Learning to Tie Flies

by John F. McKim, Fly Tying Editor
reviewed by Louis Bignami

Is it extraordinary talent? Super Dexterity?.

John McKim in the preface of his excellent book, Fly Tying, offers the following fine advice to those contemplating fly tying.

To learn to tie flies you need just two things: the desire to learn and a willingness to try. There's no mystique to fly tying. That's pure illusion. Surprisingly, it's the rare individual who cannot learn to tie flies. If you can learn to tie a knot, you can learn to tie a fly. The only difference between you and those wizards of the vise who seem able to work magic with bits of feathers and fur is time and practice. They, like you, were once beginners.

You could learn to tie flies without help from anyone. You could also invent or discover everything you need -- techniques, tools, materials. Many already have. But that's the hard way; unless you're a bona fide genius that's not a very good way to learn anything. It's always easier to profit from the experience and ideas of those who came before.

That's the purpose of my Fly Tying: to present in a progressive, readable and highly graphic format all the basic ideas and techniques you need to start tying flies. It is a primer addressed to the rank beginner, yet any serious student will complete this book able to tie virtually any fly. There are concepts, materials and even fly patterns which to my knowledge have never before appeared in print, contributions that I hope will make your introduction to the subject uniquely enjoyable.

You might say this book is the result of arrested development. Although I manage to tie flies well enough to deceive all the fish needed to keep me contented as a flyfisherman and fly tier, I still feel as a tier pretty much a beginner. Editor's note: Don't believe it, John's just modest.

Many who learned to tie flies in the years since I first asked "What's a bobbin" have now reached a level of expertise that, for a lack of time, dexterity and dedication, I many never obtain. Some of those individuals I'm proud to have had as students.

While I'm wont to marvel at the progress of other tiers, I've discovered that being "arrested" close to the threshold of ignorance is not really so bad. In fact, when it comes to the task of trying to write a book for beginners it is a decided asset. That and the ability to sketch a little. Editor's note: or a lot!