The Economics of Commercial Fly Tying

I’ve started to dip my toe in the waters of fly tying. I take my first class at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop on January 4th. I think it is going to be fun to learn tying and it will be a good way to pass the time thinking about fly fishing during the wet cold days of December and January.

At the same time, I understand that my fly tying will be an end in itself – more of a hobby and chance to fish one or two of my own flies. The majority of flies I use (and eventually lose) will be those purchased at fly shops.

Commercial tying is another different matter.

How much of a different matter becomes clearer when reading how many flies are tied commercially. I’ve been a reader of the weekly news from Blue Ribbon Flies (West Yellowstone Montana) for years. I love the Yellowstone area and love reading about fly fishing in Yellowstone and the Madison River valley.

In the latest email, Craig Matthews (the owner of BRF and cofounder of 1% for the Planet) said he just got his winter order for flies. He has to tie 350 dozen by Spring with a total order for 2014 of 700 dozen, which equals his total for 2013.

Tying over 8,400 flies in one year is beyond conception for me. The time to tie a fly has to be measured in a very few minutes. If every fly took an average of five minutes, tying 8400 flies would require 700 hours. That’s a lot of time – basically two full days per week for the entire year. Even to achieve that would require a well practiced set of patterns and incredible muscle memory in the hands to be able to crank out the number of required flies.

To run the numbers a bit more, assume that each fly sells for an average of $3.00. Theoretically then each hour of tying would represent $36 of product to be sold in the shop (based on 12 flies tied per hour). And remember that’s the income the fly shop gets. If the fly tiers work at the shop, their payment is likely to be in beer and pizza. And the shop has to pay for the cost of materials (as well as the beer and pizza). If the flies are being sold by someone else, they’re not making much money either, and they have to absorb the cost of materials – and they don’t get beer and pizza.

So next time you step into a fly shop and see the rows of flies in their organizing trays, don’t even think about complaining about how much a fly costs when you buy your half dozen or more for your outing. No one is getting rich tying flies. It has to be a labor of love.

Gink and Gasoline on the New Orvis Marketing

Gink and Gasoline has a new post reflecting on the ways Orvis is changing the way it markets itself. Orvis understands it has an image problem – derided by a good number of critics for many years a “lifestyle company” – and has aggressively set out to reclaim its place as a preeminent fly fishing company.

Orvis has attacked its image problem in two ways. It was the first fly fishing company to use internet marketing and social media. Tom Rosenbauer’s podcasts represent a growing library of tips and information. It has a dedicated web site of instructional videos to help both new and experienced fly fishers. And many of its company stores have active programs of presentations and schools.

At the same time, Orvis has focused both research and development and manufacturing technologies in improving its products (Helios 2 rods and Silver Sonic waders are only two examples).

This is great for the industry overall. When the biggest company in the business starts moving to reposition and market itself, other companies must do likewise. All of us will benefit from the increased competition.

As one example., I’ve observed over the last year that Winston has upgraded its marketing to include a new web site and a Facebook page. In addition, it has recently posted a series of Joan Wulff instructional videos (see here).

You can read the Gink and Gasoline post here.

Winter Solstice 2013

Winter arrived this morning at 9:11 A.M., Pacific Standard Time. This afternoon sunset was at 4:22 P.M. With sunrise at 7:55 A.M., we had a total of 8 hours, 27 minutes of sunlight in our shortest day of the year (though one would have had to fly above the clouds, mist, and rain to see the sun).

Tomorrow, sunset is at 4:23 P.M. Days have no begun to get longer again. And that will be good – I need to get back out on the water. December has been a bust in terms of fly-fishing; though to be fair the dark busy days of December tend to be that way for many. I talked to the guys down at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop and they’ve not heard of too many getting out.

My stitches were taken out on December 2nd after my wide local excision – see my last post, but I was still under doctor’s orders to go easy on the left arm until December 16th. It made my workouts tough – basically leaving me to work legs and lungs. And then it got cold and windy. Even more reason to stay warm inside and listen to Christmas music.

Maybe that’s what December is really about – a time to appreciate the season, family, and memories of all the good this season has to offer (and I’m not talking the 7×24 shopping orgy).