Pats Stones. Beginner fly tying.
Fly Tying (Shady Flies)

DON’T BUY A FLY TYING KIT! A Beginners Guide On How to Start and Keep Tying Your Own Flies

Disclaimer: I Love My Wife

Reflecting on how this blog post’s intro is shaping up, and the fact that my wife reads ALL my work (thanks baby), I think it is important to lead off with that.  Disclaimer complete; let’s press. 

It was in sunny Las Vegas Nevada, that I remember telling my wife, “I’d really like to get into tying my own flies.”  My wife, whose memory can be either a steel trap or — let’s just say the opposite of a steel trap — decided to use her powers for good and several months later at Christmas I had a fly tying kit.  Hooray!  Hugs and smooches exchanged, I sat down to tie my first fly on Christmas morning, 2013.  And while I tied a few flies between then and now, I can say that the fly tying kit may have “started” me into tying my own flies, but it was a weak and pathetic start.  A long road filled with terrible flies, that rarely were used, let alone caught fish.  I’ll tell you why.

What’s Wrong with a Fly Tying Kit?

If buying a fly tying kit is the catalyst to get you busy tying your own flies, go for it!  Thanks to my lovely wife for a super generous gift.  One that did eventually get me tying flies.  

If the goal is to be happily tying your own flies, then how you get there may be irrelevant.  Starting somewhere is better than not starting at all.  I’m not saying buying a fly tying kit isn’t “ah” way to get into tying flies.  I’m just saying it is not the best. 

There are ways to save time, money, and frustration, while simultaneously expediting your proficiency in the fine art of tying flies.

It may seem counterintuitive that buying a fly tying kit would not be a great way to get started tying flies.  Here are three reasons why it is definitely not:

Kits are Made for Everyone; So They Help No One. 

Kits have materials to tie flies for a broad spectrum of species and fishing, in various types of waters.  The makers have to appeal to a wide range of customers, so they pack materials in their kit for people who want to fly fish for trout, or bass, or even saltwater species.  It comes with materials and instructions for a couple handfuls of flies, many of which you will never use.

Kits Usually Are Not the Best Tools and Materials. 

A kit may seem like a good deal, because of all the “stuff” you are getting, but as you start to get better at tying flies you will start to appreciate that having good materials actually makes for easier fly tying and higher quality flies.  Also, you will definitely begin to wish you had a descent vise, a better bobbin, or some solid head cement. 

There is No Strategy for Progress with a Fly Tying Kit. 

Because the selection of flies supported by the kit’s materials is random, you end up tying random flies.  When you start tying flies, being able to advance from one fly to the next in a purposeful method goes far towards motivation and success. 

Having all the fluff that a kit comes with starts you off in the wrong direction.  Actually, it starts you off with no direction at all!  If your serious about tying your own flies, (and I believe you should be) then a kit is really just a distraction.

Seven Steps to Start AND KEEP Tying Your Own Flies.

1. Don’t buy a kit. 

I know we covered this.  Just wanted to re-emphasize this point. 

2. Buy the right tools. 

Think quality over quantity and buy only what you need at first.  Buy the good stuff.  Buying the good stuff doesn’t necessarily mean buying the most expensive stuff.   You can find something nice that doesn’t break the bank.  Also, because you are only buying what you need you are actually saving some dollars.

3. Decide on your R2FS (River-To-Fly-Strategy). 

THIS IS HUGE.  If you want to be successful when you start tying flies and you want to continue tying flies without getting frustrated and giving up, then this is the MOST IMPORTANT KEY TO SUCCESS.  First, not all flies will be useful where you are going to fish.  And not all flies are as easy to tie as others. 

You need to pursue fly tying with a building block approach. 

First decide where you are most likely to fish the most.  Where will you be able to use the flies you tie?  Second, figure out what flies will be used on that river.  If you are unsure, then you can check out local fly shops for that river on-line or just give them a call.  Ask what some of the basic fly patterns are that are used on the river.  Last, make a list of flies you want to tie for that river from easiest to tie to hardest.  If you are unsure which flies will be easiest, look at the materials required.  Less materials usually makes for an easier fly to tie.  And you can start looking at YouTube videos at this point to help you with understanding what goes into tying flies.  

If you follow the River to Fly Tying Strategy your efforts to learn how to tie flies will be focused and your gains will be measurable.  You will end up tying useful flies that you can catch fish with.  I promise that when you start catching fish on the flies you have tied, motivation will increase.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | River to Fly Strategy (R2FS) – A Fly Tying Process for the Beginner’s Success.

4. Buy the right materials. 

Now that you have the right tools and the right R2FS (River to Fly Strategy), it’s time to again apply the quality over quantity principal in the materials you buy.  Buy only what you need to tie the first 2-3 flies on your R2FS list.  Buy the good stuff.  You will be thankful you did later, and you will save some money.  The materials tend to build on each other in a natural way. 

5. Tie flies with repetition. 

You aren’t gonna knock it out of the park on the first fly you tie.  That’s okay.  But if you tie one crappy zebra midge, then move on to tie another crappy hares’ ear, followed by a crappy elk hair caddis…well friend… you’ve got three crappy flies. 

If you tied three zebra midges in a row, the third one will probably start looking better than the first. 

Avoid the temptation to move on to something else as soon as you “get” the fly you are working on.  Once you can tie the fly proficiently, knock out some good flies for the old fly box.  Try tying 10-20 of the same fly before moving on.  You can vary the size and color.  This will get you flies in the box that you can use, and it will build some habit patterns for the fly and the skills required to tie it.  Crawl.  Walk.  Run.  It works.

6. Set Goals.  

As you get more proficient and tie more often, it can be hard to stay motivated to tie flies if you are not going fishing very often.  Try setting some goals to have a certain number of flies tied for your next trip to the river.  Or decide to move on to a more difficult fly and tie 10.  Flies make great gifts as well and if you have decided to give someone flies, then the holiday or birthday on the horizon can help get you in front of the vise.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | A Fly Tyer’s Perfect Present. Homemade Flies.

7. Stay positive. 

Just like everything in fly fishing starting out, tying your own flies can seem overwhelming.  You will tie many flies that are not going to make first contact with a trout.  And that’s okay.  Try to have fun and remember everyone who is a great fly tier, was once a terrible fly tier.  The only difference between you and them is time and practice. 


Tying your own flies is one of the great joys of being a fly fisherman.  It adds a whole other dimension to the sport that once you taste, you’ll never put down.  If you can follow these steps, you will be well on your way.  Don’t buy a kit.  Buy the right equipment.  Decide on your R2FS (River-to-Fly-Strategy.  Buy good materials.  Repetition. Set goals.  Stay Positive.  Wadeoutthere.

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Jason Shemchuk

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