The difference between Premium and Discount Fly Fishing Flies

How much difference do premium fly fishing flies make to your day on the water? There are many people who advertise “quality” or “premium” fly fishing, but they are far from it. A premium dry fly will land right side up, float well and consistently and keep those traits even after catching 5.10, even 20 fish. On the other hand, improperly tied flies will often land upside down, on their sides, or even on their heads.

A premium trout fly at a fly store costs anywhere from $1.50 to $3.00, bass and surf flies $3.00 – $5.00, but there are literally dozens of online retailers offering similar patterns for half that price. . You may pay more for a premium fly at a fly store, but research suggests the fly lasts nearly 10 times longer. You have to ask yourself one question: do I want a fly of 2 fish or a fly of 20 fish? Let’s look at some of the differences:


The first important material is the hackle. Over the past 60 years, great strides have been made with the hackles used by the premium commercial flight layers. Flocks are bread based on color, hackle length and barb stiffness to create a superior hackle.

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

The second material that is of great importance is the quality of the hook. Tiemco has positioned itself as the world leader in high quality fly fishing hooks with creativity and attention to detail in the functional designs of its premium fly tying hooks. From trout to tarpon, in fresh or salt water, to bass poppers or Micro Mayflies, top fly manufacturers choose Tiemco hooks over the efforts of the other competitor. They were one of the first manufacturers to chemically sharpen the points and are now industry standard. They have a very wide line of fly fishing hooks with about 46 models to choose from. You may see an “SP” at the end of the hook designation, which stands for Specialty Point. The SP hooks have a hollow curved point with triangular edges for easier sharpening. The hooks also have a slow taper that helps make hooking easier. An interesting aspect of this hook is that the basal end of the tip has a swelling that works just like a barb without being a barb.

This can be of some benefit when holding hook sets with the barbless hooks. Another designation you may see is “TC”, which stands for Tiemco Cut. This is a cut that Tiemco uses on certain wet and streamer flies for better hook penetration. “It’s all about quality, or rather the lack of it,” says Bruce Olson of Umpqua Feather Merchants. “The first problem is that cheap imports are always tied to really cheap hooks, with odd sizes. I think a quality fly should be tied up [name brand] crochet. This becomes very important for big game, such as tarpon, where sharpness and tensile strength of the hook thread are essential.”

The failure of a discount airline company to use premium materials means that the final product is not up to scratch. As Shawn Brillon, the lead fly buyer for Orvis says, “If you have to bond with junk, the end product is often the same… junk.”

Manufacturers of cheap flies are also taking shortcuts to reduce costs and materials. Bruce says, “To produce flies so cheap, these guys have to take shortcuts.” The low-cost airlines use inferior hooks and materials, skip important binding steps (such as putting a glue base on the hook shank to hold the materials in place), and don’t show much quality control.

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

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


Most flight production takes place in third world countries because of the price, but also because they still work with their hands. Although they are third world countries, the fliers get a good wage and earn a middle class income for their work. The more expensive flies carried by the premium fly shops such as Blue River Fly Company are tied in Thailand, the fly tying capital of the world. There are over a dozen major fly tying companies that have tying facilities there. Other parts of the world that produce a significant amount of flies include China, Sir Lanka and Kenya. There is some production in Central and South America, Mexico and the Philippines. Flight production in the United States and Europe, where there is the largest number of users, is mainly through home tiers or tiers associated with specific flight stores.

Many premium fly manufacturers, including Idylwilde, strongly believe 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 her website, “If a fly is only worth $.99, not only does it suck, but it was probably tied up in a third world sweatshop and we’d rather not have that bad mojo hanging on our consciences. Idyllic wildflies were tied up in Manila, Philippines under a clearly progressive arrangement with Sister Christine Tan, a Catholic nun who believed her people needed more than charity. They needed well-paying, honest jobs they could rely on while building a life outside the poverty line. Our promise to Sister Christine continues some 12 years later, enabling more than 150 groups to better care for their families. The flies you see here are the work of their hands and their hope.”

Fly Fishing Costs

The average cost of goods for a manufacturer of premium flies for the simple dry flies and nymphs is about $4.50 – $5.50 per dozen. Additional shipping, excise and US excise taxes add an additional $1.00 per dozen.

The fly companies that import the flies have to make a profit, so the cost to the stores is generally on the cornerstone (50% markup) so the cost to the stores is now $12.00 per dozen. The air carrier pays the shipping costs and marks their operating expenses and profits, and again, the cost to the consumer pushes up the $2 – 3 price you pay at a brick and mortar air store.

The big chain stores, in order to lower the price to what they do, get huge discounts for volume purchases or they get flights stuck somewhere other than Thailand, or both. Hopefully now you understand when you get a sticker shock when you enter a flying store, why the store charges what it does.

Cost per fish

Bruce Olson argues that fishermen 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,” says Olson.

Premium fly fishing flies

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You wouldn’t settle for undersized rods, reels, fly lines, waders, etc. falling apart or breaking after a few fishes. Then why settle for undersized flies? Flies are the most important part of fly fishing. If the end result of all this is to catch fish, why not spend more time, money and energy on the one element that the fish really cares about?”

Price is a pretty good indicator of the overall quality of the flies you buy. Cheap flies are almost always cheaply tied. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math. You can also test them by making sure they don’t spin easily, are well designed for balance, are in the right proportion, etc.

Umpqua, Idylwilde and Rainy have significantly raised the standards by which high-performance fish flies are defined by using premium materials such as Tiemco hooks, Metz and Whiting hackle, and developing the consummate skills of their production fly belts.