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.

Author: TomR

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