The construction of an artificial lure (‘fly’) to represent an insect, fish or other food eaten mainly by trout, salmon and other predatory species, for fishing purposes. The craft is also known as ‘fly tying’.
This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.
|Craft category||Animal; Sporting equipment|
|Historic area of significance||UK|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||Roman|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||1,000+|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||201-500|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
Fly dressing, also known as fly tying, is the craft of constructing an artificial lure to represent an insect, fish or other food eaten mainly by trout, salmon and other predatory species, for fishing purposes. The traditional methods use fur and feather from many different species. The craft dates back to Roman times but seems to have experienced its biggest period of growth in the 1850s.
Salmon and trout fishing were very much a rich man’s sport – from the 1850s until World War II many people could not afford to fish in the well-known streams and rivers. After the war many fisheries were developed and during the 1960s, large reservoirs were built and stocked with fish. This led to a growth in the number of trout anglers and subsequent growth in the number of fly tiers.
There are a large number of different schools of fly tying. Some tie to imitate flies and insects in a general way, others tie ‘super realistic’ flies that are more like models than fishing flies. Others follow faithfully the patterns developed and published by famous fly tiers in the 1850s and Victorian era. There is also an ‘art’ movement that uses fly tying techniques to produce flies that are tied for their shape and colour and displayed rather than used for fishing.
There are many different techniques used to dress a fly. From creating a thread base on the hook, tying in the chosen materials and then wrapping or positioning them all require slightly different techniques for each type of material. The manual skills required are a steady hand and good vision.
Materials should be washed, steamed and prepared before being attached to the hook. Materials of appropriate colour, texture and weight are attached to the hook in a skillful manner. It is useful for the fisherman to be able to see their fly whilst fishing. Equipment used varies largely according to monetary investment in the matter. Tools include scissors, bobbin holders, hackle pliers, dubbing needles and a whip finish tool, but very much like the material used, it can be dependent upon the craftsman.
There are several distinct styles of tying flies known as ‘spiders’, such as Clyde style (from the River Clyde), North Country style (from that area), and Stewart style (named after an angler and fly tyer). Other styles of fly such as Dee style salmon flies are no longer confined to the area where they originated and are used worldwide.
The craft of fly dressing is widespread, with each region having its own variations of pattern and style of fishing. However, with the spread of the internet fly tiers are less likely to be tying for their own area – with the exception of one or two individuals with good reputations for a particular pattern or style.
Hook making – many traditional salmon tiers prefer to use handmade hooks in the antique style rather than buy mass produced hooks.
Dyeing – some people have become experts at dying materials often for very specific colours
Bird rearing – there are also people specialising in the rearing of birds for the fly tiers
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
While the numbers of people tying flies is still quite large there is a trend away from learning fly tying as an art and more towards tying a very limited number of simple patterns for use in fishing. The actual number of highly skilled individuals that can tie most patterns and use most techniques is shrinking quickly.
Difficulty in collecting materials is an issue as many feathers are now cites listed and therefore illegal to buy or trade.
- The Fly Dressers Guild, formed in 1967. At one time the Guild had 60 branches and over 2,000 members in the UK and abroad. Currently there are 35 branches and around 1,200 members. The number seems to have stabilised over the past couple of years.
Craftspeople currently known
There are hundreds of books on the subject of fly tying. Many are pattern books detailing various flies and their dressings, others are technique based. There are currently many videos available on YouTube that display the art.