Monday, February 8, 2016

Using a Basic Sequence to Improve Fly Tying Efficiency

     Several years ago, when I had taken up tying again after a long break, I brought a box of dry flies, nymphs, and streamers to my local Orvis store. One of the employees showed my box of flies to the fishing manager, who was a former commercial fly tyer. I forgot virtually all of what the manager said that day. He talked a mile a minute and seemed to make tangental leaps throughout the entire conversation. At least at that time, I had a hard time following the advice he gave me. I did glom onto one specific thing, however. He told me to buy Production Fly Tying by A.K. Best.

     I bought the book and read it cover to cover. It was interesting, but it didn't speak to me quite as much as it spoke to the store manager. I am a slow tyer. For the most part, I don't mind being slow. I listen to music or comedy and use the time to relax. Not all of the book's messages were lost on me, however. At the time, I tied every fly one at a time, from beginning to end. Best made me rethink that process, especially when tying several flies of the same pattern.

     Shortly after reading the book, I began tying flies in stages. The more I tied a particular pattern, the more I noticed that each fly had natural "pause points." These pause points were places where it made sense to stop tying, tie off the thread, and tie the next fly up to that same point. Because I wasn't using all the materials for a pattern at one time, my tying desk was neater while tying a pattern. Pre-cutting materials saved a lot of time too, especially when it came to body materials. If it was tying anything with a bead or a cone, I put the beads or cones on all the hooks before I touched a bobbin.

     This isn't anything revelatory, nor is it anything that hasn't been talked about a thousand other times in the past. Since efficiency might be a concept foreign to new tyers, it's helpful to discuss it now and then. A tyer can take this as far as he or she wants. I am definitely not the world's most efficient fly tyer. I'm not a speed tyer, nor will I ever be a full-time commercial tyer. I don't like to tie with my scissors in my hand at all times, which is a huge time saver. Unless I'm learning a how to tie a new pattern, or if I only want to tie a single fly, I will use a basic sequence to help speed things up a bit. Though I am using a Buck Bug to demonstrate a simple tying sequence, the basic concept can be applied to virtually any type of fly.

Buck Bug/Green Machine Tying Sequence

Green Machine w/White Tail (green & red butt)

Hook: Mustad 3399A
Threads: White 6/0, Green GSP, and Green or Black 6/0
Tail: White calf tail or calf body
Butts: Chartreuse and Chinese red Uni-Yarn
Body: Green deer hair
Hackle: Brown rooster neck or saddle
Head: Black

Note: This is not step-by-step tying instructions. To see step-by-step instructions for tying a Buck Bug, refer to my ebook, Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon, or see this tutorial

Step 1: Set aside all the hooks needed and separate them by size. In this case, I am tying a half dozen Green Machines, two of each in sizes 4-8.

Fig I: White thread materials

Step 2: Tie in all the materials which require a base of white thread (see Fig. I). Once the tail and both butts are tied in, half hitch or whip finish the white thread, set this fly body aside, and move on to the next hook. 

Fig II: The deer hair body is tied in with green GSP thread

Step 3: When all the tail and butt sections are finished, switch over to green GSP thread. Spin two or three clumps of green deer hair and tie off the green thread. Do not trim the deer hair yet. Place the bushy fly aside and repeat this step with the next fly.

Fig III: A small pile of bugs, ready for trimming

Step 4: Now the bugs are ready to be trimmed. Take one from the pile and place it in the jaws of your vise. Trim each body with either a double edge razor or a sharp pair of scissors. When finished, put the fly aside and trim the next one.

Fig IV: Trimmed body

Step 5: Once all the bodies are trimmed, switch to either green or black thread and add hackle to your fly. It helps to sort your hackle by size before this step if you're tying a lot of flies. After wrapping the hackle and forming a head, whip finish and put your Green Machine off to the side. 

Fig. V: Apply head cement to the pile of finished flies

Step 6: The final step is to add head cement to the finished flies. It is a good idea to clean off your work space before applying head cement in case of accidental spills.


     This simple tying sequence can be easily modified to fit virtually any fly pattern. Like I said before, it's not a mind blowing revelation, but formulating a more efficient game plan can help speed up your tying a little. If you put away your materials after each step, it saves clean up time as well. For way more ideas on how to become a more efficient fly tyer, read Production Fly Tying by A.K. Best or watch a full-time commercial fly tyer in action. 


  1. I could definitely use some of these tips... I'm notoriously slow at tying, I take it easy.

    1. Yeah, same here. I have no sense of urgency unless I'm tying something right before I leave to go fishing.


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