Learning to Tie Flies at The Fly Tying Symposium

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the 17th annual Fly Tying Symposium as presented by volunteers from a Toronto group, Winter Hatches Fly Fishing Club. It’s a phenomenal gathering really… There must have been over 100 eager souls who braved the cold of an early February morning to make their way to the North York Civic Centre. Their purpose was to get together with other like minded fly fishermen, hunch over a vise, and learn yet another unique way to tie assorted fluffy bits to a cold steel hook!

As for me, I had signed up for the Beginner’s Workshop, run by a passionate tyer, William Gerrard, who is actually the Director of the entire Fly Tying Symposium. Now, I was pretty nervous heading in… I’m all thumbs really. I was pretty panicked that they might actually kick me out, give me a refund, tell me it was hopeless! Understand, these flies are pretty darn small, people… I wasn’t sure I would be able to even *see* the darn things, let alone manipulate them to look pretty and have them stick together.

It was a fairly interesting mix of people in the room…

Some were fly-tyers who hadn’t practiced in a while, some were adolescent boys, and there were several women in the room. At my table was a big brute of a guy, who walked in with three big boxes full of tying gear… and his ten year old niece.

At this point, I knew, that no matter what, I would look like an idiot!

The plan for the Beginners was to learn the history, introduce the tools, a few other basics, and tie five flies

1. Just-A-Bug

2. Hamill’s Killer

3. Deep Minnow Silver Shiner

4. Elk Hair Caddis

5. Bead Head Pheasant Tail


Somehow, it seemed to me that everyone else in the room had just started magically whirring thread to hook, and I was still fumbling through my bag of materials, trying to find a hook. Well, I was pretty lucky, as the big guy next to me was teaching his niece, so of course that left just little old me for our table’s instructor, Ron Massie, to focus on. Ron was methodical and precise, patient, demanding, and understanding. If I did something wrong, he made me do it over. If everything went shooting off the vise, scattering all over the table, he would merely sigh, and say “Well, let’s try that again…” I don’t think I could have had a better teacher.


Somewhere along the way, mid-afternoon, I began to realize that I was having a blast. That this was a really cool thing to do, that I *could* get better at it, and that I wanted to go home, and try my hand at it some more, without all the anxiety and sweaty palms!

The bonus? I won the door prize, a fly tying kit with a vise, basic tools, and a travelling kit!

Yes, I plan to go again, hopefully learn some more from the guys at the Winter Hatches meetings. There is an event called “Cabin Fever Cure” in April, an outdoor gathering with fly rods, open water, and dozens of experienced fly fisherman willing to help show a newbie such as myself a few things about the sport.


I’m thinking that would be a pretty cool way to spend an afternoon…




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