A guide to synthetic materials used for fly tying


The use of man-made and synthetic materials provide the fly fisher with umpteen different ways to enhance their patterns when tying their own flies at home.

Amazing colours and light-reflecting additions can be added to your home=made flies by usign a vast array of different accessories.

Here's a brief guide to the many different materials available that keen fly fishers have used to great effect...



Metal beads, whether brass or tungsten, are an easy way to add weight to a fly. Beads have a pre-drilled hole through the centre with a small hole one side and a countersunk hole the other. The bead is slipped onto the hook point via the smallest hole, around the hook bend and positioned just behind the eye. It is important to match the bead size to the hook size. Get it wrong and you either won’t be able to get the bead over the barb and around the bend, or the bead will be so big it will slide over and obscure the eye. Gold, silver, copper and black are popular colours, with ‘hot’ and fluorescent colours achieved by giving the bead an enamel finish.

Cones are bullet-shaped and produce a different profile. Fit to the hook in the same way as beads, available in brass, tungsten and alloy in a range of colours.

Dumb-bells also add weight and are mounted onto the hook with a figure-of-eight whipping. Available in a range of materials and colours, some with pre-painted eyes.

Plastic beads add hotspots, whether for a head, or a row of beads slotted onto the hook to produce a complete body.



Available in oval, round and flat in sizes extra small to large. The oval and round are built around various diameter cores to produce different thicknesses and are used mostly for creating ribs and butts. Flat tinsel can be wrapped along the shank in close touching turns to create a whole body, and is also excellent for making ribs, butts, tails, cheeks, shellbacks and wings. Again, there are countless colours available in all three types but oval gold and silver are a good starting point for ribbing. Flat tinsels are very popular in gold and silver, pearl mylar, UTC Mirage and holographic.



Thread is probably the most important material you are going to use as it secures all the other materials to the hook. You will come across two types – twisted and untwisted (flat) and the two popular makes are Uni-Thread and UTC.

Uni-Thread produce a wide range of waxed and unwaxed polyester-based threads from 3/0 (the largest diameter) to 17/0, the finest. The most popular sizes for trout flies are 6/0 and 8/0.

UTC produce lightly waxed nylon threads in sizes from 70 (the finest) to 280 (the thickest) and suitable sizes for trout flies are 70 and 140. It ties in very flat, but if you want to add a twist into it just spin the bobbin.

The colour range covers everything from natural imitative shades to hot fluorescents and day-glow colours. If you want to buy the absolute minimum to start with, go for black, then build up to other colours as and when you need them.

Waxed threads provide additional grip on the hook and also give a bit more longevity. Unwaxed thread are a better choice if you want varnish and adhesives to soak all the way through to the hook.



Flosses are a thicker version of thread and used to be made of silk although multi-stranded nylon and polyester are now more common. Floss can be used to build up a body and is ideal for creating tails, butts and cheeks. Floss is available with a slight twist, and also as a flat material where all the fibres lie parallel to each other. Do watch out when using flat floss as it is all too easy to catch the fibres on rough skin. If they break they weaken the floss and also give an untidy finish to the fly. Huge range of colours, including fluorescents for tails and hotspots.

Lead wire


An effective way of adding weight is to wrap touching turns of lead wire around the hook shank prior to dressing in the other materials. Wire comes in a range of diameters and choice will depend on the amount of weight you require. One of the most traditional wires is copper, and a classic example of its use is in the Pheasant Tail Nymph which uses a fine diameter copper wire for added weight and to replace the thread. Coloured wires can be used as ribs, or in close touching turns to create full bodies, showing the colour off to its full potential.

Straggle and Blob Chenile


These are synthetic ropes formed of multi-fibres. Blob chenille is a very dense Fritz-type material, available in different colours and diameters and ideal for creating the Blob attractor pattern. Straggle chenille is one of the newer materials and is nowhere near as dense as Blob chenille, has slightly longer fibres and gives a more translucent and sparse effect when tied along the hook shank.

Bead chain


Originally obtained from hardware stores, bead chain is now available from specialist fly-tying retailers in plated silver and gold plus various hot colours. To make a pair of eyes on a fly, cut a pair of beads from the chain and mount onto the hook with a figure-of-eight whipping. Not as heavy as dumb-bell or brass beads as they are hollow, but add enough weight to submerge the fly.



Foam comes in many colours, shapes and sizes from blocks and flat sheets to cylinders and long lengths of Booby cord. To cut cylinders from a block of foam either use cylinder cutters in different diameters or, as many do, use the sharpened sections of an old car aerial to do the same job.

Booby cord, or Booby eyes, are coloured cylinders of foam which can be tied in on top of the hook with a figure-of-eight whipping and then trimmed with each side to create a set of highly buoyant eyes, for example in the famous Booby pattern. The slimmer cylinders of foam can be used to make extended bodies on Daddy Longlegs or foam posts in parachute flies.