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Tying Saltwater Flies

When some tiers see the words Salt Water and Fly Tying together they feel intimidated and are very reluctant to venture into that are of tying. This is understandable to a point because there was not, until recently, a definitive source for this type of tying. Joe Branham offers this advice from his extraordinary experiences tying for saltwater.

When some tiers see the words Salt Water and Fly Tying together they feel intimidated and are very reluctant to venture into that are of tying. This is understandable to a point because there was not, until recently, a definitive source for this type of tying. Sure there are a lot of books on saltwater patterns and a few on tying saltwater flies, but there was nothing that went in depth to give the tier all of the information that they needed. Maybe this article will alleviate some of the concerns that the tier has.

When I first got involved in the saltwater end of tying, there was next to nothing on tying these flies and for the most part, with a few exceptions, all of the tiers that were in this area, kept everything to themselves. One of the areas that I wanted to get involved in was epoxy. No one would give me the time of day on this. You can find help in the strangest of places. I went into a hobby shop to get some epoxy and got to talking with the owner. He built remote controlled airplanes. They coat the balsa wood with a thinned down epoxy. Guess where I got the majority of my information?

I have never been bashful about asking questions. In fact, I have learned that the only stupid question is the one that you do not ask.

If you look at fly tying in general and salt water in particular, you will notice that they have everything in common. Tying a fly consists of nothing more than taking your materials, tying them on a hook in a given order and getting an end result. This is a little over simplified but it gets the point across. This holds true no matter what area of tying you are involved in.

There are some differences in salt water flies than other flies. You are working with larger hooks and bigger and more bulky materials. The hooks will either be plated or stainless steel. Saltwater has a tendency to corrode hooks rapidly so a standard hook will not be practical.

Your materials change somewhat also. Instead of long and narrow neck and saddle hackle, you want the longest, widest and most webby hackles that you can get. What once was considered "junk" necks and saddles are just what you need for these types of flies. 6/0 thread is fine for smaller saltwater flies but you will need to go to at least 3/0 and preferably a flat waxed, size "A" nylon for your larger flies. You probably already use buck tails and calf tails; you want the long straight hair on a calf tail. You will use a lot of calf tails, squirrel tails, buck tails, marabou, neck and saddle hackle. Before you go out and buy a lot of new materials, get your feet wet on a couple of flies and see how you like it. You can then, if you decided that you want to get into this area of tying, decide what flies you want to tie and get the materials.

The tools are basically the same and in fact, you can use just about any of your tools for tying the smaller saltwater flies. If you get into the larger flies, size 1 and bigger, then you will need to consider changing some of your tools. You will need a vise that can accommodate the larger hooks and a stout, long tube bobbin. I use an Iris fine point, straight blade scissors for most of my tying. If I am tying very big flies, I go to my 4 or 5 inch scissors. I very seldom use a curved point scissors, but this is personal preference.

One thing I want to stress is that very few things in fly tying are written in stone. The basics must be adhered to but other than that, what works for one tier will not necessarily work for everyone. You will have to decide what works best for you.

I have found that tying saltwater flies is a lot easier than trying to tie a bunch of number 16 or 18 trout flies. They do not strain my eyes as much and any mistakes that I make are more easily corrected.

Just as you do in other areas of tying, if you are going to try making flies that work, you will have to think about how to tie them. If you want a fly that sinks, then you should use materials that readily absurd water. A little thought goes a long way in how you design a fly. I know this from personal experience. I have come up with some flies that looked great. Once in the water, what a different story. Aerodynamics (how the fly casts) and hydrodynamics (how the fly works in the water) make all of the difference in the world for a successful fly.

Tying flies for saltwater is no harder than other areas of tying. If I were to get intimidated, it would be in trying to learn how to tie "Classic Salmon Flies". That is an art form all in itself.

If you want to take a shot at this area of tying, we (Capt. Greg Rahe and I) have set up a web site devoted exclusively to tying saltwater flies (Editor Note: This site no longer exists - saltwaterflytying.com). It has everything you need to get started in this area. In fact, most of the information on the site can be adapted to any type of tying.

Good luck with your new endeavors and good tying.