There is no doubt that the selection of fly tying materials available today is immense. Every week a new synthetic material seems to appear which apparently has properties better than the last iteration. For those who are fly tying on a tight budget the decisions as to which materials to purchase are becoming mind numbingly complex.
Is it necessary to purchase these innovative new materials though and is there a way to achieve the same outcomes more cheaply? As a general rule you probably don’t need to invest in the latest materials and it is most certainly possible to find cheaper solutions.
In this piece I’ll look at the fly tying essentials and then look at some commonly found items which can be used to successfully mimic more expensive materials.
HOOKS, THREAD & UV EPOXY
Hooks are the single most important component in fly tying. Purchase poor quality hooks and it is inevitable that you will regret the decision, generally just after you lose the fish of a life time. Stick to the reputable brands (e.g. Tiemco, Kamasan, Mustad, and Dai-ichi) and you should not have any performance issues. If funds are tight then reserve as much as 40% of your budget for quality hooks.
The next most important fly tying material to acquire is quality thread. My recommendation is to purchase the thinnest, strongest thread that you can. Synthetics such as GSP, UNI-Thread or UNI-Mono are much stronger than silk of a comparable diameter. If you are spinning deer hair bodies then it would be prudent to purchase Kevlar thread as the pressure required to effectively spin the hair will see lesser quality thread snap repeatedly and the end result will suffer. Keep the thread as thin as possible as it makes it easier to shape the head of the fly.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the final must have material is UV epoxy (e.g. Bug Bond) and a compatible UV torch to activate it. There are several reasons UV epoxy is so useful namely:-
- It eliminates the need to use slow drying body and head cement. Heads coated with UV epoxy can be set in 15 seconds.
- It allows the tyer to position other materials precisely and lock them in place quickly. This is especially important when constructing complex patterns or using materials which you do not want to see spin around the hook shank when the thread is tightened, such as rubber legs.
- It is extremely useful for coating bodies to improve longevity, altering the physical profile and the way light is refracted from the body materials.
- It can be used to fashion realistic body shapes in its own right. If you want to see just how versatile UV epoxy is click on the link to visit the Bug Bond gallery:- http://www.bug-bond.moonfruit.com/#/gallery/4566997770
Historically fur, silk, chenille and feathers were most used in the construction of flies. Tinsel and wire were used to construct bodies which glistened in the light or for ribbing. Both tinsel and wire had a tendency to be fairly fragile and often were damaged by fish teeth during the fight. Coating them with UV epoxy counteracts this shortcoming.
However, in recent times synthetic materials have replaced natural fur as a fly tying material, especially in dubbing and winging. There is no doubt that these modern materials add realism and bring fly patterns to life. Often the new materials contain iridescent or pearlescent fibre accents or fibres which fluoresce under UV light. These add greatly to the realism of the fly, especially bait fish patterns. The list is endless. Flashabou, Fish fiber, Deadly Dazzle, EP GameChange fibres and UV minnow belly to name but a few.
However, it is possible to find these iridescent materials and fibres in every day use and avoid purchasing them at a premium from a fly fishing store.
GIFT BASKET RIBBONS
For example, many of the ribbons used to decorate gift baskets often have iridescent highlights, fluorescent fibres or glisten seductively in the light. I like to cut these ribbons into strips and use these strips to construct fly bodies. Over wrap with wire or apply a coating of UV epoxy to shape and improve the light refraction. Most often these ribbons end up being discarded by the recipients of the gift basket so if you can “recycle” them rather than discard them it is a great result all round.
As you can see from the images above these materials can be used in salt or freshwater flies to add sparkle and realism. I’ve even cut out sections and carefully sealed the edges with a hot wire or UV epoxy for use as wings on cicada patterns. There really is no limit to where the material can be employed.
The rainbow cord above which was found on a family birthday gift is a recent addition to my body material arsenal. I made a Clouser yesterday simply by sliding a section of the pink piping onto a hook behind the dumb bell eyes. When it was coated with UV epoxy it lit up and glistened beautifully. I’m sure krill feeding trevally will the fly irresistible.
IRIDESCENT PACKAGING FILMS
Another decorative packaging fabric that I recently stumbled upon is a fibre backed iridescent green sheet used in flower decoration. As you can see from the images below it makes a stunning wing case on green or Manuka beetle imitations and a realistic coating for crease flies. It is best to coat it with UV epoxy to improve resilience. This often also provides some some additional internal reflectance to make the material come to life. Again it was destined for the rubbish bin until I rescued it.
Keep your eyes open for this sort of material or even take a stroll into a gift basket store to see what is being used and where they get the materials from.
Craft stores, especially those associated with knitting, embroidery or Scrapbooking, are also great sources of materials for fly tying. Wool and embroidery cotton have always been used in fly tying but you can create some really interesting bodies by coating these traditional materials with UV epoxy.
In the image of the Partridge and Orange wee wet flies above, I’ve constructed the body from embroidery cotton, wrapped with gold wire and coated the cotton with UV epoxy. These flies are deadly when fished in tandem with a weighted nymph and the body withstands trout teeth far better than the embroidery cotton would if it were not coated.
Almost all of the copper wire that I use for fly tying has come from the windings of small electric motors, transformers and other electronic devices. Over the years I have disassembled redundant electronic devices and removed the copper wire before disposing of them. As a rough rule of thumb the smaller the device the finer the copper wire used will be. As you can see from the images below the wire used comes in a wider variety of colours from black through to red. It may be necessary to remove a coating to get at the wire but it is cheap and ideal for use in fly tying.
I have also purchased a few spools of brightly coloured wire for use in the construction of attractor or “bling” nymphs. I’ve used green wire for the body and added a gold rib in the pattern below. The wire was coated with UV epoxy to improve longevity.
GLASS & RUBBER BEADS
Rubber and glass beads are readily available at craft stores. They are an inexpensive way to add weight and lustre to fly patterns.
In the egg pattern below I simply slid a rubber bead over a red thread base and coated it in UV epoxy to add realism. The end result is incredibly authentic. It does however need to be attached to a heavier nymph to get it down when fishing deeper or more turbulent stretches. As you can see, the orange rubber bead on its own simply does not look realistic.
I use glass beads to add focus to certain parts of fly patterns but I’ve seen other anglers use multiple glass beads to add weight. One angler in particular had a nymph pattern which had a body made of four or five glass beads. A wispy pinch of fur was added to separate the beads and the resulting fly was incredibly effective.
In the pattern below a glass bead with a luminous core is added to the thorax of a wee wet. This not only adds weight but when it is exposed to UV light it glows. This certainly attracts attention when fished down deep.
The patterns using orange pearlescent glass beads below are designed to tempt mullet feeding on tiny marine worms. The glass bead is primarily used to sink the fly and also draw attention to either the head or a particular body segment.
Bungee cord can be used instead of shop bought rubber legs to add life to fly patterns. Strip back the outer coating and cut and colour the legs with a permanent marker to suit your requirements. There is an awful lot of rubber legs in a short section of bungee cord tie down. In the image below I’ve used a short section of bungee cord in the construction of a maggot fly. I opted for an unribbed strand of rubber from the centre of the cord. In hindsight, the ribbed outer strands may have been a better option to aid authenticity.
If you want to see how I tie these maggot flies click on the following link:- https://activeanglingnz.com/2015/09/09/video-tying-the-maggot-fly/
In conclusion, the key thing to learn when on a tight budget is how to identify every day materials that could be used in fly dressing. It is best to be like a magpie and collect any shiny bauble or strip of material that you think could be used, especially if it changes translucency when coated in UV epoxy. Even discarded monofilament can be used for fly bodies when UV epoxy is applied as a protective coating.
13 thoughts on “FLY TYING ON A TIGHT BUDGET”
Great tips! Good read!
Have you used Bug Bond Alan? I have and won’t use it again. I’m told Deer Creek is a much better product.
I’m a bit biased Tim as I was one of the fly tiers that tested the original Bug Bond prototypes. I still use it extensively. My only issue is that it can sometimes be tackier than other products (e.g Loon Clear UV finish) but if you leave it in the sun for an hour or sun it seems to sort itself out. Some UV epoxies are really sensitive to the UV torch used and how much battery life remains. Bug Bond does not harden as well when the torch power drops. I know that David Edwards spent a lot of time finding a UV torch that worked consistently well with Bug Bond. Not all torches are created equal and many work best with a particular epoxy. UV epoxy is a phenomenal fly tying tool and I’d be lost without it. I’ve never tried the Deer Creek product so cannot comment.
What a great article!! You hit all the bases with this one.
Thank you for the kind words.
I enjoyed your article, thank you. I’m a member of the Northern Suburbs Flyfishing Club, in Victoria.I thought my co-members would enjoy reading this and gain some benefit from it. So I’m requesting your permission to republish your article in our club’s newsletter.
Hi Sheldon, No problem. As long as you encourage your members to visit the http://www.activeanglingnz.com website. Cheers, Alan
I haven’t found a replacement for Hungarian partridge, peacock herl or hare fur yet but weighted beads and other modern materials have made fly tying not only easier but more interesting e.g. I tie a bright green caddis nymph using fluoro thread coated with epoxy and a longish patridge hackle behind two small weighted black beads. Browns are not fussy on them but Rainbows luv ’em. cheers
An excellent source of copper ribbing is from electrical cords from broken appliances suck as lamps, kettles, toasters etc. Various diameter copper wire strands can be had for free and it also adds a bit of weight!
Awesome article. I’ve always said you can really make some fantastic fly designs with a little imagination. I’ve also used the foam window weather cording to make floating flys. Thanks for sharingbthis.
Great read. As a CAI in North America for the BSA, I am always looking for ways to cut cost and try something different when teaching a group of kids Fly Tying. I have found that here in the USA, there is a Plastic type nail polish that is clear and works real good to finish off the fly and we get it in the “Dollar Store”.