Fly Tying on a budget: Cheap Sources for Materials

Fly tying fishing cheap materials craft store feathers fur thread dubbing beads copper wire jighead nail polish

A few materials found at locations other than a fly shop.

I’m sure many of use have said at some point “I’ll tie my own flys! It’ll be much cheaper than buying them”. O how wrong we where. You would have to tie many, many flies In order fly tying to be cheaper than actually buying your flys, since you get so many flies out of so little material. Speciality fly shops are also notoriously expensive.

There are some fly tying materials that you never cheap out on such as feathers and hooks. Many fly tying materials can be found cheaper at non-fly shop locations though. I’ve put together a list of locations for you to try out, and what to look for when you are there.

Craft Stores

Craft stores can be a gold mine for a fly tyer, but can also become very expensive very quickly. Craft stores (I go to Micheals personally) are similar to a speciality fly shops since they both carry many similar materials, however it’s important to remember that both stores also price  materials at a premium. The trick is that fly shops and craft stores price different items at a premium, so certain items that would be expensive at a fly shop are going to be much cheaper at a craft store. The craft department of many big box stores have a similar, much more limited selection of materials.

Items to look out for at craft store:

  • foamsheets

    So many colours perfect for fly tying.

    Wire – Copper wire specifically, but you can also fine cheap lead-substitute wire as well.

  • Boxes – Craft stores have boxes that are custom built for being storage containers for small craft materials, and these will work beautifully for fly tying materials (think beads, hooks, wire, thread, etc etc the list goes on). They also have smaller containers that you can make into DIY fly boxes.
  • Craft fur – While the quality won’t quite be that of fur from a fly shop, it’s pretty darn close. The fur tends to be shorter, but as long as you are using it for smaller streamers, craft fur from a craft store will do just fine.
  • Thread – Not really for tying, but for making the bodies of flies.
  • Foam – This is the real reason fly tyers go to a craft store. you can get large sheets of foam in so many different colours for a buck or two each. Much cheaper than the same foam at a fly shop.
  • Wool/yarn – Wool yarn makes excellent dubbing material. It’s hard to buy just a little bit though. Try convincing your girlfriend/wife that she should learn to knit/crochet, and steal some of her yarn for your own purposes.
  • Mylar tubing – This can often be found for sale much cheaper than you’d be able to find it elsewhere
  • Bead chains – Used for creating eyes on streamers and nymphs, bead chains can be sourced from craft stores for cheap.
  • Glass beads – You can find excellent deals on glass beads, and craft shops often have more variety of glass beads than a fly shop does. The only issue may be finding extremely small sizes for midge patterns.
  • Peacock and Ostrich hurl can be found quite cheap at a craft shop. Quality is lower than at a fly shop, but it’s a good source if you’re a beginner or a tyer on a budget.
  • Tinsel, organza, swiss straw, googly eyes and more can also be found quite cheap at a craft store. Use your imagination!

Note: Avoid the chenille at craft shops, as it’s almost always pipe cleaners. I can tell you from trial and error that the metallic centre does not work well for tying flys.

Dollar Stores

Dollar stores can also be quite productive when shopping for fly tying supplies. I like to go after a major holiday to get plenty of cheap materials in a certain colour.

  • Pink nail polish fly tying cheap affordable materials steelhead trout dollar store craft store

    Nothing like pink nail polish for making steelhead flies!

    Beads – Can find a ton of cheap beads, often only small enough for very large flies

  • Paint brushes – The bristles make excellent tails for mayfly dry flies and various nymph patterns. You can find them in either natural, or bright colours.
  • Cotton balls – Cotton is a good dubbing material, especially for building bulk on flies. I’ll sometimes build an underbody of cotton, and dub the “real” dubbing over top of it on bulky nymphs or streamers.
  • Clear nail polish – I use $0.99 bottles of clear nail polish for any application that calls for heat cement. It’s much cheaper, and has served me extremely well. A good trick is you can thicken nail polish and head cement by leaving it uncovered on a table for a day or two. The liquid will start to evaporate and leave the thicker stuff behind.
  • Coloured nail polish – I buy this stuff mostly to paint jig heads, but I will use to to colour the head of a fly, or perhaps put eyes on a streamer.
  • Wigs/hair extensions – If you can find a green wig after St Patties day for a buck, you have an near unlimited amount of green streamer material. Those colourful clip on hair extensions that are so popular with kids often come in very “fishy” colours like reds, pinks, and greens.
  • Holiday decorations – As mentioned above, holidays produce plenty of certain colours. There are lots of synthetic fibres to be had, as well as tinsel and occasionally some marabou. Valentines day produces red and pink materials, St. Patties day produces green, Halloween gives plenty of black and orange goodies, and Christmas gives lots of tinsel in gold and silver, as well as plenty of reds and greens.

Hardware stores

  • Storage – I have alot of my fly tying material in a storage container similar to this. I have yet to find a fly storage solution that suites my needs better than one of storage chests.
  • Wire – Copper wire, as we as wire for ribbing can be found from hardware stores.
  • Shrink tubing – Can make a very neat head on mid to large sized streamers. Be careful when you shrink it not to set the whole fly on fire!

Free sources of fly tying materials

  • Pets – This almost warrant’s a full post by itself. There are many breeds of dogs and cats out there, and many have fur that will work for fly tying. You can steal some from the brush for dubbing, or if you’re feeling really sneaky, you can snip a little big of a long-hair breed to use for streamers. Other pets to think about include rabbits, hamsters, and birds. You could try some really fun flys with the feathers that fall off naturally from a parrot for example.
  • Old clothes – Have any old clothes with pieces of fur on it? Raid them and re-use the fur! Any cotton sweaters can be raided for dubbing, and thin leather can be cut up and used for tails on mouse patterns. Elastic bands in underwear, socks, and other clothes can be used as rubber legs.
  • Hunting –  You have a goldmine of materials if you hunt, or have a friend that does. Bucktails are the first thing to come to mind, but deer body hair, elk, fox, rabbit, and squirrel hair can all be had. Ducks, geese, partridges, and pheasants are all coming targets for hunters and provide excellent materials. It’s important that you either look into proper treatment of these materials, or keep them separate from you main fly tying materials. improperly treated fur or feathers can carry mites that will ruin your other materials very quickly.

Here are a few things that you should never cheap out on.

  • Feathers – Specifically dry fly feathers. I highly doubt you’ll find quality feathers anywhere other than a dedicated fly shop, especially if you are looking for feathers to use on dry flies. You may find some large feathers that work for large streamers, but often the dye fades from these rather quickly if purchased from discount locations. You can find “okay” marabou at craft shops, but I would still pass.
  • Hooks – The hook is perhaps the most important component of a fly. Many of use have learned the hard way that you always use quality hooks.

What does everybody else think? Is there any materials that I left out? Any that you don’t think should be on the list? Let me know in the comments below.

3 Comments

  1. John

    Ben
    You’ve compiled an extensive and thorough list!
    I’m intrigued with UV cured resins and their varied applications but their price is prohibitive, so I’ll stick with my dollar store epoxy and hot glue sticks.

    Reply
    1. bensmckinley@gmail.com (Post author)

      Thanks John,
      UV cured resins look really cool, but I’m in the same boat as you. I just apply several coats of Sally Hansen’s nail polish and get a similar effect.

      Reply
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