I often get asked on my boat where I get my flies. Truth be told, I tie most of the flies that I and my clients fish daily. Occasionally, I’ll bolster my supply with quality store bought flies from one of the reputable US fly manufacturers, of which there are several. That said, I was recently tempted by a fly tying businessman named Habil Sakwa from Kenya, Africa. He was putting on the hard sell and raved about the quality of his flies. Skeptical, I asked him for references from American customers who had purchased flies from his company, Sister Flies. He provided two references, one of whom I called and found to be a very satisfied retailer from the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.
Now comfortable with Sister Flies, Habil, and his promise to “make good business,” I set off on one of the more disappointing and frustrating business transactions I have ever experienced. For starters, I received the flies two months later than promised – for a number of reasons. First I was told that there were elections going on and nothing really gets done until the elections are over. Then I was told that his normal shipper was not operational (perhaps due to recent elections?). Once Sister Flies finally managed to ship the parcel, it was held in customs until I completed the required telephone interview to outline the nature of the materials.
So delivery was finally made with about two weeks remaining in my Fall season. This alone was disappointing, but paled in comparison to what followed. To my dismay, more than half of the flies were literally unusable and barely resembled the images that had been provided for me via email. All of the baitfish patterns were monotone, one single color, and lacking the prerequisite white or lighter underbelly that most baitfish and minnow patterns possess. As well, they were shaped more like big lint balls than slender baitfish. They had used the wrong material entirely. The capper was, wait for it, I received a bill
months later from DHL for taxes and tariffs. Fearing credit depletion, I paid DHL the full tally and moved on. This had been a complete and utter disaster. So I have spent the last ten months trading emails and listening to repeated promises to “make good business” and make my order right, only to have my hopes repeatedly dashed. I sort of liked the guy and wanted to give him that chance. So his word was as good as his flies. Cutting my losses and having learned a lesson, I decided to share my experiences despite the embarrassment that would ensue.
My feeling is that many flies that are tied overseas are produced by people that do not fly fish. This is not to say that all of the flies they tie are poor, but you run a risk and you have zero recourse if you are not satisfied. A fisherman tyer will take the time to select the best quality materials and hooks, and be certain to finish the fly properly. I got burned because I was lazy and drawn in by the promise of quality flies at value pricing. My advice would be to tie your own flies or have an angler or guide who ties professionally tie them for you. Or at least go to your fly shop so you can handle the merchandise before paying for it. I still get the emails from various tyers in continents far from here but now know better. Sitting down and hammering out a dozen anchovies feels good anyway. Of course, that fish caught on said fly will feel just that much better as well.