I assume that if not everyone, then the vast majority of the readers of this blog tie flies. For most fly fishers it’s a naturally, integrated part of the hobby. Most like to put their own touches on known patterns, many have personal favourites of their own design. And some of course have completely secret flies that nobody ever gets to see. But there’s a fair number of fly fishers out there, who don’t tie their flies themselves. Maybe they can’t find the time, maybe it simply doesn’t appeal to them, maybe they can’t find the time to learn.
Many in this situation of course rely on friends to keep them supplied (yes, you know who you are) and then many use store bought flies. They flies that stores offer come from different sources. Some are tied locally, some come from professional, one-man fly tying business and some, most actually, come from large companies employing high numbers of fly tiers. What every single fly in the world has in common is that it’s tied by a person. Machines can’t tie flies. Yet, some will say, but I say probably never.
I think (I don’t know for certain) that most of the companies are located in Africa, but the biggest ones are in Asia. One of them is Shadow Flies in Thailand. Shadow Flies produce up to 1.9 million flies every year. Yes, one-point-nine-millions! Everyone who ties flies know that it takes special skills and material knowledge. I suppose that most fly tiers also know that it takes something special to sit down for 8 hours a day and tie flies. Our friend, Niklas Dahlin works for Shadow Flies and told us a bit about the company and trade.
It’s no surprise that a company that produces 1.9 million flies a year is quite well organized. Every work order is barcoded and scanned several times as it passes through the hands of fly tiers. Most of whom are women, which I think is no surprise. Right now Shadow Flies employ approximately 130 fly tiers, three are men. Some have been with the company for over 20 years. Among those some become supervisors and one very important position is being in charge of supplies. To produce 1.9 million flies/year it’s absolutely crucial that the needed materials are in stock and in the right amount. Sometimes Shadow Flies will order up to 500 saddles and 500 capes from Whiting. That requires planning as even Whiting don’t have that much in stock. Being able to source materials from different suppliers and at the right price is a complex task.
Being a professional fly tier working with one of the big companies in Asia is work that requires skill and many hours of concentrated, focused work. They do make a fair living, but it’s hard work. Shadow Flies have tried to create a fly tying school, to create a formal education to become a fly tier. The attempt failed in the pandemic, but there are plans to try again. Recruiting fly tiers is not easy and the hope is that the school and a formal education will help. Highly skilled fly tiers are of course essential for the company as they are the ones ensuring that deliveries are on time. Some of the most experienced ones tie up to 200 flies during a day.