Fly-tying materials and the endless rabbit hole |

Fly-tying materials and the endless rabbit hole

Welcome to the obsession

Ray Kyle Special to the Daily
Fly tying is an obsession for people who fly-fish. Here are the materials you need to get started.
Special to the Daily

When it comes to the materials to tie flies, the options are endless.

I started collecting my materials based on the flies I was learning to tie, however, I’ll list some of the “must have” materials and their use.


The two most obvious are going to be hooks and thread. Black, white and olive are the three thread colors everyone should have at their station. Wire is another important material that creates ribbing or segments in nymphs and midges.

It’s also used to create bodies in flies like the copper john. Chenille is another great material to have at your station. It is basically a pipe cleaner without the metal wire in it and is used for creating bodies in larger streamers. It comes in a wide variety of colors and sizes for different styles of flies.

Feathers & Hair

Natural materials are a very important part of fly tying. Deer hair is used to create wings in some flies and when spun it can create bodies and heads in other flies. Elk hair is great material for dry flies due to its hollow core, allowing it to float naturally.

Peacock feathers are great because they have an iridescent quality to them that create extremely buggy, fishy flies. Pheasant tails also are a staple material used to create tails and bodies in many different flies.

Dubbing is a material that has tons of uses in tying and comes in a lot of different blends and origins. Hare’s ear and opossum are two of the most popular natural dubbing used. Antron and ice dubbing are synthetic blends that incorporate flashy materials to attract fish. There are also dubbing blends that mix natural and synthetics to create a hybrid material. 

Hackle is the feathers from domestic hens or rooster chickens and come in a wide variety of dyed or natural colors as well as sizes. Hackle is used to represent tails, legs, gills and wings, and creates animation, silhouette and special effects in flies. It’s wrapped around the hook to create these different effects.

Synthetic Materials

Whether you need some rubber legs on your nymph or plastic eyes for that crab pattern, synthetic materials are just as important as the naturals. The number of funky materials continues to grow and the selection of these materials can be based on flies that you are trying to tie.

As flies become more innovative in their design, the material follows suit. Rubber legs are a must have for any fly tying bench as they are very versatile in both nymphs and streamers.

The items I listed above are a great place to start. I would suggest picking three to four flies you want to tie and collect the material for those flies. After tying a few dozen of those flies, pick a couple more to tie and really start building your collection of materials. Before you know it, you’ll have a large collection of materials to create flies.

Fly tying is a relaxing and creative hobby that can elevate the pleasures of fly fishing. It’s an incredible feeling to go from a bare hook to a finished fly. I always take great pride when I look into my fly box and know that I tied those flies myself.

Tying will make you much more knowledgeable about fly selection and the general entomology that is present in our streams and rivers. We offer beginner and advanced fly tying classes at Vail Valley Anglers throughout the cold season taught by myself in our learning center. Call the shop or check out our website for more information. Get those creative juices flowing and tie on.

Ray Kyle is a manager and a guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 or

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