Article by Steve Schweitzer
Quality of the Materials
Like your tools, the quality and choice of materials is of utmost importance. Buy a cheap
$8 hen’s neck for dry flies and the webby feathers will absorb water, sinking your dry fly.
On the other-hand, that same neck may make for great streamer feathers. All materials
are useful to the fly-tyer, but each is best suited for specific situations. Again, get to
understand the material you want to buy and get the best you can afford.
What do I mean by “understanding and knowing” the types of materials you need for
tying? For example, if you want to tie a few nymphs, the material quality is less important
than materials for a few dry flies. The nymphs should be buggy looking and absorb water
nicely. Fortunately, most inexpensive materials are great for nymphs. On the other hand,
when tying dry flies, the neck hackle should have good stiff fiber density and be free of
webby material. Additionally, the body dubbing on a dry fly should contain naturally water-
resistant tendencies, like that of muskrat or beaver fur. Ask questions of an experienced
tyer when buying materials to add to your collection. That discussion may save you
hundreds of dollars down the road, plus, some materials are easier to get and to work
with than others. Thatís getting to know your materials.
Once you get adept at deciphering quality materials vs. junk scraps, you’ll enter into the
genre of material collectors like a friend of mine, Bob D., who collects rare and exotic fur
& feathers just for his “viewing collection”. He also has a duplicate set of materials he ties
with. He is one of the more knowledgeable folks around on the tying qualities of most any
material. It’s good to find a gent like Bob to ask questions of from time to time.
The Basic Materials
Iíll stick to the basic materials needed to outfit a starter fly tying kit. The materials listed
below have been selected to provide the beginning fly tyer a wide range of materials to
tie the largest selection of common patterns, which are accepted and useful worldwide.
For certain, I have listed quite a few items, not all is needed right away. Pick a few
patterns that youíll want to tie and buy the materials to get you going. I suggest patterns
like a woolly bugger, hareís ear nymph; pheasant tail nymph, an Adams dry fly and a Royal
Wulff. I have listed the flies, for the most part, in a “tying ease” order, easiest first. Weíll
refer to them as the “Basic 5” and reference the materials needed to tie just those. (The
materials needed for the Basic 5 are bolded) This will help you buy the bare minimum
materials to get started and yet have materials to tie quite a few patterns. Now, on with
the complete beginnerís list.
- A Section of Hare’s Mask
- A Squirrel Tail
- White Calf Tail
- Zonker Stripes (center cut rabbit strips:
black, brown, natural, olive, rust)
- Natural Deer Hair – Long for spinning and
short for hair wings like a caddis or
- Natural and Bleaches Elk Hair
- Fine Quality Necks, or a selection of
different sized feathers plucked & matched
according to size. The most popular variants
are grizzly, black, furnace, white and dun.
Don’t buy whole necks until you
are comfortable in knowing what to look for.
Necks are expensive.
- Pheasant Tail Feathers
- Partridge or Quail black feathers
- Marabou (black, brown, olive, white)
- Peacock Herl
- Turkey Tail Feathers
- Goose Biots (black, brown, olive, rust)
Miscellaneous Craft Material
- Chenille (black, brown, olive, & white to
- Gold Tinsel (oval, flat, twisted rope)
- Brass & Copper Beadheads & lead dumb-
bell eyes, varied sizes
- Red yarn
- Krystal Flash (perlescent)
- Brass & Copper Wire, a few different sizes
- Antron Yarn (cream, brown, tan, rust, olive)
- Perlescent Mylar
- Egg glo-bug yarn (red, yellow, pink, etc.)
- Floss (red, yellow, green, orange, white,
free stuff from around the house
- Plastic shopping bags
- Colored rubber bands
- Use Your Imagination!!!
- Larvae Lace (black, brown, clear)
- Rainy’s Float foam or the craft foam
- Wood duck or substitute
- Guinea feathers
- Turkey Flats
- A whole pheasant skin
Consider colored mixtures including rabbit fur, muskrat or beaver fur, and squirrel
fur dubbing. Rabbit, beaver, muskrat and squirrel are too hard to beat when it
comes to natural fur dubbings. Some new synthetic blends on the market are
wonderful supplements to your kit, but can be expensive. SLF is an example. I
prefer SLF as a replacement for sealís fur for salmon flies and steelhead flies, but
the cost is prohibitive of buying every shade made! Dubbing also can be found in
the form of shredded yarn or your (gasp!) dog or cat. Be creative!
As mentioned above, beaver and muskrat fur make great dry fly bodies due to the
furís ultra-fine consistency and of its natural water-repellent nature. Rabbit fur makes
for great underwater water flies such as nymphs and leeches. It absorbs water
quickly and has a seductive undulating motion when underwater. Other under-furs
such as fox, coyote, weasel, and mink all are good substitutes. Even the fine wool-like
fibres under the rich coat of a winter deer-hide make for good dubbing blends.
Try to build your collection of dubbing furs around the colors below, starting with the
natural colors first.
- Natural Tan
- Caddis larvae Green
- Pale Yellow
- Dark Green
With the above colors of dubbing, you can custom blend almost any shade
or variant needed. Combining the above dubbing colors and furs with
synthetics such as krystal flash can make for some very interesting
and attractive dubbings as well.
Tying Thread Colors
Generally, spools of size 6 & 8 will do the trick. Don’t use sewing thread.
It isn’t manufactured to be underwater for any duration and it isn’t
manufactured to withstand the tension stress when tying on materials to
Common Tying Thread Colors