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December 12, 2017
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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

By Kristen White

When I first moved here in 2001, I’d never picked up a fly rod, let alone knew what fly fishing was, or what “matching the hatch” meant or other fly fishing lingo. Fast forward 13 years. I now know a lot more, but still felt I was missing a piece of fly fishing—tying my own flies. The Beaverkill Angler’s spring fly-tying class was the perfect opportunity to learn. What better place to learn how to tie your own flies than in the official Trout Town USA—Roscoe, NY?

Matt Nelson, our instructor, has been teaching fly fishing and fly tying for 20 years and managing the Beaverkill Angler for four years. Patient, knowledgeable and helpful, Matt says there are two reasons someone wants to learn to tie their own flies. One is the pride of catching a fish on a fly you’ve tied yourself. The second reason is to save money. Although as Matt pointed out, once you’ve learned to tie, you may not save much, because you’ll be buying lots of materials, such as feathers, hooks and tying tools, as you expand your repertoire.

As it was once explained to me, tying your own flies will help you “up” your fishing game by helping you pay more attention to the bugs and to the fish and how they eat the bugs. This makes perfect sense to me. I thought I knew a lot about fishing until Matt explained the differences in each pattern we were tying and how to use that particular pattern to catch a fish.

The fly-tying course I took was offered over three Saturdays in March for three hours per day, which seems like a long time to devote, but it really went by quickly. Matt had laid out the course very thoughtfully. Each session started with a handout with step-by-step instructions illustrated by drawings of each step. He demonstrated the steps in tying the fly and then walked us through each step. He gradually built our skills by increasing the complexity of the flies we tied.

Matt took us through the paces with the following flies: Woolly Bugger, Pheasant Tail Nymph, Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Peaking Caddis Larva, Elk Hair Caddis, Poly Wing Spinner, Comparadun, Parachute Style Dry Fly, and Traditional Upright Wing Dry Fly. We started out with a fairly easy fly, the Wooly Bugger, a streamer fished underwater that is tied on a large hook using just a few materials and simple techniques. By the third session we were tying the Comparadun Style Fly, a versatile fly that, while simple looking, requires precise technique to be presentable, durable and well balanced.