This is my introduction to a larger collection of articles that I call, "So You Want To Start A Flyco". This is something I have been asked numerous times via private message or in comments since I started my business back in 2013. I wish it was easier, but the answer is, I don't know....
I don't mean to dodge the question, but it is hard to answer directly. There are many variables that will determine whether or not your flies are good enough to start selling to people. First, you should consider whether you want to sell your flies to begin with. I don't want to discourage anyone, but it isn't for everybody. It takes away time you could be spent with your kids, or dog, or fishing. It could change how you feel about fly tying. You may not want to get home from work, and essentially go back to work.
So, are your flies good enough to sell? First, has anyone asked to buy your flies? If they have, then yes, your flies are good enough to sell. People think you need to be Charlie Fuckin' Craven good to tie and sell flies, while that obviously helps, it isn't a requirement. I am in numerous facebook groups and see a variety of fly quality being tied and sold at any given time. If no one has asked you, that doesn't mean your flies aren't good enough, but it also may mean people may not know you want to sell your flies, or it could be some other reason, including fly quality, keeping people from buying them.
Letting people know you want to sell flies is the easy part to fix. Start a social media business page, and say "Flies for Sale", people will contact you if interested. Improving fly quality is a longer remedy, but everyone should strive to improve their quality so lets find out how exactly. To do so, it would help to know what makes a quality fly in the first place.
To me, a well tied fishing fly is a combination of quality materials, sound tying technique, and a pleasing personal aesthetic. Ultimately, a fly that is tied well fishes properly as designed, fools fish into eating it , and holds up to the abuse throughout the fishing process.
Determining the quality of your flies can be difficult, especially on social media. I've seen people say "It will fish" to damn near pocket lint on a hook, and people are just being polite at your own expense. That's great, but if you want to improve (and even moreso if you NEED to improve), social media will make the process longer and harder.
Thankfully there are a few better ways to have measurable improvement. First, check out The Fly Dresser's Guild, The Fly Dressers’ Guild promotes and encourages the art of fly dressing or fly tying – that is, the tying of artificial flies for fly fishing.
The cool thing about the Fly Dresser's Guild is they have an awards scheme with different levels that each tyer is judged to a national standard. Compare that to the sham "creativity" contests you see on Instagram, and you can see why this would be a great measure of improvement. This is a serious undertaking. For more information on the Guild Award Scheme, click HERE>
There is also the Fly Fishers International Fly Tying Challenge. I believe at the time of writing that is closed but it is something to check on in the future, or maybe just try for yourself outside of the contest dates.
Lastly, The Fly Tyer Magazine has a great section in every magazine called "Beginner's Masterclass" which instructs you in how to tie many variable and classic fly patterns. Tying along with help you improve your flies by exposing you to new materials and techniques.
These will both improve the quality of your flies, and help you determine your current quality level. Obviously, you can also just ask someone. Maybe join a local chapter of Trout Unlimited and tie some flies at a meeting and ask for advice. Bring your box of flies down to your local fly shop and see what they think, if they are good enough you just might get a customer out of it!
Here are a few tips I have on improving the quality of your flies.
1. Maintain Quality Standards: Tie the fly as you want it to be tied, RIGHT NOW! It is something that legendary tyer and Michigan guide Russ Maddin said that really stuck with me. We tend to spend hours at the vise with the mentality of filling boxes and it can feel like we are almost out of control when tying the fly, especially if we have tied it before, but details matter. Don't let your eyes haze over the mistakes, if you make a mistake- fix that shit- right now! You aren't on the water yet, there is no excuse not to go back. If you glazed over the last half of fly and forgot 2 materials, take a razor blade and chop it off and start again.
2. Buy Quality Materials- Buying quality materials will instantly improve the quality of your flies. Poor technique can make a nice fly if the materials are good enough. That means not shopping on Ebay, or at thrift stores, or at Michael's (you can, just be careful), and shopping purposefully at your local shop or a trusted online shop. Be specific. The quality of materials vary because many are natural materials. If you want to spin deerhair, you want Premo Strips. It will save you time and money, and produce better flies. If you want craftfur, the Chinese shit is cheaper, but the Hareline Extra Select while more expensive is a better value. Michael's has some schlappen and marabou, but it won't compare to Nature's Spirits. Learn to accept buying the best materials you can afford, because your quality will improve faster than learning any new technique.
3. Seek Quality Instruction- Youtube has tons of tying videos. If you are trying to improve a specific area of your tying, seek out an expert of that technique and learn from them. Hands on if possible. I can't tell you how many times I saw the youtube tyers put on saddle hackle tails deceiver style. It sure looked easy. Sometimes I even got it right the first time haha. Most often I would undo the wraps and try again, aimlessly. I didn't get it. It doesn't have to be just at at tying show either, a Trout Unlimited chapter, or just watching guys tie flies at your local shop can help.
4. Understand that fly tying is a journey: Always strive to improve but realize how hard it is to master any one aspect yet alone all. I know I'll never be as good as Pat Cohen at deerhair work. It's just not happening. The one thing I have come to appreciate about social media is how it exposed me to the many amazingly talented people that are out there. In countries across the globe, or in small towns in the USA that no one has heard of. Focus on your tying and developing a personal aesthetic that makes your unique. You have the ability to define your fly tying style. When I was in college studying creative writing we had a textbook and the one chapter stuck with me. it was called "Shitty First Drafts", and it was about accepting that before you write (or tie) your masterpiece, there are going to be many shitty first drafts along the way. Allow yourself to these shitty first drafts, because perfectionism is the death to creativity.
5. Practice to improve- It's nice to sit down and tie flies from start to finish, but sometimes you just need to improve certain aspects. Instead, I suggest tying just practicing the technique, or the material manipulation, or the sequence you are looking to improve. One of the things I wanted to improve was setting coq de leon tails on euro nymphs. Often it will take me one or two or more times to get it seated in the position I want it. So one day I sat down and just practiced. I placed the hook in the vise, attached my thread, and tied in the tails 100 times one after the other. Even simple tying steps can be personalized, and I picked up what I thought was a tip that turned into a bad habit when I saw Devin Olsen use a pinch wrap to set his tails. It works for him, every time. It probably works for you. It didn't for me. Instead of accepting it, I changed the technique and used simple thread torque to carry the tails evenly to the top. The problem went away, and I no longer struggled throughout large orders to do it consistently.
I hope you enjoyed this first article in the "So You Want To Start a Flyco" series. If you have any questions, or comments, please leave them below and I will answer them throughout. The next article will be "12 Steps To Start Your Own Flyco" where I cover the logistics to getting started.
Big thanks to the incredible fly tyer John Seals for tying that featured fly as part of a donation for the Bushfire Auction we did earlier this year. It made a beautiful subject to test my new camera with. Go give him a follow and yes, his flies are definitely good enough to sell!