Have A Plan Before You Tie

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Photo by Louis Cahill

By Justin Picket

I literally just walked away from my tying desk and I am now sitting in front of my laptop… 

And not because I just finished whipping up a ton of awesome, fish-enticing flies and I need to order more materials. It’s quite the opposite of that. My idea was that, tonight, I would start refilling some of my boxes for the busy guide season that Spring brings with it, but I didn’t get anything done at all.

I tied three flies (none of them the same) and then I got frustrated and had to walk away. Why?

It’s pretty simple. When I sat down at my desk and planted a hook in the jaws of my vise, I didn’t have a plan. I had some hooks. I had some beads. I had some thread. That was about as far as my planning went. I had a multitude of materials strewn all over the place. Bucktail. Sili legs. Mallard flank. Goose biots. UV resin. Marabou. None of it in any kind of order. Sitting there, staring at the mess that is my desk, I was unable to focus on the task that I intended on accomplishing this evening. I wasn’t able to find half the materials I needed, which only frustrated me and pulled me even further off task. My tying session had turned into some sort of “squirrel gone mad” moment and I couldn’t decide which pattern I could tie efficiently with the materials that I knew I had, but probably couldn’t find anyways. Don’t be me! Here’s a few quick tips to help keep you on task while you are sitting at your vise!

Keep It Clean

Many of us that tie have messy tying desks/stations. If you have a roll top desk, as I do, it is way too easy to just roll the cover down and call it good. Even when I was tying flies on an old card table it was the same, though. For one, this is distracting. It can be hard to focus on what you’re doing with a bunch of marabou trimmings flying around your face. God forbid you sneeze! And of course this makes finding the materials that you need a chore in itself. This kills your productivity and eats up precious time. Take a few moments to clean your tying area when you are done. Put away the materials and tools you don’t need when switching to another fly pattern. You will be glad that you did…. And you might not find your dog munching on a bright red buck tail. 

Prep Your Materials

We’ve covered this before in the past, but prepping before you actually begin your tying can save tons of time and frustration. Beading hooks ahead of time. Stripping marabou. Tying hopper legs. All of these things take longer to accomplish when they are done as a single step during the fly tying process. It’s much easier to accomplish these small tasks ahead of time so that you can move seamlessly to the next step in your tying process.

Stick To A Plan

Maybe there is a new streamer pattern you saw on YouTube. Or, maybe it’s your go-to pattern for picky trout. Doesn’t matter. Try writing down what fly pattern(s) and quantity you want, or need, to tie and stick to it. This will help you with gathering only the necessary materials that you will need for each pattern. I usually do this, however tonight I did not and it ruined my tying mojo. I’m a list person. My schedule is crazy so I utilize lists to remind me of what I need, or tasks that I need to complete. So instead of sitting down tonight and looking at a list that read “#18 Jig PT – squirrel/yellow collar – 2 dozen”, I sat down with nothing but a mess of a mind and a messier desk, resulting in nothing but wasted time. 

Sitting at the desk and staring into a pile of materials in search of inspiration is fine if that’s what you want to do. I’ve sat at my desk many times with the sole intention of experimenting or trying to come up with something new for a specific fishery. However, tonight my tying was meant to satisfy the need to restock for Spring. So, after realizing that I wasn’t going to make any progress, I beaded a couple dozen hooks, prepped some materials and called it a night. At least I made a step in the right direction and doing this will set me up a little better when I sit down again to tie. I’ll revisit this tomorrow when I’ve done some organizing and I actually have a plan for what patterns I will be tying. 

Avoid this frustration by setting yourself up for success!

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “Have A Plan Before You Tie

  1. Over the years I’ve followed a program to be continually focused on the 3Es, the 3Ps and the 7Ps.

    That is:

    3Es = implement the most Efficient, Effective, Economic procedure to do everything;

    3Ps = Practice, Practice & Practice

    7Ps = Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

    It will take me years to attain my goal. I know I have not achieved that yet. It is the eternal search for excellence. However most importantly one must enjoy the journey and attempt to learn something new every day.

    One thing which does help is being a planner trainer by temperament, so I always have a plan in my head. So before I start tying any flies I get all of the materials out so that they are at hand when I am tying. All of the hooks have had the barbs crimped and are in a magnetic tray. I tie with scissors in my hand and I do a whip finish without a tool. Is this too organised?

  2. I totally agree with the importance of keeping a clean tying area. It makes it easier to focus, and makes the tying process way less stressful and more enjoyable.

    I’d also suggest making your tying area a place you actually want to be. Add pictures, a nice lamp, a radio, a good quality chair, etc. If you like sitting at your tying area, it makes tying fun and not just “work.”

  3. Great article,

    Reminds me of my desk at times. Keep it clean and orderly to find materials when needed.


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