Euphoria and disappointment of ordering commercially tied flies through the Internet
The new season has just begun.
So how do your fly boxes look?
Have you been busy tying old and new patterns during those cold winter nights or are your boxes still empty as last autumn?
Let's face it
Well, let's face it. Sometimes you simply do not find the time to tie your own flies and all of a sudden, the new season or a spontaneous fly fishing trip with your best buddy is imminent. At that stage, you may think about ordering some flies through an online shop.
More recently, selling flies through the Internet has been a growing business. There is a vast number of private and commercial suppliers of flies and the range of prices is equally vast. However, one problem remains. Especially when ordering for the first time: it is often hard for the flyfishermen to judge the quality of the flies from a small pictures on the product description page. All too often you do not get what you see and many customers fear that the production quality of "Internet flies" is generally low.
This may also arise from the fact that a majority of commercially tied flies are tied by non-flyfishermen in Africa, China and more recently Thailand.
A good fly and a great fly
But what is the difference between a good fly and a great fly?
In the end it's probably the person selecting, casting and presenting the fly in an adequate manner that matters, however, we wanted to know more about the differences of internet flies and put up a little testing protocol.
We obtained a selection of nymphs and dry flies for trout and grayling from various online shops and eBay sellers, specialized in selling flies through the internet.
Three objective field testers (who did not know the origin of those flies) fished and scored various patterns in different European waters (chalkstreams, alpine waters) and under different conditions.
Flies in standard sizes from 10-18 were included.
Apart from scoring the value for money and manufacturing/materials quality we had a close look at the "fishability" of the flies, which characterizes the flies' balance, weight, visibility and robustness after a take.
We chose various sellers from five different countries (France, UK, Luxembourg, USA, Canada), excluding sellers from Germany and Austria in order not to be nationally biased.
We would have loved to include manufacturers from Africa, China or Thailand but these companies withdrew their willingness to participate after consultation with their major clients. "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (Old French proverb meaning "shamed be he who thinks evil of it").
So here are the results of the German jury:
Good news first: A number of the commercially tied flies tested, demonstrated good to very good quality, fishability and value for money. Here are some positive examples:
Flies distributed by "Efly" in Luxembourg are professionally tied in Thailand according to the traditional style of French fly fishing hall of fame member Aimé Devaux, where the fly is tied from the front and back; hackle first, then tail and then body.
The hackle collar fibers are thereby funnelled forwards to form an umbrella around the hook eye, with the points protracted forward which surrounds the hook (fig 1). Without any doubt, sophisticated fly tiers will also master to tie the Devaux style with the help of a small plastic cylinder, pushing the hackle collar fibers forwards.
However, these flies incorporate some nice extras such as CDC wings and split-collar techniques which proved to be very helpful for both the flies' visibility and balance (fig.2).
All flies were accurately tied. We only found one blemish in two size 18 dry flies, where the point of the hook broke off after the second fish was landed, which may be due to the changing hook qualities of the tying company.
Some of the nymphs distributed by "Efly" might look strange at first sight. Less imitation, more weight. Tungsten beads in fluoro colours help the fly to get down fast (fig. 3).
Although probably hard to accept for fly fishing purists: These flies do catch fish, especially in fast and turbulent alpine waters.
As one might expect, high quality materials and a complex tying style has its price, on average 2 Euros or almost 3 US$ for dry flies and nymphs.
Loosing a heavy nymph might therefore hurt, however the cost/performance ratio remains acceptable when considering the material cost and necessary tying time.
A good selection of dry flies and nymphs can be found at „Fliesonline" from the United Kingdom.
One can buy any reasonable major dry or wet fly pattern and the customer is spoiled with choices. The majority of the flies were neatly tied. The only problems we found, was some imbalance in a couple of Klinkhammer flies, caused by a disproportion between hackle and body length. This of course also happens quite frequently in „home-tied" flies.
"Fliesonline" is not cagey about distributing flies from commercial tiers in Africa, Thailand and more recently from the Montana Fly Company in the USA, but seemingly has a high quality requirement for imported as well as local products. We could not find any major faults in the selected tying materials and quite a few of the patterns incorporated some extra key stimuli (rubber legs, CDC wings, polycelon backs), which many commercial manufacturers try to avoid (fig. 4, fig. 5, fig. 6).
Considering the price range with an average of 0.50 Euros or about 0.75 US$ for dry flies and nymphs, we scored the value for money of these flies to be very good.
Some flies possess a special charm, and if you are the type of flyfisher, who is convinced that there are more important things in life then to have a row of ten completely identical looking flies in your box, then you will like the selection of the French online shop „Peche truite".
The tying style and the homepage have one thing in common: It takes a little time to understand the principles, but in the end both are functional.
The French have a great tradition in CDC flies and "Peche truite" distributes a good selection of both traditional and more contemporary CDC patterns.
Always a good sign: They also sell various CDC feathers of high quality which is undoubtedly an important key to success with CDC patterns.
Most of the „Peche truite" dry flies showed a good balance on or slightly under the water surface. Although this was not an appraisal criterion, we specifically liked the „catchability" of the CDC caddis patterns while fishing on the river Soca in Slovenia. On a day when all other caddis patterns in a similar size and coloration (Goddard, elk, deer, parachute) produced significantly fewer takes (fig. 7, fig. 8).
Some of our testers initially criticized that the amount of material used in the different sections of some dry flies (tail, deer hair wings, CDC split wing) varied too much. However, admittedly we did not notice significant disadvantage when the flies were taken out of the box and fished.
Prices range from 0.90 Euros to 2 Euros or from US$ 1.25 to about twice that amount, and while we felt that some patterns could be offered a little bit cheaper, we found especially the CDC patterns to be reasonably priced.
There are numerous distributors of fishing flies in the USA. „Discountflies Online" is one with a large selection and offers an informative homepage including fly hatch charts for major American rivers.
Ordering flies in the US has become especially attractive for many European customers after the Dollar has depreciated against the Euro in the latest years.
The majority of the flies distributed by „Discountflies Online" were neatly tied with accurate proportions (fig 9, fig. 10). Some of the smaller dry fly patterns could benefit from additional tying materials thus enhancing visibility (e.g. white polycelon or CDC wings).
As in many flies from commercial manufacturers, we would have loved to see a better hook quality in some of the nymph patterns, however with an average price of 0.80 Euros or slightly more than 1 US$ (depending on the quantity) for both dry flies and wet flies, we found the price structure of this distributor to be very competitive. Reduced buying rates are offered when ordering packaged fly deals or flies on sale.
Chamber of horrors
All right, these were the good news.
Now for the sceptic: Yes, you knew it all the time!
Ordering flies through the Internet can also be a big disappointment. Have a look at figures 11-14 to find an extract of the flies we would never re-order again.
OK, some of them were real bargains for less then 0.30 Euros or 50 cents via eBay. A dozen flies for less than 4 Euros or 5.60 US$ may be convincing, and some of these patterns looked allright at first glance.
But in the end, it would have been better to have three quality flies in the flybox instead of a collection of those designs.
The light cahill Comparadun in figure 11 is a typical example. Creating an arc wing in Comparadun patterns is not that easy. A reasonable amount of (hollow) deer hair has to flare outward 180 degrees so that the fly is bilaterally supported. In these flies, the goal was not achieved in a single fly. As expected the fly floated totally unbalanced on the water and was ignored by trout.
Here is an example of a fly that even did not make it into our flybox (fig 12). The reason is simple: Five (!) hooks in a row bent easily open simply by mounting the hook in the vise and slightly lifting the eye with a fingernail. We used two different vises (HMH, Regal) micro jaws and reduced the grip for this experiment, however the results remained the same.
The hook quality was simply a disaster!
It goes without saying that we excluded these patterns from field testing. A general problem that every online buyer has to face is, that one cannot inspect the selection of flies prior to buying. No flyfishermen would select a CDC fly as pictured in fig 13, with the whole head glued and the tying thread already loose in a flyfishing shop.
Although most of the internet flies distributors would probably replace such a specimen, it is just annoying to find a fly like that in your order.
In a similar case, we received some patterns from a distributor in China, who advertises to have sold his flies to "satisfied customers" all over the globe. Maybe it was just bad luck, however we found flaws in a considerable number of these flies.
One example is the Beacon Beige in fig 14. Have a look at the picture and make up your own mind if you would like to have this fly in your box. Although it is surely true that the catchability of a fly generally has nothing to do with our own sense and feeling of beauty, at least we felt that a customer would be rather disappointed to receive such an exemplar after paying 1.20 Euros or 1.70 US$.
We were pretty much impressed by the tying style and the fishablility of some commercially tied flies.
Even for the experienced fly tier, it would probably take some time to achieve a comparable tying quality in some of the patterns we tested. Although a platitude but also true for commercially tied flies: Quality doesn't come cheap.
However, varying hook quality remains a universal problem and it seems incomprehensible why so many tying companies seem to try to save production costs by choosing low to medium quality fly fishing hooks.
Buying flies via eBay might be a bargain but can result in a real disappointment for the sophisticated flyfishermen.
So in the end, remember that old story about a couple of young anglers debating the merits of various flies, when an old angler happens by, and one of the young guys asks him "Which trout fly do you think is most effective - the Adams or the Wulff?". The older man pauses for a moment and then replies, "The most effective trout fly is whichever one the angler believes in most strongly".