2 Animals That Live On Land Water And Can Fly The Difference Between Premium and Discount Fly Fishing Flies

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The Difference Between Premium and Discount Fly Fishing Flies

How much of a difference do premium fly fishing flies make to your day on the water? There are many flies that advertise “Quality” or “Premium” fishing flies, but they are far from it. A premium dry fly will sit right side up, float properly and consistently, and retain those properties 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 heads.

A premium trout fly at a fly shop costs anywhere from $1.50 to $3.00, bass and surf flies $3.00 – $5.00, but there are literally dozens of online retailers that offer patterns similar for half this price. You may pay more for a premium fly at a fly shop, but research suggests the fly will last nearly 10 times longer. You have to ask yourself one question: Do I want a fly with 2 or a fly with 20? Let’s examine some of the changes:


The first important material is hacking. Great strides have been made over the last 60 years with the skeins used by the premium commercial fly tyers. Bunches have been breaded based on color, shank length and thorn stiffness to create superior scratch.

It has been a process that began with Harry Darbee in the 1940s and 1950s, continuing today with the beats produced by Dr. Tom Whiting of Whiting Farms and Buck Metz of Metz Hackles, among others. Premium fly makers such as Idylwilde Flies, Umpqua Feather Merchants and Rainy Flies use high quality premium flies

The second material of considerable importance is the quality of the hook. Tiemco has positioned itself as the world leader in premium fly fishing hooks with creativity and attention to detail in the functional designs of its premium fly tying hooks. From trout to tarpon, in freshwater or saltwater, to bass poppers or Micro Mayflies, leading fly makers choose Tiemco hooks over the best efforts of other competitors. They were one of the first manufacturers to chemically sharpen the points and it is now standard throughout the industry. They carry a very extensive line of fishing hooks with about 46 models to choose from. At the end of the hook definition, you can see an “SP”, this stands for Special Points. SP hooks have a hollow pivot point with a triangular edge for easier sharpening. The hooks also have a slow taper that helps with easier hook sets. An interesting aspect of this hook is that the basal end of the point has a swelling that functions much like a barb without being a barb.

This can be an advantage in keeping hook sets with barbless hooks. Another designation you may see is “TC” which stands for Tiemco Cut. This is a cut that Tiemco uses on some wet and slippery flies for enhanced hook penetration. “It’s all about quality, or rather the lack of it,” says Bruce Olson of Umpqua Feather Merchants. “The first issue is that cheap imports are always tied with very cheap, odd-sized hooks. I find that a quality fly should be tied. [name brand] hooks. This becomes very important for big game, such as tarpon, where the sharpness and tensile strength of the hook wire is vital.”

A discount airline’s failure to use top-notch materials means the end product doesn’t match. As Shawn Brillon, lead fly buyer for Orvis says, “If you have to tie with junk, often the end product is just that… junk.”

Discount fly makers also take shortcuts to cut costs and materials. Bruce states, “To produce flies this cheap, these guys have to take shortcuts.” Discount flight companies use inferior hooks and materials, skip important attachment steps (such as putting an adhesive base on the hook arm to hold the materials in place), and don’t exhibit much quality control.


A second important quality of premium fly fishing flies is adherence to standard pattern recipes. Bruce described a “Copper John” he bought online as missing the epoxy over the shell and the lead under the chest.

“So you may have saved a lot of money on the flight, but it’s not a John Bakri!” he says, and he notes that such an inferior version of the popular fly won’t perform in the water as well as its designer intended. Without the lead, it won’t sink properly, and the lack of epoxy makes the fly much less stable.


Most fly making is done in third world countries because of the price, but also because they still work with their hands. Although they are third world countries, fly tiers are paid a decent wage and earn a middle class income for their work. The most expensive flies carried by premium fly shops such as Blue River Fly Company are tied in Thailand, the fly-fishing capital of the world. There are over a dozen major fly tying companies that have tying equipment 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. Fly production in the United States and Europe, where the largest number of users are, is primarily by home levels or levels associated with specific fly shops.

Many premium fly makers, 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 its website: “If a fly is only $0.99, not only is it suffocated, it’s likely tied up in a third-world sweatshop, and we’d rather let’s not have that bad mojo hanging on our consciences. Idylwilde fly fishing flies are tied in Manila, Philippines, under a markedly forward-thinking arrangement with Sister Christine Tan, a Catholic nun who believed her people had needed more than charity. They needed honest, well-paying jobs they could rely on as they built a life outside the poverty line. Our promise to Sister Christine continues some 12 years later, now enabling over 150 levels to better provide for their families. The flies you see here are the work of their hands and hopes.”

Fly Fishing Fly Expenses

The average cost of goods for a premium fly maker for simple dry flies and nymphs equates to about $4.50 – $5.50 a dozen. Additional shipping, duty costs and a US excise tax add an additional $1.00 a dozen.

Fly companies that import flies need to make a profit, so the cost to the shops is generally at the tipping point (50% markup) so the cost to the shops is now at $12.00 per dozen. The fly shop pays shipping and marks their operating costs and profit, again, the cost to the consumer is pushing that $2 -$3 price you pay at a brick and mortar store.

The big box stores, in order to keep the price down on what they do, are either getting huge discounts for buying volume or getting flies that are tied somewhere other than Thailand, or both. Hopefully now, when you get a sticker shock when you walk into a fly shop, you can understand why the shop is charging what it is.

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,” Olson says.

Premium Fly Fishing Flies

You wouldn’t settle for substandard rods, reels, fly lines, waders, etc. that break or break after several times of fishing. Why then substandard flies? Flies are the most important part of fly fishing. If the end result of all this is catching fish, then why not spend more time, money and energy on the one thing the fish care about?

Price is a pretty good indicator of the overall quality of the flies you buy. Cheap flies are almost always associated with low price. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math. You can also test them to make sure they don’t roll easily, are well designed for balance, are properly proportioned, etc.

Umpqua, Idylwilde and Rainy have significantly raised the standards by which high quality fishing flies are defined with their use of premium materials such as Tiemco, Metz and Whiting hackle hooks, and by developing the perfect skills of its fly manufacturing levels .

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