When I started tying, I kept all of my tools and materials in several old tackle boxes, one of which was pretty stinky, with only a general idea of what tools and materials were in which box. When I wanted to tie a fly, I’d have to rummage around to find what I needed. When I was done with it, I’d just leave it on my flying tying bench and little piles would grow, covering up some of the materials I needed for my next fly.
Organizing and labeling all of your fly tying materials is a great way to save time. It also goes a long way to eliminating the frustration of not being able to find that favorite patch of elk hair with just the right shade of gray, or that 8/0 primrose thread that you like to use on your size 18 pale morning duns.
Packets of hair, fur and other stuff
Put dubbing and hair packets in storage bins and label them on the outside. I make little cardboard tabs and label them with a marker to organize things even further. For dubbing, you can also use those little containers that hold 10 or 12 different types of fur that stick out of holes in the top, and refill them as necessary. These make pulling out the right amount of dubbing much easier. I have one for dry fly dubbing and another for nymph dubbing.
Get yourself some hook containers. These can be expensive if you buy them from a fly shop. You can often cut the cost significantly by shopping for these online at craft, hardware, or home improvement stores. I have two, one for dry fly and nymph hooks, and one for wet fly andstreamer hooks. I cut out the size and type of hook from the thin cardboard label inside the package the hooks come in, and just drop that in the little compartment so I know exactly what hooks are in each compartment.
I tie a lot of weighted nymphs and streamers using beads, and I store and label these in a similar fashion as hooks, but in a smaller containers. (When my daughter was little, she liked to thread the beads onto the hooks for me, and I encouraged her to do as many as she liked—I then just put the hook with the proper-sized bead back in the hook compartment, ready for a smooth transfer to my vice. This was a great time saver for a couple of years. Megan is finishing college this spring; she’s not into that so much anymore. No matter who does it, it’s still a time saver.)
You can buy thread storage devices at your local craft or sewing shop. These are relatively inexpensive and store dozens of spools of thread and other materials on little spindles. You just pull them off when you need them. If you’re handy with a drill and saw, you could easily make these yourself. Another good way to store spools is in those plastic containers that your local (or online) tackle shop sells for storing lures. You can often find these with compartments that are the same width as your spools.
I use small, inexpensive tool boxes for all of my rooster and hen capes. I have one for my dry fly capes, and one for my wet flies and streamers. I put balls of cedar in my dry fly capes to keep pesky bugs away—the last thing you want is some moth eating through all of your expensive dry fly capes.
I suspect that if I were to count them I’d have at least two dozen different tools that I use to tie flies. Just like organizing your fly tying materials will save you time and aggravation, organizing your tools in some sort of tool caddy is also a great help. You can buy these from your favorite fly shop, but they can be pretty spendy. I made my own out of maple, and it was free–I used a scrap maple board that I already had in my shop. I would caution you about building or buying one until you know what kind of fly tyer you’re going to be when you grow up. Better to fit the tool caddy to the tools you know you’re going to use rather than fit the tools to a tool caddy that doesn’t keep up with your needs. When in doubt, buy or build a larger caddy than you currently need so that your tools can grow into your caddy.
One additional tip if you’re going to build your own caddy, if you have a pedestal vice, add a little corral for it in an appropriate spot on your caddy. It’s a bit difficult to make out in the photo, but this keeps my vice completely stable when I tie, no matter how much I jerk it around.
Clean up after yourself
One thing I am definitely not good at is cleaning up after myself. By that I mean after I’ve tied a dozen flies of 5 or 6 patterns, I tend to put all of the materials that I’ve used in a pile by my tying area. And then I don’t want to tie any more ‘cuz I know it’s going to be a hassle to find everything I need. So, do yourself a favor and put everything back in its place right away after you use it.