What To Tie and What To Buy

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Photo by Louis Cahill

I should be sleeping.

Oh man, that would feel good, it’s been a while. I’m flying to Colorado tomorrow. I wouldn’t be home today if a crown hadn’t fallen out of my mouth. This would have been the third trip in a row with only one day at home between but an emergency dentist appointment has bought me a night to tie flies.

That’s how summer is for me. These days it’s kind of how winter is too. With all of the travel and shooting and fishing and writing, there’s no time to tie. When I drive, I travel with a tying kit. I pack the materials I think I’ll need for the trip at hand and tie a few flies for the day. When I fly, I’m screwed. I find myself, time and again, on some piece of epic water fishing the dregs of the box or begging flies from a buddy.

In a perfect world I’d tie all of my flies but my world is far from perfect. With one night to tie, I’m faced with a question. What do I tie and what do I buy? It’s triage. Here’s how I prioritize.

First priority, the hot stuff.

Like every angler I have proprietary patterns. My dirty little secrets. The flies I don’t talk about. The ones you have to fish with me to see. They’re hot and I can’t buy them when I’m out. They’re first on the list.

Second priority, hot materials.

There are some classic patterns I fish that I tie with little variations. A different color, a little more flash, maybe it makes a difference and maybe it doesn’t but I like to show the fish something different so those flies are next on the list.

Third priority, the simple stuff.

This is where the the cheap bastard in me comes out. Simple impressionistic patterns that catch fish and take no time to tie. Worms, Soft Hackles, Hairs Ears, Woolly Buggers, Midges, Parachutes. Knock ’em out quick. Those beautiful realistic patterns are fun to tie but when time is tight, buy ’em.

Even if I’m fully stocked I end up buying flies. First off, I believe in supporting local fly shops. Independent fly shops are the heart of our sport and it’s tough to keep one going. I can always use a few more flies and the guys at the shop should know what’s working. I’ve been in a few shops where they just try to unload the junk on you. Here’s a tip, don’t buy flies from the bin that’s full. It’s the fly they’re almost out of that you want. The other thing I like about buying flies on the road is picking up local patterns to copy when I get home.

If you have a system for what you tie and what you buy, I’d love to hear about it. Post a comment.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “What To Tie and What To Buy

  1. I enjoy tying my own flies but some hatches here in PA come and go so quick and it is truly not worth the expense. One might as well buy what one needs for those few days. On the other hand it is always a pleasure to catch fish on your own flies.

    • Trap,

      I feel you on that one man. This past year I tied up dozens of Sulphur Patterns for my home tailwater and the hatch never got into full swing. It was a big bummer. Thanks for the comment.


  2. I tie bass, muskie & saltwater flies, because they’re big & fun & gaudy…and nobody else here ties them.

    I buy trout and salmon flies, because they’re small, precisely tied, and tied local…and everybody else here ties them.

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