By Christopher Helm

The following information is designed to provide information, techniques, and methods for improving fly tying instruction for established instructors, and providing a foundation for those interested in becomming a fly tying instructor.

QUALIFICATIONS: For fly tiers with no instructional experience, the following recommendations are designed to provide guidelines and minimum qualifications before beginning to provide instruction to beginning fly tiers.

A person wishing to be a fly tying instructor should have gone through formal training with one or more experienced fly tiers. A local experienced tier may serve as a mentor, and the would-be-instructor may take classes at Conclaves from recognized instructors or with visiting celebrity tiers that may be teaching classes at a local fly shop or club. Just completing a five to seven week beginners course is far from being sufficient amount of time. The training and practice should go well beyond that time period, extending over several years. While there are some who can "teach themselves", the reality is that the learning curve is much longer than those receiving formal instruction. Another concern is that the instructor who has not been exposed to a number of other highly skilled tiers may have developed methods which are unorthodox or just considered wrong by the well versed fly tying professional. An example of this would be a tier who wraps the thread backwards (wraps counter clock wise) to what is considered the correct method that is used by 99% of all tiers.

While there is some room for diversity in fly tying methods, there are a number of fundamentals that all highly experienced and recognized tiers use in their craft or art. The aspiring instructor should be firmly based in fundamentals and have a solid knowledge of tools, materials, and methods. An instructor should be well versed on various methods of accomplishing the same task where that situation exists, and be able to communicate these options to the student and explain why he has chosen a particular method. Reading a variety of books and periodicals, as well as viewing videos can contribute significantly to this knowledge base.

The word "experience" can be interpreted in many different ways. There are some tiers who claim to have 20 or more years of experience. Upon further discussion the truth is that the person may only tie flies a total of 10 or 12 hours per year. That small of amount of time hardly qualifies as a year of experience. What we have here is less than one year of experience over 20 years which would not allow the tier to develop their skills to a high enough level to be even considered an intermediate level tier.

At the onset of a tying career, the tier should spend five or six years of tying on a regular basis, which means three or four days per week with a minimum of two or three hours at a sitting. Tying should take place all year, not just during the "off season" when the weather conditions do not allow fishing or other outdoor activities.

The fact that a person is only teaching "beginners" is not an excuse for not having complete control and mastery of the skills of tying.

How does one know if they are qualified to even be considered a candidate to be an instructor? That recommendation would most likely come from other tiers who have observed the person's work and is more highly regarded by fellow fly tiers as well as fishermen who may have seen their work or requested that this person ties flies for them.

Even an individual who had tied extraordinary flies for many years, and may also be published does not guarantee success as an instructor. There are a number of other attributes and qualities that must be present for the person to succeed.

First there must be an interest in teaching. It cannot be looked on as a chore or obligation. The motivation to teach may be brought about by the desire to help others, give back, make available what was not available to them when they first started tying, earn money, a passion for the hobby, receive recognition from one's peers, meeting a need in the local club or community, etc. Of course, some of these motives are more noble than others.


Communications skills are a critical factor to becoming a good instructor. The instructor should be well versed in the terminology used in tying including materials, tools, and techniques. An example would be knowing the difference between a hackle barb, barbule, and barbicil. There are numerous terms of this type that make explaining tying much easier if the instructor has a solid foundation in the nomenclature.

One way of increasing one's knowledge is by extensive reading. Thirty years ago fly tying books were extremely rare. In the past fifteen years the number of books published on the subject have exploded. Every month there are several new books becoming available. In the not to distant past, there was only one fly fishing/tying periodical available, however, today that has changed dramatically. In North America there are at least 10 publications devoted to fly fishing and fly tying, with 'Fly Tyer' being exclusively devoted to tying. Anyone wishing to build their knowledge base should subscribe to at least one or two of these publications. This also allows the tier to keep current on the introduction of new materials, fly patterns, and other information that may be asked about by their students.

Does subscribing to a periodical mean that the tier needs to read and absorb every magazine article? Definitely not. There are some articles which have little relevancy. Those should be passed by. In order to stay abreast of changes in the industry, new materials and tools, and other developments in techniques, etc., the instructor must read.

Excuses abound about why some don't subscribe to at least one publication. Comments like, 'it is the same thing over and over", are simply an excuse and not true. Every publication has at least one article that has relevancy or newsworthy data. In most cases there is more than one article in which the instructor can learn a new tip or technique. If the tier has a true passion for the sport or hobby, it should follow that they would like to keep up with what is happening in their pastime. One's knowledge base is built bit by bit.

Teaching a tying class may require some rehearsing, plus keeping a 3"x5" card with notes next to the tying station with reminders of the key points. Once the instructor has ingrained the information into his memory the card can be eliminated. Rehearsing may involve talking through the fly at home step by step instructions while tying a pattern that is to be taught. Sometimes this leads the instructor to be a little more analytical of everything he does and says to make sure that information is clearly conveyed to the student. Instructors need to assume that the students have no knowledge about the fly and the techniques used to tie the pattern.

Since all students learn at a different speed and with different methodology, the instructor should be able to convey the information being taught in more than one way for some who do not grasp the way the information was first provided. Many times it helps to repeat a short explanation or statement twice with a different voice inflection and saying the words more deliberately the second time the statement is made. A handout should be provided with each pattern to be tied that shows the construction of the fly step by step.

Despite every effort to communicate with some students they will not grasp the concept very readily. These individuals may require extra assistance or even private instruction to help them through the learning phase. This type of student is not hard to identify.

Even though the instructor may do an excellent job of demonstrating and describing the process, and a step-by-step handout is provided, every step of the tying process of a pattern needs to be checked by the instructor. This means walking around the classroom and looking at each student's fly at every tying step. As an example, the instructions may call for seven or eight wraps of 0.010 lead wire in the thorax portion of a nymph pattern. Some students will wrap the lead toward the rear of the fly rather than in the thorax area.

If the student has not completed that step correctly, the instructor should indicate to the student what needs to be done to make an adjustment. After giving the student an opportunity to make the adjustment, the correction should be checked again before proceeding to the next step.

In some situations the instructor may need to demonstrate on the student's hook, and then ask the student to demonstrate the procedure for the instructor.


There are a number of other attributes that make for a successful instructor. One of the most important is organizational skills. This includes a number of steps that are done prior to the first class being taught, and subsequent to each class. This will be discussed in a later section on classroom preparation.

A sense of humor is an invaluable asset to keep the class light and fun for the students. Although it is recognized that everyone does not have a noticeable sense of humor, having this attribute will make the classroom setting more enjoyable for everyone.

Being on time for each class and being ready to start at the appointed hour should be a normal part of each instructor's routine. Tardiness does nothing for the instructor's credibility and also shortchanges the student's time for which they are most likely paying. If the course is being taught at a distant site, the instructor should allow enough time to arrive and set up his tying station as well as lay out the materials, handouts, etc.


A Syllabus should be provided for each student at the start of the first class. the syllabus can contain a variety of valuable information, and may vary slightly depending on the type of flies being taught and the philosophy of the instructor.

The syllabus may contain all or some of the following:

1. A list of the recipes of the patterns to be tied in the beginner's class. The recipe should include the hook model and size range that may be used, as well as the denier and color of the thread, materials for the entire fly divided into each part of the fly such as body, wings, thorax, head, etc. As an option the instructor may provide a sample fly for each student to use a model.

2. List of local and mail order fly tying material supply houses.

3. Include a page on hooks, sizes, the meaning of the "X" as it relates to the hook parts, size and wire thickness. Companies such as Angler's Sport Group provide printed sheets of all their hook models and a hook cross reference chart so the student can easily find common hook sizes in a nmber of brands. This chart also contains information about the different type hook eye styles, hook parts, and styles of hooks, such as sproat, Carlisle, etc. The book "Hooks for the Fly" by William E Schmidt published by Stackpole Books can also be listed as a ssource for hook cross referencing.

4. A recommendation of 8 - 10 fly tying books for beginners should be listed for the students. If the instructor has one or more of these books available the book(s) should be held up for the students to see the covers. These books should show the step-by-step process of tying practical entry level flies such as a wooley bugger, elk hair caddis, gold ribbed hare's ear nymph, etc. One or two comprehensive pattern books depicting photos of each fly and the recipe for each could also be included with the beginning book suggestions.

There are a number of excellent videos or DVD's available to compliment the beginners's books. For some students these aids will be more valuable than a book. Several of these DVD's or video aids follow the books, and are designed to teach the basics without the use of a book.

5. List all of the North American fly fishing/tying periodicals, along with numerous regional publications. The name of the relevant regional and national publications along with the subscription mailing address mnay be listed on the same page with the beginning fly tying books.

6. Including fly proportions charts are a major asset to the beginning student. These charts give the student a reference source when they are practicing or forget specific proportions on a style of fly. Charts should be included for dry flies, streamers, wet flies, and nymphs. If other pattern styles are included in the beginning course, such as saltwater streamers or warm water hair bugs, a proportion chart should be added for these regional patterns.

7.List all the major threads used by the modern fly tier by denier as well as the old "aught" system. This list should be broken down by thread size with an explanation of which threads are used for certain sizes of hooks and fly patterns typically tied on those hooks.

8. An optional part of the syllabus may include one page on the history of fly tying. This information may be briefly described at the first class rather than written in the syllabus. Students do enjoy having a little history included in the class which adds to the enjoyment of the class. Included in this introductory part of the subject could be a comment about blind eye hooks and that tiers at one time did not use fly tying vises, but rather held the hook between the thumb and index finger.

9. Include information about general category of flies, imitators vs, attractors. In the same section briefly discuss the types of insects that are being tied to duplicate these insects. Briefly describe mayflies, caddis flies, stone flies, midges, terrestrials, crustaceans, and minnow/baitfish.

10. The essential fly tying tools may be listed and the use of each briefly described. This information may be ommitted if a thorough discussion of each is included at the beginning of the first class.

11. Since hackle is used in so many different patterns, the parts of the feather should be explained during the first class. There is an article written by Marvin Nolte entitled "Barbs and Barbules" in the 1990 winter issue of "American Angler/Fly Tyer" which thoroughly explains all the terms and has drawings to show all the parts of a feather, duck quill, and peacock herl. I am sure Marvin would grant you permission to copy this one page article for the students.


Fly tying classes may be offered in a variety of settings including a fly shop, community building, church, the instructor's basement or workshop, VFW hall, etc. There are a number of factors that should be constant wherever the class is held.

Good lighting is a key ingredient to make the learning experience pleasant for both the instructor and students. Most beginning students will not have a lamp available when they are just being introduced to fly tying. If the ceiling lighting is not adequate for the students, the instructor should provide inexpensive lamps that may be purchased at most large discount stores. If the classes are held in a fly shop, it is high probability the shop will have lamps available for the students.

The table(s) used for the classes should have a lip of at least 1 1/2 " around the edge to allow a C-clamp for a vise or lamp to be attached. These tables are usually eight feet long and will accommodate 8 people.

A laminated poster board in a light green or pale blue color should be placed at each tying station. This provides a good background for the tier and also makes it easier for the student to see their tools.

The chairs used in tying classes are typically the fold up variety. While these are not the most comfortable or ergonomically ideal, the student can bring a boat cushion to make the seat more comfortable as well as raise them up approximately 2". If the financial resources and space permits, adjustable armless secretary chairs are the ideal fly tying chair.

To enable the students to view the instructor's tying demonstration, a large screen TV with a video camera and a monitor for the instructor provides the most ideal teaching setting. If this equipment is not available, the students will have to cluster around the instructor each time a step in the tying process is being demonstrated.

The room temperature should be betweeen 68 and 70 degrees.

If the class is two hours in length it is not necessary to have a "break" period. For classes that are longer in duration there should be a short break of five to ten minutes provided at a convenient time midway through the class.


There are a few basic tools that every beginning tier should use. These tools include a vise, bobbin, scissors, bodkin, whip finish tool, and a small or medium size hair stacker. A few beginning teaching situations may require one or two other tools where the flies being taught are very specific local patterns.

In most situations, it is better for the student to wait until after the first class before buying tools. When the class is taught in a fly shop or through a club many times the basic tools are provided until the student can assess what tools and which brands of tools are most appropriate to purchase. If the class is being taught in a community center, church, etc., the instructor should provide a basic set of tools.

Where the student has received a "starter fly tying kit" from a family member as a gift, the student may discover that some of the tools are substandard which requires additional better quality tools being purchased. Students should be discouraged going to a big box outdoor store and purchasing a kit until the instructor has explained the pros and cons of each tool, and the specific qualities the student should look for when making a purchase.

There is also the circumstance where the student has inherited their grandfather's or uncle's fly tying tools that may be even more inadequate than a "starter fly tying kit." The instructor should inspect the tools and make recommendations as to using some or all of the tools or buying new tools.

Many students take the position that they don't want to spend much money on tools until "they find out if they like it." The downside to this is that substandard tools many times will be a handicap to the beginning students. There is no substitute for good tools. The experienced tier knows that all too well and should encourage the beginner to buy the best quality tools they can afford. If the beginner purchases top quality tools and decides at a later date that they are not likely to continue to tie flies, the high quality tools can easily be sold to another student. Poor quality tools are not likely to be purchased by anyone.

The cost for good quality vise and tools may run between $150 and $200. An imported starter kit may be as little as $50. The old adage that "you get what you pay for" applies to fly tying tools as well as most other merchandise we purchase.


To date, no one has invented the "perfect" vise, that is combining all the best qualities and features of both the rotary and standard 30 degree style vises. The standard base vise body will rest at a 30 degree angle and have a cam locking mechanism or two knobs to tighten on the side of the jaws. Some of the higher quality standard vises have bodies that are adjustable from horizontal to almost vertical.

Rotary vises have become very popular in the recent years, although most tiers do not use the rotary feature for which it was intended.

From an ergonomic standpoint, the 30 degree vise or the vise that permits adjusting the angle of the jaws allows for easier access to the jaws with the thumb and index or middle finger. The ability to position the thumb and index finger parallel to the hook shank is critical to using the pinch technique for mounting materials on the hook. Many rotary vises make this step difficult or impossible depending on the amount of the vise's spindle that is directly behind the jaws.

For most beginning tiers a standard vise with a 30 degree angle is probably a better starting choice. While the rotary style vise is the "in" vise at the present time, it isn't necessarily the best choice for the beginner.

The rotary vise has the advantage of being able to rotate the fly 360 degrees yet keeping the hook shank level or "on plane" to the tying station surface at all times. The ability to wrap tinsel, chenille, hackle, and other materials by merely rotating the jaws with vise handle has vast appeal to the uninitiated. In truth, most tiers do not use this option which utilizes the assistance of a bobbin holder.

Pedestal or base model? There are obvious advantages to both. Pedestal vises to the uninitiated seems like the logical choice when starting out. They can be placed just about anywhere. The wife's good table won't be damaged by a C-clamp being tightened on the table top. This problem is easily remedied by putting a cork or laminated placemat of some type on the table before attaching the clamp.

On the down side, many pedestal bases are not heavy enough to keep the vise stationary when even modest thread torque is brought to bear on the hook locked in the vise jaws. This limits the student's ability to apply proper thread pressure on the material and hook. When tying hair bugs they are virtually useless because of the pressure brought to bare on the hair. Because the thread pressure many times is made toward the tier, the vise moves every time and the necessary pressure cannot be maintained on the hair.

It may be argued that most beginning tiers will only be tying basic trout flies. While that is true initially, within a year many students express an interest in a much broader range of flies. A pedestal vise is a clear disadvantage to tying larger flies such as deer hair bass bugs or larger saltwater patterns.

On the plus side for a C-clamp model is that the vise is closer to the tier by several inches. There is also working room for moving the hand holding the bobbin down and toward the tier. The table under a pedestal inhibits hand movement for doing a number of tying techniques.

Ergonomically either a standard C-clamp or pedestal model may create problems for the tier. With both of these vise setups the tier's arms are raised up and outward that may, after an hour of tying, create tightness in shoulder area on either side of the neck, and sometimes in the lower neck as well. The solution to this muscle tightness is to use a L shaped vise extension which only can be used with a C-clamp model. The setup allows the tier to tie with their arms at their sides as well as have both a top and side view of the fly. Any muscle tightness or fatigue on the upper shoulders is eliminated.

Somel vises are only designed to tie trout flies, while others can tie very small trout flies to large saltwater patterns. The more versitile the first vise purchased, the higher the probablility the student will not have to purchase another vise within a couple years. Although they may be spending a little more initially, they are saving money by not having to buy the vise over when they discover the shortcomings of their first vise. The instructor can help the student understand all of their options by clearly explaining these pros and cons of each model during the first class.

Many students state they don't want to put much money into equipment until they are sure "they are going to like it and continue tying." That thinking can be a serious handicap when learning to tie. Poor tools make the learning process less satisfying. Perhaps rental of a vise and the essential tools is an option if a fly shop has that type of program. A private instructor can offer the same type of rental program. With a shop, any rental money spent may be applied to the purchase of equipment at the end of the course. Clubs may allow the students to use the vise and tools for the duration of the class to allow the student to practice at home.


Sharp scissors with a reasonably fine point are essential for cutting materials as close as possible to the hook. Beginning students can buy a very capable pair of scissors in the price rangeof $12 - $24. These scissors may be American made such as Anvil, or off-shore scissors such as Dr. Slick. The blade length on these scissors is approximately 1" long.

The American made scissors will have a longer cutting life, assuming that only natural materials are being cut. For cutting wire, tinsel, lead, and other human made materials an inexpensive pair costing around $5 will suffice and help lengthen the life of the more costly scissors.

For the person who wants extraordinary quality the Solingen brand of scissors must be considered among the finest in the world. The Solingen name is a trademark for scissors and fine cutlery made in Solingen, Germany, where there are numerous manufacturers. Just using a pair of these scissors can really demonstrate the difference. A pair of these scissors, depending on size and blade length, may cost between $40 and $100. These are for the beginning person who has the budget and wants only the best in quality. More experienced tiers will many times be willing to invest in a pair of these.

Any beginner who has a strong interest intying deer hair bugs will have to invest in scissors with 2" long blade hair scissors. One or both of the blades are serrated which aids in gripping and cutting deer, elk, and other types of ungulate hair. The extra long blades are necessary for efficiency incutting larger clumps of material.


The "bobbin holder" is the correct name for the tool which holds the "bobbin", or spool of thread. The commonly used word for this tool is "bobbin."

There are two types of bobbin holders. The standard bobbin, which has been used for years, has two wire arms and either brass or plastic sockets at the end of the wires, with an attached hollow tube, the top of which is either flared or has a ceramic, ruby, or titanium insert to eliminate thread damage from burrs that may be on edge of the tube opening.

This two arm style bobbin holder is suitable for most tying requirements. The chief shortcoming of this type bobbin holder is that the amount of tension on the spool is hard to control. The most common way to achieve this thread tension is by bending the wire arms either in or out depending on whether the spool pressure needs to be increased or decreased. Pressure control on the spool can also be exerted by squeezing the arms with the hand. All of this translates to effective thread control which is essential to high quality flies. The instructor needs to emphasize this necessity of thread control to control materials.

The other bobbin holder is the tension control style which has a single arm with a shaft to hold the spool of thread. A pressure plate is placed over the spool of thread, followed by a tension adjuster screw that is slid through the center hole on the pressure plate and inside the shaft. Pressure is exerted on the pressure plate by turning the cross-shaped tension adjuster. Each turn of the tension adjuster puts additional pressure on the spool. The two brands of this type of bobbin holder available are the Rite(registered trademark) Adjustable Bobbin and the Griffin Adjustable Bobbin.

The Rite Bobbin is suitable for all thread deniers. The Griffin Adjustable Bobbin is suited to heavy denier thread only as the threads on the tension screw are too wide for fine adjustment.


Students should be taught how to do a whip finish with their fingers as well as use a Matarelli style rotary whip finish tool. The Matarelli whip finisher is one of the most practical tools to learn, and is not difficult to teach if the students are shown the procedure in a step-by-step fashion.

There are a number of other whip finish tools on the market that are more difficult to rotate because they must be rolled in the tier's fingers rather than holding the tool while rotating the entire tool.

Students should be taught to make the whip finish from the back of the head toward the hook eye. Thread pressure should be light, keeping the thread flat, as this step is a finishing knot and not meant to hold the materials in place. The thread wraps made prior to the whip finish should accomplish securing any materials.

Head cement is not required on small trout flies for fishing if a whip finish has been used. For display flies, classic Atlantic salmon flies, steelhead, saltwater, and bass flies a high gloss head cement may be used to give the fly a more finished look.


The three tool set with six different hole sizes to fit all sizes of hooks is an invaluable aid to the beginner and advanced tier. Selecting the correctly designed tools with a long taper on each end of the tool is important for ease of use. Most imported half hitch tools have a very short, abrupt taper which does allow the thread to slide off easily The Edgin and Wasatch half hitch tools have a longer tapered end which performs much more efficiently.

In addition to using the tool for half hitches, it also can be used to make a whip finish on certain fly patterns, such as parachute dry flies and deer hair patterns such as a muddler minnow. This is accomplished by making three wraps around the tapered end and sliding the thread off while twisting the tool counterclockwise.

The reason this method of doing a whip finish for all fly patterns is not as desirable, is that locating the thread in a precise position over the head cannot be accomplished. The Matarelli style whip finish or using a hand whip finish allows for more precision in laying the thread down in abutting wraps.


Although the bodkin is the simplest of basic fly tying tools, there are a number of differences between the many bodkins on the market. First, is the handle that can vary in thickness and length. The handle can be made of metal, wood, plastic, or a deer antler that is curved lending itself to use with the application of epoxy.

The needle can vary in length, thickness, and taper. For most general tying uses a thickness of 1/16" is quite adequate. A much thinner needle may be appropriate for specific uses such as splitting thread or applying a drop of head cement to a small dry fly.

The bodkin has a multitude of uses in fly tying which can be explained or demonstrated throughout the length of the course.



Most beginning fly tying courses will utilize hair in some patterns that may require stacking to even the hair tips. There are four or five sizes of stackers available with each lending itself suitable to tying different size flies depending on the length and thickness of the required hair. Many students ask if more than one stacker is required? The obvious concern is that they don't want to purchase more than one stacker. In most cases a small and medium stacker is all that is required. If the student wishes to pursue tying bass bugs a large or jumbo stacker is required.

The effectiveness of any hair stacker is based mostly on the material used to make the stacker. Heavier metal such as brass provides more weight and when tapped on the edge of the tying table more "shock" is despensed to the hair. Aluminum is the next most effective material, followed by wood provided the stacker has a brass base.


In order to make stacking hair as easy as possible, the hair must be combed to remove underfur and any short hairs that would impede the moving of the hair during the staking process.

There are a number of different types of combs that will provide satisfactory service including the standard black pocket comb. Pet combs work well and they can be found in any pet supply store. There are a few combs manufactured specifically for fly tying including the Griffin Bone Comb (which is made from the straightened horns of a Texas Longhorn Steer), and two different small metal combs marketed by Wasatch Tools.

What is most important in selecting a comb is the space between the comb's teeth. Some combs with very little space between each tooth do not do an adequate job of combing deer hair, but are quite adequate for calf tail or calf body hair. Depending on the variety of material used the student may eventually purchase two or even three combs.


If the course includes spinning or stacking deer hair a hair packer will be required. The two most effective hair packers are the Brassie and the Anvil Packer. Both of these tools allow the tier to push the thread and the hair along the shank of the hook.

There are several other packers available including homemade varieties such as aluminum tubes with a hole drilled in the center and ball point pens with the center removed. The disadvantage of this style of packer is that the contact point of the tool is not on the shank but slightly above the shank, because the tool must pass over the hook eye. This style of packer actually pulls the hair at the hook shank rather than pushes it. It is more difficult to move the thread which aids in creating a more durable fly. The hair also may be damaged during the packing process.


A pair of tweezers is not generally included in beginning fly tying kits, however, they are an invaluable tool for all levels of tying skill. It is recommended that the beginner make this tool one of the first purchases after the beginning tools are acquired. Here again price dictates quality. The imported variety of straight or curved tweezers are around $6 -$8 per pair. Higher quality tweezers such as Tweezerman are around $20 per pair. One can easily detect the difference after using both the low cost and higher priced tweezers.


There are a myriad of other tools available including dubbing brushes, dubbing spinners, wing burners, hair snares, smooth surface needle nose pliers, bead tweezers, bobbin threaders, drying wheels for epoxy work, etc. As the tier progresses in their skill level and broadens their range of tying they will discover other tools which will enhance their tying satisfaction.


The following is an analysis and an explanation of the instructor's teaching of a specific pattern. Of course, the same thought and analysis goes into every fly being taught.


Where there is information about the fly to be taught, students enjoy hearing about the history of the fly. When and who invented the pattern, and what was the reasoning behind the creation of the fly are topics to consider. Discuss the variations of the pattern, color combinations, the original materials and any substitutes that may now be available.

The woolly bugger was invented by Russell Blessing of Harrisburg, PA. He created the pattern to replicate hellgrammites. There are numerous variations of this pattern, and the creative fly tiers will always try to reinvent the wheel. For beginners, it is best to concentrate on teaching as close to the original pattern as possible. Students may "experiment" on their own time, as they may become bored with tying large numbers of a black bugger or any other pattern for that matter. There is an element of creativeness in every tier.


The hook style used in any pattern is governed to a great extent by the style of the insect, baitfish, or other creature that is trying to be imitated. In the case of the Woolly Bugger, a 4x long hook is traditional, while a 3x long is also very appropriate. Sample hook models include Mustad 79580 or 9674, Daiichi 2220, Tiemco 9300, etc.

The size of the hook ranges between 4 and 14 according to Blessing. In the smaller sizes a standard length hook is recommended to imitate caddis and fish fly larvae.


Depending on the situation where the bugger is to be fished, the pattern may be tied with no weight or weighted with a lead wrapped underbody. If the fly is to be weighted either non-lead wire or lead wire may be used. For a size 6 hook, 0.025 lead is an appropriate thickness. Remind the students that wrapping the hook shank with lead will cause the fly to swim upside down. This is not a negative since there is less chance of the hook hanging up on a log or other obstacles near the bottom of the stream or lake.


For buggers in sizes 4 thru 10 a 140 dernier thread is appropriate. The brands would include UNI 6/0 (138 denier), Guderbrod 6/0 (143 denier), WAPSI 140 (denier), Benecchi 10/0 (120 denier). Danaville 6/0, which is 70 denier, may prove to be a little light for the larger buggers. Thread color should match the primary color of the fly.


Despite some mild debate on this tying procedure, most tiers place the hook in the vise by placing the heel of the hook (or lower part of the hook bend) in the vise jaws. Burying the entire bend and point in the jaws is not a well accepted tying method. Some tiers do this to avoid hitting the hook point with the thread. What this demonstrates is a lack of good thread control skills of the tier. This style of hook placement also creates the problem of making it difficult to wrap the thread on the back portion of the hook shank, especially on very small hooks. In addition it may be argued that the spear or point of the hook may be damaged. The student needs to learn good thread control skills which includes working around the hook point when wrapping at the end of the shank. This is accomplished by keeping the bobbin tip within an inch of the hook when establishing a thread base on the bare hook shank.


Virtually every tier has to face the problem of running out of space on the hook shank and not having sufficient room for the head of the fly. To help deal with this problem, demonstrate leaving the "head space" as bare shank by starting the thread base one hook eye length (or more depending on the type of fly ) behind the hook eye. This small area behind the hook eye can be referred to as the "no parking zone."


A base of thread is typically placed over the hook shank before tying virtually every fly. With patterns such as the woolly bugger it isn't absolutely necessary to have each thread wrap abutting the previous wrap. However, it is to the student's advantage to develop solid fundametals and learn to have good control of the thread regardless of the part of the fly being built. If the student begins by wrapping each thread wrap next to the previous wrap, after a short period of time it will become second nature in tying a fly.


Students need to understand the dynamics of wrapping thread and the fact that each thread wrap puts one twist in the thread for right handed tiers. Left handers untwist the normal thread twist (installed when the thread is spooled) in the initial wraps, and then a twist begins to occur as more wraps are made. The left handed tier needs to spin the bobbin clockwise to return the thread to a flat posture. Most threads used in fly tying are made with a simple twist or are a continuous filament style. The simple twist is put into the thread when the thread is wrapped on the spool. In order to maintain a smooth thread base while wrapping the thread base on the hook shank, the bobbin must be spun counter clockwise by the right handed tier periodically.

The brand of thread used is also a factor in making the smooth thread base. Most threads lend themselves well to quickly and smoothly covering the thread base. A thread such as UNI 8/0 (72 denier) is a round, bonded thread that is not designed to flatten.

Conversely, WAPSI UTC thread in 70 or 140 denier, and UNI-Nylon 70 and 120 denier lays extremely flat and covers the shank with a thread base using fewer wraps than other threads. Gel spun threads, in addition to their tremendous strength, also lay extremely flat and are well suited to covering a hook shank quickly and smoothly. Gudebrod 10/0 (45 denier), 8/0 (67 denier), 6/0 (143 denier), Danville 6/0 (70 denier), Benecchi 12/0 (70 denier), all will flatten.

It should be emphasized that the thread they are using does make a difference in numerous aspects of tying a fly. Selecting the correct thread does make a difference.


If a lead body is desired to add weight to the fly, the lead size selected must fit the hook size. For a size 6 4xl hook, 0.025 is an appropriate lead size.

The lead wraps should begin about 1/4" from the rear of the hook shank and be tightly wrapped to within one lead turn of the bare head space.

After the lead wrap is complete, the thread should be wrapped over the lead with non-abutting wraps to the front of the lead. Explain the necessity to wrap a "small driveway" of thread between the lead and the head space. This step will provide a foundation for the last wrap of chenille or ultra chenille to provide a smooth transition before tying off the chenille.

It is not necessary to completely cover the lead with thread. By keeping the thread flat and making wraps at a 45 degree angle the thread will not fall between the cracks of the lead wraps.

Tying in the tail is the first opportunity to teach the "pinch technique." This is one of the most important techniques in fly tying and is a fundamental that every student must master. This technique can be taught separately before tying a fly using a piece of gift wrap yarn.

Where the lead underbody is in place emphasize the need to cut the marabou before tying in the tail. It is much easier to cut the material before tying it on the hook rather than afterwards. This is another fundamental that focuses on efficiency. Where ever possible, cut the material before tying it on the hook.


Selecting the correct type of marabou is critical to making not only an attractive fly but also a fly that will work effectively in the water. The woolly bugger marabou or blood feathers are best suited to this pattern. the long quill marabou is not well suited to tying buggers.

Students enjoy knowing the origin of materials. The original "marabou" came from the stork, which is now illegal to possess. The marabou "blood feathers" sold for fly tying today come from the breast area of the domestic turkey.

The marabou blood feathers are typically sold by the package as "strung marabou." These feathers are aligned and sewn with thread to maintain a neat uniform appearance which also lends itself well to eye appealing packaging.

The quality of each feather will vary and the student needs to understand which feathers are well suited to a bugger tail and those that should be discarded. The rachis on some marabou is very thick and not as effective for tailing. Those feathers with a thin rachis and long barbs are the most effective for marabou tails.

The length of the tail is a good opportunity to discuss fly "proportions" which is a critical aspect of every fly. Fly proportions are based on the hook being used. For the woolly bugger the tail is equal in length to the full hook length. Emphasis should be made on the fact that the marabou which is tied on the hook is not included in the measurement of the tail.

To facilitate as much movement as possible in the tail, the tip of the marabou rachis should be removed by merely grabbing the tip with the thumb and index finger and "popping" this piece off the feather.

Discuss the number of the marabou feathers to be used, usually two or three, and that with most flies, usually less is more. Most beginning tiers tend to use too much material. Emphasize the need for sparseness as opposed to a bulky fly.

Ater the barbs are removed on the lower half of the feather, instruct the students to hold it up and determine whether the feather has any curve. Most marabou feathers will have a slight curve. The concave side of the feathers should be facing each other when they are tied in. If three feathers are used and one of these is straight, it should be placed in the center of the two concave feathers.

Explain that the two or three marabou feathers should be placed in a vertical position. The thread should be positioned at the very end of the shank. If no lead is used, after securing the marabou, the remaining marabou rachis portion of the feather should be secured on the hook shank up to the bare head space.

If a lead underbody is required, the marabou should be cut leaving about 3/8" to 1/4" of marabou to be tied on the hook. The remaining portion of the shank may be tightly wrapped with 0.025 (size 4 or 6 hook) lead up to within one lead wrap of the bare head space, making sure to leave approximately 1/4" of bare space at the rear of the hook shank. The lead should be placed on the hook shank before tying in the marabou tail.

After the tail and (optional lead) is tied in, the next step is to cut a piece of medium chenille or ultra chenille (vernille.) About 3/4" of the exterior of the chenille should be removed by gripping the chenille with the scissor tips. By pulling on the chenille, the scissors will remove the outer core.

It is more difficult to remove outer core of Ultra Chenille as the core is a nylon material. This may take a few practice tries for the beginner. The grip on the Ultra Chenille with scissors tips must be very firm, stopping just short of cutting through the chenille.

It is more desirable to teach beginners with standard chenille rather that Ultra Chenille. The Ultra Chenille creates a denser, neater body than standard chenille which the students may try at a later time. The important point is to make sure that they understand the difference in the makeup of the material.

Once the 1/2" of core is exposed it should be tied in on the bottom of the hook shank at the very end of the shank immediately adjacent to the marabou tail. The piece of chenille should be long enough to allow the student to wrap the entire length of the shank and have an inch or two of chenille left over.


Saddle hackle provides the best length and shape for tying a bugger. The barb length should be at least one and one quarter times the gape of the hook. The students should be reminded that the chenille makes a much thicker surface over which the hackle is wrapped. Therefore, when measuring the barb length, the hackle size selected should be one or two sizes smaller than what typically would be selected for the hook size being used.

The hackle selected can be from a full saddle or strung saddle hackle. The barb length of hackle from a complete high quality saddle, such as those from Whiting Farms, will be the same in length for almost the entire length of the feather.

Strung saddle hackle, which comes mostly from imported birds, will have barbs that are shorter near the tip and longer toward the base of the feather. This is an important feature of the feather that the student must understand, because of which end is tied on to the hook for palmering the body.

With most high quality full saddles either end of the saddle may be tied in first. Which end is tied in can be determined by the tier after inspecting the feather.

From an esthetic viewpoint, tying in by the tip creates a more pleasing looking fly with the barbs gradually increasing in length as they are wrapped to the front of the fly body. When reaching the space immediately behind the head, if there is more hackle remaining the barbs may be folded and wrapped which creates a full hackle collar behind the head.

The simplest way to tie in the hackle next to the chenille is to pull the barbs perpendicular to the rachis prior to tying on the hackle uner the hook. The shiny side of the feather should face the hook eye.

After the hackle is properly secured, the chenille should be wrapped behind the hackle one full turn, with the second turn in front of the hackle. The remaining wraps of chenille to the front of the shank should be wrapped at a 90 degree angle to the shank. Each wrap should be snug against the previous wrap.

The chenille should be wrapped to the back of the head space. Two or three turns of thread will secure the shenille. In order to complete the tie off cleanly, the excess chenille can be stripped from the chenille core with the tips of the scissors. After the excess chenille material is removed, the core may be cut. Several additional flat thread wraps may be made with the thread ending up at the back of the head to tie off the hackle.

On a size six hook make approximately seven evenly spaced wraps of hackle to the back of the head. If a sufficient amount of rachis still remains, the barbs may be folded by using the edge of a pair of scissors to slide along the top edge of the rachis to fold the barbs. This remaining hackle can be used to make a collar of two or three wraps of hackle before tying off to build the head.

When tying off the hackle, suggest holding the hackle straight up, or in other words, perpendicular to the hook shank. Make three wraps of thread, bend the rachis toward the tier and cut the excess rachis as close as possible to the thread.

Build a neat head with FLAT thread with the thread ending up at the back of the head.

Whip finish the head from the back of the head toward the hook eye with three or four wraps of thread.

Cut the remaining thread or use a razor blade to slice the thread.

Head cement is optional if the head has been whip finished. Many tiers feel it makes the fly more complete, and in the case of a display fly provides avery professional appearance.


It is always helpful to explain how to fish a fly, i.e., the where, when, and how of using the completed fly. Suggest the rod length and line weight along with the appropriate leader length and tippet size.


[ In this article, Chris has described some of the characteristics you should look for in an instructor of fly tying - extensive fly tying experience, exposure to some formal training with other more experienced tiers, knowlege of techniques, knowledge of tools of the trade, knowledge of materials used in tying, knowledge of methods of getting the fly tied, recognized by other tiers as a teacher, ability to communicate with various personalities and can adjust to different learning styles, is well read and up to date regarding fly tying concerns.

Other recommendations and suggestions for a good learning experience include preparing a syllabus (have some plans for the class outcomes), include the introduction to and how to acquire useful tools and materials, what to consider for the teaching environment, and a sample run thru of the tying of a particular fly. Hopefully your instructor for your classes would plan out each pattern with as much if not more detail.]