You can’t tie good flies if you can’t see what you’re doing. Here are some simple ideas to help you see better while you’re working at the fly tying bench.
Whether you wear glasses or contacts that give you a moderate amount of magnification, or you see like an eagle, buying a cheap pair of reading glasses will zoom that fly in really close, enabling you to see all those bits of feathers and fur a little bit better.
When buying readers, make sure you test them out at the store before making a purchase. I like to look at the whorls and ridges on the pads of my fingers, because that’s the level of detail I want to be able to see. Start low, with a magnification of +1.00 or +1.25, and see how much that helps. If you go really high, like +3.00 or above, you might find that your face is really close to your work, which will not only make you look like an idiot, but will also mean that your face will be in the way of your tying. So get something that helps you see better, but also keeps your face at a reasonable distance from your tying.
Use a background
Another aspect of seeing clearly is placing a background behind your fly that is a contrasting color to the fly you’re tying. For example, if you’re tying a light colored fly like a Light Cahill, a black background will help. Or if you’re tying a Dark Hendrickson, a cream or light yellow background will work. I use a chip clip to attach different colored sheets of fly tying foam to a 1/4″ piece of plywood. I keep all of my foam backgrounds attached to the plywood so I don’t have to hunt for the right color, and just pull out the one I want and clip it to the top of the stack when I need it. It doesn’t matter what material you use as a background or how you rig it up, as long is it’s a contrasting color to the fly you’re tying.
Use two lights
Hopefully, you’re already tying in a bright area, whether the overhead light in the room is bright, or you’re using a table-top light that’s illuminating your fly. What really helps though, is to use two lights, preferably high intensity. Place one on the left of your vise, and another one to the right. I always had trouble with lighting until I went to two lights. With one light, you often create a “shady” area when attaching material or winding the thread. But with two lights, you eliminate that effect–your fly will remain well lit at all times.