SFR: Are Fly Tiers Not Artists?

So the question occurred to me when late one night when my wife was looking at some of my creations from the bench. She put it perfectly. "I am not interested in the fishing part, but the flies are beautiful pieces of art". It got me to thinking of scupltors, painters, and photographers. What about fly tiers, where is our niche. It seems that since we use our art to catch, fish the idea of art is somehow dismissed or diminished somehow by the outside world. I am not saying that we need our place in the Louve, Paris or anything, I am just saying like Rodney Dangerfield, "I get no respect" as a fur and feather artist. Have I lost it, or do I have something here?
Just my 2cents

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
Of course it's art. I know that there are some people who ONLY tie for the art of it. Some never have picked up a fly rod. I started out tying for flies to fish with, which I still do. So my main point in tying is tying a "fishable" fly. Though, I admit I love to tie up some flies because of how they look and fish them just because I love that look. If you look at the full dressed salmon flies, that is pure art if you've ever seen it. Pick up "The Atlantic Salmon Fly" by Judith Durnham. There is 1, maybe 2 tyers in that book who purely do it for "art". Think one had an art degree. Has no plans to fish, just making flies that are "out there".

Myself, if anything I've tied is considered art, that's great. But my main purpose is to tie to fish. I do tie some up for brooch pins, but that's just a side venture. My main goal is flies to be swung through a drift, and colors and materials to accent that drift.

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
I would very definately agree that fly tying is an artform. Look at the historic patterns, look at the evolution of design and materials- some 1000 years of progress- and then look at a chinook or steelhead that takes a 2" piece of red yarn snelled to a egg hook...

If all we wanted was to hook fish we could do it easily, with much less fuss and expense, using simpler means. The zeal behind a guy buying thousands of dollars of hackle, tools, materials etc, has got to be creative desire, passion. Art.
Flies can definitely be art. My flies are more often the scraggly kind that seem to attract fish, but look at the classic patterns and tiers and you will absolutely find an artistic expression. As a matter of fact, a gallery in Kirkland had an exhibition of fishing flies as art a few years ago. They galleried over 10 tiers, and each pattern displayed idividually and lighted dramatically. It was very interesting and inspiring. I know it was a real art show because they served some varieties of wine.


Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
bob, iagree . Tying can be pretty fun however, and it takes real skill to make some patterns. I think that it is art without a doubt.

Josh hold on to your woman; She's a keeper. Any woman who can compliment her man like she did you is worth her weight in gold! I know that mine is. :thumb:


Active Member
Hmmmm? Jerry, Bob, and Sterling pretty much summed it up, I agree.

The catch or "rub" to me is this.

With most trout, panfish,steelhead flies we create what we hope in the end a fish will consume or strike at. No other thought is given to it other than , "will a fish eat it?"
Granted, many thousands of dozens of flies each year are sold at retail or tyed which the fisherman or tyer obviously think answer this question with a resounding "YES". But are they art? hmmmm?

Well, almost all classic Atlantic Salmon patterns are considered "art".. Nowadays.

But, in their day, all but a few of these were tyed to catch fish and only fish. In many ways our forefishers asked the same thing we are here. The fly I have just tyed,the"Golden Butterfly" was dressed by JP Traherne and referred to by Kelson as an "exaggeration" that failed fishing miserably although it claimed to have caught fish on a few rivers. This is a fly from the middle 19th century. Surely some of the fly's that were "commercially" tyed back then for the House of Hardy and other "retail" establishments were merely exaggerations intended to attract more fisherman than fish but not most. Most had sound well thought out theories and reasonings behind each and every aspect of the dressing. And now we consider each and everyone "art". Perhaps the word "exaggeration" could be replaced with "art"

My mentor first hand drew in pencil every Salmon fly he tyed, to scale. He drew all new patterns he dressed on paper first. Surely this is "art",right? Why not the actual fly then as well?

Surely some of the more sophisticated and realistic trout patterns of our day are "art". I myself along with others marvel at their design.

Ah! But what specifically is art? Hmmm,nobody has ever truly answered that one. We'll know it when we see it? Perhaps. What one considers art another throws to the landfill or burns as well.

I would say it lies in creationism. To create. If you create something for others to look at, albeit humans or fish or whatever, it is art.Ultimately, others and history will judge if it is art or not , it cannot just be defined that way.

Symentry and beauty and,for lack of a better phrase,"bang effect" play a role as well.Something about what you "create" must jump out and bang the onlooker in the brain for it to be considered "art". For example,a nice picture of a summer steelhead can be pretty, but take a quality well framed closeup photograph of the same fishes pink sideplates and head against the rocky river bottom perhaps with a garnish of this or that aquatic vegetation and you have Art!

So there you have it folks, a four Bombay martini(with pepper stuffed olives) disertation on what is "art".Thanks for reading and good night.LOL

My wife, who is an artist with paint, made the same comment some time ago about my fly tying being an art. I've always thought of myself as artistic, but I haven't put fly tying under that category. I'd put my sketches, photogrophy & poetry under that category, and now that I think about it what do we need in order to make art? A medium (hook), a subject (what we're imitating) and materials (feathers & fur).
Davy has raised some important issues. If these questions are not yet answered, that is the particular nature of the problem we face when considering fly tying as art.

Fly tying at its best is surely an art form, but there is a huge difficulty in rising to this level. The great barrier is originality. Consider this scenario: In a museum, where a world-famous painting is on display, several art students are working at their easals, copying the original. For most of them, this is a long-established form of practice. One student, however, is clearly surpassing the others. His finished painting appears to be identical in all respects to the original. The student signs it with his own name and enters it into a competition.

How are the judges to evaluate his effort? Clearly, it is a work of consummate craftsmanship. But, as a deliberate copy, it lacks what the original possesses: originality. And is not originality a key parameter of what is meant by art?

Most flies are not tied to be original. They are products, not works of art. Most fly tying is artisanship/craftsmanship, not art. At its best, this craftsmanship is extremely demanding, and deserving of our admiration.

Another problem is that our ogiginal fly tying efforts will be judged in silence, by scale-covered, cold-blooded creatures who may, by their response, give a figurative "thumbs-up" but no commentary. If my new version of a callibaetis emerger gets me fifty strikes the first day I try it out next spring, have I produced art, original and excellent, or were the trout just very hungry that day?


Active Member
Wow,thanks Nooksac ! I kinda left out originality in my post,but (in hindsight) also perhaps on purpose.

While I almost totally agree with NM about originality I struggle with art not applying to "copies" of the classics.

All tyers have their own "styles", techniques, philosophies, theories, favorite material substitutes, etc.

I give an example in the picture attached.This fly is called a "Nelly Bly". It is a JP Traherne pattern just as is the Golden Butterfly originally dressed somewhere around 150 years ago.This particular Nelly Bly is dressed by a European man I only know as "Peter".The fly is posted elsewhere online and entered in a public competition so I feel I can attach it here.(actually I will provide the link)

Now looking at this fly ,keeping in mind that it is a copy not an original, and still try to tell my/yourself this is not art.I can't,not even.

Upon close inspection there will be differences in every fly dressed by every tyer.By better tyers--not flaws,but differences.I agree that to some degree this is just practice if it is a copy--in the "ART" world maybe,but in the fly tying world? IMHO,this is art !, Pure art and nothing but art.

Another related point is this;
I am currently tying a "classic",however, this fly will be tyed having the body sections of a new modern dubbing technique being pioneered by one of our local flyshop owners and throughout the world.The effect of the body will be quite dramatically different but for the wing I shall use the "original" dressing.Would this "new" fly still be a copy?If yes, how far do we take the definition?

Many steelhead flys are given names and credited to a certain tyer or another,but many are simply really the same fly as another,just different colors of materials.I look at the many marabou patterns on the market and put out in the public domain as an example.

I give my tentwing speys "names" but really they are all the same--atleast in style and wing shape,etc.Color,rib,spey hackle material may change but really how original are they?I'm not sure.

If I wrap a simple chironimid pattern using a green rib instead of white,do I get to call it art (or just my own pattern name) since I decided to wrap a TDC with a green rib?

I agree with Nooksac--many issues here- perhaps too many ever to really resolve.Heck of a supposedly simple question isn't it guy's?

My wife says things,albeit fly's, paintings, furniture, wind chimes, whatever--she say's things "become" art but that it cannot be created or copied. Like love. Art comes from the heart and soul and mind&body. Thats why to one person something may be art ,but to another it is garbage.

That brings me back to the classics--they were "created" to fish, they have "become" art. hmmmmm?

thanks for this thread Josh, it's been fun.

art does not have to be "original" in order to be classified as art. There is such a thing as "original art" though, but even copies or even close imitations can be considered as art. Take pop music for instance: They have all sounded the same to me for as long as I can remember, therefor they are not "original" in their art, yet they are still artists.

Art is simply defined as "the creation of beautiful or significant things; the products of human creativity; a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation."