Materials for Tying Flies
I intentionally use the word materials. Nearly anything can be used for tying flies. Heck one of my favorite “finds” for fly tying is the shiny tassels that fall off bike handle bar grips.
You can break the materials down into some categories, I’ll touch on the major ones, but the materials used in fly tying are often a way to brand a fly making it “exclusive”. Marketing to the folks buying flies and not making a difference to the fish biting.
If you’ve got a friend that hunts for birds or deer you can persevere the skins and use it. But I’ve found buying skins professionally tanned is much better than trying to tan skins yourself.
The one exception is if you see a road kill turkey or pheasant plucking some feathers and clipping off the skin is a great way to get some materials.
Video Overview of Fly Tying Materials
The two common sizes are 8/0 and 6/0. 6/0 is going to be stronger and thicker than 8/0. Usually, 8/0 is going to be used for fine dry flies and 6/0 will be used on nymphs and streamers. There is also a GEL SPUN POLYETHYLENE (GSP) that is extremely strong and great for tying large streamers and when spinning deer hair.
You can buy every imaginable color of thread. I’d recommend Black, Brown, Yellow (Light Cahill) and Red in the beginning. Later look at getting Gray, Olive and Orange.
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I’d start with a water-based cement like Loon Outdoors. Nail polish, like Sally Hansen Hard as nails is a great alternative. Super glues like Zap a Gap are also great.
Recently, I’ve started using the UV cure glues that cure with a UV torch (looks like a flash light). Applying the glue and then lighting it up with the torch is really convenient.
There are lots of different feathers used in tying. The most common are: Hackles, Primaries, Marabou, Tails and Herls.
Hackles come from different parts of chickens depending on the use. Those long thin feathers are from the neck and are used for fine dry fly collars.
Saddle Hackles comes from the rump area and is used for wings on streamers.
Rooster saddle hackles are used for wet or sunk flies.
To start get three colors of hackles Ginger (brown), Grizzly (white with black bars) and Black.
Hackles come in sizes appropriate for the fly you’re tying. Typically, the hackle size is 1 ½ the hook gap.
Primaries are the flank/chest of the bird and yield a variety of feathers used for wings, tails and quills
Marabou, is a downy soft feather used as a wing or tail. Look for some primary colors like Black, Olive, White and Red.
Herls are the long feathers that branch off peacock and ostrich tails. Usually used for wrapping the body of nymphs and sometimes used a wing. The most commonly used is peacock.
I’ve got an article that talks about fly tying materials and my strategy for fly tying 👉 Selecting Fly Tying Materials (Get Exactly What You Need)
Hair and Fur
Hollow hair like deer and elk are used for their buoyancy and spongy qualities. Different areas of the animal will yield different qualities. The belly hair of deer is lighter in color and has a finer diameter. The flank and back will provide coarser hair that is longer and flares when tied
Bucktail is long and is consistent in diameter and length and makes great streamer wings. The white underside can be died numerous colors.
Calf tail is used for wings, tails and posts on parachute dry flies. The crinkly texture is very useful.
Elk is coarser than deer and floats well and is pretty durable.
Furs like rabbit, hare’s mask, muskrat and fox are used for dubbing, wings and tails.
Yarns, Chenille and Floss
Wool yarns have fallen out of favor in recent years and have been replaced with synthetics. Mostly used for the body of nymphs and wet flies.
Chenille is commonly used for body wraps on both streamers and nymphs. Chenille’s have a thread core with a short yarn pile twisted into the core. You can get all kinds of colors and diameters of chenille. Start your tying kit with black, white, and olive.
Almost all dubbing materials are a synthetic of some kind. The fine consistent quality of the synthetics make fly tying easier. The one exception is hare’s mask which provides a buggy appearance and proven performance.
Get Brown, Gray, Black, Tan (Lt Cahill) and a Caddis Green in the beginning.
Lots of streamers and nymphs use a little flash from tinsels. Made from mylar with colored coatings. The most commonly used tinsels are on a spool and come in silver, gold and pearl. Used for wrapping bodies, making wing casings and tails.
Tinsels also come in clumps of strands bound together. “Crystal Flash” is one of the most common followed by every imaginable color. Start your tying kit with crystal flash, and a silver flash. Look for golds and iridescent colors as you progress.
Beads serve two purposes adding weight and flash. Most of the nymphs I fish are weighted in some fashion. Adding weight to the fly vs on a leader will get your fly into the fish zone.
The two most common size of bead is 1/8” and 3/16”. Made from brass, glass, tungsten and lead. A variation to the bead is the slotted hole bead instead of a straight through hole. Great for “jig” style hooks used in modern nymphing.
Copper and gold colors are the most common. In the beginning don’t sweat the gauge (thickness) too much. Copper is common on pheasant tails, woolly buggers and cooper johns. Gold is preferred on elk hair caddis.
Wires are used to add segmentation to the fly bodies and strength to the materials for increased durability.
Some many flies are just a bit better with rubber legs. Get black, brown and a “variety color” mixing yellow, red and black. Used on terrestrials, streamers and stimulators.
Be sure to get the thinnest diameter rubber legs you can find. It’s easy to substitute a thin leg for a thicker one. Using a thick rubber legs on a more delicate fly like a 12 or small stimulator usually doesn’t work.
DO NOT LICK YOUR FINGERS WHEN HANDLING LEAD WIRE. A spool of .015” lead wire is used on all kinds of nymphs and streamers.
2mm craft foam found at hobby and craft stores works perfect for fly tying. $5 will get you a lifetime supply. Yellow, Green, Tan and black are my favorites.
Use foam for bodies on ants, Chernobyl style stimulators, yellow sallies, big poppers, beetles…..lots of uses.
This list could go on for pages, but let’s bust through this and start wrapping thread on some hooks.