Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Business

I've a number of friends and acquaintances who are involved in the business of fly fishing. When I say business, I do not mean that they work in retail or in the periphery of the industry - I once worked the retail end of things; retail is business, but it isn't the business (at least insofar as this post is concerned). Neither are these folks guides, outfitters, or tyers. They do not write product reviews or report on "insider gossip." They work to manufacture a product, and bring it successfully to market. They design rods, form the mandrels, and build the blanks. They test waders and new boot treads. They experiment with tying materials, and they pick new patterns to offer in new catalogs.

Standing outside the cage and looking in, I have to say that the process seems overwhelming. With a wary eye careful not to betray anyone's confidence, I would like to share with my readers a conversation I had recently with someone who lives and works inside the cage. The topic of our conversation was the utter ridiculousness of the particular nuances of contract and commercial fly tying.

Imagine you're a commercial tyer. Every year you fill dozens of orders for thousands of flies. You've been tying for three or four decades, and in that time you've tied just about any pattern asked of you. Thousands of Adamses and Clousers, Muddlers and Buggers, Hendricksons and Gotchas have passed from your vise to the tippets of a thousand nameless anglers. As the years progress you notice a subtle change in the flies you're asked to tie, and the orders you're required to fill. Increasingly, the flies call for plastic bodies, rubber legs, and polypropylene wings. Natural materials are giving way to synthetics. Flashabou, Krystal Flash, Gloss-n-Glint, Estaz, Laser Dub, Holo Fusion, Mirror Flash, Loco Foam, Angel Hair, and EP Fibers have replaced saddle hackle, silk floss, calf tail, and wood duck.

Holo what? Loco who?

What you wouldn't give to go back to the days when Swannundaze was all the rage.

But it isn't just the flies that are changing; the men and women who create and originate them are changing too. With such an array of materials from which to choose, tyers have become more innovative and less likely to abide by any particular tradition or school of thought. This is a good thing. If nothing else, this new breed of fly tyer has forced a debate on just what a fly is, and how flies differ from lures or bait. As contentious as it sometimes is, even this debate is a good thing.

Unfortunately, contract tyers have also become a bit more territorial. Increasingly - or so I am told - tyers insist on attaching their names to their flies. This isn't unexpected, it certainly isn't a new phenomenon, nor is it difficult to understand; fly tying is more functional art than science, and artists have signed their work since the days when caves were their canvases. The problem is that an abundance of people wish they were involved in the fly fishing business (or at least what they think is the fly fishing business), and they see fly tying as a vehicle upon which they might rocket themselves to piscatorial prominence (whatever that may be).

Look through any fly fishing catalog, and you'll surely see what I mean. A significant number of the latest and greatest fly offerings will bear the names of their originators. It's a rare occasion when a tyer takes himself out of the equation, and names an entire series of flies after a thespian of note, and gone are the days when tyers named their creations after good friends, prominent clients, or the local postmaster. Yesterday's tyers relied upon the deadly effectiveness of the pattern and its reputation to bring some small financial reward.  

Tyers are not only naming flies after themselves, but they're also trademarking their creations, and patenting the techniques used to construct their flies. I'm guessing the argument here is that the patterns may be easily copied, and this process forces wholesalers and retailers to pay a premium to use the recipe. What happens as a result? Wholesalers and retailers don't offer the fly. The tyer loses his or her commission, the shop loses sales, and the angler loses what is potentially an effective fly.

So count this post as my appeal to everyone in the business, and to those who hope to be in the business. Stop the foolishness. No one ever made a fortune as a fly tyer. Give up the dreams of stardom. Tie because you enjoy tying. Tie because you enjoy catching fish on your own flies, or better yet, tie because you enjoy watching someone else catch fish on your flies. And please ... please ... if you tie for a living or to otherwise augment your income, remember that fly tying is a surer path to poverty and notoriety than it is to fame and riches.

1 comment:

Robin Hill said...

Well said Mike. As a once upon a time fly fishing industry worker bee, it is full of people trying to make a mark, like any business. The problem is that many try to tie, no pun intended, pleasure (fishing) and business. Few can, in my opinion, blend these two well. One either fishing or business has to take the lead, often to the detriment of the other. You make a good, unintended I think, argument for tying ones own flies.