Take the Fly Tying Challenge

Fly tying contests are funny things. I’ve attended many of them, and have even judged a few. What I’ve noticed is that the winning flies are usually jewel-like Victorian salmon patterns or realistic nymph imitations that look so lifelike, you would insist they are actual insects impaled on fishhooks. Many of these winning flies seem to have nothing to do with real-world fishing; they are more displays of art than actual “flies.” As a result, I think, most tiers do not enter fly tying contests; the bar to win just seems too high.

Fly Fishers International, a leading organization dedicated to the education of anglers and tiers, is holding a fly tying contest it is calling the Fly Tying Challenge. This event will be part of its annual Fly Fishing Expo, which will be held this year in Bozeman, Montana, from July 23 to 27.

Rather than letting the Fly Tying Challenge become a free-for-all of hooks and hackle—and plastic, epoxy, and who knows what other types of materials— the FFI Fly Tying Group has selected a set of four mandatory patterns that are used for catching fish, not just fishermen (or judges). These patterns require entrants to display their mastery of basic fly tying skills, the types of skills we discuss in the pages of Fly Tyer magazine.

I spoke with Jerry Coviello, chairman of the board of the FFI Fly Tying Group, about the four flies. Jerry described why the group selected these patterns, and, if you listen carefully to this accomplished tier, he shared some insights into what is required to create a really great fly—the type of fly that will win the Fly Tying Challenge.

“The contest was actually my idea,” Jerry said. “I wanted something that would get the word out about the Fly Tying Group, and at the same time promote fly tying in general. I thought this would be a great way to do that.

“There have been a lot of fly tying contests,” Jerry said, agreeing with my observations, “but they were more artsy and didn’t show what a correct fishing fly looks like. I wanted to put a pattern out there and have contestants be judged on their ability to tie it.”

How did you select the flies?

“I put a committee together to select the patterns. I had my own ideas, but some of the final flies aren’t what I had in mind. In the end, however, we selected a group of flies requiring good tying skills, and they are all designed to catch fish. In the end, we selected a dry fly, a wet fly, a nymph, and a saltwater streamer.”

I asked Jerry to share some insights into the flies the committee selected. He started with the dry fly.

“Of course the committee wanted to include a dry fly, and it decided that it should be a little more complicated than just a standard Catskill-style pattern. So, the members chose the Stimulator because it contains a couple more components and is just a little more difficult to tie.

“We also included what we could call a classic Catskill-style wet fly, but not everyone knows the exact technique required to tie this style of fly correctly. This is an important tip: you have to fold the hackle before wrapping the feather up the hook so the fibers cant back. That’s a good example of the techniques we’ll want to see in the winning flies. A good tier will know how to do this.

“You also have to be careful and wrap a nice, smooth floss body,” he continued when describing an award-winning wet fly. “And some tiers clip the butt end of the tail in the wrong place; this will create a small hump in the middle of the body. I think most tiers can make this pattern, but these small traits will separate the average fishing flies from the winners.

“We chose Lefty’s Deceiver as the streamer. We did this to tip our hat to Lefty Kreh and what he did for fly tying. And, this pattern requires more materials and a few more tying steps; it’s a little more complicated than many other streamers, and it’s generally considered a saltwater fly.

“The Fishing Post Stonefly Nymph is a fun, obscure pattern from Eric Leiser’s book, The Book of Fly Patterns. You’ll still find this pattern in my own fly box. It features a triple wing case, and you have to know how to use a dubbing loop to make the body and legs. When tied correctly, it’s really a beautiful fly.”

If you’re not familiar with all four flies, the Fly Tying Group provides photographs and full pattern recipes at Fly Fishers International’s website, www.flyfishersinternational.org.

“I tied the flies in the photos, but these are just representative samples,” Jerry said. “I’m sure we’ll get flies that will look better, but like I said, we chose patterns we thought most tiers—those who would want to enter a contest—could make. Also, by having everyone make the same flies, all the tiers are on an equal footing. We’ll be comparing apples to apples, and see who has the shiniest apple.”

The format for the FFI Fly Tying Challenge gives you many opportunities to win. First, tiers will be divided into two groups: an all-age category, and a category limited to tiers aged 16 years and younger. Within each category, prizes will be given to overall winners—those are the tiers who show special proficiency at tying all four patterns—as well as awards for the best single flies.

The grand prize for the overall first-place winner in the all-age category is two days of guided fishing and three nights lodging— for two anglers!—at northern New Mexico’s Quinlan Ranch. Our good friends at Land of Enchantment Guides are graciously providing this terrific trip. (Please visit their website at www.loeflyfishing.com.)

As an added perk, all the winning flies will appear in a future issue of this magazine. (Fly Tyer is a proud sponsor of this great contest.)

All flies must be submitted by June 7, 2019. For complete details, go to Fly Fishers International’s website, www.flyfishersinternational.org. So, start tying, and good luck!


Interested in winning a guided trip? Of course you are. Well, you can use these videos to help prepare for the challenge ahead. Study up, and perfect your pattern so you can take top prize!

First up, the Royal Stimulator. This is a fly you want find much video on, as it is a mash-up of two fly patterns and not widely popular. But, if you can learn to tie a stimulator, and you can learn to tie a Royal Coachman, you can learn to tie the Royal Stimulator. Just substitute the Coachman body in between the elk-hair tail and wing, and there you have it!

Next up, the classic Catskill Wet Fly. Just embrace your inner Jim Misuira, practice, practice, perfect, and boom!

The thing about Lefty’s Deceiver is, no two tyers tie it the same–and it has tons of variations. This video for example is more of a chartreuse variation, and you’ll have to adhere to the materials list specified by FFI. So, get the right materials, and follow this general outline in the video below. Good luck!

Okay, good luck finding anything on Eric Leister’s Amber Fishing Post Stonefly Nymph online. Unless you have the book, it’s not a pattern you can find much on. However, the basics of a stonefly pattern are out there for all to see. For instance, with this video from Tim Flagler, you can learn the basics for weighting, adding biot tails, wire ribbing, and how to tie folded turkey wing cases. Just adhere to the materials list, use a few tips from Tim, and Voila!