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December 07, 2016
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Learning to Tie a Fly; ‘Up’ your game

This Comparaemerger fly, in the vice, is in the process of being tied on a hook. You can see the antron shuck and deer-hair wing tied on.
Photo by Jeff White

There are a few tools you will need to get started with fly tying: a tying vice, which holds the hook while you build the fly; a thread bobbin, which holds the spool of thread that ties the fly’s materials onto the hook; and scissors. Most flies are tied with the same materials, which might include feathers, animal hair, wax, glue and other natural and artificial components. The Comparadun Style Dry Fly we tied was an emerger, also known as a Comparaemerger, which imitates the mayfly as it emerges from its aquatic state to become the adult airborne insect you might see in the air or sitting on the water surface. It uses a dry fly style fish hook (hook size is dependent on the fly you are trying to imitate); dubbing (often rabbit hair, which is used to build the fly body); thread to match the dubbing; coastal deer hair for the wing; and some antron fibers (polyester yarn), which is used to imitate the trailing shuck or exoskeleton of the bug as it emerges from its aquatic form.

For every fly you tie, your first step will be to place the hook in the vice. Next put your thread on the bobbin and tie some thread on the hook. Each fly has a specific order in which to tie on the materials to optimize the finished product. For a Comparaemerger, you tie the antron shuck on first by taking a small amount of antron and tying it onto the hook near the bend. Then you cut some deer hair, and in order to stack it neatly you might want to use a deer-hair stacker. Tie the stacked hair onto your hook in front of where you tied on the antron. The tricky technique here is to get the deer hair to splay out into a fan (to imitate the wings of the mayfly) by properly tensioning the tying thread.

Then you place some dubbing onto the waxed thread and begin wrapping the thread and dubbing from the back of the fly towards the eye of the hook (away from the actual hook), ending right before the eye of the hook. The final step is to build up a small head of thread and then tie your fly off. There are two methods of tying off the fly—one is called the half hitch and can be done by using your fingers, and the other is called the whip finish, requiring a special tool called a whip finisher. Once you’ve mastered these techniques you will be able to tie just about any fly out there.