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> > What is Flytying?

Shawnny3September 30th, 2010, 7:39 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
What is flytying?

What is a “fly”? Fishermen often use artificial materials to create imitations of things that are clearly not flies, such as crustaceans, bait fish, amphibians, etc. They will often refer to these creations unabashedly as “flies”, often much to the surprise of outsiders to the sport. Must it imitate a fly to be a "fly"?

What is “tying”? Tiers often use many techniques other than tying to attach materials to hooks, most notably adhesives. Others paint colors onto their materials after completing the tying per se with either markers or brushes. Are flies constructed in this way still “tied”?

Does a fly need to catch fish to be a fly? When people take flytying to its extremes, usually in the form of either artistic flies or realistic flies, they often abandon the practical in the interest of furthering their creative vision. They’ll create flies without hooks, or flies that would not stand up to the rigors of a fight with a fish or even getting wet. Are these creations "flies"?

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
KonchuSeptember 30th, 2010, 7:58 pm
Site Editor

Posts: 505
One could say crafting lures (for fish or fishermen?), but that term may be pejorative among present company...
Jmd123September 30th, 2010, 8:04 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2611
AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH, Shawn, I can't take it!!!!! My brain is overloading with the philosophical ramifications!!! My head is going to explode!!!

Seriously, though (well, not so seriously), isn't rhe answer to that question something like the statement by a judge (Supreme Court?? - I don't remember...) who said, to paraphrase, "I can't describe exactly what a fly IS, but I know one when I see one"??? [For those who don't remember the story, he was talking about pornography...]

Well, folks, I am in the process of painting up some old cork-bodied poppers I found already glued to hooks in a little packet in the very bottom of my fly-tying box. After I am satisfied with my paint jobs, I will be tying feathers to them. ARE THESE FLIES???

I'll let a few other heads explode in either purism or all-encompassing welcomeness over this one. ;oD

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
GONZOSeptember 30th, 2010, 9:41 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Fishermen often use artificial materials to create imitations of things that are clearly not flies, such as crustaceans, bait fish, amphibians, etc.

If flies are defined as imitations of flies, then the only true flies are imitations of "true flies" (Diptera). From an entomological perspective, perhaps midge fishers are the true fly-fishing purists. So, if you tie and fish exclusively with imitations of Diptera, I humbly acknowledge your unquestionable right to be called a fly tier and fly fisher.

By that (satirical) standard, all of the rest of us bastardize the definition to varying degrees in order to qualify as "fly" tiers and "fly" fishers. Rather than debate who is the greater bastard, I'm content to confess my guilt and fish in blissful ignominy.

PS--If you tie either David Hedison or Jeff Golblum to a hook and throw him to the fishes, I would consider you not only to be a fly tier and a fly fisher, but "The Fly" tier and "The Fly" fisher.
SofthackleOctober 1st, 2010, 6:28 am
Site Editor
Wellsville, NY

Posts: 540
That's like asking "What is ART?" Marshall McLuhan answered it nicely, I think when he said, " ART is anything you can get away with." Could that be applied to tying and and fly fishing as well? Maybe!

"I have the highest respect for the skilled wet-fly fisherman, as he has mastered an art of very great difficulty." Edward R. Hewitt

Flymphs, Soft-hackles and Spiders:
FredHOctober 1st, 2010, 6:50 am
Lake Charles , Louisiana

Posts: 108
If you ask the IGFA what a fly is you will find a defintion that can not be argued. It is their standard . Compititions such as the Mustad ,Tuscanny and Fly tying Forun's FTOY , have only one common rule the use of a hook. The worst problem out there is people making models and saying " look what I tied". I think because there is no place to showcase fly related art they put them alongside realistic flies. There is a place for this art but it takes away from those tying realistic flies if they are both made in different mediums and yet still viewed in the same forum. It's like putting wood sculptures in a stained glass forum. Realistic and salmon flies that you see in frames are collected not because they could'nt be fished. But because someone liked them too much to fish them.There is a seahorse on a hook entered in a fly tying contest on Facebook . The artist showed how he molded the seahorse from play-dough and used glasspaint. I do not call what he made a fly and it sure isn't tying.Most traditional tyers turn away from anything to do with realistics. Small wonder.
CaseyPOctober 1st, 2010, 11:01 am
Arlington, VA/ Mercersburg, PA

Posts: 653
i have to come at this cosmic debate from the other direction:

if the idea is to use it on a fly rod, it's a fly, even if it's under glass, or shaped like a clam.

if it's used on a spinning rod, it's a lure.

that's the only way i can keep my head from exploding when people ask...

buncha folks i know tie/make both.
"You can observe a lot by watching." Yogi Berra
Shawnny3October 2nd, 2010, 12:18 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
This is all I could find on the IGFA website about what constitutes a "fly":


A conventional fly may be dressed on a single or double hook or two single hooks in tandem. The second hook in any tandem fly must not extend beyond the wing material. The eyes of the hooks shall be no farther than 6 inches (15.24 cm) apart. Treble hooks are prohibited.


The lure must be a recognized type of artificial fly, which includes streamer, bucktail, tube fly, wet fly, dry fly, nymph, popper and bug. The use of any other type of lure or natural or preserved bait, either singularly or attached to the fly, is expressly prohibited. Only a single fly is allowed. Dropper flies are prohibited. The fact that a lure can be cast with a fly rod is not evidence in itself that it fits the definition of fly. The use of any lure designed to entangle or foul-hook a fish is prohibited. No scent, either natural or artificial is allowed on flies. The use of scented material in a fly is prohibited.

While I agree with Fred that the definition cannot be argued, it is also not particularly discriminating. It doesn't say anything about construction methods, saying only that the fly be "recognizable" within some category (which I find quite an odd requirement, particularly when one category is "popper" and another is "bug"). The entire section is also only used as a way of validating record catches, which makes the hook requirement somewhat moot (after all, how else would you catch a fish on your "fly"?). Their concern is really with fish, not flies. Interesting also that they include tube flies in their description of allowable flies, even though they are not tied on hooks.

I can understand Fred's frustration as a true "tier" with comparing truly tied flies with those constructed using different methods. Certainly some distinction between the two ought to be made for the purposes of competition. But lines also get hard to draw when people start getting really creative. It seems that with each new advancement in methods or materials a new category could be created (perhaps other good distinctions for competitive purposes would be synthetics-allowed vs. all-natural or adhesive-allowed vs. adhesive-free). If "truly tied" and "otherwise-constructed" flies do have to be compared, in my opinion the ingenuity in craftsmanship should hold sway rather than how precisely realistic the end product is.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
Shawnny3October 2nd, 2010, 1:23 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
I thought I'd save this for another post since it constitutes my own unabashed preferences when it comes to flytying. Please understand that I am a very opinionated person, and the following are only my personal preferences. However passionate I am about them, they are not at all meant to imply what others ought to prefer.

I don't particularly enjoy realistic tying. Honestly, I'm just not that into bugs (I know, strange site for me to frequent). When tying fishing flies, I like tying flies that are simple and fish well. When tying for show, I know that any bug I tie will never measure up to the Good Lord's version, so I don't really see what my crude facsimile would add. So that sort of tying just doesn't interest me. I do respect tiers of realistics, though, for the ingenuity they display and attention to detail. We often admire most what we cannot do ourselves, and I could never be a good realistic tier. I am often left wondering how these tiers do what they do.

Within the genre I choose to express myself, artistic salmon flies, I don't really like looking at the flies others tie because I feel that it stunts my creativity and I don't like stealing (either intentionally or subliminally) others' techniques. I'm a bit of a flytying recluse, and I like it that way.

When it comes to appreciating others' work, I value ingenuity above all else. If I'm left wondering, "How did he DO that?" or "How did he think of using THAT material in THAT way?" then the tier will have gained my respect and admiration. If not, then they won't. I am not very impressed by technical tying per se unless it is precise in its execution of something new and interesting. I hate looking at a millionth perfectly tied Green Highlander (OK, maybe there aren't that many, but if there's one perfectly tied Highlander, then that's enough as far as I'm concerned). I would much rather see an original pattern, with all its flaws, tied by the inventor of that pattern. That's not to say I never tie a classic pattern, but I don't enjoy it nearly as much as I do developing and tying my own patterns. And I would be glad if no one else ever tries to tie a perfectly executed version of one of my patterns. If someone does, they will have missed the point of my tying. It's meant to express ME - go find some other way to express YOU.

I will say that I have developed a technique if I have developed a technique, even if someone else happened to have developed it first. Because I don't like seeing what everyone else is doing, many of the things I do are likely not original in the sense that I'm the first person to do them. But they are original in that I didn't learn them from someone else, and I value that. It may just be another wheel I invented, but if I'd never seen a wheel before, then it's no less impressive a feat than if I'd invented the first one. If someone else later makes a similar wheel without knowing about previous wheels, then I hope that their creativity will be valued for what it is. To me, originality is about creating something new to you, not new to the world. If it also happens to be new to the world (which is a rare thing indeed), then that may be special to the world, but it ought not to make any difference to you one way or the other.

What makes the classic salmon flies great is that they were innovative and artistic in their time. Replicating them two hundred years later is not innovative or artistic, any more than making reprints of T206 Honus Wagner baseball cards is innovative or artistic - modern representations of classics ought to be treated the same way as Honus Wagner reprints, which is to say they should have little to no value beyond the materials used. And I would argue that those materials could have been put to better use.

If you must make a classic pattern, make it with period materials or the closest thing you can to period materials. Don't cheat by using modern materials. Virtually every tier of classic salmon flies today uses nylon thread without giving the choice a single thought. Then they take great pride in how glassy smooth their floss bodies are - better than the originals. Really?! Use silk thread and I'll be impressed even if the body isn't glassy smooth.

I do not like salmon flies (many of the classics included) with bizarre and complicated color schemes. Many salmon flies (many of the classics included) look clownish to me. Why does a salmon fly have to have 62 colors, most of which are clashing with one another? The Victorian Era of salmon flies has all the same irritating tendencies of the Victorian Era in general. Just as I would not wear the clothes from that era, I also would not tie the flies from that era. Unless someone pays me handsomely to do it, in which case I would gladly do either of those things.

I do not like it when people make patterns with rare feathers or fur just for the sake of using rare feathers or fur. I really like it when people make beautiful flies using common feathers. Finding beauty where others just see something common is a fantastic feat in my eyes.

I do not like substitutes. If I cannot legally tie a classic pattern with original materials, then I won't tie it. If I'm tying my own patterns, then there is no prescribed pattern and the word "substitute" is irrelevant. One more reason to invent my own patterns rather than tie those of others.

I think that flies should have hooks. Always.

I think that flies should be able to get wet, hook a fish, and land a fish without falling apart.

I hate synthetics. I particularly hate foam. I tolerate synthetics in my fishing flies if they add something that I cannot achieve with natural materials, but I do not, under any circumstances, enjoy using them, ever. The synthetics I hate most are those made specifically for flytying. I hate the plastic winging material that has perfect little veins stamped on at the factory, or anything of that sort. Let me dig a variety of plastic bags out of the garbage and I'll make my own winging material, thank you. My one consistent concession to synthetics is nylon thread, which I use in my fishing flies. I'm not sure why, maybe because I have lots of it and don't want to throw it away (I'm very, very cheap), or maybe because I'm just used to it, or maybe because I'm just throwing flies at fish who couldn't care less - I don't know. But I'll never use nylon thread on my artistic flies. (Actually, I confess that I did use nylon thread to tie the Golden Arrow I made for my dad. I hated using it, but I had a very tight deadline and didn't have time to order silk thread in the right color. I still hate that material choice, and even though I love how the arrow turned out, every time I see it I have the urge to rip it apart and tie it again with silk. If it weren't for the fact that my dad already has it proudly displayed in his house and couldn't care less about its having synthetic material in it (he's a bait-fisherman, for crying out loud), I'd do it. Maybe someday I'll work up the courage to ask him if I can rip it apart.) That said, I think synthetics can be used creatively, though their creative use in my experience is the exception rather than the rule.

While not a definition of flytying per se, I hope that the above brief and gently worded preferences will help others understand my approach to tying.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
FredHOctober 3rd, 2010, 7:15 am
Lake Charles , Louisiana

Posts: 108
I'm not a purist nor do I think the lines between every form of tying are black and white.But before there were art flies (for lack of a better word) there were realistic fishing flies ,or to be more precise, there were imitative fishing flies.There is a need on highly pressured waters for this type of fly.Tying the material to the hook makes these flies durable . The fact is you can tie some very durable fishing flies and still have a very imitative fly.
I don't care if someone wants to cut off the hook eye and make an insect with resin and paint , epoxy and super glue. Knock your selves out . Just don't call it what I'm doing with thread , material and a hook.These guys are not tying flies too nice to fish. They are making art that can't be fished.
One of the judges cuts the eye off of every hook before he starts. He says it is still a fly without a hook eye. Well I beg to differ. A fork without tines is a spoon.
All of this fly tying related art gets dumped into the catagory of realistic tying and it is ruining it.There needs to be a seperation in what the two are called because they are clearly not the same thing.
SlateDrake9October 3rd, 2010, 7:54 am
Potter County, PA

Posts: 144
Well, well, well.

Overall, I don't really care all that much, other than to say that model building isn't fly tying, nor is cross stitch, knitting, baseball card collecting or archery hunting. All of the above are equally fly tying as is what is presented these days as "realistic fly tying."

Fly tying contests, such as over at the Fly Tying Forum, shouldn't include such things. A fly tying contest should have flies that are tied in a somewhat traditional manner (open to debate on what that really means). {on a side note, in my mind, a real fly tying contest would have all the participants tie the same pattern in the same size with the same materials to see who really is the best tier, not just who can come up with the best pattern -- most "fly tying contests" are actually fly pattern contests. DON'T MATTER ANYWAYS, BECAUSE THE ONLY JUDGES OF MY FLIES ARE THE TROUT. I REFUSE TO MAKE MY HOBBIE INTO A CONTEST. TAKES AWAY WHAT IT IS FOR ME.}

As for fishing a fly, in PA I don't think that most of the "realistic" fly tying patterns out there would be legal in a fly fishing only piece of water. Even though they're not a "molded facimile" I think they are in more ways than not. Kinda like a rubber worm, rubber grasshopper or plastic bead used as an egg pattern.

Artistic salmon flies, yep, they sure are flies, at least the ones I've seen. Tied with feathers, furs, silks, etc., in a traditional manner.

Here's the bomb shell for some of you.

Bass poppers made with cork or foam bodies DO NOT EQUAL flies. They're not any different than a spinning lure with squirrel or feathers tied around the hook. A bass bug tied out of deer (or some other hair) is a fly.

And one last thing for today.

GO STILLERS! (that the Steelers for Yinz that don't understand)
Fishing with bait is like swearing in church.
-- Slate Drake
GutcutterOctober 3rd, 2010, 8:08 am

Posts: 470
i will add my two cents worth. by the way, nice rant, shawn!
i may not add anything to this topic, but here it goes...
let me try to compare this with automobiles. why are they called automobiles? since they don't require a draught animal to pull or push it - they had an engine.
an automobile can be a model T ford, a buick, a cadillac, an F-150, a neon, a hummer, the rocket car designed to break speed records, an armored fighting vehicle, a harley-davidson, a quad, a "smart" car, a golf cart, an 18 wheeler, a massive r.v., a farm tractor, your riding lawn mower...
can you drive all of these on the road? absolutely. is it legal? there are rules that define what is allowed on our streets and highways. are we trying to define those types of rules for fishing flies?
when i started tying, there were "flies" - dry flies, wetflies, nymphs, bucktails and streamers. it was pretty simple. but there was also just black and white t.v. and AM radio - also pretty simple.
things have changed. so have "flies".
i like my HD t.v. and my ipod. i also like polyester wings and z-lon shucks.
i'm ok with any and all of it - as long as it has a hook and is made to catch fish.
i'm not o.k. with somebody driving a golf cart across interstate 80 (or a smart car for that matter ).
i'm also not o.k. with gluing some stuff together sans hook and calling it a fishing fly - realistic or not.
and - b.j. - LET'S GO PENS
All men who fish may in turn be divided into two parts: those who fish for trout and those who don't. Trout fishermen are a race apart: they are a dedicated crew- indolent, improvident, and quietly mad.

-Robert Traver, Trout Madness
SlateDrake9October 3rd, 2010, 8:27 am
Potter County, PA

Posts: 144

I was with you until you brought up hockey. At least you have the right city, but come on man, hockey? No self respecting yinzer is a hockey fan, especially when it's FOOTBALL season.

You have to turn in your card now.
Fishing with bait is like swearing in church.
-- Slate Drake
Aaron7_8October 3rd, 2010, 9:52 am
Helena Montana

Posts: 115
A disgusting adiction that is only cured through years of rehab, counselling, and strong sedatives?........ Anyone?
Shawnny3October 3rd, 2010, 12:27 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Thanks, Tony. It felt good to let loose like that, but I had to grit my teeth when I re-read it - came across kind of high-horse. I made a few small edits to soften the tone.

I like Aaron's definition. But what if you don't want to be cured?

Oh, and if I may continue my rant, I don't like any fishing-related contests. I am a very competitive person and usually don't think any game is worth playing if you're not keeping score, but flyfishing and flytying are not games to me. They're too artistic and spiritual to be thought of that way.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
OldredbarnOctober 4th, 2010, 12:07 pm
Novi, MI

Posts: 2608
Omphaloskepsis is the contemplation of one's navel as an aid to meditation.[1] It is well known in the usually jocular phrase directed towards egotism and self-absorbed pursuits: "contemplating one's navel" or "navel-gazers". This criticism is also often leveled at professions which are interested in themselves: movies about Hollywood, for example, or television shows about television writers.

From the Greek: omphalos (navel) + skepsis (act of looking, examination), it refers to excessive introspection, self-absorption, or concentration on a single issue.

And you guys use to give Spence hell for rambling and being a bit "out-of-kilter"...My suggestion is to put the hash pipe down and walk away from the tying bench for a day or two...It's putting too much of a strain on your brains!


PS BJ... Football is a sport invented to give those "clods" who can't skate or can't even lace up their own skates something to do on their weekends off...Ice hockey is to sport what the perfectly presented "dry-fly" is to angling...Pure perfection...:) Ain't that right Gut?
"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
Shawnny3October 4th, 2010, 3:14 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197

Guilty as charged. Please accept my apologies, Spence, for going on and on...

Ice hockey is to sport what the perfectly presented "dry-fly" is to angling...Pure perfection

No argument here. I wish I were better at both, though.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
KonchuOctober 4th, 2010, 4:42 pm
Site Editor

Posts: 505

Sound like a good scientific name to me. Surely, it's been taken.
Aaron7_8October 4th, 2010, 5:06 pm
Helena Montana

Posts: 115
Hey some people are happy drunks or addicts. As long as you can lead a "semi-normal" life. I am not hear too judge just to check out the tips of that road killed elk.
SlateDrake9October 4th, 2010, 5:44 pm
Potter County, PA

Posts: 144
Oh, Spence, so misguided. Football is there for the baseball fans who can no longer stomach major league baseball due to various issues in that league over the last 15-20 years, but enjoy watching a sport that takes skill to play, granted, not nearly as much skill as it takes to play baseball well.
Fishing with bait is like swearing in church.
-- Slate Drake

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