A.K. Best

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A.K. Best
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Born1933 (age 90)
NationalityUnited States of America
OccupationAuthor, professional fly tyer, and fly fisher
Years active1960-
Known forWriting books about fly tying and fly fishing.

A.K. Best is an internationally renowned fly tyer, fly fisher, and angling writer. He was born in 1933 in Iowa and now lives in Colorado. He writes for angling magazines like Fly Rod and Reel, Fly Fisherman, and Mid-Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide. Previously, he was a music teacher and bandleader.[1] He spent 17 years working in the Alpena County, Michigan|Alpena County school's music department.[2] Best is perhaps most well-known for his fly tying books in which he details materials, methods, and techniques for creating flies. These works include Production Fly Tying, A.K.'s Fly Box, and Advanced Fly Tying.

A close friend of American author and fly fisher John Gierach, Best has appeared in several of Gierach's stories, sometimes being referred to as "Dryflyguru."[1] Gierach encouraged Best to start writing and wrote several of the introductions to his books.

Best's manuscript materials, published articles, memorabilia, flies, and business correspondence can be found in the Montana State University Archives and Special Collections, ranging from 1983-2015.[3] Within the collection, there is also an interview with Best regarding his life as a fly fisher and fly tyer, as a part of the Angling Oral History Project.[4]

Work with the Orvis Company

Best spent much time developing flies and fly tying tools with the Orvis company. He was the custom tier for the company.[5] The work included writing testimonials and articles on his flies, and designing a vise used to hold flies in the creation process. Best's testimonials for the Orvis fly tying catalogues show his support for the company's goods. Additionally, Best wrote several articles on specific fly patterns regarding the process of designing the flies and best practice uses.[6] These articles were placed near an advert for the flies, which could be bought from Orvis. Correspondence from Orvis fly buyers and Best note that these articles helped sell more flies.[7]

Fly tying career

Eleven flies tied by Best, used for fly fishing. Best started selling flies to shops in the early sixties when he lived in Michigan. He made several display cases of his flies and would take them with him every time he went trout fishing. Along the way, he'd stop at gas stations or fly shops to see if they were running low on any patterns. He wrote in a document given to the MSU Archives and Special Collections, "If they were I would go back to my car and bring in the display cases and tell the owner that I noticed they were out of size 16 Adams (for example) and ask if they would like to place an order. It worked nearly every time and I garnered several regular accounts."[8] By the time Best wrote his first book in 1989, he had already been tying flies for 25 years, professionally for ten.[5] Around this time, a fly fishing shop opened in Manhattan, N.Y., called the Urban Angler, and Best is attributed with tying nearly all of the dry flies the shop sold.[9]

Best became a regular columnist for the magazine Mid-Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide in 1995. His monthly column "From the Vise" gave detailed instructions for creating a specific fly. In these articles he often references his favorite trick: stare at the water to "discover what is on the surface."[10] By looking at the water, a fisher can spot hatching or currently populous insects to determine what fly to use. John Gierach wrote in the introduction to Advanced Fly Tying about Best's notion for watching the water, that "he really does go off by himself to do things like that."[11] The method, while not foolproof, helps Best tie flies in a more detailed and logical way. Gierach writes of this method for fly improvement, "a pattern that may ... fool a few more trout."[11]

Best's unique strategies garnered such success and attention that his work is known all over the world, and interviews with him appear in international fly fishing magazines such as Flugfiske i Norden.[1] This particular article includes the fact that Best ties over 6,500 flies each year. When he has a production fly tyer (as in, producing many identical flies to sell to shops), he estimated tying over 30,000 flies per season.[1]

Published novels

  • Production Fly Tying (1989)
  • Dying and Bleaching Natural Fly Tying Materials (1993)
  • A.K.'s Fly Box (1996)
  • Advanced Fly Tying (2001)
  • Dying and Bleaching Natural Fly Tying Materials (second edition) (2004)
  • Fly Fishing with A.K. (2005)
  • Fly Tying with A.K. (2008)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ulf, Borjesson (6 November 2006). "A.K. Best, flugbindare". Flugfiske I Norden. 28.
  2. Speer, Diane (16 July 2016). "Oral history". Northern Lifestyles. pp. 1C.
  3. Hultman, Heather (4 December 2019). "A.K. Best Collection, 1983-2015". Archives West.
  4. Best, A.K. (September 19, 2015). "Angling Oral History Project". Montana State University (MSU) Library.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Best, A.K. (1989). Production Fly Tying. Pruett Publishing Company.
  6. Best, A.K. (March/April 2000). "AK Best's Para-Quills Work All Season Long". Orvis News, Outdoor Edition. Vol. XXXV - Number 2. p. 12.
  7. Neuner, Pat. Email to A.K. Best regarding Orvis Company business. 18 February 2000. A.K. Best Collection. 2603, Box 1, Folder 1. Merrill G. Burlingame Archives and Special Collections, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana.
  8. Best, A.K., Note regarding history of fly tying career. 2015. A.K. Best collection. 2603, Box 24, Merrill G. Burlingame Archives and Special Collections, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana.
  9. Bryant, Nelson (1 March 1989). "A Choice for the Fly Fisherman". The New York Times. p. 36.
  10. Best, A.K. (November/December 2015). "From the Vise". Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide (12): 9, 14.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Best, A.K. (2001). Advanced Fly Tying. The Lyons Press. pp. x.

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