If you know any experienced fly anglers, it's likely that they have mentioned how they have caught fish on flies they tied themselves. Or maybe they've shared some snarky remark about how you can't possibly be fully connected to fly fishing unless you tie your own flies. I've met a few people like that in my life. Hell, I may have even been that guy at some point. Fly tying can be a really great experience, and in fact, I have felt more accomplished when I land a fish on my own fly. But after accounting for all the time and expenses, is it really worth it? Or are the reasons behind fly tying more superficial than practical?
I think we all have a sense of pride when it comes to creating something with our own hands, and then proceeding to use it out in the field to test our success. There is absolutely a type of craftsmanship that goes with fly tying. So much so that it has taken me countless hours of practice to even become mediocre.
I'm here to tell you that while it is great to tie your own flies, it's just as great to visit your local fly shop and pick up some streamers and midges for your next outing, and possibly even better. There have been times where I realized fly tying started to be too big a part of my time, and I've got some thoughts on how you can prevent that.
Tying Versus Buying
Growing up, my father used to love tying his own flies. Saving money by doing things himself was always a trait he tried hard to pass on. He could tie up some pretty impressive streamers and nymphs, using things such as turkey feathers from a recent spring harvest, whitetail hair from one of the deer I recently had shot, and so on.
When I asked him why he chose to tie his own flies, he said, "Beats paying for flies every year." While I agree with him that shelling out money every season on flies can be a pain, as I watched him carefully tie each one, often taking upwards of an hour to finish a single fly, a dollar or so per fly didn't seem like a bad price to pay.
Everyone has their own budgets and restrictions for what they spend their money on, and I'm not trying to argue against any of that. I'm just saying that after the costs of the tools and equipment, plus the supplies that didn't come from a hunted game animal, there's considerations to be had.
Leaving It to the Pros
Over the years of tying my own flies, I've made every mistake in the book and learned quite a few lessons. One of the most important lessons: Sometimes admitting defeat is a win in itself. I will still occasionally tie more of the simpler flies for myself, but nowadays I tend to leave the more complex ones to the professionals.
Whether you're focusing on wet or dry flies, I have found a few that are pretty simple to master, and will actually save you some money as the seasons stack up. As a good example, zebra midges are a great fly for a beginner to learn on. They don't use up much of your supplies, and with some practice you should be able to crank them out pretty quickly. The X-Caddis and the Blue Winged Olive are also fairly simple to tie and some of my personal favorites. There are several free online courses or even YouTube videos out there that will show you step by step on how to tie these efficiently. But those fancy, expert-made flies perfected by a pro? It probably isn't going to be the same when you try to tie them yourself, especially as a beginner.
The Decision's Yours to Make
Tying your own flies no doubt comes with its advantages. You're gaining a better understanding of the lifestyle as a whole, you'll feel more connected to the sport and the fish themselves, and you'll have a sense of accomplishment when you finally land your first fish on your own fly. Not to mention, it can be pretty relaxing and therapeutic.
While I generally think it's great to take up fly tying and I always try to encourage it, I don't think there should be any pressure on anglers to commit to it. There is a wonderful passion and appreciation that accompanies the lifestyle of fly fishing, and I don't think that should ever be overshadowed by so-called "purists" demanding one method over the other.
When you land a beautiful rainbow trout or are battling it out with a trophy tarpon, the person who tied the fly on the other end of your rod is pretty irrelevant. The only relevant factor is that you're having fun enjoying the outdoors and all of the wonderful resources it has to offer.
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