5 Essential Rules for Tying Flies

 Really?  Rules?

Pink and White?  Thanks to a tip from a buddy, I modified the colors of this Cheech Leech.

3 sections to the Cheech Leech?  Yes Please.
I remember being excited to attend the annual outdoors expo in 2001 because there were always demo fly tyers showing off their new goods and skills.  I was just getting started with fly tying, and I loved to watch other people tie flies so I could see how they did it.  I was walking up one of the aisles, and I heard someone proclaim "You MUST add exactly 15 wraps of .015 lead wire to the hook shank or this fly won't ride correctly." and "If you add any more than 4 turns of hackle, this fly won't work." and "This fly, if tied correctly, is so effective that it's illegal in Oregon." (I think some of you might know of the guy I'm quoting here).  The point here is that this guy had rules for everything, including tying and fishing...  Really?  No doubt his flies were effective, but so were my rebel-tied flies with 17.25 turns of .010 lead, and 6 turns of hackle.  It was during my fly tying infancy that I learned these critical rules:

Rule 1: There are no rules.
Rule 2: There are no rules.
Rule 3: There are no rules.
Rule 4: There are no rules.
Rule 5: Please refer to rules 1 through 4.

I mean, just look at the definition of the word (according to the fancy interweb). 

"A set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity."


So there you have it.  I don't like rules when it comes to fishing and tying.  If any of you have watched our videos, hopefully by now you have caught on that we don't really say exactly how you have to do something.  Instead, we give guidelines, and even if we say that something is really important, it's still just our opinion and there are probably 48 better ways to do it.  Guidelines are critical when you are trying to recreate an exact replica of something like a Humpy or a Royal Coachman, and in my opinion, there are two masters of giving this kind of instruction.  Charlie Craven, and Davie McPhail.  Those guys are gooooood.  Me?  Not so much.

I will also say this about guidelines; take them for what they are and don't be afraid to experiment.  I always love it when I get done teaching a class, and someone asks me "Hey uhhhh, Cheech..  You think I could tie that Grumpy Frumpy in red?"  My answer is usually "Nope.  According to the Universal Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Codes and Regulations Handbook Unit 48 Section 246-45.7 , the Grumpy Frumpy can only be tied in yellow/red and peacock/lime.  Sorry."  I don't really respond like this, but I'm definitely thinking it!

I'm an artist at heart, and I'm always thinking creatively about how I can use certain materials.  Here are a few pointers to help you break out of the world of Hare's Ears and Pheasant Tails (both great patterns by the way).

The Low Fat Minnow with marabou, dubbing, and flash.
  1. Become familiar with the properties of different materials.  Try to envision how these materials will marry with the other materials on the hook, and how it will behave in the water.  Does it sink/float? Is it rigid/soft? etc.  A good example of this is the Low Fat Minnow. This fly looks so-so out of water, but it's dead sexy when it's wet.  Being familiar with the properties of each material will help you more than anything else when creating a new pattern.
  2. Don't be afraid to experiment with different colors.  What do you think was going through Andy Carlson's mind when he first tied the Purple Haze?  Thanks to his willingness to break the rules and tie a purple Parachute Adams, we have a very very effective dry fly.  One of my buddies gave me a crazy color list for the Grumpy Frumpy one time that I would have never tried on my own.  Thanks to his insight, we now have the cat puke color that catches fish all over the place.  Thanks Kev. (And no, you should never combine chartreuse, pale yellow, and cinnamon: Unit 567 Section 878-73).
  3. Don't be afraid to substitute materials.  When I worked in the fly shop, I would get a kick out of the guys who would come in and ask for Hareline Dubbing #18792347 Olive/Rust/
    Prince Nymph with dubbing instead or peacock herl.
    Dun. "The pattern just won't work if I don't have this exact color."  They would look at me like I was the devil as I tried to explain the concept of substituting a similar color for the one they were looking for.  My favorite fly hack is to use arctic fox instead of marabou for buggers.  Nothing new, but it adds a whole new element of durability to the pattern.  Other popular subs: Shaggy dubbing for Chenille on buggers. Palmer chenille instead of hackle.  Snowshoe rabbit for CDC.  CDC for poly yarn.  The list goes on and on.
  4. Test Test Test...  Once you settle on that whacked out color combo for your bugger or that new fangled streamer pattern, only tie up 3 or 4 of them before you go into full on production mode.  Test them to make sure they work before you tie up 78 of them and find out that not even bluegill will eat them.  I love to test my own flies, but the best
    The Bunny Emerger came after many trial and error sessions.
    way to find out if they work is to let other people fish them.  They will fish em' hard, and it's no skin off their backs if they snap it off on a tree, or to tell you that it sucks.  We tend to fish our own new stuff longer and harder to try to "make" them work.
Hope this rambling will lead to many new creations from the vise.  Just don't tell the tying police that i'm bashing their regulations handbook.