Charlie Craven for FlyFisherman Magazine February 14, 2012
As a long time commercial fly tyer, I have become used to people marveling about how fast I can tie. Truth be told, short of an emergency deadline or a late night followed by an early morning trip, I really prefer to tie slowly and methodically, but when the heat is on I am proud to say that I can really knock some flies out of the vise. Given that we’d all like to tie faster, whether from a commercial tying standpoint or simply to ease through a batch of flies with less time and effort involved, I offer these ten tips compiled after years behind a hot vise…
1.) Practice. I know everyone is hoping for a magic bullet to speed up their tying immediately, but frankly, I never encourage anyone to try to tie quickly. Speed comes from familiarity and familiarity comes from practice. Knowing the pattern at hand well enough to tie it from memory, knowing the materials and order of steps and feeling comfortable and at ease with the process leads to easier, more efficient tying. Practice, practice, practice. The more flies you tie, the better you’ll get and we all know there is no such thing as too many flies. Branch out and tie a wide variety of patterns, even if you may not think you’ll fish them. Each pattern contains a lesson and the more patterns you master the more techniques you’ll become familiar with.
2.) Never put your scissors down. Ever. Carry your scissors looped over the ring finger of your dominant hand, inserting your thumb into the opposing loop when needed to make a cut. This leaves the rest of your fingers available for normal tying procedures with the tool stowed safely and at the ready in the palm of your hand. Carrying the scissors in your hand at all times eliminates losing them amidst a pile of errant materials and has them at the ready for any job, from clipping the butt ends of a tail to separating hair clumps for a wing. Carrying the scissors may feel a bit awkward at first, but it becomes second nature quite quickly and is a tremendous time saver.
3.) Get organized. Having to stop and search for each tool and material is a speed killer. Set only the essential tools and materials out on your bench and place them in the same spot each time you tie. Dubbing goes on my left, my whip finisher right at the base of my vise, hooks spread out on the right. Having only the needed materials available and in the usual spots eliminates hunting down the next thing. The tying process becomes much smoother and more efficient without a gigantic pile of slag to sort through after each step.
4.) Start your thread with a short tag. Not only saving myself at least four dollars in thread over the course of my thirty plus years of tying, but this little time saver also eliminates the step of clipping off the tag end after the thread start. Small things like this make a big difference in the long run. Save a step wherever you can and flies start to fall out of the vise much more quickly.
5.) Concentrate on being efficient. Make short circles of thread with your bobbin. A short length of thread between the end of your bobbin and the hook is easier to control and faster to wrap. Don’t make more turns of thread than are necessary. If two tight wraps will secure a material, don’t make seven. Be conscious of wasted efforts and steps.
6.) Rather than having your hooks in the box they came in, or worse yet, in a bound up pile, shake them out so they fall loosely on the table and are well separated. Loose hooks are quick and easy to reach over and grab rather than having to untangle them from a knotted pile.
7.) Use good tools and materials. Dull scissors and rough bobbins are time thieves. Any tool you have to fiddle with or adjust for steals seconds away from efficient tying. Sharp scissors cut when and where you need, smooth bobbins never fray the thread and feed thread more evenly. Quality materials also contribute to efficient tying. Consistent, evenly mixed and loosely packed dubbing adheres to the thread much more easily without having to take time to separate out unneeded guard hairs or knits. Pre-selected and sized hackle feathers go from the bench top straight to the hook without any extra steps or accommodations. You want everything on your bench to be prepped and ready to tie into each fly.
8.) Prep materials ahead of time where practical. I usually cut all my strands of flash to length and set them on the bench top before I start to tie so I don’t have a static charged mess to deal with on each new fly. Hackle feathers are all pre-selected and sized appropriately; lengths of poly yarn for wings, spade hackles for tails, marabou, rubber legs, foam strips, and ribbing material are all separated and cut to efficient useable lengths and at the ready to save the extra step in the actual tying process. Wrap lead wire onto the shanks ahead of time for weighted flies. Doing this step all at once makes for better consistency and leaves the hook ready to be picked up and tied into a fly without an additional step in the tying process.
9.) Loosen up your dubbing. Natural dubbing like beaver, hare’s mask, and rabbit fur typically come in a tightly packed baggie. The fur is packed tightly together into a mat and is hard to separate and work from. Run your natural fur dubbings through a coffee grinder/dubbing blender or use my canned air and Zip-Loc bag technique to loosen up the strands. This loose dubbing is easier to separate, adheres to the thread much more evenly and is much more efficient to apply.
10.) Think about tying faster. I know this one sounds silly, but if you concentrate on making quick efficient turns of thread, not fumbling with materials, smoothly applying each piece to the hook and moving your hands quicker each time, speed comes much sooner. As I mentioned, I love to tie at a relaxed, easy going pace, but shifting gears when I’m producing or in a hurry makes a huge difference in the size of the pile of flies sitting next to me at the end of the day. Step up your pace a bit on each fly and you may be surprised how smoothly things can go after a bit of time.