In recent weeks, I have been playing the role of fly-tying instructor for those new to the art. Ah yes, I realize some might say that this was akin to the lame leading the blind. So be it. In fact, at both classes, before I even put thread to the hook shank, the words of the lead instructors in charge indicated there was a flaw in my technique. They had told the students to place the hook in the vice with the hook point exposed. Ooops! I could only hope that no one would notice that I had placed my hook in the vice with the hook point concealed. In fact, I am aware that the style today is to place the hook in the vice with the point exposed. Some instructors claim that this makes moving the tying thread to the bend of the hook easier. Others say that burying the hook point in the vice can lead to the hook being stressed to the point of breaking, due to the pressure exerted by the vice. This sounds quite logical; however, in my 63 years of tying, I have never had a hook point break due to its having been buried in the jaws of the vice. Even the Mustad #94833’s, a 3x fine wire hook, has never broken from vice pressure.
After hearing supremely skilled tiers tell the students to expose the hook point, I wondered why it had become my habit to do this differently. Back in 1949, it had been necessary for me to learn how to tie a fly from a book. It would have been much easier if I could have had a capable instructor. The book was titled “Fly Tying” by William Bayard Sturgis, which was published in 1940. My second book on tying was titled “Fly Fishing for Trout” by Richard Salmon, which was published in 1952. Both of these books depicted the hook point buried in the vice jaws. Therefore, I learned to tie by hiding the hook point in the vice where it cannot snare and fray the tying thread.
As recently as 1976—at my age everything seems to have been recently—in Sam Slaymaker’s book “Tie a Fly, Catch a Trout,” the diagrams in the book show the hook point concealed in the jaws of the vice. Those diagrams were drawn by no less a fly tier than Mr. George Harvey himself. I believe, in my bumbling way, that concealing the hook point in the vice is the better way to tie a fly. Of course, this only proves that fly fishers rarely agree on any subject.
The course instructors told students to apply head cement to the head of the finished fly with a bodkin. Any fly tier can easily make a better tool for this job. Drill a tiny hole into a short piece of three-eighths of an inch wooden dowel. Place a two-and-a-half-inch length of .013 brass wire, available at Michael’s craft store, into the hole and cement it in place using a flexible type of glue. This will allow you to pick up the tiniest drop of cement on the tip of the brass wire. Even on size 24s or 26s, there will be little chance of getting head cement into the hook eye. After watching two straight nights of presentations by “Fishy” Fullum, I’d bet this little tool would catch his eye.