Heritage Crafts

Fly dressing

The construction of an artificial lure (‘fly’) to represent an insect, fish or other food eaten mainly by trout, salmon and other predatory species, for fishing purposes. The craft is also known as ‘fly tying’.

This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Area practiced currently
Origin in the UK


Fly dressing, also known as fly tying, is the craft of constructing an artificial lure to represent an insect, fish or other food eaten mainly by trout, salmon and other predatory species, for fishing purposes. The traditional methods use fur and feather from many different species. The craft dates back to Roman times but seems to have experienced its biggest period of growth in the 1850s.

Salmon and trout fishing were very much a rich man’s sport – from the 1850s until World War II many people could not afford to fish in the well-known streams and rivers. After the war many fisheries were developed and during the 1960s, large reservoirs were built and stocked with fish. This led to a growth in the number of trout anglers and subsequent growth in the number of fly tiers.

There are a large number of different schools of fly tying. Some tie to imitate flies and insects in a general way, others tie ‘super realistic’ flies that are more like models than fishing flies. Others follow faithfully the patterns developed and published by famous fly tiers in the 1850s and Victorian era. There is also an ‘art’ movement that uses fly tying techniques to produce flies that are tied for their shape and colour and displayed rather than used for fishing.


There are many different techniques used to dress a fly. From creating a thread base on the hook, tying in the chosen materials and then wrapping or positioning them all require slightly different techniques for each type of material. The manual skills required are a steady hand and good vision.

Materials should be washed, steamed and prepared before being attached to the hook. Materials of appropriate colour, texture and weight are attached to the hook in a skillful manner. It is useful for the fisherman to be able to see their fly whilst fishing. Equipment used varies largely according to monetary investment in the matter. Tools include scissors, bobbin holders, hackle pliers, dubbing needles and a whip finish tool, but very much like the material used, it can be dependent upon the craftsman.


Allied crafts:

  • Hook making – many traditional salmon tiers prefer to use handmade hooks in the antique style rather than buy mass produced hooks.
  • Dyeing – some people have become experts at dying materials often for very specific colours
  • Bird rearing – there are also people specialising in the rearing of birds for the fly tiers

Issues affecting the viability

  • While the numbers of people tying flies is still quite large there is a trend away from learning fly tying as an art and more towards tying a very limited number of simple patterns for use in fishing. The actual number of highly skilled individuals that can tie most patterns and use most techniques is shrinking quickly.
  • Difficulty in collecting materials is an issue as many feathers are now cites listed and therefore illegal to buy or trade.

Support organisations

Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known


Other information



There are hundreds of books on the subject of fly tying. Many are pattern books detailing various flies and their dressings, others are technique based. There are currently many videos available on YouTube that display the art.

National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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