Tying your own flies can be quite a money saver. However, as many beginners have found, and old-timers know through experience, the supplies for tying flies can be very cost prohibitive. Still, there are ways to minimize the cost without sacrificing quality.
Begin saving money by buying hooks in bulk. Buying five packs of 20 hooks will nearly always be more expensive than purchasing a single pack of 100 hooks. It will be cheaper still, per hook, to get a pack of 500.
Resist the urge to buy assortment packs of hooks, too. They may be a little less expensive, but will usually include hook sizes you will seldom if ever use.
A thread doesn’t need to be made explicitly for fly-fishing. An excellent stout thread used in sewing is often just as good, and it costs much less since it isn’t a ‘specialty product.’
Clear varnishes and such can be replaced with clear fingernail polish. The polish is inexpensive compared to the type specifically made for fly tying, it is waterproof, and it exhibits the same traits as the ones you buy just for tying flies.
The fur and feathers is a major expense. A three-ounce, one square inch of fur can cost far more than it is worth, and can kill your pocketbook. Paying a few dollars for a half dozen to a dozen feathers is also crazy.
You can save there too, though. It is very common to find feathers when you are out fishing or even picnicking out in the woods. Collect the feathers for use in the fly tying. If you know someone who has chickens, have them save you feathers from their birds. If you know duck, goose, or pheasant hunters, express to them that you’d love to have the feathers. Most of these people will be happy to give you the feathers, which they would otherwise just throw away anyway.
The same is true of hunters. Most ‘bucktail’ doesn’t come from the tail, and it isn’t necessarily from a buck. Deer hunters are a great free resource for hair. Bear, sheep, goat, and antelope hunters are the same. Unless they have a specific use in mind for the fur, it is going to be discarded. Few will have a problem with giving you a lot of what is going into the garbage anyway. This can save a tremendous amount of money that would otherwise be spent to buy sometimes-common supplies.
Even zoos seldom have a problem with you collecting fur or feathers. They will toss them out in the trash, too. Just contact the curator and express your interest.
One source of cheap fur that is often ignored is your pets. Many dogs routinely need a haircut, and that is perfectly good fur to use when tying flies. Even in the case of cats or shorter haired dogs, removing a small amount of fur isn’t going to do any harm at all, and it costs nothing.
If you have the chance to save money, take it. You can minimize the cost of fly tying and find ways to make fly tying less expensive. At the same time, you can really expand the amounts, colors, and types of material you have to work with. Just use your imagination.