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How to make fishing flies and rods A Beginner's Guide

Updated on August 10, 2008

This material was taken from a chapter of a Hobby & Crafts book that is in the public domain which I bought at a garage sale and which I know own the rights to. It may not be copied or used without my permission. If you are having trouble seeing any of the illustrations, contact me or you can print the blog and enlarge the illustrations. Enjoy!


Fishing flies are made to look like natural flies. Not from biology books,

but from direct observation, the fisherman knows that flies have a cycle and that they are short-lived. They mate in the air over the water and lay their eggs on a limb or a leaf which eventually falls into the water, where the eggs lie and incubate for a year or more. Sometimes the "incubator" is eaten by the fish. When hatching time comes, the shell or covering breaks, the larvae develop and float to the top of the water, the new flies merge to mate, lay eggs, and to fall on the stream again for the hungry fish, continuing the cycle.

There are hundreds of kinds of flies, each of which has its day. The astute fisherman sometimes wades into the stream and gets some of the larvae which are about to hatch, so that he will know what kind of artificial fly to use that day. That is why there must be so many varieties of fishing flies in a good kit.

A fisherman observes what fly is on the water and selects one like it from his book or from the piece of sheepskin on his hat band. After the fly is attached to his line, he wades gingerly into the water, casts his line far over the surface, drags it a little, waits, reels it in, and repeats this over and over again, until a fish strikes, and the battle is on.


This chapter is intended only as a be­ginning in fly-tying and not as a complete manual. We have space to give only first principles. It will serve, however, as an excellent start on a highly skilled craft which is almost limitless in scope.


The vise illustrated in (Fig. 1) was home­made. The parts and assembly (jaws and earn) are shown in detail in the event that someone should want to make one, but they can be bought from any supply house.

The hackle pliers (Fig. 2) were also home-made. A piece of 1/8-inch welding brass was used.

The applicators came from a first aid case, and the scissors are usually filched from a sewing basket (Fig. 3). The "dub­bin" is a matchstick with a needle stuck in the end of it. The celluloid guide was cut from a shirt collar (Fig. 4).

These are the tools which a fly-tyer needs. Besides the tools, he must have hooks and snells, which are short pieces of gut used to fasten the hook to the leader. The hooks vary in size from very small ones to those which are large enough to hold a bass.

Quills or parts of feathers are used for the bodies of the artificial flies. Rabbit fur, colored woolen yarn, chenille, and tinsel are also used for the body of the fly. Hackle, which is composed of feathers, is used for legs and wings.

Dubbin, a kind of wax, is used to make dry flies water-proof. Lacquer holds the body firm after it is wound onto the shank of the hook. There are hundreds of other materials which the artisan-­devotees-the fly-makers-have learned to use, but those listed above will do for the beginner.


Fishing flies are usually divided into five groups.

  • Ø The dry fly, which is made to float on top of the water, is covered with wax and made as light as possible.
  • Ø The wet flyis one that is made to re­semble a submerged insect which floats under the water.
  • Ø Bass fliesare of the dry variety, much larger than the usual dry flies.
  • Ø "Feather Streamers"look like "min­nies," by which a fisherman means min­nows, or small fish. These, of course, are wet flies, and they are dragged through the water like swimming fish.
  • Ø The "Nymphs" are wet flies which are weighted so that they will go to the stream bed where the real larvae or nymphs are.

Besides these, there are other subter­fuges, such as a bass bug, and, most sur­prising, a mouse. Both of these are wet flies.


A hackle fly is one of the easiest and simplest to make. Itis a wet fly and there­fore not to be waxed. This will be a good one to start with for an example of pro­cedure.

To begin, fasten the hook into the vise (Fig. 5) and wrap the tying silk (A) spirally around the body close enough to cover the part of the shank used for this part of the fly.


In Fig. 6, the tail (a few barbs with the barbules removed) is attached with the fly-tying silk and lacquer is applied with an applicator. In Fig. 7, a quill (D) or centre of a small feather is used to wrap the body. The silk (A) and the quill (D) are wrapped together to the eye end of the hook. Here the remainder of the quill (D) is cut off (Fig. 8). Lacquer is applied to make the head and, also to the silk, to hold it secure. Both A and B are then cut off. This completes a hackle fly without wings.



To make a fly with wings, start at Fig. 8, after the tail is attached (Fig. 8 repeat­ed). Cut two pieces of feather, one from each of identical feathers in a pair of wings, if possible, so that they will be left and right wings on the insect. Attach a small amount of hackle (G) as illustrated in Fig. 12. The celluloid guide (Fig. 4) can be placed between the wings until the tying silk (A) is looped over the ends of the wings and hackle and drawn secure (Fig. 12). This is called a Mallard Quill, and it is a rock fly.


The dry flies illustrated in the full-page drawing (on previous page) are the March Brown and the Hare's Ear. Underneath each will be found the "dressing" for them. They are made like the wet ones, except for the use of the wax to waterproof them so that they will float. The Feather Streamers or artificial minnows are made according to the methods given underneath the illustra­tion.

The bass flies are well known, being the Royal Coachman and the Brown Hackle.


A fly book is very useful for carrying the flies and the leaders, which come in 15-inch pieces and must be tied together. The book illustrated in Fig. 13 is made of three sheets of aluminum 6 x 4-1/2 inches. These are made into a book by using strips of leather for hinges. Bore holes in the aluminum and sew the leath­er to the metal with heavy thread. Then bore holes ¼ inch apart at the top and bottom of each "page." Attach common hooks with thread and fine wire sewn through the bottom holes.

Fig. 14


Both sides of the middle page can be used for mounting the flies. Rubber bands are strung through the top row of holes and the snelled hooks are attached as shown in Fig. 14. Carried this way they do not become snarled or brushed.

To allow for space between the pages, headless bolts are placed at the three points on the center pages. Screw in nuts on both sides to hold them in place. A piece of heavy leather one-quarter inch wider than the metal at top and front was used for a cover. It was fastened to the first and third pages by boring holes in the metal one-quarter inch from the back edges. This leaves the leather cover loose from the metal except at the back and makes a place to carry leaders and extra hooks.

To prevent the contents from slipping out, a snap fastener was attached to each corner of the leather and each front cor­ner of the first and third pages. Last of all, three small leather straps and snap fasteners were attached, to close the book.

The fly book is a cherished possession.

The fisherman usually has a strap on his belt from which the treasured "volume" hangs, so that he won't see it floating downstream after an arduous encounter with a strong-willed trout.


For those who would like to make their own rods, Fig. 15 shows a kind that is most satisfactory. It is pentagonal in shape, made of five pieces of bamboo which are glued together lengthwise. This gives flexibility and strength. The guides and the tip are attached with col­ored silk thread which is wrapped around the rod. The ends are whipped under. (For directions on whipping, see last paragraph.) Then the whole rod is shellacked and varnished to waterproof it.

The reel and tapered line are attached to the handle. The line is made to taper, with the light end towards the hook. A transparent leader of about eight feet is attached to this, and the fly and hook go on the end of the leader.

A good automatic reel saves winding the line back.



Cut a piece of silk thread 12 inches in length and make a loop at one end so that there are three inches on one side (see B in Fig. 25) and eleven inches on the other side (see A in Fig. 25). Hold the rod in the left hand with the loop about 4" above the fingers and lay loop of extra piece on top with loop in opposite direction from those of rod (See Fig. 25). Then take the eleven-inch strand in the right hand and begin winding around the rod as tightly as possible. (see Fig 26). Continue until you have an inch or more of whipping and then thread the end of the strand through the loop (See Fig. 27). Pull up on B until A is drawn halfway to the top. Cut both ends close to whipping (See Fig. 28).


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    • profile image

      Mr.chenshifeng 6 years ago

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      ryan  7 years ago

      you shink

    • precisionspools profile image

      precisionspools 9 years ago

      This is a very informative hub! Thanks a bunch for sharing! By the way, I have this site ---> that features different types of reels. I hope it can help you with your fishing reels needs.