Organizing Fly Tying Stuff

by Mike Hogue

I can't say that I am the most organized person in the world because I am not. Most generally my fly tying desk looks like a chicken exploded and most of the remains never quite made it to the designated spot.

Much of this stuff just seems to grow, in some cases by the pound. I once was at a fly show where some asked why they would buy a certain color or shape of something and the reply was for "The R value"...."R value? What on earth is R value?" "Well I have this theory that if I pile enough stuff into my attic, it retains heat and thus raises the overall "r" value of my insulation and this is how I justify buying more stuff to tie flies with." So for a long time "r value" simply referred to more stuff.

Actually accumulating materials is one of the great joys of this hobby. Finding just the right shade of something or getting a full ounce of wooduck for $35 or even 4 extra balls of chenille, can be a sub hobby in and of itself. I ought to know since basically this is how a hobby got out of control and became a business for me.

Managing materials is another issue. If you take care of things they will last a long time. A fair amount of stuff actually has a shelf life and if not used up will start to break down. Another consideration is the items which are bought, recovered or items harvested. I will go into some of those ideas and give you some places to look to organize things.

Eliminating Pests:

There are several kinds of things to be concerned with in the storage of materials. First is bugs. Usually you are okay if buy materials from well known suppliers. The retailer, wholesalers and the manufacturers go to great lengths to sort, clean, tan, wash and dry your materials. It does me no good to sell something which is full of insect larva or other wonderful attachments. Bugs most often arrive from materials which are given, donated or harvested. That well intended free road kill was no bargain if it brought in all sorts of nasty critters as a bonus. Ducks are by far and away loaded with all sorts of bugs and lice. Why this is so I have no idea but usually if I have an offensive pelt 9 times out of 10 it came from something hunted.

There are 3 ways to reduce or eliminate pests: Isolation, freezing/micro-waving, washing and chemical warfare.

Begin by isolating any free stuff. Don't mix wild game in with other items until you are sure it is free of pests. I usually take a suspect pelt or group of feathers and keep it away from other items. I will use separate zip bags and keep items together. I store those and if I can't control the bugs, I pitch it.

You can freeze pelts or feathers but it won't kill the eggs. This is one way to stop the critters dead in their tracks but it often is just a stop gap process which slows them down. Think about this if a goose is outside in 10- below zero weather and still has bugs, the eggs didn't freeze now did they?

Micro waving will cook everything and kills the eggs. I am not sure this is the best idea but it does work. One trouble is you rise burning the feathers and you also cook the meat or fat that is left on a pelt. If you have one pack of loose feathers it might be worth it to just microwave on low. You will hear the little devils explode when you do this. Just retribution I suppose for an infestation.

Washing is pretty effective. Get some dish ( I usually use Dawn), fill the sink up and toss it all in. Let it soak until the entire pelt is completely wet. I might let it soak for about 2-3 hours. Then I rinse the pelts in water and lay on a newspaper to dry. This is one of the easiest ways to clean up game. If you wash dyed products, do it in a separate solution as the dye can leech out. No reason to bleed red dye on to that rare merganser flank now is there?

Unfortunately the best bug killer was DDT, which is now against the law. There are 2 kinds of moth products: balls and crystals. The crystals are far more effective than balls. They also stink to high heaven. I usually dump some in and seal up the package, then seal the box by putting it in a plastic snap box. Extra large glass jars from institutional restaurants are great because they are free and cheap. They seal tight and are effective for a long term storage process. They are long which allow you to put big stuff in them. There are some new scented products used to control pests, I don't think those are nearly as good as the items above. I do recommend that you air out a package for several days after you store it in either balls or crystals. If it stinks too much you can wash it and then let it dry out.


Plastic shoe boxes are one of the most effective ways to manage stuff. You can get these at discount stores. I sort out items and put them in one box. One has bucktails, another for deer, another for pelts, another for hackle and so on. If I can get away with it, I pull the stuff out of the bags. I have big box full of deer for example. Another with cards of chenille and yarn. Plastic repack boxes have a lid the folds down and use those to dump lots of stuff in there. I can put really big wings, pelts or such in those boxes. I have a bunch of antelope I store this way since I got so much of it.

Floss boxes are available at craft stores and discounters and have a set of cards in them. Wind chenille, yarns, zelon and antron on to these small cards to manage a set of chenille better. Hook organizers are handy for eyes, hooks and beads. You can use some small fly boxes for beads and eyes. I like to keep eyes together and beads together. Also if you can reduce down the number of zip bags, you will save yourself time. The biggest trouble I have with hooks is that 3-4 manufacturers all have different boxes and of course none of them match. Get a hook box and some small computer labels and then you can keep all the hooks in one spot.

Thread and floss can get dirty if exposed to dust, metal tinsels tarnish and if these have rubber bands on them, the rubber will melt and ruin metal tinsel over time. I use thread storage tubes and have a thread drawer. If I leave a thread out on a thread tree, it usually gets very dusty over time and I have wiped those down with a damp cloth.

Necks and Hackle: I NEVER take a neck off the cards. Leave them on! I rarely pull the staples out. If you leave the saddle or neck on a card it keeps the feathers straight. A loose neck can get broken or it can get damaged if it lays crooked in a bag. To take any card out of zip bag do this: Open the bag, bend the card slightly and shake, the card will now come and go at will. If you jerk the card, you break it or rip the bag. Try looking for 18" neck bags at Wal Mart. Not available in the grocery store. I have neck bags like 8-10 years old now. Be kind to them.

A great item I found was a craft carrier. I have a craft bag which is the only bag I have ever seen that is long enough to carry the large 18" chicken butt cards used by several growers. Look at some craft stores for those. If you watch they sometimes have a 50% off coupon in the paper. I got mine for $10 on sale with the coupon.

Groups for Travel:

Nope this isn't a collection of fly tiers that are globe trotters! I recommend that you save your back and give it a break by pre packing some stuff. Poul Jorgenson told me this one. Poul takes along stuff for shows for 5 flies. In advance he prepares a packet of material with all the stuff to tie a fly....hooks, hackle, tinsel, thread. When he demos, he pulls out that packet. When done it goes back in the pack. You can use the same idea. Put all the stuff for a woolly bugger in the bag. Or all the stuff for a nymph. If you don't use it, leave it home. No reason to haul a giant box of stuff around.

You can also reduce things down. Pull say 4-5 hackles off the saddles and label those for the size. The worst I have seen is folks carrying giant pheasant tails. Take a clipper and cut a segment out. You can clip like 2" off and carry that. Fits in a 3 by 4 zip instead of a full 18" bag. You can also cut quills down. I cut segments and those are much easier to work with.


For more Info Contact:

Mike Hogue / Badger Creek Fly Tying / 622 West Dryden Road, Freeville, NY 13068

Phone: 607-347-4946