I had been meaning to post something on wire ever since Brandon blogged about the Wapsi Ultra thread (http://brandon722.blogspot.com/2009/10/ultra-thread-company-by-wapsi.html) a few months back. There has been some discussion recently at RMF on the very topic which reminded me to get on it (http://rockymtnfly.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4790&hl).
When I first started tying I didn't know much about wire so I just used the Danville wire that came in my beginner's kit.
I immediately found that if not properly re-wrapped and stored the design of the Danville spool lends itself for quite a mess when the wire fell off the spool and got tangled with everything. For this reason alone I don't use Danville wire much any more, though I do have a fair amount of it. It's cheap, easy to find, and works fine as long as you store it properly though I make enough of a mess tying and don't bother with the tangles any longer.
I quickly discovered UTC Ultra Wire, the key material for Barr's Copper John, which is my primary wire of choice now simply because of the size and color options available (see chart below):
Charlie's Flybox (a.k.a. the greatest place ever http://www.charliesflyboxinc.com/) carries just about every spool available for a decent price. My tying cabinet is now stock full of a variety of colors and sizes, though I always seem to accumulate more. I really like the UTC wire as it is easy to use and store and doesn't come untangled nearly as easily as the Danville wire has for me. Plus with the size and color combinations the possibilities are endless. Brassie size is perfect for hook sizes 18-22. For sizes 16 and up, and for stonefly and streamer ribbing, go to "Medium". Small size ultra wire is perfect for ribbing Gold Ribbed Hare's Ears, Zug Bugs, etc. I use X-Small for tying Zebra Midges, and for midge patterns smaller than #20.
More recently I have begun using Largatun Non-Tarnishing Wire. I am not as familiar with the options and colors available, though I think Largatun makes a fine product though it's a little more expensive. They make a wire even smaller than UTC that is easily manipulated. I have stocked up on a few spools, particularly of their X-Fine size because it's smaller than the X-SM UTC wire and less messy than Danville. I really like the sheen of the wire, which apparently comes from the amount of polished precious metals, and it seems to hold up better than Danville. The length of wire on each spool is 7 yds. for small size, 10 for fine and 15 for X–fine and is available in 3 finishes: cold, silver, and copper.
According to Scruffy Fly of RMF, the diameters of some of the different sizes are as follows:
UltraWire XSM = .004"
Largartun Fine = .005"
Danville Fine = .005"
UltraWire SM = .007"
Largartun SML = .007"
34 gauge = .007"
UltraWire BR = .009"
Dnvl Brassie = .009"
UltraWire MED = .013"
The only other wire I have been using is a lead-free wire wrapped to add weight to nymphs and streamers. I know Hareline and a variety other companies put similar wire out. I got a whole box with a variety of sizes from Cabela's a few years back and haven't had a need to replace anything yet. Lead-Free = Good.