The Broke College Kid's Guide to Fly Tying Materials

The Broke College Kid’s Guide to Fly Tying Materials

Fly-tying rewards those who tie in many ways – the satisfaction of replicating a bug the size of a fingernail, and then proceeding to catch a trout on your fly incites an insatiable addiction. When considering embarking on your fly-tying career, you might ponder the cost, the time, and what you look to get out of the hobby. I was first inspired to tie flies as a solid creative outlet and a way to learn about the insects on my local rivers and streams without pouring over an entomology textbook. As I began to look at catalogues and online retailers of fly tying, I found one common denominator: everything was expensive. In order for my desire to tie flies to be satisfied, I had to make some adjustments, which is nothing we anglers are not used to. As a college student, athlete, and angler, I barely have time to think, let alone make money. So, I decided to take a look at different methods of acquiring materials.

Fly tying setup

Fly tying was something I picked up in the offseason, when the weather was too cold to throw bugs or baseball. After picking up a fly rod for the first time in early September of my sophomore year, I had caught the bug just in time for New Jersey’s cold to sweep in. And as most anglers will tell you, one addiction lead to the other. When the small paychecks from my work-study job weren’t going to off-campus Chipotle trips, I found myself frequently strolling into my local craft store for cheap fly tying materials. Here are some tips and tricks to think about when you realize purchasing fly-tying materials has left your pockets looking like canyons.


Wire is a constant for every craft store. They will range in gauge and will definitely have what most fly tyers need – gold, or silver. Bring a few of your hooks that you intend to tie with along for the ride, and size up the beads and wire to see if they are compatible. Although they will be in their own packaging, it never hurts to be sure that what you are buying you will end up using.


Most times, beads can be some of the most accessible items in a craft store for fly-tying, but also the riskiest. The risk in using the craft store beads can sometimes not be worth the reward. Because the beads typically arrive in quantities with three digits, finding a solid pack of beads will last you a long time, for a small price. Often times, you must go back to the vice and test several types of beads before you can really tell if there is value to them. A key tip for targeting craft store fly tying supplies, with beads in particular, is to go in with low expectations. Do not go to your local craft store looking for a size 22 tungsten bead – you simply won’t find them. What you will find, however, could be several sizes of gold and silver beads that will add a little weight to your fly and get down to those low holding fish.

Fly tying boxes


Your local craft store will undoubtedly have thread of all sizes, qualities, and colors. Thread from these stores can be very reliable, although the cheap prices would not dictate it so. You can purchase sewing kits with 16 or so spools of different colored thread for under $5.


Materials for late summer terrestrial patterns can be exceptional in a craft store, with sheets of foam, ranging in color and thickness, for under fifty cents. This can give you variety for a ton of hopper, beetle, and even ant patterns. In addition to this, look for rubber bands as a substitute for rubber legs. You can get tan rubber bands and use a Sharpie to draw patterns on them, or you can look for colored rubber bands. Watch out for variety packs of foam sheets and rubber bands if you can’t decide on the size or color!

Foam for fly tying


Here is where the searching will begin. I have found inexpensive goose biots, clumps of several different colors of maribou, peacock herl, pheasant tail, and even several colors and sizes of hackle. As I have learned, buying hackle from a craft store will not be as buoyant or reliable as a $25 cape you can buy in a fly shop. Although I have found them, expecting to find a full $5 cape of hackle is unrealistic, most of the time. When looking at feathers, consider them only for the use of nymphs. These feathers will replicate the form and substance for more expensive feathers, but will often not float as well as fly shop hackle. My conclusion on craft store hackle? Save your money and invest in good hackle, you won’t be sorry you did so.

Feathers for fly tying


Craft stores and other common stores such as Target, Walmart, and K-Mart are Meccas for the organized and motivated fly-tyer. Small, plastic, containers are in abundance for cheap, whether it be plastic shoe boxes, or stacked drawers, there is something for every desk and fly-tying space out there. Pencil boxes, bead organizers, and thread stackers at a container store are cheap versions of handcrafted wooden organizers. You do not have to have a large, wooden desk with tons of compartments to be organized, plus a few towers of plastic containers will give you a spot to put all your fishing stickers.

Storage of fly tying materials

By shopping at a craft store, you will typically be able to cut your total price in half, and sometimes even more. Ebay is also an incredible resource, selling large lots of older materials, tools, and even books for lower prices. Ebay is also a great alternative for someone just getting into the hobby. Because spending $150 on a beginners fly tying kit is often times unrealistic for people, panning through Ebay can produce worthwhile searches. Often times, people will sell their collections of fly-tying materials and equipment because they want it out of their house. Most sellers just want it gone, so take advantage of the reduced prices and large quantities online!

Fly tying equipment

This hobby does not have to be expensive, but it certainly can be. Take the time and be creative if you are on a budget, because often times, the search for the perfect, cheap material can be just as fun as tying the fly.