At the North Kent Branch of “The Fly Dressers Guild” I was asked to speak about the FDG awards programme and how to attain consistency when tying flies of the same pattern, in order to achieve the high standards set by the awards.
There are several factors that affect your consistency as a fly tier. Firstly the choice of materials. It is no good sitting down to tie a dozen identical flies unless you have a dozen sets of materials that are all the same. Sounds obvious I know, but for example, when choosing feathers from a cape or saddle we have all found that the size can change half way through a row of feathers. If your going to tie a dozen size 12’s with a hen hackle at the head, then choose at least 14 size 12 hen feathers to allow for error and the occasional breakage. Set them out somewhere safe and accessible. Ensure you have enough thread to tie 12 flies. Ensure you have sufficient ribbing material and so on. The quality of your materials will also affect your end result. It is much easier to tie good flies with good quality genetic feathers. They are more consistent in size and fibre count and thickness of stem than cheap Indian or Chinese feathers.
The second factor is preparation. Of course you already know the techniques your going to use, don’t you? Maybe a quick refresher is in order before you waste to many feathers? Once ready top tie make sure you have time to tie the number of flies you want to make. Constant interruptions do nothing for getting into the flow of tying. Lay out the materials in such a way that they are at hand and safe from draughts, cats and children. If your planning a long session consider your seating position, lighting, food and drink. Getting up and wandering off into the kitchen is not conducive to good tying nor is being uncomfortable and unable to see clearly. Do you need glasses? Don’t be afraid to try a cheap pair of 2 x magnifying specs. you may well be amazed at the result!. If you do find they make a big difference do yourself a favour and get your eyes tested.
Now we are ready to start, tie one fly and then practice practice and practice. Repetition is the best way to become consistent. Start counting your wraps and turns of tinsel and hackle. Make sure you wrap in the same direction every time. Consider making yourself a pattern card, with the dressing, number of turns of rib ,hackle etc marked on it together with an actual length gauge showing where the tail ends, how big the hackle should be and so on. Remember this is not a race. Start off slow and steady. By all means speed up as you get better BUT for presentation purposes and especially for flies that will be submitted for evaluation a slowly tied fly will usually be better tied and more consistent than one that has been rushed.
Once you flies are tied seek feedback. Don’t just stick a photo on facebook and say “what do you think?”. Seek out an instructor or a tier that you respect and ask them for constrictive criticism. Don’t be afraid to ask. Even with over 35 years of experience I still look to the experts in particular fields for feedback on new patterns. Often there isn’t much you can improve but occasionally you will get a gem of information that makes life so much easier. It will catch a fish is not a compliment. A well presented fag end will catch a fish.
In addition to feedback from others develop the ability to self criticise. Don’t beat yourself up but if you know its not good enough, do it again. If your having problems with a technique or materials go back to basics
The guild awards booklets which can be downloaded from the FDG website have a useful training record form at the back. Make use of it. Fill it in when you have had a class on a technique or material , fill it in when you have mastered something on your own. In time you will see where your deficiencies are and be able to seek help to add to your knowledge. It will also stop you running before you can walk.
Once you have reached a good standard and want to progress with your tying there are a few things you can do. Firstly consider entering fly tying competitions. If you start placing high up in the leagues or results you will know your getting better. Maybe arrange local competitions within your group, challenge yourself to use a particular material in three different ways. Think outside the box. Go to any fly tying shows that you can find. If you have the budget tie a show in with a foreign holiday .Overseas tiers often approach flies in a totally different way to UK tiers. Use social media to glean information and tips, Watch Youtube but watch three different people tie the same fly. Few of us tie in the identical way and there is usually something to pick up.
Finally, above all else enjoy your fly tying. It is a wonderful hobby, pastime, addition to your fishing but when all is said and dime, your just messing about with a hook and some dead chickens.