What to look for when buying...

Published Apr 12th 2013

This article series will give some tips on buying tying materials, and go through different groups of common materials like hackle, bucktail and hair.



This article is about buying fly-tying materials. Lately when I have been shopping I have noticed a large difference in quality - even between materials of the same brand and price. Looking thoroughly can make a big difference. The same product from the same manufacturer at the same price can vary, and knowing what to look for can mean getting good and useful, and not the downright lousy.
Another aspect of selecting can be to get what you need. Hackle might be a fine quality, but still the size and softness might differ between each patch, and you want the one that suits your needs.

How to look
When you look at fly tying material in a flyshop, furrier, craft shop or where you are buying, you feel.

...you feel. Literally!

It's very important to get things out of the bag or package and run your fingers through it, bend it, inspect it and check the backside, the texture - even the smell if it's natural materials.
Shops that have things hermetically sealed or won't allow this, aren't worth visiting, and in the best shops, clerks and shopkeepers will actually endorse you to check the materials and even help you find the best.
Because the best might not simply be the best quality, but what is best suited for your needs. Most materials are actually quite good, but you need to check texture, barb length, coarseness of hair or other aspects to get the best for your application.
The method is simple: open the bags and get the material out! Most bags are Ziploc or have an adhesive strip that allows it to be resealed. Do this with care and make sure you don't mess up anything and leave things as you found them, on the right pegs or in the right boxes.

Selecting the best

Good and bad
You want clean, even, regular materials.
You don't want grease, dirt or dust.
Generally soft and pliable is good and stiff and dry (like in brittle and fragile) is bad.
Dyed materials need to be evenly and controlled in the color with no pale patches or more densely colored areas. And the color must be permanent and not rub off or come off in water.
Deformed materials is generally bad. Deformity often comes from harsh treatment like bleaching or dying under very hot conditions.
You want whole tips (hair) and unbroken barbs (feathers). See more under each material type.
You don't want hairs or feathers falling off the skin. Look in the bag. The fewer loose parts there's in there, the better.
Strongly smelling is bad. Whether it's a chemical smell or a natural odor it's not wanted. Chemicals indicate a wish to kill something living. Not good! Materials smelling "naturally bad" may have decayed or have smelly dirt in them. Some materials have a slightly soapy smell, which is just a sign that they have been cleaned or washed.

Buying online
The growing use of online shopping makes the "feeling strategy" rather difficult, and you are fully in the hands of the one who selects and packs your order.
You can call and order or add a note to your order to convey what you will use the material for: hook sizes, tying methods or what type of fly or pattern you will tie. This will help the one who packs the materials select the best. Some shops will take great care in this respect and only send the best while others just pick the first and the best. The only way to find the thorough ones is by trying or by listening to friends and fellow tiers who have had good experiences with certain shops.
You can also read the following articles and use that as an outset to describe in detail what you want - and don't want.

Articles in the series

Articles in this series about selecting and buying material

Articles about material selection and cleaning

User comments
From: Jerri · bootleg1959·at·live.com  Link
Submitted June 18th 2013

You HAVE to take out hackle capes to check out the feather count, barb length, stem flexibility, etc. For what even a decent neck costs, you just can't buy it on sight alone. Just don't maul it and for God's sake don't pluck a "test" feather. :O HAHAHA

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted April 22nd 2013


The pictures in the article are all but one from the Danish tackle shops I frequent. The average Danish shop will have a pretty good fly-tying selection as you can see.


From: Chris Schoofs · bonitobunny·at·googlemail.com  Link
Submitted April 22nd 2013

ooooohooo where is this flytying shop.....?????????????????
please cane you me give the address from this shop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

best regards

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted April 21st 2013


I don't know what kind of shop you buy in, but in my local flyshop the owner himself will take down several bags of material and open for me!

And of course there's no discount on material that's been opened. Everything should be in bags that allow opening and resealing. Hooks is another matter as is lots of other things like small eyes, tubes, weights and such. There is usually no need to open these factory made items. It's the natural materials that need inspection because they vary so much.

And of course it's our duty as customers to do the inspection with delicacy and finesse and leaving everything exactly as it was when we go. We don't want to mess up anything, but just to get what we are looking for.


From: joe - Full name and email anonymized  Link
Submitted April 16th 2013

I don't where you buy but in ont Canada we don't have store looks like that mybe a 1/4 of what that store has ! that why have to order on line don't like to but have to get what I wont.

Comment to an image
From: pit · alepitrenz·at·yahoo.de  Link
Submitted April 17th 2013

its frustrating - but can anyone imagine what will happen if you open 20 plisters to select 2 packages of hooks or if you do the same with any other material? there is hardly anything available without sealed in plasic.. Once open no one will buy it anymore without discount. So the shopowner wont be amused unless youspend more then 200 Euros. But usually I just add a few articles to my stores.

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