guide flies

guide flies

  • By: Kelly Galloup
  • Photography by: Louis Cahill

Click image for slideshow.

The first time I took a fly pattern to a manufacturer was back in 1980, and since then I’ve submitted many, many more. For me it was a relatively easy process because there were very few people submitting new patterns at that time; now, as an established fly designer (and a shop owner for more than 30 years) it’s even less of a chore.

But today, for most people it’s much more difficult to get patterns picked up by a manufacturer because there are hundreds of tiers out there who want to be recognized nationally and collect royalties on sales of their flies (such royalties can range up to 10 percent). Many fly tiers will submit a pattern that is simply a knock-off of someone else’s, with only a slight color change in the body of the fly, or a different hackle, or a synthetic head in place of a deerhair head. Or sometimes even a full rip-off.

Compounding the issue are lots of fly companies that steal original patterns and heavily discount those flies. By doing so these no-talent, never-had-an-original-idea-in-their-lives, pathetic intellectual-property sponges steal the original creator’s potential royalty, too. That makes it more difficult and less compelling for creative tiers to submit really cool, original stuff that could make its way into your fly box. Let me say this from my elevated soapbox: To all the anglers who are drawn to the dangling carrot of discount fly companies, you are putting the real guys out of business. When you see flies for a dollar each, they may be of inferior quality and it’s likely they are a knock-off of someone else’s original pattern. If you buy from these bottom-feeders you will be, in a small way, killing the very thing you love. If you are a tier and ready to submit an original pattern that you want to get credit for and a royalty from, you don’t want to see it in Joey Lunch Bucket’s discount catalog a year later (maybe with Joey’s name pasted on it). So be careful where and to whom you pitch your patterns.

There are a couple standard ways to submit your flies to a manufacturing company. The first is to get to know a manufacturer’s rep or a flyshop owner who can get your flies in front of the right people at a design company. This can be a critical component, especially if a shop buys a lot of those flies from that company. Their endorsement of your fly/flies is very important, but commitment to back that up with a purchase is even more valuable, possibly swaying a manufacturer to choose your fly for production versus someone else’s.

Another option is to send your fly directly to a manufacturer and wait to see if you make the cut. This is a much harder sell. Remember, you’re not the only one submitting patterns, and in the selection process dozens—if not hundreds—of flies will be set on a table. The owners of the company and their reps will study each fly to see if it has merit and to decide if it will sell. The reps have a big say in the decision process as they are the ones who take new flies to all the shops in their territories and try to convince guys like me that the fly will sell in quantity.

To give yourself the best chance for success, no matter which submission route you choose, remember that this is not a beauty contest—the bottom line is whether the fly sells well enough for the manufacturer and the fly shop to deliver a return on their investment. Some things that might prohibit that (these are questions that manufacturers and reps may ask when those flies are spread out on the table):

ICan the fly be tied in volume, or is it so complicated that it takes forever to tie?

IWill it cost more to acquire the obscure materials in the design than the fly is worth?

IDoes the fly have bin appeal, meaning does it actually look like it would sell?

Remember, every fly submitted comes with a tier’s personal certificate of validation, but that is generally not taken into consideration by the manufacturer. Instead it comes down to simple math—can a manufacturer build the fly at a decent price and can they sell it. If the answer is “Yes,” your fly goes into production.

After that, it’s a waiting game, often a couple months, while your pattern is overseas being tied at a factory before being returned for your critique. If you approve the fly it goes into production and is scheduled for delivery some two or three months later. Typically, a fly is tied custom for a particular region, and if it proves its legs there it goes into a catalog and can be called a national fly pattern.

Although it may seem to be a burdensome effort, designing a fly that becomes nationally or internationally recognized—even if it gets knocked off by someone else—is every fly tier’s dream, and quite an honor in our small industry. And in my mind, I still believe there is no greater reward in this sport than creating a fly that helps you and other anglers catch more and bigger fish.

Adventures in Tying

Getting your flies to market.

guide flies

by Kelly Galloup


Photographs by Louis Cahill