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  • By Gallatin River Guides

Explore Big Sky


by Jimmy Armijo-Grover

For many anglers, winter is time to clean and upgrade gear, take a breather from fishing, and restock fly supplies at the local shop. However, some spend their downtime tying their own flies, a practice that used to be much more common.

Fly tying is an integral part of fly-fishing culture, but learning to tie flies can be intimidating. There’s an abundance of materials and equipment to learn and purchase, and many flies are small, hard to see, and the dexterity required can be enough to scare people away.

So why do we tie flies? The reasons are unique to each fly tier, but here are the most common I’ve observed in my 22-plus years of fly tying and fishing.

Cost. It can be painful to pay up to $6 for trout flies, and even more for new-aged streamer patterns. There’s also a strong correlation between young fly fishers – many who live paycheck-to-paycheck – and the desire to exclusively hunt big trout with streamers. With many streamers costing more than $5, losing a few in a day is the difference between eating dinner and going hungry.

A $5 investment in materials will leave enough cash left over to take that hot girl from Tinder on a dinner date. While online date-seekers look for specific qualities, dedicated fly tiers desire every color or size of material that hits the market. This can lead to an empty wallet too, but if you are disciplined and plan in advance, you’ll make it work.

Catching a fish on a fly you created. Primal instinct may have led humans to catch fish, and few things are more rewarding than doing it with tools you created by hand. I don’t remember the first fish I caught with a fly I tied, but I do remember when I caught several fish on a pattern I designed and tied myself very early in my angling career. I was filled with a great sense of accomplishment and it made for a powerful learning experience on the river.

Learning what fish eat. This is my favorite reason for tying flies. It forces us to consider a fish’s diet: colors, proportions, sizes, and anatomical features, among other factors. If you haven’t tied flies, you may think a Chubby Chernobyl is a bunch of junk thrown onto a hook. But when broken down, you start to see what a fish sees: the dubbed body and legs sit in the surface film; legs move freely with the movement of water, imitating a struggling insect; foam is responsible for the body profile; and the wings catch enough light to appear like the fluttering wings of a grasshopper or stonefly.

Social aspect. This is usually a secondary motivation at first, but it keeps some folks on the fly-tying vise. Most Western fishing towns have at least one group of anglers that meets occasionally to tie flies and talk fishing, and some towns have a very strong tying culture with options for social tying every week.

I’ve been to many of these gatherings and you’d be surprised how many tiers that attend rarely fish. I’ve even met avid and very skilled fly tiers that don’t have interest in fishing at all. For many, tying flies with friends breaks the solitude of tying alone or having to learn a new fly or technique on their own.

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