin Threader – a bobbin threader is a neat little device that allows you to easily thread your tying thread through the tiny neck of the bobbin. It is usually about 6″ in length with a roughly 2″ handle and a 4″ piece of looped wire attached to it. The pointed wire loop is inserted down through the neck of the bobbin. The thread is inserted through the loop in the wire and then the threader is pulled out, pulling the thread along with it.
Bodkin – A bodkin, also sometimes referred to as a dubbing needle, is simply a heavy needle inset into a comfortable handle. Bodkins are used to apply cement, free tied down hackle fibers and pick out other bound down fibers.
Hackle Gauge – this is very simply a small gauge used to measure the length of the hackle. You wrap the hackle around this gauge to determine if the hackle you’ve selected is the right size for the hook you’re using.
Hackle Pliers – Hackle pliers are basically a tiny, hand-held clamp for holding feathers (and also other material) while they are wound around the hook.
Hair Stacker – a stacker is a tool that aligns the tips of various hairs so that they can be neatly tied onto flies. It is 2 sections of hollowed out metal fitted together. One piece is hollow the whole way through it and has a funnel-type opening and the other piece has a flat bottom to it. Hair is inserted into the tube and tapped until the tips are all aligned. The hollow piece with the hair in it is extracted from the other piece and attached to the fly.
Half Hitch Tool – Half-hitch tools are slender metal cylinders with holes at the end the allow you to tie in a quick half-hitch to hold the thread when in the middle of tying a fly. To use the tool you first match the size of the hole in the end of one of the tools to the size of the hook eye and then lay the tool on top of the thread, twist the thread around the tool once, and with the tool up against the eye, slide the thread off onto the hook to make the half-hitch. You can get these in packages of three so that the tyer ends up with six different sizes of holes with which to work but the more convenient method is to buy a bodkin that has an integrated half-hitch tool in the handle so you’re not fussing with multiple tools. This is the option that I show here.
Matarelli Whip Finisher – A whip finisher is a tool that allows the tier to finish off a tied fly with a self-sealing knot called the whip finish. The use of this tool can be tricky to learn but once learned it can be done very quickly.
Scissors – You may think this one would be self-explanatory but there are a few things that should be mentioned. Don’t buy the cheapest pair. I recommend a good starter pair in the $15 – $20 range. Anything less than that won’t hold up if you decide to continue. Buy a pair that fit your fingers and are comfortable. You’ll be using them a lot. Make sure the tips are very fine and cut well at the tip as you’ll be working with very fine material and will need to make a close cut. You may want to consider purchasing an inexpensive second pair to cut harder materials such as wire. Don’t over analyze this one. Let your gut decide.
Tweezers – I don’t think these need a whole lot of explaining. There are a myriad of uses for tweezers in flying tying but they are used primarily for pulling out fibers that have been accidentally bound down to the hook. You can also use them for picking up tiny hooks or other hard to handle materials.
Vise – A fly tying vise is simply a clamp to hold a hook firmly so that thread and materials can be applied to it. The primary concerns in selecting a vise would be the ability to hold a hook securely and the ease of operation.
I’m going to go ahead and make a recommendation here. Renzetti has come out with a new travel vise that is exactly what the budget-minded fly tier is looking for. It’s lightweight, durable and best of all it’s inexpensive.
Fly Tying Bench – I saved this one for last because it definitely is not a necessity in getting started with fly tying but it does help. A fly tying bench allows you to keep all of your tools, supplies and materials all in a compact space so there’s no need to search for anything. This one is a little dear to me because I built mine myself. I researched different benches and created this bench from many different bench ideas. It was so simple to do. I went to Lowe’s and purchased the wood (all oak) in precut widths and all I had to do was cut them to length and assemble them. I did it in a weekend. I didn’t really keep track of the costs but I’m fairly sure that I bought everything for under $50. A comparable bench sells for at least $150 so it’s well worth it. If you have any questions on how to do this yourself, don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll do everything I can to help out.
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