They say that nothing good comes easy – this is definitely true in the world of fly tying. Even a simple pattern, without the right skillset and techniques, can turn into a disaster in a hurry. Countless hours combined with trial and error at the vice is the only way to master the craft of effective fly tying. For those of us logging those hours, there are a few ways we can make life easier along the way.
I spend a lot of time cruising social media to admire the work of my fellow peers, seek inspiration and do my best to encourage those who are on a similar journey that I am currently on in the tying world. We can only get better together. One thing I’ve noticed – some tyers have some brilliant tying setups. These tyers have mini fly shops in their garages and basements that blow my mind and they do it well - nothing but the best gear, tools and products. I cannot agree more with the idea that using better products yields better results. This goes for anything in the production world. With that said, there’s another element of success that even a beginner tyer can implement right away without the use of bells and whistles to start seeing better results – Organization.
Organization provides many benefits – you could even say organizational skills can benefit every single element of the tying process from start to finish. Unlike the tyers I mention above – I don’t have that garage or basement that’s ready and waiting to be converted to the ultimate bug station. I started tying on a TV tray at my couch and eventually upgraded to taking over the dining room table (how I convinced my wife to allow this to happen is an entirely different tutorial in itself – stay tuned). Now that I had this 3’ x 3’ space available to me, it was time to make the most of the space I could. In keeping this space clean and organized, I’ve been able provide a better and consistent product, tie faster and remain focused on the task in front of me. I’ve found that once a pile of different materials hit the table, my mind wanders to “What will I tie next?” or “Oh! This seems like it would work here!” instead of sticking to the dozen or two I sat down to tie.
Here are a few elements of organization that I implement on the daily – as well as a tip that isn’t so much organization related but may help you tie better:
Many people utilize all sorts of holders in the tying world. For me, it’s mason jars. Mason jars help me keep everything compact, sorted and easily visible. Some of the taller jars can be utilized to safely store feathers and other materials that need to maintain their original shape. A clear jar allows me to see even the small odds and ends at the bottom of the jar or identify marker colors (if they don’t have colored caps). Being a kitchen table tyer, these jars have also allowed for easy storage in a box or on a shelf when company comes over and we need to use the table. It’s a nice and compact way to keep things fairly mobile and extremely organized.
Apart from storing the flies of my labors – fly boxes have become a crucial part of my tying endeavors. These small compartment cases help keep all my beads, hooks and other miscellaneous parts sorted and ready to go. I tie a lot of Nymphs – all of which require a specific bead head. Some are brass, some are tungsten slotted, some are tungsten countersunk and some are glass. I won’t even get into how each of the styles I’ve listed come in different sizes and color combinations. A small label in the bottom of each section helps me identify what’s what and also helps me identify what I need to reorder at a quick glance.
The benefits of a thread rack should be self-explanatory. If you’re like me, having more spools than you think you have is a fact of life. I started with a small bag of the common thread types, then I graduated to a small case, then two small cases – one for thread, one for tying wire. Before I knew it, my spool collection exploded and it would take me 15 minutes of rummaging through cases and cases just to find what I was looking for. These racks changed my life! You can find them at any local fabric/sewing supply store and usually come in 30, 60 and 120 spool options.
You probably already use freezer bags in some way, shape or form at the tying table. I remember my first tying kit came entirely in a freezer bag. Over time, I naturally acquired more and more material. My bags then went from “everything” to “Nymph” and “Dry” materials. As the growth continued, so did the chaos. Things then graduated to categories like dubbing, furs, saddle hackle, foam, tinsel, etc. This move changed the game for me. Finding my materials went from minutes to seconds and I find these bags are much more a space saver than a container or a bin. My current setup has involved breaking these bags out in further subcategories superfine dubs, ICE dubs, fur types by animal and feather types.
The hackle case has been one of my finest upgrades. In the tying world, it’s tough to find a sweeter feeling than coming home with your go-to brand’s $75+ hackle cape and putting it to work. Safely storing this cape can be tricky at times, especially with limited space. I bought a 12” sectioned fly case, broke the sections out in four longer columns (literally broke the sections like a savage) and labelled them by size. I then plucked out my capes, and used a hackle gauge to sort the feathers into piles. The hackle on my flies is so much more consistent now that I’ve taken the time to sort things out. Be sure to put them all in the same direction to make it easier to pull from.
While not really to do with organization, I need to mention the importance of lighting and how lack thereof can affect the quality of your ties. Bright is always better – yes – but perhaps more important than bright is color temperature. Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K). A typical big box LED lamp ranges from 2200K-5000K. The higher the number, the cooler (whiter) the light will appear. Think of it as the color of light from the time the sun rises to high noon. Everything starts off in a nice glow (sunrise – 2200K-ish) to full brightness (noon – 5000K-ish). These numbers aren’t exact, but you should get the point. Without getting too much further into detail – the higher the Kelvin, the higher the color rendition (or CRI), or the ability to see colors (to a certain point) for what the really are. The same goes for fine details. At sunset, everything looks a lot similar in color – glowing a nice orange or yellow at the warm end of the scale. At noon, you should be able to see everything for what it is. Beyond 5000K, everything starts to look the same color again, closer to the cold end of the color scale. Long story short, put aside your old 60W light bulb and try tying under 4000K light. Details are more visible, color matching is easier and it’s much easier on your eyes.