Last fall I visited the Fly Tying Symposium. I had the pleasure of watching Leon Piasecki for a while as he tied some beautiful looking saltwater flies. Before I felt his table I asked him if he was selling his flies, he was, and they were 10 dollars a piece. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a ten, and handed it to him.
I thought that the time I spent there watching and asking questions was surely worth the 10 dollars, plus that includes the hook, material, threads, eyes, ect. . Fair enough. Now this past weekend I was at The Fly Fishing Show. The first day had a good crowd, bigger on the second day, winding down on the third. It was good to see from our Jersey Shore Trout Unlimited booth fly folks walking out with rods and bags and hats. Good boost for the vendors and the industry and the economy. A few of the booths inside had flies for sale, one such booth that had a good steady crowd all weekend sold flies for 10 dollars a dozen. I think everyone had to at least stop and say, "10 bucks a dozen is good." I went in and picked out two dozen and placed them in a small plastic box. Then I started to wonder. "Who's tying all these flies, and why are they so cheap?" I have never purchased flies from a catalog or over the internet. They are always purchased at the local shop. I have a image in my head of the old local sage or young protege banging out flies all winter or during hours when the shop is closed.
I have heard about overseas fly tying operations, and with the changes in every industry, I wonder if more of the flies we see in catalogs, online, and even in our local shops are tied elsewhere. I did some research, just a quick look, and found out it is a huge, and not secret, industry. I see places like Guatemala, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Mexico, and the biggest Chiang Mai, Thailand. I found an old article written by Denis D. Gray of the Associated Press. In it Wayne Richey, who heads Targus Fly and Feather in Thailand, is quoted as saying, "Chiang Mai is to fly tying what Silicon Valley is to computers." From my internet searches I found no hard evidence of any wrongdoing as far as exploitation of workers overseas, but I think the general opinion from the posts on several forums is, "Somewhere, someone isn't happy tying flies in the environment they are doing it in, or for the pay they are making." Noted author, flyfisher, and founder of www.theinterantangler.com, Zach Matthews, wrote in his forums a few years ago about him pitching the idea of covering the overseas fly tying industry for one of the larger fly fishing magazines. It never got done, publications weren't interested or couldn't afford the expense of sending someone overseas.
I think that would make for a great story.