Every fisherman knows the primal joy of reeling in a fish hearty enough to eat. But true angler's nirvana comes only when supper is caught using flies you've crafted with your own two hands. And in the dead of winter, when your local fishing spot is frozen over and there isn't much you can do to quell those yearnings for downstream drifts and tight lines, retiring to your study with a stiff drink and the requisite fly-tying materials can be a tranquil diversion.
What may seem like an arcane procedure best left to professionals is actually relatively doable, promises one expert in the field. Tom Rosenbauer, host of the Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast and author of The Orvis Fly-Tying Guide, says he teaches newcomers how to tie a working fly in only 30 minutes. "Start with a simple pattern like the Wooly Bugger or San Juan worm," he advises. "After you become comfortable, tweak the patterns to see if you catch more fish using your own variation."
An all-inclusive set, like the Orvis Fly-Tying Kit ($198), provides all of the tools you'll need. The essential tying vise fastens to the side of your desk and grips all varieties of hooks. A bobbin holds the spool of thread and feeds it through a pinhole, allowing you to accurately wrap the thread around the hook. The kit includes a variety of tying materials—from elk and marabou fur to pheasant tail—as well as an instructional DVD for tying 16 popular fly patterns.
Artificial flies are tied using threads to secure furs and synthetic fibers to fishing hooks. Rosenbauer will try anything from dryer lint to cat hair as material for his flies. Imitator flies resemble critters indigenous to the ecosystem of the fish. Attractors are meant to captivate and provoke the fish with vibrant colors and elaborate patterns. The fly-tying novice should learn simple patterns of both varieties to ensure they've stocked up a diverse arsenal come spring.
Anglers will subtly tweak fly patterns to find which variation renders the best result. The possibilities are endless, and there's only one rule: you must learn to enjoy the process.
Together with a little mood music, says Rosenbauer, "fly-tying is wonderful therapy for the lives we live."