When shopping for fishing flies in stores you can find simple dries and nymphs ranging from 79 cents each to $1.95 each. Online you can even get them cheaper. I have seen them for 42 cents each.
The more expensive flies carried by the premium fly shops are tied in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the fly tying capital of the world. There are over a dozen major fly tying companies that have tying facilities there. The fly tying resource base there (number of experienced fly tiers) is larger than in any other part of the world.
Other areas of the world that do a significant amount of fly production include China, Sir Lanka, and Kenya. There is some production in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Philippines. The fly production in the United States and Europe where the largest number of users are is primarily by home tiers or tiers that tie for specific fly shops. There are a few home tiers that sell their flies on the internet.
At the fly factories the cost of production is based on materials cost, labor cost, facility cost, administrative cost, and profit. Currently for the simple dry flies and nymphs that adds up to about $3.50 USD – $4.50 USD a dozen (I will use USD in the rest of the article) in Thailand, and about $2.00 – $2.50 in Kenya.
When shipping to the US, Europe, Canada, or Australia the shipping costs run as much as $0.15 USD a dozen and duty for the US is approximately 10%. In the US there is also excise tax that must be paid based on the first sale after they enter the country that runs about 9 1/2%.
Based on a $4.00 a dozen factory cost the fly company importing flies must add shipping, duty, and the excise tax they will incur when they sell to the shops which brings the fly cost to $5.63 per dozen. The fly companies that are importing the flies need to make a profit so the cost to the shops are generally at keystone (50% markup) so the cost to the shops is now at $11.26 per dozen (94 cents each).
When the fly shop pays shipping and marks up for their operating costs and profit, keystone again, the cost to the consumer is pushing that $1.95 figure you see as you walk in.
The large box stores, in order to get the pricing down to what they do are either getting huge discounts for volume buying or they are getting flies that are tied somewhere other than Thailand, or both.
Some retailers have their own tying facilities and are not only tying at the less expensive locations but are skipping the importing fly company’s costs by going direct.
Hopefully now when you get sticker shock when you go into a fly shop you can understand why the shop is charging what it does.