Fly Tying Materials

by Fly Fisherman

A FLY is only as good as the material that goes into it. Mediocre or actually poor material will only result in an inferior product even when tied by the most skillful craftsman. It is difficult in the extreme to verbally portray, in all aspects, just what is good and what is not so good in fly tying materials. Neither do photographs or drawings bring it out.

I can only urge that you observe studiously the materials you have in your possession as you use them. Does your finished fly resemble in a “material” way those you may have that were tied by a professional or an experienced tier? Determine in your own mind just what the difference is. Do not always blame yourself if your fly is a disappointment.

It can be that hackles or the wings or the body material does not qualify as first grade “stuff.” Experience in tying will bring you experience and knowledge in choosing materials—in knowing at a glance or a touch if the items are up to your standard. Rather than just mention the various materials used in fly tying I have elaborated on those most in use deliberately because the subject ranks so high in importance.The difference between good flies and the common or market variety is generally in their hackles.

Hackles, without question, form the most important ingredient in the material list. The ability of the fly to alight and ride properly on the water, in the case of dry flies, is dependent upon the quality of the hackle.Regardless of the claims of fly tying  Material suppliers, top grade hackle and hackle necks are quite rare. Neither is the cost of the neck indicative of its use value but it is the only gauge one has unless from quite extensive experience in selecting hackle and tying many hundreds of flies.

The method of testing hackle for dry flies is first to observe whether or not it carries a glossy appearance on the outer surface. The second feature is its springiness and lack of web. Taking a medium or 12 size hackle hold it at its tip end and with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand stroke down the quill three or four times. If the fibers spring back to a right angle to the quill or tend to resume their former position it is considered good hackle. Sometimes the quill may be quite webby but the tip half has the correct stiffness. In cases such as this, using two or more of the tips on your fly will supply the right amount when wound as hackle.

Hackles, too, should have good color—that is, a definiteness of the shade you are selecting. In the reds and browns, look for color on both sides of the feather. Quills of this shade, particularly, tend to be brilliant on the outer surface while carrying a smoky faded-out appearance on the inner side. This is not a criterion of the quality of that hackle insofar as its use is concerned but it does give your fly an off color that may not be desirable.

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