The variety of fly tying materials available today is truly mind-blowing! From foam to feathers and thread to lead, the selection may seem overwhelming to the aspiring fly tyer. This vast selection, however, is part of what makes fly tying so much fun! Of course, each fly pattern has its own unique "recipe" of materials, but we feel it's wise to familiarize yourself with the basics first. Below is a simple rundown of some of the most commonly used materials that would make great first additions to your fly tying kit.
Thread is an obvious necessity when it comes to tying a fly. Available in various colors and materials, you'll also find many different styles like waxed or unwaxed, flat, round, etc. On top of this, thread comes in many sizes, commonly displayed as an "aught" or "denier" rating. The higher the number, the finer the thread in the aught system. So, a 3/0 thread is thicker/stronger than a 10/0 thread. However, with this system, thread sizes can vary between manufacturers, so one brand's 3/0 thread may not be the same as another brand's 3/0. In the denier system, as the number goes up, the thread size does too. So, a 140 denier thread will be thicker/stronger than a 70. This system is an industry-standard.
These feathers are very soft and fluffy. They sport a lot of action underwater and are great for mimicking creatures that swim, like baitfish and leeches.
Hackle feathers come in many forms, from short to long and webby to stiff. Hackle is often a must-have and is widely used for many fly patterns imitating insects, baitfish, and more.
Dubbing is either natural or synthetic material that can be twisted onto the thread to form some or all of a fly's body. After dubbing is applied and then wrapped around the hook, it can be teased out with a tool such as a bodkin to give it even more of a "buggy" appearance.
This easy-to-use material works great for quickly building up a fly's body. Chenille can range from dull to flashy and is made using material built around a thin core so it can be easily wrapped onto a hook shank.
Bucktail comes from the tail of a deer and offers very natural movement underwater. Available in a number of dyed colors, bucktail is a popular choice for fresh and saltwater flies, especially when tying streamers.
Synthetic hair comes in many colors and is a popular option over natural fibers like bucktail. Baitfish-imitating saltwater streamers are often tied with synthetic fibers.
Eyes can be used simply for cosmetic purposes or to help a fly sink. There are several varieties of eyes, from stick-on to those you must wrap onto the hook, like dumbbell eyes or bead-chain eyes. In addition, eyes use different materials, such as brass, lead, stainless steel, plastic, and tungsten, which can affect a fly's sink rate.
Just like eyes, single beads can be made from different materials and are slid onto the hook shank (usually before tying begins) to help a fly sink faster and add a touch of flash or color. Beads are popular additions to nymphs and small streamers like Woolly Buggers.