It’s easy to tell people that their fly patterns should all be tied to the same proportions, shapes, and sizes, but that doesn’t help you do it. For that reason, I wanted to include a series of posts on How To Make It Mirror. In this series I will include some tips, tricks, and disciplines that I use to help my flies be more consistent. *Warning* I get down into some of the nitty gritty stuff some might already know, some might not care about, and some may need to read twice.
Anyway, let's start at the beginning. Here's the question - what stares you down every time you go to tie a pattern?
USE THAT HOOK
When you start a fly, a hook is all you have. This bare hook is your blank canvas. Mirrored flies start with an empty hook. After all, before you have done anything to them they all mirror perfectly... Now, it's easier to tie one fly perfectly, but how do you make 15 that at all look the same? I mean, after every time you finish one, you have to start again from scratch? How is it really possible to keep things consistent?
Well, here are a few disciplines and tips I use that can help you too. Let's begin with the simple and end with the advanced.
Starting Your Thread
Before you put any thread on the hook, first decide where you will start your thread on every pattern. I generally start one of two places, either one hook eye length behind the eye of the hook, or right over the initial point of the hook (pictured below). Starting a little behind the eye helps me not crowd the eye of the hook by providing me a physical reminder to stop so I can properly finish the fly. Beginning towards the rear of the fly means I can put in my tailing fibers first and get that over with, saving me a little bit of time. Honestly, it pretty much just depends on what I feel like doing, but I do have a plan that I am working for, and I do keep that the same for each fly pattern.
Wherever you begin just make sure that’s where you always begin. Beginning at the same location will help you become more efficient and consistent from the start!
Starting Your Thread
Red indicates one hook eye length behind the eye.
Green indicates directly above the hook point.
Measuring Device For Materials
Randomly measuring length of materials can be difficult without any help. Without help it's almost impossible to keep each pattern the same too, but remember you always have help - your hook is your help! Use the hook to measure each material, and you will be able to stay consistent with each pattern.
Let’s use a standard dry fly hook as a generic example. When I use a standard hook, I know that regardless of what size I am using - 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 - in my mind, the top of that hook is a miniature ruler. If I want my proportions to all be the same size for tails, wings, hackle, etc. all I have to do is measure to the top of that hook, and every fly will have the same length of materials (as long as I hold the measurement).
Now here’s a specific example we can use - an Elk Hair Caddis. This pattern uses a clump of elk hair tied on to the top of the hook. If you never measure and just guess with each fly, you will always be too far off the hook or too short. All that does is tell the world you didn’t take your time. Instead of guessing, you should cut off a clump, measure it to the top of the hook and cut it where you want it. Every single fly should have the same length of wing, tail, or whatever else you are using it for. All because you took 3 seconds to measure your materials off of your hook.
Red line indicates hook length. Use this as a tool for measuring your materials.
Know Where to Start or Stop
An excellent part about using the hook as a gauge is that you know where to start or stop materials. There are several different aspects to hooks. For example, using a traditional dry fly hook, you have first the eye, then the flat portion we call the shank, then eventually the hook will begin to bend downwards, evening out again, in a complete U. On the underside you have a barb, then the point of the hook. Every different section you can use as a measuring device for starting and stopping your materials - if you pay attention.
I can look down at the barb and use it as a gauge to say, "I want the body of my fly to stop here." I can use the point of the hook as a gauge and say, "Here is where I will start wrapping hackle." Right before the hook begins to bend downward, I can make a mental note to ensure every time I put a tail on a fly I never go down the bend, but instead just go to the very end of the flat portion.
*Barbless Hooks* In reference to the barb, I most frequently mash the barb down after I have made the fly. I prefer the simplicity of releasing fish caught on barbless hooks and how easy it is to remove barbless hooks from my face. However, I also like to have the reference point during tying. On the example below, you may notice the directly above the barb is where the hook shank begins to bend. This is just another excellent reference point.
Know when to start and stop
Red line indicates directly behind the hook eye
Green line indicates above the hook point
Blue line indicates directly above barb and end of the shank.
Honestly, most of this stuff comes down to paying attention while you are tying, and making little mental notes (or real notes in a binder or something). This is not going to solve all of your problems, but starting out strong is helpful for finishing strong, and these little tips can help every aspect of your fly tying and help you maintain consistency.