Fly ordering is one of those things that sounds like fun when sitting around during the winter amongst other fly geeks, looking forward to the next few weeks on the water. Today, however, it sucks. There are myriad reasons for this sulkiness ranging from quality concerns, delivery concerns, and inflationary concerns. Also, the last two years have been big years for our fly sales and we are now pretty much out of all the standard oddball patterns and truly oddball patterns. We are good on the standard standard patterns, but beyond that it is slim picking. With over 3000 little bins of flies to keep filled...the task of ordering flies has become sucky and more akin to risk management than a week of drooling over new wiggles, shiny things, and innovations like a black bead instead of gold.
There has been an overall "fly shortage" this year in the industry, one of which I am sure has many consumers baffled. Industry folks just blame it on Idylwilde, one of the leading importers of premium flies, for their early season parting of ways with their overseas partner. Whatever happened between the two parties did have a large impact on the availability of some flies throughout the west this year, especially on patterns like Chubbies, Lightning Bugs, Little Green Machines, and many many more. When that trigger was pulled, retailers that were expecting Idylwilde deliveries immediately dried up the relevant stocks in competing manufacturers inventories, thus shifting production and stocking plans for all of the major fly suppliers. So, this is the time of year when one tries to make sense of it all and plan ahead responsibly..
In general, fly prices have finally started to increase at both the retail and wholesale levels. While I hear rumblings of greed throughout the industry and among anglers at boat ramps, the truth goes well beyond supply and demand. The world is getting flat and those little dudes in Sri Lanka don't have to tie flies for .25 a dozen anymore, they can do your taxes online with your local CPA instead, design websites, answer e-mails, etc. for much more money. Many of those Asian countries that have long been the primary suppliers of premium flies have seen dramatic shifts in their economies in the last 10 years with minimum labor rates now being in effect to protect their labor forces while allowing them to make an honest living in respectable conditions. The days of sweatshop fly tying forces are over and someone needs to pay for these changes and we all know that ends up being he who buys that prince nymph. While it is still possible to buy flies on the cheap, in general, one gets what one pays for. The difference between a crappy fly and a good one has more to do with the number of thread wraps, use of head cement, quality of hooks, and proper tying techniques than that ever sexy "bin appeal."
So, I am in the process of coming to terms with higher prices on my end for 2014 while trying to do my bets to protect the angler from the wrath of the $3 Royal Wulff. We raised our base price this year from $2 to $2.25 and not a single comment was made by any customers, so I guess we have all come to expect to pay more these days. Hopefully our price increases this year will hold for several years, but decisions we make this time of year need to be made correctly to ensure that we have lots of bugs that look good, hold up well, and show up in the bins when we want them. It's a pain in the ass!
In addition to all this, we try to figure out what the hell people want in terms of patterns and selection. We consider when we expect the main hatches to start so that we have the flies in the shop before the bugs arrive, but not so far ahead that they suck up money form other things that people want in the meantime. Delivery is a huge concern this year, so plan B's are being developed too,
We are ordering more flies than ever before from more sources than ever before. It would be nice to have some locals crank out 5000 dozen flies, but somehow I just don't think that strategy will work, however, many overseas fly prices are approaching the prices one can expect to pay here. We are using more local and regional tyers this year than ever before which is pretty exciting, but spooky nonetheless.