Counting turns

High winds and heavy rain are keeping me from the fishing this week so I will put up some fly tying posts. I’ll start off with this moan!

Like the rest of you, I used to sometimes watch the plethora of fly tying videos out there on the different social media platforms. Being an old curmudgeon, I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed at some of the techniques on display there. One in particular, the poor use of tying silk, really upset me. Let me expand.

I learned to tie flies by holding the hook in my left hand and whipping on the materials with my right. There were no instructional videos to watch back then, I was damn lucky to have a few slim books with hand drawn pictures of the different steps required. Back then not many anglers tied their own flies and it was considered a bit of a black art in some quarters. Materials were hard to find and much harder to work with than modern equivalents. Only old people like me can recall the agony of sharp edged metal tinsel slicing through your tying silk (a common occurrence). Tying silk was made by Pearsalls, thick and prone to breakages at the best of times. On the plus side, every tyer learned the hard way how to make a good, strong fly. Controlling the tying silk was critical, especially the number of turns taken. And here is the rub for me, modern tyers use multiple turns of tying silk when they really don’t need to.

This drop in standards is of course driven by the wonderful tying silks now on the market. The 6/0 of yesteryears has been replaced by 8/0, 12/0, 14/0 and even finer. The ever diminishing thickness of tying silk means that previous restrictions have gone. Where we used to take three turns to tie in a hackle is now common to see twenty or more wraps to do the same job. Running tying silk down to the bend to catch in tail fibres is now followed by wraps all the way back up to the eye, then returning the tying silk to the tail before catching in rib/body materials. Why? What good does that do? I am at a loss to see what the benefit of all these turns of tying silk makes. If you were using 6/0 the body would be fat already after three runs of tying silk up and down the shank.

Here I have tied in the butt of the hackles (2) and run the silk in touching turns to the bend where I caught in the floss for the tag. No wasted turns.

I am sure you are thinking by now ‘does it really matter?’ I guess it does not matter a whole pile. As long as the fly tyer is happy with what comes off the vice then what harm? I just like to see skillful use of the materials when creating a fly. It looks far too easy these days for my liking. If all these wraps of silk were for a purpose I could understand and agree with it, but in general they are not. I hear the tyer saying things like ‘I’ll just tidy this up’ and then proceed to make multiple wraps of tying silk to cover up poorly cut hackle butts or ragged ends of floss silk.

Tension control is at the very heart of fly tying and is something which is very hard to learn. Being overly cautious and winding on numerous slack turns to avoid the risk of snapping the silk is poor technique in my book. Breaking tying silk is a frequent occurrence for me when I am tying because I wind as tightly as I can. An evening at the vice will almost inevitably see me break the tying silk once or twice. This is simply down to me pushing beyond the limits of the silk’s tensile strength. Obvious exceptions are soft loops and spinning deer hair but that is a different thing altogether.

I suspect I will be shot down in flames over these comments and people will (rightly) point out that my own tying leaves a lot to be desired! Not once have I ever been tempted to enter a fly tying competition, knowing full well that my creations are functional rather than pretty. I have been asked many times to post fly tying videos on YT but I lack the drive to do that. The endless unwarranted advertising on the channel annoys me so much that I rarely venture on to it these days. Anyway, I think I am more suited to the physical anonymity of blogging. I have a face for radio as they say.

Going through some boxes of materials I recently found a lot of old reels of 6/0 tying silk which I need to use up. If the reels were full of black silk they would be perfect for salmon flies but no, they are yellow, olive and brown. I’ll do a scatter of mayflies I think. Look out for some over-sized heads on my flies in the near future!


2 thoughts on “Counting turns

  1. I definitely agree with your observations on excessive thread turns. Winding back to tie in the tail and then immediately tying in the floss and rib makes the most sense to me. It also takes less time.


    1. I think this generation of fly tyers are spoiled by the exceptionally high quality of the materials available to them and this leads to some sloppy tying. Ultra thin tying silks encourage excessive wraps, poker-stiff hackles mean carefully stripped lower grades are never used, soft synthetic dubbing instead of spiky seal’s fur – the list goes on.
      You are right about the time factor too, fewer turns means faster tying (all important to those who make a living from making flies).
      Very much a first world problem I grant you, but it would be nice to see someone showing the ‘old’ skills with fur and feather.

      Liked by 1 person

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