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Fly Tying on a Budget

As a “Yorkshireman” born and bred, I naturally look for ways to save money when I am tying flies, that is to say that I do not skimp on the quality of the materials I buy, but rather make them go further.

When you tie many thousand flies per year saving a few millimetres of thread or tinsel here and there really adds up – ask any professional fly tyer!

So how can you tie economically? Just apply a little common sense really.

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Obtain yourself a selection of cheap plastic boxes and re-sealable plastic bags to keep materials in good order and to enable you to separate offcuts.
  • Obtain some Moth Strips from Rentokill to put in all your organic materials storage – it kills mites which eat the materials over time. A full pack goes a long way; a small piece is all that is required in each box or bag.
  • Obtain or make up a “doggy bag” which fits on the vice shaft, which will stop you wasting all the bits and pieces of dubbing, tinsel etc. They are easily made from a length of soft steel wire and a cloth bag; I even made my first one from wire, a small plastic carrier bag and gaffer tape.
  • Keep all off your offcuts of tinsel, wire, wool, chenille, and synthetic body materials.If you are tying a dozen or so of each pattern work out your materials on the first one you tie – Ask yourself -can I use a little less hackle feather and actually get two flies out of the same feather? If it is a genetic cape and the feathers are over a foot long, how many can you tie from each feather?
  • Get hold of some extra bobbin holders and have the ribbing material loaded on them, it saves miles of the stuff!
  • Ask your fishing pals if they tie flies and if they would swap materials with you.
  • Ask shooting friends if they could blag pheasant tails and partridge feathers for you or as I have done, offer to pluck their game birds for them – a really cheap source of materials – OK so game birds do not have feathers made of fritz chenille, but you could swap some of your booty for a couple of feet of fritz with someone. Always put the feathers in boiling water for 10 minutes, then cool off and dry thoroughly before you use or store them.
  • If you have read some of my tying articles you will know that I use all sorts of natural materials, from crow feathers, raffia, goose feathers, heron feathers, sheep’s wool and rabbit fur are just some of them. All of the feathers and fur listed here are readily available free! Just use your eyes the next time you are out fishing. Raffia can be bought from most good wood working stores or old-fashioned hardware shops in a massive range of colours for less than a quid.
  • Collect pet fur if you have one yourself or ask neighbours if they have a pet and groom them regularly, ask you local dog groomer what they do with the fur they collect – it all mounts up.
  • I have used loads of cat fur in dubbed bodies and thoraces, blended with synthetics (which are cheap) to add sparkle and dog fur to give a buggy appearance, or have dyed pet fur using Dylon cold water dyes to achieve the same result as bought fur dubbing. Simply put the items in a pop sock blagged from the wife / girlfriend tie the top and dye in cold water dye to the required shade. Then rinse thoroughly and follow the instructions on the tin.
  • Grandma’s sowing basket is the best source of tying silks (and her knitting bag for wools) in the world! Ask her if you could have a rummage in there. Then show her what you make with it.
  • Buy a tablet of cobblers wax or beeswax, it will last you many years and make your creations last longer.

Keep things simple, it always pays dividends. Do be enterprising!!!!


  • Do not be tempted to buy the latest thing in fly patterns – fads come and go but colour and shape can be replicated easily – even the dreaded “Blob”, as I recently proved when I used deer hair and marabou to good effect.
  • Do not forget that imitative patterns out-fish synthetic thingamabobs around 50 to 1 so even a scruffy nymph, providing it’s the correct shape and colour(s) will do the job. Ask Oliver Edwards!
  • Please don’t be tempted by the all singing and dancing vice. A solid lever sprung vice for around £20 will last you a lifetime of amateur tying of relatively small quantities of flies. Even professionals I know still use the level sprung with revolvable jaws they bought in their youth and turn out thousands of flies every year! I use and Exacta from Caimore, and will probably still be doing so when I am 90!
  • So you see there is a mountain of cheap / free materials out there you just have to look in the right places.“Building your own” can be fun and will stretch your imagination.

Tight Lines!

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