Every year I say to myself, “This year I am going to do it; I am going to fill my fly boxes before summer.”
Unfortunately, only rarely do I follow through. But I should, and if you do much fishing, you might want to as well.
A great fly selection is one of the best assets an angler can have, and if orchestrated correctly, need not take years to accumulate. It is advantageous, however, to tie during the offseason, as nothing is more inefficient than the traditional ad hoc method of “tying the night before.” The advantage to offseason tying is simple: Because you don’t need the flies tomorrow, you can set up a Henry Ford-style production line and efficiency and quality go through the roof.
Deciding what to tie is probably the most important step, and if time is limited, it is my belief that nymphs provide the best bang for your buck. Nymphs are much faster and easier to tie than dries (yet cost the same to buy), the materials are cheaper (no expensive hackle), and the individual fly quality is far less critical. The reason for this is dries must be tied properly in order to balance and ride correctly on the water’s surface; this is not a factor with nymphs. Accordingly, they can be tied with far less precision (which equates to time). Further, you typically lose more nymphs than dries and thus need higher quantities. For these reasons, I focus my time primarily on tying nymphs.
It is my belief that tying a large size range of fewer patterns is superior to fewer sizes of more patterns. This is especially true for nymphs. For example, Pheasant Tails will cover most mayfly nymphs, Zebras will cover midges, Rubber Legs for stoneflies, and Hares Ears for caddis. Tie each of these flies in a variety of sizes and perhaps colors, and you will be well on your way. While this list is not complete, it will cover 90% of your nymph needs.
Creating a list of desired flies is critical. The list should include size, color, and quantity for each pattern. For example, here is a typical list: tungsten Pheasant Tails 12-20 (3 dz.), tung Hares Ear 12-16 (2), tung Zebra Midge (red, black, olive) 14-22 (4), black Rubber Legs 8-12 (2), and so on until you are finished. If my math is correct, just the above list adds up to 87 dozen flies! Ridiculous? Probably, but don’t forget – flies don’t have a shelf life.
Sit down, do the math, and compile an exact materials list. I like Tiemco hooks and it’s usually best to purchase them in 100 packs. I typically use tungsten beads as I believe they are far superior to brass. You will want to pre-order hooks and beads as finding sufficient quantities locally is usually impossible. For example, using the above list for #18 Zebra Midges, you would need two 100 packs of TMC (Tiemco) #2457 (a curved shank hook used for midges) along with eight 20 packs of 5/64 silver tungsten beads. Also, and most important (for me anyway), is that once I have purchased the materials, I feel obligated to follow through and thus usually do so.
Once materials are in hand, I pick a particular pattern, let’s say the #18 Zebra Midge again, and put all the beads on the hooks at one time (think Henry Ford). Next, I cut a bunch of strips of silver wire (roughly 6 inches long) for ribbing. Only after all the materials are laid out and organized, including beaded hooks, do I begin tying. Once the prep work is done, Zebra Midges take little more than a minute to complete, so copious amounts can be tied during a single football game! Also, once you have tied a significant number of a certain fly, proportions and individual fly quality improve dramatically. Watching fly boxes swell is a rewarding feeling, and if done properly, can be accomplished in remarkably little time.
Have fun – you still have time to cram those boxes before summer!