Streamside Blog

My Journey Into Fly Tying

I’m not certain of when exactly I started tying my own flies, but I can tell you that it has been an incredibly enriching experience. It has humbled me, kept me honest and helped deliver some of the most frustrating and fabulous moments of fishing I’ve ever had.

I guess the point of this story/blog post is to do a bit of reflection. Maybe an amateur fly-tyer will recognise a struggle, or a more seasoned veteran will get a laugh out of it… Either way, here it is to enjoy.

A Pair of Pliers

As anyone who has tied next to me at a fly-tying evening will tell you, I tend not to do things the easy way. And I guess that’s true of how I started my fly-tying journey. I’d grown frustrated with the mechanical way of cranking in little bass on my spinning rod and decided I wanted more fun. Fly fishing and tying was the way to go.

We got hold of a photo of Brad’s first fly and what a beauty it is.

Being in the middle of lockdown, access to materials was challenging. I grabbed some old hooks I had lying around from a tiger fishing mission, pulled closer an old slop and got stuck in. Scissors, Stanley blades, sandpaper and God knows what else led to my first horrifically shaped attempt at a body. I’d add a picture to this blog but I think I’d rather save you all the trauma.

Thankfully a good friend of mine took pity on me and sent an old vise my way soon after seeing the wretched creations I had mangled together.

Having been through all of the above, you can imagine my disgust to find ready-shaped foam popper heads/bodies on sale the first time I ventured into a tackle shop as lockdown eased. At least my creations began to look half-decent, even if the decent half was the front.

Emboldened by my access to more materials and equipment I decided to diversify my arsenal to Woolly Buggers. Truth be told, I figured they’d be a little harder to completely cock up. While still messy and a far cry from any bought flies in my box, I marched off to my local dam and after ensuring I didn’t blank, I decided to tie on one of my own flies.

I was nervous, but it wasn’t long before a little bass had chased it down and I had my very first fish on my own fly. Looking back now, I probably could’ve cast just about anything that particular afternoon and caught fish, but this tiny victory is a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

With renewed confidence, some YouTube tutorials and some creativity I began to work on bass poppers and soon was regularly catching little bass on the odd afternoon I had free. In fact, as a mark of my confidence (and absolute naivety) in my fly-tying prowess, I bought a copy of Gordon van der Spuy’s “The Feather Mechanic” – which needless to say showed me exactly just where and how much I was lacking, even if it was in a nice way.

Fly Tying Evenings

It was around this time that I began adventuring on the Cape Streams, and after a few years of being convinced, finally decided to pursue it more seriously. As it goes, you meet a few people and follow a few social media pages and before long your feed is filled with fish being summoned with levels of style and grace you could only ever dream of.

Somewhere in between all of this, I stumbled upon a post about a “fly-tying evening” and decided to check it out. In January 2022 a flipper pattern was my introduction to the Stream and Sea fly-tying evenings. I found the atmosphere so relaxed and comforting and the ideal place for a relative novice to learn.

Being (VERY) patiently coached and taught new techniques across a broad spectrum of different flies over the course of the next few events equipped me to tie in a way I honestly couldn’t have imagined. More than that, the people I’ve met, the advice I’ve received and the amount I’ve learned have not only made me a better fly-tier but a better fisherman as well. In fact, both of my best trout of the past 2 seasons have come based on advice I received from Pierre at one of these evenings. If that’s not customer service then what is right?

My First Trout on Fly

Just before the opening of the Cape Streams season, Luke van de Heever tied a hopper pattern at one of the Stream and Sea events. Something about the pattern caught my eye and the very next weekend I spent ages trying to perfect it. It took me ages to get it just right but eventually, I had a few I was satisfied with and I packed them into my box.

As so often tends to happen, I doubted my own flies and for a while they never saw any action. Until a day when I had invited my brother-in-law and his father to join me for a few casts on the Smalblaar. Having dished out a handful of flies from my box to each of them, I was running rather thin on my supply and decided to take the plunge and give the hopper some game time. On just the second cast a gorgeous little rainbow dashed up and plucked my hopper off the surface.

I’m not sure how many of you remember the first trout you caught on one of your own flies, but that fight felt like there was so much more at stake. To land and safely release that fish, probably meant more to me than any fish I’d ever caught before. It marked a full-circle moment for me in a way that is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. The level of satisfaction in managing to accomplish what on the face of it now, seems like a very simple goal, was probably the highlight of my fishing journey to date.

Into the New Season

So as I head into the upcoming season, with a box filled with a few more of my own creations and the confidence to conquer all trout brave enough to venture before me, I am filled with gratitude. For the people who have led me down this road and guided me or even laughed as I struggle to get the thread through my bobbin AGAIN. For the opportunity to experience such a fulfilling pastime and take so much from it. But most of all, I am grateful to have found a way to pour my passion into something that brings me such joy…

Fly Tying Materials and Tools

Eastern Cape Highlands

22-29 April 2023