I used to tie flies very quickly, right before I’d go fishing. I’d grab a hook or two, change the thread on my bobbin, and select the materials that I needed to complete a particular fly pattern and tie one or two. Then I’d choose the materials for the next fly pattern and tie a couple of those.
I ended up spending more time looking for materials and switching the thread on my bobbin than I did tying flies.
Somewhere along the line, probably during the offseason when I wasn’t in a big hurry to rush outside and wet a line every chance I got, I started using more of an assembly line approach.
Tie the same fly repeatedly
Now when I tie flies, I tie a bunch of the same pattern all at once. I’ll go to my hook box and pick out 12 hooks of the same size and line them up near my vise. Then I’ll select my hackle by pulling 12 feathers all of the same size, from the same part of the same cape. You’re only opening your hook box once. You’re only pulling out your dry fly cape once, and you’re having to use your hackle gauge just once. And so on.
Once I have all of the materials to tie a dozen or however many I want of the same fly pattern, I’ll tie until I’ve used up the materials and hooks that I set out for that fly pattern. Maybe not at the same sitting, but I won’t tie any other patterns until I have completed that one.
Once you begin to use this approach, you’ll waste less time selecting your materials. You’ll also get into a rhythm that enables you to tie much faster, and your flies will begin to look exactly the same.
Two very good things.
(Don’t go hog wild when it comes to laying out your materials. This aproach does not work well with some things. Say you’re tying some small dries. If you cut your tailing material for a bunch of flies and set it down next to your hooks and hackle, you will likely have trouble picking it up again with the fibers aligned properly, the way they were when you set them down. So choose wisely.)
Use more bobbins
I no longer waste as much time by changing the thread in a bobbin. I have multiple bobbins all loaded up with the thread colors I use most often–typically black, tan, olive, light yellow and gray–and just pick up a bobbin and start tying.
Sneak up on small flies
I tie quite a few flies of the same pattern in different sizes. The fly I tie in more sizes than any other is the Adams. I probably have size 12’s all they way down to size 22’s in my fly boxes. I don’t know about you, but if I sit down and start tying size 20 flies right off the bat without any warm-up, I’m going to struggle. The flies are going to end up looking shaggy because I’m used to using more materials than a size 20 Adams needs.
When you want to tie tiny flies, start with a bigger size that you’re more comfortable with, say a size 16, and tie a half dozen or so of those, and then a half dozen of size 18. You’ll have a much easier time tackling those tiny size 20’s once you’ve put a few 16’s and 18’s under your belt.