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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Selling Flies?

Can you make money in fly-eat-fly world?

Low Fat Minnow - Perch Flavor


Here is a question that I want you to keep in mind as you read this, and I ask you all because I have heard this debate a million times.

Can you make money selling flies?

Uncle Ken's famed Fatty Longtail
The answer is yes and no depending on how you look at it...  The idea for this article came because I just got a bunch of spam comments in our Instagram feed from an account that was offering "top quality" "hand-tied" (that one always gets me) flies.  It wasn't even the Kenyans this time!!!  I always click on the profile link to see what kind of "top quality" we are working with here.  Well, their version of quality was certainly their own opinion, and the flies looked like they had been lashed together Uncle-Ken style with Mee-Maw's sewin' thread.  That's all fine and good, and I appreciate his fervor for being fly tying entrepreneur, but he probably won't sell many flies.  

I started selling flies about 12 or 13 years ago, and I would let them go for $.75 each to an end
"Yes, I'd like 4 dozen muddlers for $36.."
customer, and I'd sell them much cheaper than that to the local Orvis shop that would cycle through some of my favorite stillwater patterns.  I could replenish my supply of hooks and hackle enough to keep the hobby going strong so it was kind of a way to keep the fishing funds separate from the mortgage/family funds.  It got to the point where I was starting to get overwhelmed with orders so I thought I'd be bold enough to raise my prices to $1 per fly.  Long story short, I realized that I was going to set my prices at the point where it was worth it for me to sit down and tie and my prices have gradually gone up as I have gotten more busy.  The most I have sold a single fly for was $27, and it was worth every penny for both me and the customer.  As a custom fly tyer, it's important to realize that you shouldn't be trying to compete directly with a shop, and your prices should be based on your own personal factors.

Lunch Ladies - Not cheap to tie or buy
Last year I was sitting at a fly tying expo, and I was putting the finishing touches on a Lunch Lady streamer pattern when a young guy offered to buy the fly from me.  He knew that I was tying it as part of an order that I was filling so he at least offered to buy it from me instead of just walking off with it... I told him that the fly was $10, and he said "Uhhh, no - I only need one of them."  When I told him that the fly was $10 each, he was completely blown away and almost wanted to argue with me.  He said "Well what makes that fly so expensive??"  Luckily I didn't have to respond because the other guys at the table kindly "educated" him.  Another customer who was communicating through email was somewhat baffled by a quote that priced some specialty nymphs at $3.25 each.  He asked "So how am I supposed to save any money by buying flies from you?"  I was probably too diplomatic in my reply.  Custom tyers aren't there to save you any money or to provide a discount.  They are there to give you a custom, durable, and tested fly that most likely can't be found anywhere else.  Buying custom flies is kind of walking into a car dealership and asking for the decked out Escalade with custom interior, audio video equipment, rims, etc. -  yet expecting to pay the same price as a Kia Santa Fe.  Hey a car is a car right?  I'm typing this out right now because I have had to explain this on more than one occasion (As you read above). A fly is a fly right?  Say this to Brent Dawson and then hold the phone away from your ear whilst in-taking a steady voluminous stream of profanity...  (You know we love you Warpath)  Guys like Brent Dawson of Warpath Flys, Nick Davis of 239 flies, Pat Cohen of R U Sperfly, Rich Strolis, and Mike Schmidt of Angler's Choice Flies are guys who can offer these Escalades through years of tying experience and research.  Their experience and research 100% warrants the price they reflect because these guys are the top of the line tyers in our industry. 
*I undoubtedly left off a lot of great tyers from this list...  Please reprimand and correct me in the comments below.  

So now that I have derailed - let me get back to the question at hand.  Can you make money tying flies?  Yes!  if you go about it the right way.  There is a reason why these custom guys burn up hours on the vise, and it's not for that "feel good feeling" that they get from other guys catching fish on their bugs.  It's because they can make money.  I have heard lots of guys talk about how hard it is to make any money tying flies, and that the best you can expect to make per hour tying is between $5 and $6.  Sure, if you are tying Prince Nymphs and Pheasant Tails for you local shop for $9 per dozen.  If you are serious about making fly tying a reliable source of income it really pays to find a network of customers that you can sell to directly, or a shop that will pay you what your flies are worth because they have customers who will pay an appropriate markup in price.  Whether through social media, a website, or flyers on telephone poles, you need to have a network of people who will buy your flies.
#32 Bunny Midge in Abe's nose
 The other kicker is that you have to give them a reason to buy from you and not the local shop or another tyer.  Again, the Prince Nymphs and Pheasant Tails probably won't get you very far in this arena.  You need to sell your own special sauce that they can only get from you.  When I first started selling flies, everyone knew that I tied proportionate midge dry flies down to #32.  I tied those things until my fingers bled, and that was really the first time I started thinking outside the box.  While it wasn't the most complicated fly to tie, no shops sold them and fish ate them like crazy.  Win for me.  The mighty Bunny Midge opened the door for all the whacked out stuff that you see me sell today.

Another critical part of selling flies is to have a goal in mind.  Why do you want to sell flies?  Is it to pay for gear? Is it to pay your mortgage? Is it for the satisfaction of other people using your flies?  What non-tyers sometimes don't realize is that tying flies for hours and hours is very draining!  Rewarding and fun, but it takes the wind right out you so, in my opinion, there better be a significant reward at the end of it.  I think I have fallen into each of the above categories at one time or another, but having a goal really helps me be motivated to tie, and it also helps me set my prices accordingly.  

Grumpy Frumpy - Fish and bin appeal
Quality is king.  Back to the ads on my Instagram account that pitched poorly tied flies.  I hear guys say all the time "but they catch fish."  Well... lots of flies catch fish.  Remember that you have to give the end user a reason to buy from you and not from a shop.  If your Wooly Buggers are tied with the hackle backward, and a trimmed tail - sure they will catch fish, but they probably wont catch fishermen.  There I said it.  Your flies need to put an awful beat down upon any fish that dares show his face in the presence of your fly, BUT, it also needs to have "bin appeal." Yes, bin appeal is what catches fishermen, and in other words, that is what makes them buy your fly instead of others.  Tying a nice looking, well proportioned fly usually also means that the fly is well tied and won't unravel after a few casts.  So yes.  Tie good looking flies.  As Charlie Craven said once when I was watching him give a presentation, "If it were only about catching fish, why not just throw wads of cheese," or something to that effect.

Another way to monetize your tying is to work with a fly manufacturer who will mass produce and copyright your flies and pay you a royalty.  This really won't make you independently wealthy, but the more patterns you can get in with a company, the better your chances of making more serious money.  This usually involves sending samples to the manufacturer and hoping that your stuff is unique enough to make it through the selection process.  Then, depending on how much following your pattern has, it takes a while for your fly to gather traction.  It's kind of cool see your flies being sold across the country, but it's even better to get a check for work that you did literally 10 years ago - even if its not ever going to get you to retirement status.

The main point that I wanted to get across with this post is that you absolutely can make money selling flies, and it's something that you should at least try out if you have been pondering what it would be like.  Don't listen to the naysayers that tell you that you will only ever make $5 per hour and that the IRS will come haunt you in your sleep because you didn't have your taxes set up correctly.  Chances are, if you try it for a while, you will quickly realize if it's worth the time and effort to slave your life away at the vise to make a couple bucks.  If anything, you will have a better appreciation for the prices that custom fly tyers demand.

~ Cheech


20 comments:

  1. Great article! As a tier looking down the gun of 362 dozen this winter, tying gives me my happy place at night, and a nice check here and there. For me one of the most beautiful sights in the world is a bunch of zip locks with 2-3 hundred flies in them and knowing that they all came off my vice! It is getting harder and harder to find shops that are willing to pay you for a quality unique fly but they are still out there! Keep up the great work!
    ZC
    Guidedflies.com

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  2. Good article Cheech. The part about network of customers is right on target. I was fortunate to tie for a flew flyfishing guides that didn't have time to tie, I have them a discount but they also gave me some customers - destination fishermen where money is not a problem as long as they get what they want. Funny, once you start getting those guys interested in your flies, you won't need any kind of advertisement but you will need time and desire to tie that many flies. I typically base my price on making a minimum of $10 per hour, if I can't make that, I won't tie it - often I can make flies that when competitively priced will get me over $20 per hour. My business only pays for replenishing my fishing supplies.

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    1. Sounds like you are doing it right man... It has to be worth it for you.

      Cheech

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  3. Great post Cheech! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

    I've got a few patterns (mostly custom terrestrials) that are unique with nothing out there like them. I've considered selling them before, but haven't really known where to start. I suppose having a blog helps, with getting the word out.

    I am interested, what was the fly you sold for $27? I'm guessing it was someone who needed a huge streamer the next day for a big trip or something? But $27 - that's impressive man!

    And one more thing, if it's not too personal (don't answer if you don't want to share) - how much do you get from royalties? I imagine once you make it into a big name store, they would increase... It's cool you still make money ten years later though.

    ~Troy

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  4. Your Facebook link mentioned saving money tying your own. Did you address this in another article?

    -bryan

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  5. Great write up, man! I just started recently selling my flies a little over a year ago, and I knew going in, it wasn't going to make me a significant amount of money. I tie, because, I enjoy it when I'm not fishing. I, also, think that it's really cool to see people send you pictures of the flies you tied for them being successful. When I started I decided to put the money made from this micro venture off to the side for trips and other fishing gear.

    Your explanation of why your flies have the price tag they do is spot on, too.

    On a local forum of mine a few months ago, I said exactly that. They were discussing flies for pike and just kept mentioning Cabela's, BPS, and LL Bean, I was like "hello...you see the flies I post on here, why not buy some flies from a guy who fishes that exact same river, with success, with flies that you just cannot buy in the mentioned stores." That got the wheels turning in their heads, and the buck tail spinning on my vise.

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  6. You guys done did it now...haha

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  7. i buy only from a few people, if i buy at all. I started tying to build durable flies. Simple economics .... if a $10 fly lasts me 1 year and 20 fish, its worth it's weight in gold, especially if you're in the water and it's on like donkey kong.

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  8. ya hit the ring in the rise ! I am a custom fly designer/tyer/fisherman with similar thoughts. please check Delia's Blog at oysterchannel.com for a look at some of my work. love your ties. buy american !

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  9. You hit the nail on the head with this article. I learned a long time ago if I'm going to tie flies for money it better be profitable. I never want to be know as a commercial tier. Every once in a while you run into a customer who quotes you the price of flies at Sportsman Warehouse of $12.00 per dozen and that is what he is willing to pay. I kindly let him know to keep buying his flies at SW and when he gets tired of the flies coming apart after one fish then we can talk about the price of quality.

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  10. Thanks for writing this Cheech. As a fly tying person I have been asked for cheep Flys and I really don't want to bother at any price. My self it's a tough business. I'm glad your doing as well as you are. I have enjoyed watching you tye at shows. Flip

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  11. Thanks for writing this Cheech. As a fly tying person I have been asked for cheep Flys and I really don't want to bother at any price. My self it's a tough business. I'm glad your doing as well as you are. I have enjoyed watching you tye at shows. Flip

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  12. Hello Cheech, I am going to be going campiing this next week at McCall Idaho, and i was planning on selling some of my flies. As a 15 year old self-taught tier and fisherman, i honestly find it kind of easy to attract customers. My goal for this weekend is to make around $200, which will be a personal best. Wish me luck Cheech!
    -Brandon

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  13. Hello Cheech, I am going to be going campiing this next week at McCall Idaho, and i was planning on selling some of my flies. As a 15 year old self-taught tier and fisherman, i honestly find it kind of easy to attract customers. My goal for this weekend is to make around $200, which will be a personal best. Wish me luck Cheech!
    -Brandon

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  14. I know this comment is pretty late after the fact, so I don't know if you will even see this... I actually went in reverse, by making my own spoons, and wanting dressed treble hooks to change appearance and performance. The ones I made with a simple wooden plank and a bolt and nut to tighten the contraption made passable ones, but not so good to the eye for a human... So invested in a vise and made better ones. Now I engrave my spoon lures, do some file work on them, and add my version of a weighted and dressed treble hook, and have sold a few for $10 dollars a piece. So then I had a vice, and several of the tools for tying flies, and a lot of excess buck tail... so I started tying clouser minnows... then I got hackle, and started making lefty decievers... And then I bought an 8 weight fly rod to fish them. I enjoyed learning the new way to fish, the challenge of it, so I bought a 4 weight and started nymphing... I decided that the artistic side of me enjoyed making the flies, and the fisherman inside of me enjoyed the fact that I was catching wild trout, that were very spooky, on flies I tied. A friend of mine one day happened to see my collection of nymphs, and asked me to tie him some terrestrials. I modified the letort hopper, to make a black cricket on a size 12 dry, I tied up several variations of stimulators, until I found a pattern that worked great for inspiring a bite, while still strong enough to float two tandem droppers from it. I modeled spinners and drakes after the local hatches... The point is once I had flies I knew would work, I filled my first order of 35 flies, and he instantly turned around and asked me set him up with droppers and wooly buggers the next week. Between guys asking for what I am using, and his friends asking where he got his patterns, I have been tying flies much more frequently than I originally expected. I would ask that you not knock the pheasant tail too hard though... My patterns for size 16 and 18 have a few tweaks that get them picked off, out fish the normal stores quality, even the ones where they started using CDC for the gills... and because of that, just as you mentioned in your article, are actually one of my most requested nymph patterns! I admit, I charge two dollars a piece for them, but I enjoy knowing that my flies are out there catching fish, and the money made from sales simply goes back into the hobby. Thank you for a concise article about the subject though!

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  16. Thanks for the confidence booster I never thought I would be able to sell any of my flies but what you said is right you work hard to make a escalade not a Kia and it just finding the people that understand that to sell to. What we do is a investment for fisherman to have a higher quality of experience in fishing
    Thanks alot cheech

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  17. Thanks for the confidence booster I never thought I would be able to sell any of my flies but what you said is right you work hard to make a escalade not a Kia and it just finding the people that understand that to sell to. What we do is a investment for fisherman to have a higher quality of experience in fishing
    Thanks alot cheech

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