Making Fly Tying Affordable
Tips and Recommendations on How to Get the Best Bang For Your Buck Tying Flies
If you’ve tied flies for more than a month, you have likely realized that the promise of “save money, tie your own flies” is as inaccurate as saying the adams are hatching. While we can’t save you and actually make fly tying economical, we can help you avoid a second mortgage on your house by sharing a few helpful tips we’ve learned over our years of tying.
Read our tips below to help you get the most out of your fly tying purchases.
Buy From the Right Sources
Prices Can Vary Greatly in Materials
There are a couple major distributors in the fly tying industry that supply most fly shops with all their materials, but they don’t have the entire market and there are a ton of one off suppliers that have all kinds of materials and hooks available. Because of this, pricing can vary greatly from shop to shop or site to site. We’ve found a few online retailers that we recommend below. We’re not paid to recommend them or anything, this is where we get most of our materials and hooks because we’ve found excellent prices and great quality giving the best overall value.
Allen Fly Fishing
Hooks are the most expensive part of fly tying, so finding a good hook supplier is a great find. Beads are the second most expensive and these guys do a great job on prices for both. A 25 pack of standard dry fly hooks will run you almost $7.00 at a local fly shop, but Allen Fly Fishing offers them as low as $2.91 for a pack of 25. They are quality hooks that match up to a Daichi in my opinion and I’ve had maybe 5 hooks out of 10,000 break since I’ve used them and they were all on the vise, not on fish. We tie constantly for our Fly Explorer membership and find these hooks to hold up and look good on the completed fly. They carry a variety of standard trout, steelhead and saltwater hooks. They also carry the increasingly popular jig style hooks for euro nymphing in black nickel barbless.
Their beads are great, especially the tungsten ones. You can get a 25 pack of tungsten beads for the same price you get for 10 in a local shop. I think buying local is great and there are times to do it, but there are times that you pay a big premium, and hooks and beads are often that area. Allen Fly Fishing is great for hooks and beads and they often have 20% off sales making it a great time to stock up.
JS Stockard Fly Fishing
A medium sized online retailer, these guys sell almost every material imaginable at solid prices. They offer free shipping often and if you stock up when you buy, you can save a bundle. I buy all my threads, dubbings, wires, and specialty synthetic materials from them. There’s lots you can buy and their quality is as good as you’ll find in any fly shop but for 25% less than anywhere with a brick and mortar location.
You have to know what you want at ebay and pay attention to the brands and quality, but if you know your way around the materials you need, you can get great deals on here too. If you’re new to the hobby, you should be cautious here because you’ll find “good deals” that sell crappy materials and you’re stuck with ugly looking flies because you have poor grade materials. As you learn, you’ll be able to distinguish the good deals.
Between these three sites, I can get 90% of my materials and save over 25% on retail in a local store. Any material that you don’t need to touch and feel before you buy, one of these two guys will be a perfect source to help you save some money and get good quality materials.
Buy Local – Get Good Advice
Specialty Materials and Advice is Why You Buy Local
I buy online as you saw above for a lot of what I need, but there are times where I have questions, need materials quickly, or need to really ensure the quality is good, like on dry fly saddles. Not all materials are made uniform and equal. Some aren’t cured as well, or are lower grade and buying online you don’t know what you’re getting until you see it, which can be risky on some materials. Typically a local fly shop will be a great place to buy saddles and other animal hides because inspecting them is key to ensuring good quality. This is where paying a premium makes sense and you can make use of the guys at the shop and ask a bunch of questions and they can really help you out a lot.
Buy Variety Packs Whenever Possible
Variety is Economical When Tying Flies
I have maybe run out of 3 materials that I’ve bought in my entire 15 years of tying aside from hooks and beads. Fly tying materials are sold in so much bulk that it’s hard to go through it all. It’s like buying a lifetime quantity on most materials.
Dubbing Variety Packs
Since you’re getting a lifetime quantity most times, it’s best to buy in as much variety as possible. The dubbing variety packs are excellent. I own about 6 and find I can dub just about anything in any color needed. I can also mix the dubbing colors and different dubbings to make my own blends increasing the variety even more and helping me achieve what I want on my flies.
Split Saddles and Feathers
Some saddles are dyed two tones so you get 2 half saddles in different colors. This is a great way to get variety on dry fly hackles which are by far the most expensive (and necessary) part of fly tying. Split colored saddles is great economy given the number of feathers and size varieties on a normal saddle.
Stock Up on Your Basics
Threads, Hooks, Beads and Wires
Stock Up on Wires and Threads
You can tie so many more flies when you have the right thread types and thread colors. Stocking up on the basics that are a part of most fly tying recipes is a great way to get the most out of your materials. I own nearly every color of UTC 70 and UTC 140 denier thread and all the major colors and sizes of wires available. I can tie so many variations of flies with this alone and it gives my box variety without costing an arm and a leg. You won’t ever really run out of thread except for the most popular colors, so investing in threads and wires will last you a long time. Think of these like the flour and sugar of the baking world, you need them for 80% of recipes so you might as well stay well stocked.
*Tip – I’ve found that I can tie 95% of all the flies I tie with UTC 70 and 140 denier threads. They are the most versatile and the less number of types of threads you can have, the more variety in colors you can afford. I haven’t found a pattern yet for trout and carp that I’ve tied that requires anything different than this. *
Stock Up on Hook and Beads
Hooks and beads are just a part of tying flies and so you might as well buy in bulk when they are on sale because you’ll use them eventually. Only buy sizes you commonly use though, don’t buy size 8 dry fly hooks if you don’t ever tie patterns with them just it’s on sale. I know that seems common sense, but sales make people do funny things, so don’t be that guy, buy smart and take advantage of sales.
Make Hunting Friends or Hunt Yourself
We Tie with Dead Animals, It Just Makes Sense
Squirrels, Deer, Elk, Moose, Possum, Rabbit, Pheasant, Duck, Goose, Peacock. Ok maybe people don’t hunt peacocks, but you can see that there are a ton of animals that are commonly hunted that provide a huge variety of feathers and furs to tie with. Getting these materials yourself or from hunters is a great way to save some money.
The materials won’t be as high of grade in some cases as what you find in a shop, and learning to cure your own materials is an investment in itself, but feathers and saddles from birds are a great place to start. Hunt yourself or have some friends who do, and you’ll save a bunch of money.
A Point on Material Quality
Another good tip is to buy at local hobby stores like Michaels or Hobby Lobby. Fly shops price their materials differently and you can find some comparable materials at these shops that will work as good as fly shop tying materials for a fraction of the price. That being said, you need to be able to match up the quality and the size. Often times, we have specialized materials that are meant exactly for fly tying because of their properties. You can get by with some materials from other stores, but be careful to pay attention to the size and quality to make sure it will work for flies or you’ll just end up wasting money.
There you have it, some simple tips that we’ve found that helps us save money. Understanding what materials you should stock up on vs others that you should just buy as you need, and knowing where to find quality materials at a good price is the summary of how we keep our fly tying economical. I still think that I spend as much or maybe a bit more on flies I tie vs ones I buy, but the trade off is more than worth it for the fun I have tying, and the level of detail and variation I can achieve using my aquatic entomology knowledge. It’s nice to have the option to mix and match flies that can’t be found in stores.
We hope this helps you save money and get the most out of your fly tying adventures!
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