Fly Fishing: The Art of the Tie


Fly Fishing: The Art of the Tie



By: Kate Havlin

Before the waters, there are flies. 

Trout anglers’ work starts before they set waders in water. Often, the first step is tying flies. 

“It’s part of the craft of fishing. Part of the hunt is learning the right bait,” said Christopher Thompson. “It’s like baking your own bread.”

Thompson was among a half dozen anglers tying flies at a free clinic at Fort Snelling State Park with Naturalist Linda Radimecky. 

Radimecky demonstrated how to make a Mickey Finn and Wooly Bugger. The basics of fly-tying require thread, yarn, tinsel, feathers or deer hair around a hook to create something that might attract a fish. 

“Your best friend in fly-tying is head cement,” Radimecky said. The sticky cement holds materials on a hook, even if they’re not well-tied.  

Radimecky encouraged students not to worry about making perfect flies. 

“They’re so forgiving, flies,” she said, “You just wrap thread back and forth.” 

She suggested beginners watch YouTube videos that detail step-by-step how to tie different patterns. The DNR offers information about fly-fishing at

Anglers make flies to resemble all kinds of fish food, from mosquitoes and flies to grasshoppers and frogs. A Hare’s Ear Nymph imitates mayfly eggs. A Muddle Minnow looks like a sculin, a small baitfish for brown trout. 

“The more you know your aquatic insects, the better your flies will be,” Radimecky said. 

Fly-tying can save anglers money. Basic fly-tying tool kits cost $10 to $20. Thompson said he’s spent $60 on flies, but some fly fishermen spend far more, so they can have 200 flies, one for each condition. 

Peter Katsiotis brought his 10-year-old son, William, to the clinic so they could both practice fly-tying. Ten-year-old William, who got waders and a fly rod for his birthday, focused intently on making his flies. 

“It’s fun.” Father and son each like fly-fishing, but Katsiotis said he knew why more anglers don’t tie their own lures. “It’s time-consuming and I think once you get started, it becomes consuming. You know, there’s lots and lots of choices.”

Choosing materials is part of the fun of making one’s own flies. Anglers pick out fuzzy chenille and pretty feathers like wingcase, a mottled turkey feather, or hackles, speckled pheasant feathers. Radimecky offered deer hair in wild colors, from Vikings purple to hot pink. The colors and textures each serve a purpose. “Deer hair is hollow,” Radimecky tells her students. “It floats; it’s pretty durable.” Flat tinsel creates the base of a fly body on a hook, then a few layers of oval body help plump out that fly body. Radimecky warns not to overdo the materials. “You just need little clumps. If you put too much hair on it, it just gets a mess. You just need maybe 10 hairs, on top, 10 in the middle, 10 bottom.”  

DNR volunteer Kari Meyer brought her sister, Krista, and their mother, Barb, to the fly-tying clinic. The three Minneapolis women are part of a fishing family that has made worm rods, so fly-tying is just another part of their fishing life. By the end of the class, Barb noted, “You feel like you’ve accomplished something. If this actually makes a fish strike, I’d think that would be great.” 

Minnesota has more trout now than any time in the last three decades, according to the DNR website, which reports that the state’s trout population has tripled since 1970. But since Minnesota also leads the nation in fishing licenses per capita, there’s no guarantee that every angler will find a fish. 

Southeastern Minnesota is home to many of the state’s popular trout streams. Trout Run, in Winona and Fillmore Counties, has a self-sufficient supply of trout. Other streams, like the South Branch of the Whitewater, are stocked with trout. Although trout aren’t native to northern Minnesota, they have become common in some of the area’s lakes and streams. The DNR website claims that the state’s top lake trout fisheries are in the BWCA.

The DNR website also includes where to fish for trout and other coldwater fish in the Twin Cities. For more about fly-fishing in Minnesota, check 




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