The quest for the Holy Grail of fly tying

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The Independent Online

It's at this time of year, particularly, that a fisherman's fancy turns to fly tying. It's all part of that delicious preparation before the trout season opens again in March.

In our house, the vice has been clamped to the table for weeks. Small children, dogs and bare feet are banned. Windows have to be kept closed and enthusiastic page turning too close to the "fly tying station" has to be kept to a minimum, lest the tiny scrapes of marabou should be sent fluttering.

Despite being dead keen, I'm really rubbish at fly tying; I can see it all in my head but when I get to sit and actually tie one, unless there's someone telling me exactly what to do, it goes all wrong and usually ends in hot tears over the junglecock. And since making my Punky Buzzer fly (read all about it in the back catalogue:, I've not ventured too much into the fly tying box, other than to retrieve my Chanel clear nail polish.

So I'm not very close to the Holy Grail of fly fishing: inventing and tying your own fly, then catching a fish on it. (Who needs to when you can catch a fish with your own saliva? Also in the back catalogue...).

However, I adore the fly tying process because it gives me an excuse to study entomology, a subject I find fascinating. (If only I'd been this keen to learn at school.) A stupendously excellent book in this pursuit is John Goddard's Trout Flies of Britain and Europe (Robert Hale). It's not cheap at £35 but then an astounding amount of work has gone into it, so it shouldn't be.

Although not strictly about fly-tying – it's very much a bug book – it would be a very useful addition to the subject, especially if you prefer to understand about the natural and make your own interpretation. It has colour photos of the real insects, close up. Most fisherman would have seen the real thing for themselves while out on the bank, but it's another thing entirely trying to remember the proportional size of an iron blue dun's thorax when you're warm at home and trying to recreate an accurate artificial. It also shows you the nymph stages of particular flies which, unless you've dredged the river bed (which I highly recommend you do if you ever get the chance as it is fascinating) you might not have seen. The book also shows you some "trout's eye view" examples of insects, which is very handy. It also has an April to September hatching calendar, which if, like me, you get confused will make you feel well smart.

If you're new to the tying of flies, a great little book is the Beginner's Guide to Fly Tying by Chris Mann and Terry Griffiths, £7.99 (Merlin Unwin). (There's also an accompanying fly tying materials pack, £11.99, which contains everything you'll need to make the flies in the book.) This book assumes no prior knowledge and takes you through every incy basic step, as well as showing you how to tie 12 trout patterns.

When you're ready for the next step, the bible of fly tying is Oliver Edwards' Flytyers Masterclass, £19.99 (also Merlin Unwin). In this you not only get 20 patterns, but almost 40 years of Oliver's considerable fishing/tying/entomological experience. Having been a draughtsman, he also did all the drawings (I particularly like the book's dedication, to his wife, do read it for yourselves). I can't stress enough how this isn't just a "recipe book" but gives you invaluable intelligence. Talking of Edwards, he's written an article in the March issue of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying magazine on how to mend some trout nibbled nymphs, rather than chucking them away and retying the whole lot. Very ecological.

On the internet there's some good stuff, too. Niche Products ( are a fly tying products company. Their website has various gaps (eg their catalogue isn't on line yet and lots of the links tell you to "come back soon for''), but it shows great potential, especially if you're quite anoraky about fly tying (there's a section on how to choose deer's hair which even goes into their diet). Fish and Fly, at, have a fly tying section with currently 24 "fly of the month" patterns.

One of my favourites is Rackelhanen, an awesome Swedish on-line fly fishing magazine ( sjostran/English/index.htm, I'm afraid I can't seem to find a more direct URL to it). Don't worry, that's the link to the English version and it covers not just fly tying, but all aspects of fly fishing and is well worth a look.

If readers out there (from anywhere in the world, although please, no more e-mails telling me how great the fishing is in New Zealand, green is not this season's colour!) have other such web recommendations, I'm always glad to hear them.