“Fly Tying 101”-Basic tools to get you started

If you are new to fly tying you will soon be finding out just how much “stuff” you can acquire. Over the years you may find yourself with bins of material that you hardy use, along with doubles and triples of other things because you forgot that so-called list when you went to the fly shop. Ah yes – that never ending and never around ‘list’.

If you are starting out bare bones, I would highly recommend running out and grabbing a fly tying kit. They are readily available in fly shops, online and in some outdoor supply stores. A fly tying kit will give you the majority of the tools needed and a good variety of starting materials (plus some of them also include an instruction book and DVD with patterns full of step-by-step tutorials) The only downside to a kit is that you will more than likely have a stationary vise and that may make tying some patterns difficult as you will have to remove the hook, turn it over and reinsert it into your vise. It’s not terrible, as its how many of us began; but an upgrade to a rotating vise will do wonders for your tying.

Tying Vise:

Your vise is one of the most important tools you will need, so try to find a sturdy one that will hold your hooks securely.

The Regal vise is cam operated and always under pressure, so your hooks remain securely in the jaws of your tying vise.

Depending on your vise there will be different ways in which you will close the jaws around the hook. Some of them are lever action (especially if you’re picking up a kit); and others such as the Regal Vise that I tie on are Cam operated and are always under pressure, which in turn means that hooks remain securely held.  Take a look at “Fly Tying 101: Securing the hook in your vise” for a step by step tutorial on how to work some of the vises.

Some will have have a table clamp and some will come with a base but when you are beginning you will need to experiment until you find out what works for you


After you’ve been tying for a while and say to yourself.. “Ive found my new obsession!” you may want to upgrade from your kit and pick up a set of good set of scissors.

A set of scissors from Dr. Slick

Dr. slick make very nice set of sharp scissors that come in a box set; but keep in mind before you throw out any old ones you will also want a pair of scissors that are not so nice. You will want to keep them when cutting materials that otherwise would dull them. For example: Having to cut chenille, wire, metal tinsel ect.

If you only have one pair, you can always use the way back area of your good scissors (many even have an indent that is good for that purpose) I tend to just use an old pair or pick up a few junky pairs from the $1.00 store. If your old pair looks exactly your new ones and it’s hard to tell them apart, I would recommend putting some marker or drop of color nail polish somewhere on them to tell them apart.

Whip finisher:

Ah yes.. the whip finisher. During more than one tying session Ive been told it “Looks like something out of a medieval torture chamber” and that its completely aggravating to use.

Well.. I cant argue that they look a little torturous!

Well..it does sort of look evil ..but I can assure you that once you get the hang of it, it actually becomes a lot of fun when finishing your flies! Not to mention it will become an extension of your arm to the point that it will become automatic and you’ll be finishing flies in no time.

Hair Stacker:

The hair stacker will become an invaluable tool down the line, especially when tying flies such as the elk hair caddis.

Great for leveling tips of elk hair.

Its used to level the tips of deer and elk hair before tying in.

Hackle Pliers:

Hackle pliers come in different shapes and sizes. As you continue to tie you may find that some pliers work better for certain techniques than they do for others. The way that hackle pliers work, are when you squeeze them they will open. You can then insert your material into the ‘jaws’. When you let go, they will close down around that material. This will allow you to wrap your material around the hook shank without having to put pressure on the pliers themselves. I prefer the one on the right, for me they have better control.

Hackle pliers

These will be used to grab your feather and wrap it around the hook they are also useful for wrapping Polish quills.


Bobbins are used to hold your thread. Different bobbins can be used to hold different materials so you want to find one that you are comfortable using because many standard Bobbins come in different sizes and shapes.

A standard bobbin, a Wasatch bobbin for silk and a Rite Bobbin

On the left we see a standard bobbin, the middle is a Wasatch bobbin for silk, and on the right we see a Rite Bobbin. While the standard and Rite bobbin are both used for thread, I tend to use the Rite Bobbin for bigger thread such as a 3/0 or GSP because taught pulling on the bobbin when spinning deer hair wont cause it to pop loose from the bobbin like it does in the standard. I always keep one bobbin loaded with lead/leadfree wire.

Bobbin threader: 

Bobbin threaders will make your life a whole lot easier, there are a few different types that you can use. See the link here on how to use a bobbin threader.

Bobbin threader.

Dubbing Needle/Velcro/Bodkin:

These will come in handy when teasing out material or roughing up the dubbing on flies such as the hares ear or caddis jig.

Dubbing spinner:

These help you spin the thread when creating a dubbing loop.

Dubbing spinners make spinning those dubbing loops easy!

Head Cement:

Some tyers use it, others dont. Its all personal preference.

The left I like for bigger flies and the one on the right i use for smaller ones since it has a built in pin nail in the bottle foe easy application.

Head cement is used to finish the heads on flies or to be dabbed on a thread base on a hook to help materials from slipping when being tied in.


There are different types of wax.

Experiment with waxes and see which works for you best.

Here on the left we see a standard tube of wax that you’d find in a kit, in the middle is a homemade hard wax that I picked up from my friend Eunan at a show, and on the right we see the ever elusive Wonder Wax! Each can be used for dubbing,  but over time you will come to find whats right for you; as some work better on different materials.


Another important thing you will need is good lighting. It will help to relieve eyestrain and you will be able to see better. It took me quite a while to find the right lamp, especially one I can use for travel but the way I finally found one, was attending the fly tying shows. Not from a salesman, but by watching people tie and taking a look at their setup. When I saw one that allowed me to see what they were tying clearly, I began to ask questions and eventually settled on buying the one that was right for me.

An optional – but essential tool is a bead holding pair of pliers.

an excellent bead holder

This is by no means a complete list but it will get you off on the right foot!

Back to Fly Tying 101!

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