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The Secrets to Buying Flies


The Grey Ghost

How To Buy Imported Flies from

I sometimes get emails and questions about buying flies and if I have any recommendations. Also, which foreign countries produce the best flies. And finally are flies worth tying anymore? Well let me answer the last question first. I tie certain flies that are not available in standard patterns. These include secret patterns as well as some flies for local waters and patterns really not offered by most vendors.

There are quality differences in flies from different countries that vary not only by origin but by type. I tied flies professionally for years and it helped be pay for graduate school but American fly tyers will have a hard time competing with foreign work. The wholesale price of flies from foreign suppliers will not allow even the purchase of materials let alone making a profit for American tyers.

One of the things I have recommended is not to waste time tying standard dries and other patterns that require expensive hackles and other materials. There's no problem if you have money and time but with the price of necks you could buy tons of flies! Tie your special nymphs and other patterns and save some bucks. Now here's a general break down of the general quality of flies that are imported:


Streamers are usually well tied from most foreign countries and the patterns match fairly well.

Standard Dry Fly Patterns are tied well in normal sizes but small patterns tend to be not accurate and are oversized. Also, be careful on some pattens on color.

  • Nymph patterns are tied fairly well but watch for color variations. Also, some smaller pattens are also tied oversize.

  • Wet Flies are tied rather well but watch for some poor finishing on the heads. Some are not very durable but for the price worth it.

  • Terrestrials are tied well. Size and colors tend to be pretty accurate. 

Which countries produce the best flies? 

Most of the major fly fishing companies like Orvis, Umpqua, and others import their flies from Thailand. Thailand produces the highest quality flies for the most part. However, I have noticed that in recent years there has been a little drop in overall quality. The next country would be Guatemala and some other South American countries. Also, Singapore also produces the same overall quality of flies. The biggest importer of these flies would be Hank Roberts whose flies are typically sold in general fishing and sporting goods stores. Finally the newest entry into the fly market in the US is Kenya. Kenya flies are poor to excellent depending upon the pattern and tyers.

The way most of these flies are tied is by individual contractors. This is piece work and not slave labor. Fly tiers in Thailand make more money than some highly educated citizens. South American tiers usually work in small factories but the pay is much better than many occupations. 

These are the four best countries for flies. There are others getting into the game. However, if the supplier doesn't tell you where the flies are tied, send them an email and ask! WHAT YOU'LL PROBABLY GET IS THAT THEY COME FROM THE FOUR COUNTRIES ABOVE AND THEY MAY NOT KNOW EXACTLY WHERE EACH FLY COMES FROM!

When it comes to the fly sizes be wary of when you get size 18 and smaller because the flies are often inconsistent. As I said previously depending upon which lot you get they may be tied oversized. Thailand flies are the most consistent while Kenyan flies are the least consistent especially in smaller sizes. I hope this helps you navigate the imported fly game. You can still buy American flies from American tyers and they are the most expensive but they are probably the best tied in the world! 

I have imported flies from various countries over the years and I can honestly tell you that when a supplier tells you it will be a couple of weeks this may mean 3 months. Doing business with foreign companies and tyers is often a difficult task. This is especially true of Kenya. Also, recent political upheaval in Kenya can only make things worse. 

You should make the game easy by stocking up on which flies you use and lose the most! I am really perplexed sometimes when I guide especially on spring creeks at what most anglers carry. Most of the companies on the net basically stock the same patterns. Because of this you are likely to carry a “standardized fly box.” There were many more patterns available prior to the massive importation of flies in the last 25 years.

So there you have in a nutshell. Flies have become cheaper but you should still know what you are doing and understand having tons of flies may not work especially on local streams where certain patterns are more successful. In a future article I'll share my favorite patterns. You can also find some top patterns that you should carry in articles on this site:


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