With a recent focus on fly tying as most of the world is sequestered in their homes, I wanted to give the opportunity to those who are new to the sport or have simply never given tying a try the essential tools to get started on this amazing past time. We’re talking bare minimum essential tools here. For roughly ~$50-$75 you can set yourself up for a lifetime of entertainment. While there are many great starter kits available, you can end up paying for tools and materials that you may never use. For that reason, I recommend compiling your own tool kit. You can tie a myriad of files with only the 5 tools below.  As you begin to tie more advanced patterns and learn new techniques you will surely add to and improve your toolkit over time but these should get you well on your way.

1. Vise

If you’re reading this, you’re likely well aware that a beautiful fly begins its journey as a bare hook placed in the jaws of a vise. The image of a well-tied fly is often accompanied by a vise that has hours of practice on it with untold successes and failures. It is the foundation of tying after all.

C-Clamp mounted vises can be attached to table edges.

There are a seemingly endless number of vises available at your local fly shop and online starting from less than $20 to over $1000. With that being said, an expensive vise isn’t necessary when starting out, as many of them come with advanced features that the beginner tier will not likely need. One fairly important consideration when purchasing your first vise would be your tying location. Commonly, vises are available with either a C-clamp to attach to a table edge and are great for travel or more versatile pedestal vises that can be used on any tying surface.


Pedestal vises are versatile and can be used on any surface.

Another key feature to look for in a vise is whether or not it can accommodate the hook size(s) that you are planning to tie. Some vices don’t have great holding strength when it comes to really small flies if that’s your thing. A quality vise is a worthwhile investment if you plan on making a hobby out of this addictive pastime. A more detailed breakdown of vises can be found HERE.

Recommendation: Colorado Anglers Super AA Vise 103 $16.26

2. Bobbin

The bobbin is your direct connection from the spool of thread to the hook. Not only does a good bobbin hold your spool of thread, but it will also unroll your thread at the desired rate. Too much tension and you risk breaking your thread. Too little tension and you will end up with loose wraps and sloppy flies. There are some mid-to-high-end bobbins available with adjustable tension systems for varied thread control such as the lineup from Rite Bobbin. Another key detail to pay attention to when choosing a bobbin is how it feels in your hand. Long hours at your vise can strain your hands, so choosing an ergonomic bobbin is key.


Rite Bobbin manufactures bobbins with adjustable tension systems.

Recommendation: ECO Flared Fly Tying Bobbin from Dr Slick $5.29

As I mentioned before, tying kits can often contain unnecessary tools, one of which is a bobbin threader. Bobbin threaders are used to pull the tying thread through your bobbin. This task can easily be accomplished without a specialized tool as demonstrated in the video below from Tightline Video.

3. Scissors

Scissors are an essential tool in tying from cutting materials like thread, tinsel, hair, and flashabou to lead-free wire. A quality pair of scissors will make your time at the vise a more enjoyable experience and help lead to better flies. I recommend a two scissor system: one pair of better quality, extra sharp, fine point scissors for trimming a variety of materials in tight places. The second pair can be a cheaper or old pair for cutting materials like lead-free wire and ultra-wire. These materials will quickly dull any blade. For this reason, many brands build wire cutters into their scissors which can get you down to one pair (like the Loon Arrow Point Scissors pictured below).


Loon Outdoors makes high quality, affordable scissors.

I don’t personally see a need to spend an absurd amount on scissors, but consider a decent pair as they are a relatively cheap investment. When your scissors inevitably get dull, there are plenty of tutorials online and even local knife smiths available to re-sharpen your blades. 

Recommendation: Loon Outdoors Ergo Arrow Point Scissors $14.98

4. Whip Finishing Tool


Umpqua’s Dream Stream Whip Finish Tool
Next up is a whip finishing tool. Some people may argue that this is not an essential tool, and I could see their point. Whip finishing, a series of half hitch knots typically used to finish/tie off a fly, can be accomplished with your hands but can be made easier with this specialized tool.  I have found my flies to be more consistent and of higher quality when using a whip finishing tool. Like all of the tools on this list, I would recommend finding a whip finishing tool that feels good in your hands and fits your budget. Talking to your local fly shop online or by phone is a great way to connect during this time of social isolation.
Recommendation: Daxin Whip Finishing Tool $7.19
5. Light

The 5th tool isn’t actually a tool at all! Lighting can often be overlooked but it is a major component of successful fly tying. Proper lighting will help reduce strain on your eyes as you focus on creating your next masterpiece. This is particularly true if you are tying small nymphs and the like. Natural light is best but lamps and overhead lights are great too. Lighting is essential to creating beautiful, detailed flies for any species.

Image courtesy of Mad River Outfitters.

Recommendation: Fly Tying LED Lite $18.00 (Free with the sun or your existing lamps!)

Grab these essential tools and a few tying materials and you will be churning out flies in no time. I’m confident that these 4 tools and some proper lighting are all that you will need to get hooked on this awesome past time.

Article by Evan Garda, he is on the Content Team here at Fly Lords and can be found chasing trout throughout the west with his trusty fly rod check out his adventures at @evangarda.

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    • I would recommend any instructional videos from Tim Flagler and his “tightlinevideo” channel on Youtube. There’s one specifically about using a whip finish tool. Happy tying!

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