Fly tying is a dramatically different avocation now compared to when I tied my first trout fly more than four decades ago. Back then, there were only about two options for someone who wanted to learn the craft. One of those was to have an experienced fly tier show you how.
And if you happened to know an experienced fly tier, it helped if he was a close friend or relative, because many tiers of that day regarded fly tying as some kind of mystic art and were reluctant to share any of its deep, dark secrets.
The other option was to teach yourself by reading a few of the instructional books on fly tying available at the time. That is the route is took, as I not only knew no other fly tiers, but I don't think I even had the chance to see someone else actually tie a fly until five or six years after I had taken up the hobby.
Finding all the necessary tools, materials and other accessories for the various fly patterns you wished to tie could be problematic as well. A few local sporting goods stores would stock a limited selection of fly-tying material, but quite often you were forced to order what you needed from a mail-order supplier, and then hope most of those items were actually in stock.
How things have changed. Nowadays there is almost too much information out there for a budding fly tier. Hundreds of books and videos are available on virtually every facet of fly tying. And for those who prefer personal, hands-on instruction, many fly-fishing clubs organizations and fly shops offer fly-tying classes for both beginners or advance tiers.
The array of fly-tying materials and specialty tying tools currently available can be equally mind-boggling. Maybe the biggest transition in that regard has been the incredible amount of synthetic materials that are now used for all types of fly tying. When I started tying, the primary components of most fly patterns were almost entirely some type of natural fur, feather or hair. In fact, many influential fly-fishing writers of that time tended to shun most synthetic materials or to characterize them as somehow being inferior, ineffective or even unsporting.
Over the past 20 years or so, however, that mindset has reversed completely. Synthetic materials now dominate most fly-tying material catalogs. In some cases, synthetic materials have been adopted as acceptable replacements for some so-called natural materials, while other specialized materials have opened the door to new or unique fly patterns or tying techniques.
For fly anglers who have the time and desire to tie their own flies, there has never been a better time to take up fly tying. Not only does it provide many hours of productive entertainment during the off-season, tying your own flies also allows you to experiment and possibly improve upon your favorite fly patterns.
I usually advise folks who are interested in getting into fly tying to avoid buying an inexpensive fly-tying kit for several reasons. That's not because fly tying needs to be an expensive hobby, but rather because so many of the kits I've seen were just not a good value for the money. Many of the materials in-cluded tend to be a hodgepodge of stuff that would tie few if any really practical fly patterns and whatever tools are provided are often little more than outright junk, which even an expert tier would find difficult to impossible to work with.
A better way to start is to buy a basic set of tools that are of reasonable quality. At the very least, you'll need a good pair of fine-pointed scissors, a bobbin or two to hold spools of tying thread, hackle pliers and a whip-finish tool. The most important piece of equipment in any fly-tying setup is the vise. A vise that doesn't hold a hook without slipping is next to worthless and will be an abomination to work with. Regardless of what he sta-rted tying with, every serious fly tier I know eventually made the move to a topflight vise. A top-quality vise currently costs from around $150 to $300, but such a tool will also last most tiers for a lifetime, making it a worthwhile investment.
A practical and budget-conscious way to build a startup assortment of tying materials is to pick five or six of your favorite fly patterns and buy all the necessary materials to tie them. Later, pick another group and add the materials for them to your inventory. But once you have acquired a bit of tying skill, don't be surprised if you find yourself accumulating fly-tying material at an amazing rate, because fly tying can be a most compelling hobby.