I was asked recently to provide some gift suggestions for a new fly tyer, and it caused me to take a look at the things I’ve purchased in the last three years which I’ve really found to work out well. There have been a number of innovations in the fly tying market recently, mostly fueled by the recent explosion of large streamers for trout fishing. (This movement has been building in the Great Lakes region for more than a decade, and was juiced by Kelly Galloup’s awesome patterns repurposed for the Montana watersheds, but in the last three years we have clearly seen nationwide interest).
Here are a few recent innovations which really belong on your bench. They’re not gimmicks (Lord knows fly tying has plenty of those), but legitimately useful tools:
Cohen’s Fugly Packer
Now available in both Regular and Junior sizes, these jaws have a slot on the tip which fits around the shank of a hook. No longer do you need to run the risk of stabbing your thumb on the hook point when packing spun deer hair, and better yet, these jaws give you the leverage to really, really apply force to the bug. Just be sure to build a really solid thread bump at the rear of your spun section (a dab of Zap a Gap also helps) so you don’t wind up sliding the whole fly backwards on the shank. $29.99 and widely available, but I’ll link to the shop I stole the picture from, because fair’s fair.
Bend A Blade
Speaking of spinning deer hair, this gadget really ought to have been invented in the 1950s, back when tool and die workers sprinkled the landscape. Luckily, we have it now. Slicing deer hair with a flexible double-sided razor blade can be a little dicey, but more importantly, it’s difficult to do correctly. The problem is that your angle tends to change as you apply force to the razor blade, making for wonky heads. This little gem fixes that problem by locking the blade into a curve, which you can set by sliding the ring up or down. It also gives you the ability to get your fat fingers out of the way, making for more dexterity on the small cuts like around the lead eyes (on a Galloup’s Sex Dungeon) or near the hook eye.
Here’s the Bend A Blade in action:
I’ve purchased one myself and the small manufacturer, Tight Line Fly Reels, is both prompt and reliable. $15.00 is very reasonable for the base model, but I recommend the classier $25.00 Nickel Silver edition so it will match the rest of your tools.
LED Vise Light
Another relatively recent innovation is the LED light. Ten years ago, fly tying lights of this kind cost more than $100 and often had hyper-expensive (and hot) halogen bulbs which could not easily be replaced. Thanks to LED technology, these kinds of lights are now almost discardably inexpensive (this one is only $25).
My only criticism is that the stem may be on the short side for truly getting out of your way. Fortunately, the base fits a standard vise clamp or stand, meaning if you have an old vise lying around, you can easily set the light a few inches back from your workspace. (This particular model, from Bears Den, is also battery-powered, which has both pluses and minuses). If you’re looking for an even cheaper option, IKEA sells the Jansjo (right) for a mere $9!
The IKEA version lacks the ability to be clamped directly to your vise, and may not have all the “true daylight” claims made by other vise manufacturers, but realistically, how often do you really need to mix dubbing to *just the right shade* anyway? In my experience, the colors we work with are usually determined long in advance, when we buy our materials in the fly shop.