Article by Jason Akl
There are many fly-tying pitfalls that a newly christened fly tier can fall into but one of the worst is not being organized. Can you ever remember getting to one of the last steps in finishing your favorite fly pattern and with one hand being held in place you reach out to grab hold of the scissors but can seem to find them under all the clutter at your tying bench? Or similarly getting the hackle perfect on that special dry fly and not being able to come up with your whip finisher. If this never happened to you, I take my hat of to you. You definitely have an advantage over most of us fly tiers out there who are stricken with sloppiness. It took me a good 2 years and a Tupperware bin from my girlfriend to kick the bad habit of just sticking the materials and tools anywhere. Being organized is an easy step that any fly tier can take to make his or her flies come out better. Organization can save time and materials by keeping things in the right spot so you can do the best job possible on every pattern that comes off your vice.
The Thought Process: Like most when I started out I just wanted to try and learn how to tie most patterns right but never considered how to go about organizing myself to make it work. Occasionally I would see fly patterns that catch my eye and I would try to tie it right away. Not thinking… I blame it on testosterone; I would jump into my chair and dubbing would be flying everywhere. Then came the ribbing no problem, things could not be any easier it seemed. Until the dreaded abdomen, where I realize that there was suppose to be some poly-yarn tied in as wings. I would have to go back and un-wrap the body and then proceed to tie the fly correctly. As if fly tying is not hard enough to learn most people like myself insist on making it harder by not properly preparing materials before tying. I am not saying by any means that you need to learn some type of yoga and be a neat freak to become a good fly tier, just think ahead. For example: if I am going to be tying 2 tellico nymphs I will make two piles on my fly tying desk of all the materials needed. I would get out the 2 hooks, 2 hackles, 2 groups of 5-7 pheasant tail fibers for the tail, 2-peacock herls etc. I would also fix the shellback with Dave’s Flexament before I started so that when I reach the step that the shell is needed, it will have already dried and be ready to go. This all sounds simple enough, but you cannot imagine how much time you save by having your materials sitting out in front of you; as opposed to rummaging through a bin to find them each and every time. Another advantage of preparing your materials ahead of time is that you are less likely to forget to include a sparsely used material causing you to go back and retie the fly a second time.
The Fly Tying Bench: I used to equate my thought process for the organization of my fly tying bench to how I treated my bedroom as a kid. Well it might be messy, but it is my mess and I know where everything is, or so I thought. I cannot count the times I got stuck in the middle of a fly because I did not have the discipline enough to stick my good pair scissors back in their proper place. It took a lesson from my two black labs to finally teach me that my tools after being used should be put back into their proper place. I have lost 2 out of 3 rubber bullet-head makers, one really nice bobbin and countless permanent markers to the curiosity of dogs. Really, how hard is it to assign tools to a certain place on your fly tying desk? Being right-handed I keep my scissors and whip finisher on my right side so they are easily accessible for when I am finishing a fly. On the same note, the left-hand side of my desk is reserved for the tools that I normally use with my left hand, such as a few different styles of hackle pliers, tweezers and assorted bodkins. You will thank yourself the next time you get into a jam when tying a fly, by having the right tool nearby to fix the problem. To remedy those stray, tiny hook bags and boxes, Cabela’s offers locking hook boxes that come in different sizes with ~7 compartments to each one. You can write on the top of the clear compartments with permanent markers to label your hook sizes and styles. I also find this a superior place to store my cone and bead heads. As for the set-up of the desk; I personally like to make myself a small workshop in the basement where I can be away from all distractions. Simply put, I like to have all my fly tying materials and equipment close to hand, ready for use. When constructing my own workshop I used a sheet of plywood as a desk top sitting of a pair of table horses. I covered the plywood with some left-over light-colored wallpaper (stapled it down, no paste needed) so that I could easily find hooks and clean the table top.
The Material Bin: Again like the first two areas’ covered above, this was a serious problem for me when I entered the ranks of fly tying. When you first start out learning how to tie flies you really do not have enough materials to make a mess, you wish you did but you don’t. A few material swaps and all your hunting friends bribed with stories of free flies and the next thing you know there is fur and feathers everywhere. I used to try and keep my materials in a cardboard box with no lid. Hey, it seemed like a great idea, everything in one place, no problem. Little did I know that the more you need to find something the more likely it is buried somewhere you will never find it. I struggled on like this for a few years until my girlfriend got the ingenious idea of buying one of those big Rubbermaid bins, a box of Glad ziplock bags and separating the bin into different sections with cardboard. For fewer than 10 dollars she saved the better part of my hair from turning gray, well at least the little bit that is left. It has become convenient and productive for me to be able to package each material separately and have it located in a certain place in my bin. When you need something you go right to it, no more messing around. Another advantage of using Tupperware bins is that most of them come with snap-shut lids. So when you are done at the end of the day simply close up the bin and stow it away, then you never have to worry about dampness, or intruders (naughty little kitties and puppies). Now with a bin that has a locking lid, we no longer chase the cat around the house trying to pry the golden pheasant necks out of its mouth. Another thought on this would be to use one of those plastic drawer towers that contain multiple level storage compartments. You can assign each of the different drawers for certain types of materials, for example the top level bin is for hackles and soft feathers. The second level houses furs, coarse hairs and dubbings. And your last tier could be for synthetic materials like flashes and foams. It cannot be stressed enough to keep the bin or drawers closed at the end of the day, there is nothing like coming in the room to find that the family pet or toddler has been entertaining themselves with your expensive materials.
Lighting: The lighting for most fly tying desks is one very critical item that seemingly gets overlooked by most tiers. First and foremost tying small flies already puts a strain on your eyes so do not make it worse by not having a light source around. Secondly when you are placing materials on your fly like dubbings the proper light can make all the difference in how well you are able to blend the materials together. I started out tying on the dinner table with a large ceiling light overhead. It seemed like ample light but after close review of my flies I was noticing small gaps being left between subsequent wraps of tinsels or dubbing. I now have a small 100 Watt desk lamp that I turn on when I tie and believe me it makes things a whole lot easier. The nice feature of the desk lamp is that you can move it to any angle or distance that you need it. When I wrap salmon fly bodies with tinsel I adjust the light to 5-6 inches from the fly so that I make sure I am not leaving any gaps between the flat tinsel wraps.
Well hopefully seeing some of my early downfalls and organization tips can help you to not make the same mistakes I did, when you learn to tie flies. Most of all, through the mess and cleanliness, good-looking flies and ugly flies just have fun with what you are tying.
Tight lines and Smooth threads. Jason Akl