An important question...

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An interesting topic of discussion came yp at our monthly Fly club meeting tonight.
What is a Master Fly tyer and how to they become one?

I'll share some of the questions that arose out of this discussion after I get a few replys.

Please don't name names of people are proclaimed "Master Tyers" just how they got the title.

Btw, We had Nathan From Avid Angler talk to our group about salt water flyfishing for Cut Throat and Salmon. Very interesting and nice selection of fly patterns. What good programs have your clubs peresented ?
( I'm also on the committee to help find interesting programs...)


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Simple definition: "A person who ties flies of one or more styles that are always of superior quality and craftmanship". Also, the master tyer's flies are consistent in the way they look, how they are proportioned, and put together. In other words, a master tyer can sit down and tie 1,000 flies of the same pattern in one of the styles he is a master of and the first will look nearly the same as the 1,000th one, as will all of those tied in between.

This level of skill doesn't happen overnight, nor does it happen with the tying of a few hundred flies. It takes more than a few years to acquire the skills and several thousand if not tens of thousands of flies to reach that level of tying ability and skill.

Some masters are masters of only a single fly style, Alec Jackson for example who has taken Bob Arnold's simple and effective SPADE to great heights. Some are masters of trout dry flies, such as the Dettes were. Some are masters of spey, dee, and classics such as Bob Veverka or Harry Lemire. Some do it with saltwater, like Chico Fenandez. Some with classic featherwing streamers like Klausmeyer and Martinez. Some with spun deer hair like Chris Helm. Some with hairwing salmon and steelhead flies like Haas did.

And there are those few individuals who have spent a lot of time and put in a lot of effort to practice and then master most fly styles, like Poul Jorgeson did.
There are a number of 'Master' flytyers who, well,... aren't, IMO - and a few more who are self-proclaimed.

I don't buy into the "... a master tyer can sit down and tie 1,000 flies of the same pattern in one of the styles he is a master of and the first will look nearly the same as the 1,000th one, as will all of those tied in between." thinking, either. It doesn't take much grey matter, or hand-eye coordination to bang out one-thousand San Juan Worms.

I'm not aware of any official standards, tests, or governing body or organization, that bestows the title "Master Flytyer".

Those tyers that I consider 'Masters' usually shun the title, or (at least) are a little embarrassed by it.



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Agreed, banging out 1,000 San Juan Worms is not a good indicator of tying ability. However, a person who can bang out 1,000 Glasso Orange Herons, 1,000 Carrie Stevens Grey Ghosts, 1,000 G.P's, 1,000 Light Cahill dries, 1,000 Royal Wulffs, 1,000 Dalburg Divers, 1,000 Lefty's Deceivers, 1,000 Akroyd dees, etc. and have them all look nearly the same and be of the highest quality is someone with a lot of skill.

I agree that the best tyers don't consider themselves to be anything more than good tyers.
I'm waiting for a few more answers but, Please keep the names out of it...
We aren't and don't want to compare joe to Sam kind of thing.
The question IS how not Who.
Thanks for the replies though, it's a start.

Were I to accept your thinking that a 'master' tyer can produce, with consistency and quality, any number of complex patterns, than *any* competent off-shore production tyer in Singapore, Thailand, or China would be given the title of 'master'. Sorry, I'm still not sold.


No offense, but it'd be almost impossible to have a discussion of this nature without having some kind of baseline - and 'names' are that benchmark or comparative standard. Think about it for a second. You couldn't have a meaningful discussion about great composers or baseball players without dropping a name like Beethoven or Honus Wagner, could you?

Again, when it comes to the title of 'Master' tyer, there are no tests or examinations, there isn't a board or sanctioned group that you submit your work to, and there's no governing body or organization that can collectively elect or deem you a Master tyer.

'How' does one become a Master tyer? The 'how' you speak of is simply an intangible IMO.

There are however 'traits' or characteristics that comprise or define what I believe to define a Master tyer. And all of them are subject to argument and/or opinion.

I'm with Hywel on this one, and speaking of him, he's a guy who has NOT cranked out thousands of the same pattern to obtain the skills requisite to tie wonderfully yet each one of his flies, regardless of their flavor, is a true masterpiece. Hywel also bucks the system in that his abilities have been refined over a relatively short period of time as compared to some. His work from a few years ago was better than a lot of stuff from guys that had been at this for decades. Check out his stuff on under "The Flies of Scotty Howell" and see if you concur.

I also think billing Alec as a master of only one fly is shortchanging his skills and contributions to the tying community. Should you ever get a chance to meet him, ask to see one of his Stimulators or saltwater baitfish patterns or a one of his simple North Country spiders and judge for yourself whether he's a well-rounded tier or not. I don't know personally most of the other names you dropped but I do know Alec and he is way more of a tier than insinuated by the original post.

As for governing bodies, there is a UK fly tiers guild that may have some criteria for obtaining the "Master" status but I haven't researched it much. In the grand scheme of things, if obtaining Master status was like earning a PhD, then I'm still trying to get out of Kindergarten so I haven't paid too much attention to the program.

FT, your identity has recently been brought to my attention. As a result, I have to ask why would you post as you did ("Some masters are masters of only a single fly style, Alec Jackson for example") about a gentleman you claim to know personally (AJ) when you undoubtedly are more than well aware of his level of skill? AJ's prowess at the vise far surpasses the majority of tiers, inclusive of the two of us, in my opinion, and he is way more well rounded than your post implies. I imagine the other dropped names are probably well-rounded too but I could be wrong. Confusion between what they are renown for and what their abilities are is something that must be avoided, agree?

Kent Lufkin

Remember when you could remember everything?
Don Johnson said:
. . . In the grand scheme of things, if obtaining Master status was like earning a PhD, then I'm still trying to get out of Kindergarten so I haven't paid too much attention to the program.
DJ, if you're in Kindergarten, then I'm still in diapers. At the risk of others calling your fine Miracle Caddis a one-trick-pony, my somewhat trained eye has a hard time detecting much difference between the 500 or so you tie in a 24 hour period.



Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!!!
I also don't find tying 1000 (or any large number) of identical flies anything more than a good commerical tyer at work. But few commerical tyers are what I would consider Master fly tiers.

My criteria for a excellent tyer is a tyer that has mastered the tools and materials of the craft; understands how to select a particular material to do a particular job; and produces flies that have a symetry of both form and color. What the individual may feel about his ability is not relevant, it is what his skills show and produce that speak to his status as tier.

DoJo is entirely too gracious with his evaluation of my fleas - it's just his nature. I just dress flies, no more, no less.


I'm also a big fan of Don's tying, especially his Miracle Caddis...and like you, I'm still pooping' in my nappies.


At the risk of name-dropping, Alec Jackson is far more a versatile tyer than you inferred in your post. Yes, he did take the Spade to another (and more elegant) level than the original design. He also ties, as you should know from having a personal acquaintance with him, some of the most beautiful Soft Hackles, Marabou Speys, and Hair winged Steelhead flies on this planet. I also have a half-dozen Saltwater flies that Alec tied that I'd be happy to share with you...

I amazes me that anyone with such a vast historical perspective on tyers could pigeon-hole a well-rounded and gifted tyer like Alec.



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Hywel and Don,

I'm very aware of Alec's skills at the vise and that he ties several styles of flies very well. But as you (Don) mentioned, Alec is renowned for his versions of Spade and most are not even aware of all the other fly types he ties so very well. I used his renown for Spade as simply an example or point of reference (just like the others I mentioned who are also very well-rounded tyers) for people.


I also disagree with you on tyers from Asia. Some of them undoubtedly have excellent tying skills and are more than competent tyers, therefore, they could easily be considered masters if we knew their names. Where the person lives geographically has no bearing on his tying skills whatsoever.

As to there not being any governing body in the US or Canada for designation of a person as a master tyer, that is correct, there is none. However, from a historical perspective, back in the late 1970's there was an attempt among some of the best tyers at the time to do such a thing and to have several levels of tying ability established. It fell flat on its face because there wasn't enough support from the fly tyers themselves.
FT, what you wrote was "...masters of only a single fly style, Alec Jackson for example...", which implies that he hasn't mastered much beyond a certain genre; Spades to be specific. What an odiferous bunch of bunk. To the best of my reasoning, his Skunks, Pseudo Speys and Marabous (as Hywel pointed out) aren't Spades by a long shot yet he's very renown for these is he not?

You also wrote (about AJ) "most are not even aware of all the other fly types he ties so very well". Why, then, promote the opposite and fallacious misconception with your commentary?

Mean what you say and say what you mean then stand behind it. If I wanted a waffle I'd go to IHOP.

Why would we even need such a title??? Sounds to me that it would be just one more thing to decorate a tying bench instead of the fly between the vise jaws.

I guess if there had to be a qualification then it must be that one must be able to tie a clean, correctly sized head...:;)

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