Banish the thought from your mind, tying your own flies is not cheaper than buying them. Measured simply in dollars, the two aren’t even in the same zipcode. There are some benefits to fly tying that can’t be quantified and may tip the scales a bit.
The Numbers Game
If we look at the cost of trout flies, they range from $1.50 to $2.50, with the bulk of the standard patterns at the lower end of that scale. Assuming the typical urban angler gets away 6 times a year for a fishing excursion, and buys about 2 dozen flies for each outing, he is out of pocket about $300 per year.
For his flytying counterpart, if he had to tie that same 12 dozen, it is a different story. If we assemble a kit of the materials necessary, it may include:
Genetic Necks – 1-Rhode Island Red, 1 – Grizzly, 1 – Cream/Ginger
Dubbing Fur – Black, Brown, Olive, Grey, Cream, Yellow, Tan, Rust
Skins/Bird Parts – Partridge, Speckled Hen saddle, Mallard flank(natural and dyed woodduck), Teal, Pheasant Tail, Peacock Herl, Ostrich, Dyed Hen saddle (Olive, Brown), Saddle Hackle (grizzly, badger, brown), Turkey Tail, Goose Biots. Marabou (olive, black)
Animal Parts: Calf tail, Hare’s Mask, Moose Body, Deer Hair, Elk Hair
Synthetic/Man Made: Copper wire, Gold wire, Lead wire, Polypropylene yarn (white), Pearl Flashabou (or equivalent), Prewaxed Thread (black, brown, cream, olive), Floss (red, yellow), Brass beads (small, medium).
Hooks: Dry Fly (12, 14, 16, 18), Nymph (12, 14, 16, 18), Specialty (3XL 8, 10)
I wouldn’t be accused of flamboyance in the above items, this is a basic kit that can tie quite a few different patterns. There will be plenty left over after our 12 dozen flies, some of the above items can tie many hundreds of dozens before being exhausted. The above tying kit retails for approximately $461.00.
Note that no tools, vises, or other tying paraphernalia is counted in the above, this is simply a raw list of items that could tie 12 dozen assorted flies. Our assumption is that the angler buying flies is likely to pick 2-3 of each, and 12 dozen would be around 50 different fly patterns.
Using the “dollar” indicator only, $300 < $461, so buying flies is cheaper.
Granted, the additional flies we can tie from this kit will lower the per fly price in each subsequent year, but we’ll start to run out of items and have to restock. If you supplement the items with road kill, and catastrophic loss due to moth infestation, the calculation become unwieldy almost immediately.
If we acknowledge some of the intangibles, that may shift things. What a flytyer gets is a deeper understanding of fly design, movement, and aquatic entomology. He can tailor a fly exactly to the bug he sees on the stream, whereas the guy buying flies has to find an approximation – a standard pattern close enough to the natural that he can use effectively. This is easy, as fish are stupid. On rare occasion, nothing but the custom pattern will do, this is more the exception rather than the rule.
Assimilating all that tying knowledge will put the crafter into learning bug behavior. Reading countless articles on new patterns and absorbing their recipe will also convey how and where to fish it, how to recognize the natural when he sees it, and what unique qualities exist in the sillouette or style of emergence. Simply put, fly tyers will know more about bugs. How much is that worth?…A plugged farthing at a cocktail party, but useful as hell when fishing.
The second major benefit for tyers is that their season is longer than a fellow purchasing flies. Them cold winter months give the perfect opportunity to replenish those holes in your fly box. It ain’t fishing, but it’s the next best thing.
As a byproduct of tying, angler confidence is increased. You were there last year, they were eating “little yellow mayflies” – you spent all winter perfecting that pattern, now you’ll reap the reward. Confidence is akin to superstition, as we have all met the guy that claims, “I catch all my fish on a #16 Adams” – the fact that he has been successful (confidence) is enough for him to continue to force feed that fly for hours, regardless of what’s hatching.
The Deep End
Many fly tyers go off the deep end, and although it can be expensive, it is still a rewarding hobby. These tyers wind up owning huge stashes of fly materials, far in excess of what they can use in multiple seasons. Often these collections result from interests in fly crafting, attempting to tie traditional Atlantic Salmon flies using the original materials, and other esoteric forms of tying. They might live thousands of miles from any salmon, but it is the art and skill displayed that is the main event.
These tyers spend many thousands of dollars in materials, and have long surpassed any thought to the economics of their flies, they’re as interested in their craft as they are in fishing. Many sports have this same unbridled accumulation hobby, it still beats blowing your cash on cheap rotgut and hookers.
A “Deep Ender” is easy to spot, watch him make a fuss over the neighbors Pale Blue Dun cat, seven minutes later he’ll be throwing rocks at an orange tabby. He’s the guy that swerves his car at a porcupine, and is up to his elbows in the gut pile at the local duck club.
Word’s of Wisdom – always go fishing in his car, that way you don’t have to explain the rotting fox carcass under the seat to your wife.