The Beginner's Corner: Getting Outfitted to Tie Flies

10 tools to get started

First off, if you're confused as to whether or not to buy a kit or build up your own, see this. So assuming you don't buy a kit, let this be a primer on what you'll need to get started, including 10 popular and useful tools.

As a word of advice, if you're still up in the air as to whether you want to invest in this stuff, stop reading this, go to your local fly shop or a fly tying neighbor and try it out. Even better, take a class! Point is, we're not recommending you go out and buy a bunch of stuff without doing some research into whether or not you'll like it. I've taught far too many people that spend hundreds of dollars on tools and materials only to tie a couple of flies and give it up. If you want to go that route, I'll save you the time and send you my PayPal account and you can just send me the money in the first place. ;)

So, with that said, here are the basics of what you'll need and what to consider. If you add up the "required" items below, you'll be looking at an average cost of tools around $112 to get you a decent setup. Upgrade your scissors and a higher end vise, you'll be looking at closer to $150.

Items #1 through #4 we consider required.

Item #1:  Vise: Easily the most expensive stand-alone piece of tying equipment you'll buy. We've done a short write-up on what to look for here. In the end, buy what you can afford, borrow something if you're not sure. Try out any vise before you buy it, if that's something you can do. Estimated Cost: $40 to $150 (depending on what you can afford and/or want to buy). At around the $80 mark, you'll find some decent vises, as you can see in our vise review. So average estimate: $80
Peak Vise

Item #2: Scissors: I don't recommend skimping on scissors. As we point out here, the scissors are a major "don't go cheap" item. I will ultimately recommend the Dr. Slick Razor scissors to anyone who takes our classes or goes to our tying demonstrations. But our new Rattle Bass Fangs Scissors are also making waves. Plus, they offer you the protection of the famous mythical fly tying beast. See a good selection here...
fly tying tools scissors getting started
Dr. Slick Razor Scissors

But if you can't afford or don't want to buy those scissors, there will be a lot of others that will ultimately do the job fine. Look here to find a good variety to purchase. However, try to stick to fly tying scissors. Craft store sewing nippers are not a good substitute. Average Estimate: $15

Item #3: Bobbin: This is the handy tool that holds the thread as you wrap all sorts of stuff onto the hook.

Bobbin fly tying tools scissors getting started

There are many brands and styles of bobbins. We sell a good variety here. In the end you'll want something with a ceramic insert. If you go with a simple flared bobbin to save a few bucks, you'll end up going through a lot more frustration and busted thread than it's worth. Average Estimate: $12

Item #4: Whip Finisher:

whip finisher fly tying tools scissors getting started

This is a nice tool that will help you tie off your thread when you're done tying the fly. It makes it so your whole fly doesn't come unraveled by throwing in a "noose" of sorts at the tie-off point of your fly. I'll have many people argue whether this tool is even needed at all. Granted there are ways to finish your fly that don't involve this tool, but for speed, ease of use and strength of the knot, I personally think this is the way to go. There are a number of different styles and brands, but either of the two shown above will work just fine. You can get whip finishers from our website here. Average Estimate: $5

The remaining items here are really not 100% required, but nonetheless highly recommended....

Item #5: Bodkin: This is a simple needle-like poking or picking tool.

bodkin fly tying tools scissors getting started

Granted, you can easily supplant this tool with something as simple as a toothpick or even a small awl, but either way, you'll be wanting a tool to help you poke, prod, preen and pick your materials and such on the fly. They also work nicely to apply small amounts of glue or resins into tight places. Find a good selection here.

Item #6: Hackle Pliers: You use these little guys to help you grab and wrap small or awkward materials around the hook. This little video, at the 3:00 minute mark, will show you a quick example of how they're used.
hackle pliers fly tying tools scissors getting started

There are a lot of people that just don't use them much. They come in handy, though. So while I wouldn't necessarily buy a pair to start off with, they can be helpful. If you're wondering what kind to buy, here is a review we did on one of the more versatile pliers out there. And if you like more selection, our online fly shop carries a good variety here.

Item #7: Bobbin Threader: Here is a little tool that can save you some frustration and cussing at your thread.
bobbin threader fly tying tools scissors getting started

One of the challenges you'll face when you start tying is trying to get the thread up through the bobbin tube. While you can definitely thread the bobbin with your fingers, it's a lot easier using this device to reach in, grab the thread and pull it out. The nice thing is that these things are cheap and usually come in three packs (cuz you'll lose them every now and again). So I'd suggest forking over a few bucks to buy this tool, listed here.

Item #8 Dubbing Twister: While you'll see a large number of variations on this tool, its main purpose is to take materials you want to wrap onto your hook and spins them into a thread "loop" for a more even and "buggy" distribution.

dubbing loop tool fly tying tools scissors getting started

As you can see in this video, at the 3:00 minute mark, the dubbing twister tool is used to spin some dubbing and then wrap around the hook to form the body of the fly. Now, you obviously don't need a super-spinning bearing style tool like I use (I used to use a paper clip with a lead weight hooked into it), but they do come in handy when tying leeches, buggers, streamers, certain nymphs basically anything needing spun materials using craft fur, dubbing, wool etc. This Turbo Dubbing Spinner is probably the most sold item on our website. We feature a couple of others, so you can check them all out here.

Item #9 Tweezers: I'm guessing most people know what tweezers are and how they operate.

fly tying tweezers fly tying tools scissors getting started

What you'll find in tying is that they can come in handy when picking up small items or picking out pieces of materials from your fly as you tie. They can also be used as a third hand to help hold things in place. But as some of the other tools listed here, they are not 100% required. So for starting off, you can probably leave these off your list unless you want to spring for them anyway. Here's a great pair here with some added flair.

Item #10: Hair Stacker: If you end up tying with deer or elk hair (caddis dry flies, terrestrials, comparaduns etc), you'll likely want to invest in this tool.

Hair stacker fly tying tools scissors getting started
The way it works is that you cut the hair from the patch, insert it, tips-first, into the stacker, pound the bottom of the stacker on a solid surface and then the tips will all align nice and even. Pictured above are two different sizes of stackers from Peak. You can pick these up from any fly shop and there are a large number of choices. Most of them work equally well, but look for something that fits the style and size you are going to use. Here's a good selection to choose from.

Ultimately, there are many more tools available than what we've discussed here, but these are the top-hitters. With the 4 "must-have's", the remaining tools on this list would be a good start to your fly tying addiction. Good luck and tight threads!