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The Difference Between Premium and Discount Fly Fishing Flies
How big of a difference do superior fly fishing flies make to your day on the water? There are many out there advertising “Quality” or “Premium” fly fishing flies, but they are far from it. A superior dry fly will land right up, float correctly and consistently, and maintain those characteristics even after catching 5,10, even 20 fish. On the other hand, improperly tied flies will often land upside down, on their side, or even on their head.
A premium trout fly in a fly shop costs anywhere from $1.50 to $3.00, a bass and surf fly $3.00 – $5.00 but there are literally dozens of online retailers that offer similar patterns for half that price. You may pay more for a high-quality fly at a fly shop, but research suggests that the fly will last almost 10 times longer. You have to ask yourself one question: Do I want a 2 fly or a 20 fly? Let’s examine some of the differences:
The first important material is the axe. Great strides have been made over the past 60 years with the hacks that are used by the advanced commercial flies. Sets were pan based on color, hackle length, and beard stiffness to create a superior hackle.
It was a process started with Harry Darbee in the 1940s and 1950s that continues today with the hackles produced by Dr. Tom Whiting of Whiting Farms and Buck Metz of Metz Hackles, among others. High quality fly makers such as Idylwilde Flies, Umpqua Feather Merchants and Rainy flies use high quality high quality hacks.
The second material of great importance is the quality of the hook. Tiemco has positioned itself as the World’s leader in premium fly fishing hooks with creativity and attention to detail in the functional designs of its premium fly fishing hooks. From trout to tarpon, in freshwater or saltwater, for bass poppers or Micro Mayflies, top fly producers choose Tiemco hooks over the best efforts of the other competitor. They were one of the first manufacturers to chemically sharpen the points and are now standard throughout the industry. They carry a very wide line of fly fishing hooks with about 46 models to choose from. At the end of the hook name, you may see “SP”, this stands for Specialty Point. The SP hooks have a hollow curved point with triangular edges for easier sharpening. The hooks also have a slow taper which helps in easier hook sets. An interesting aspect of this hook is the base end of the tip has a bulge that works much like a beard without being a sting.
This can be of some advantage in holding hook sets with the barb hooks. Another name you may see is “TC” which stands for Tiemco Cut. This is a cut that Tiemco uses on certain wet and streamer flies for enhanced hook penetration. “It’s all about quality, or rather lack thereof,” says Bruce Olson of Umpqua Feather Merchants. “The first thing is that cheap imports are always tied with very cheap hooks, with an odd size. I find that a good quality fly must be tied. [name brand] hooks This becomes very important for big game, such as tarpon, where sharpness and tension of the hook wire are crucial.”
The failure of a discount fly company to use advanced materials means that the final product is not up to par. As Shawn Brillon, the chief fly buyer for Orvis says, “If you have to tie with junk, often the end product is the same… junk.”
Discount fly manufacturers also take shortcuts to reduce costs and materials. Bruce states, “To make flies this cheap, these guys have to take shortcuts.” The discount fly companies use inferior hooks and materials, skip important tying steps (like putting a glue base on the hook shank to keep the materials in place), and don’t exhibit much quality control.
A second important quality of high quality fly fishing flies is the adherence to standard pattern recipes. Bruce described one “Copper John” he bought online as missing the epoxy over the shell back and the lead under the ribcage.
“So, you may have saved a lot of money on the flight, but it’s not Copper John!” he says, and he notes that such an inferior version of the popular fly will not perform on the water as its designer intended. Without the lead, it won’t sink properly, and the lack of epoxy makes the fly much less durable.
Most fly production is done in third world countries because of price but also because they still work with their hands. Although they are third world countries, the fly tiers are paid a good wage and earn a middle class income for their work. The more expensive flies carried by the high-end fly shops such as Blue River Fly Company are tied in Thailand, the fly tying capital of the world. There are over a dozen major fly tying companies that have tying facilities out there. Other areas of the world that do a significant amount of fly production include China, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. There is some production in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Philippines. The fly production in the United States and Europe where the largest number of users are is mainly from home parts or parts that tie for specific fly shops.
Many high quality fly producers, including Idylwilde, have a strong belief in corporate social responsibility and believe in fair trade. They take responsibility for the impact their activities have on customers, employees, communities and the environment. As Idylwilde describes on their website: “If a fly is only worth $.99, not only does it suck, but it was probably tied in a third world sweat shop and we’d rather not have that bad mojo on our conscience. Idylwilde fly fishing. flies are tied in Manila, Philippines under a remarkably forward-thinking arrangement with Sister Christine Tan, a Catholic nun who believed her people needed more than charity. They needed good-paying, honest jobs they could rely on as they built a life outside the confines of poverty. Our promise to Sister Christine lasts approx. 12 years later, now enabling more than 150 levels to better provide for their families. The flies you see here are the work of their hands and their hopes.”
Fly Fishing Fly Costs
The average cost of goods for a high quality fly maker for the simple dry flies and nymphs equates to about $4.50 – $5.50 a dozen. Additional shipping, tax charges and US excise duty add an additional $1.00 per dozen.
The fly companies that import the flies have to make a profit, so the cost to the stores is generally at a keystone (50% markup), so the cost to the stores is now at $12.00 per dozen. The fly shop pays shipping and markups for its operating costs and profit, keystone again, the cost to the consumer pushes that $2 -3 price you pay at a brick and mortar fly shop.
The big box stores, to get the price down to what they do, either get huge discounts for volume buying or they get flies tied somewhere other than Thailand, or both. Hopefully now that you get sticker shock when you go into a fly shop, you can understand why the shop charges what it does.
Cost per Fish
Bruce Olson argues that anglers should look at the cost of a fly in relation to its durability. If the 75 cent Stimulator falls apart after the second fish, but the $1.75 Umpqua Stimulator is good for 10 fish, then the cost effectiveness of the more expensive fly is twice as high. (75 divided by 2 fish=37.5 cents per fish, 175 divided by 10 fish=17.5 cents per fish.) “You have to do the math,” says Olson.
Superior Fly Fishing Flies
You won’t settle for sub-standard rods, reels, fly lines, waders, etc. that split or break after a few times of fishing. So why settle for substandard flies? Flies are the most important part of fly fishing. If the end result of all this is to catch fish, why not spend more time, money and energy on the only element the fish really care about?”
Price is a pretty good indicator of the overall quality of the flies you are buying. Cheap flies are almost always cheaply tied. It doesn’t take a Rocket Scientist to do the math. You can also test them by making sure they don’t spin easily, are well designed for balance, are tied to the proper ratio, etc.
Umpqua, Idylwilde, and Rainy have significantly raised the standards by which high-quality fishing flies are defined with their use of high-quality materials such as Tiemco hooks, Metz and Whiting hackle, and by developing the finishing capabilities of its product flies.
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