Western waters are very diverse. However, there are only about 10 "go-to" fly patterns that all fly anglers must carry to do well on waters from California's Eastern Sierra to Colorado's Rockies. That makes things easier, but when buying flies, there are many options to consider. A few fly dealers, shops and websites stand out as places to go--or click on--in the West.
Local Shops, Local Knowledge
When buying Western flies, fly fishermen planning a trip might want to wait until they arrive in town to start thinking about which patterns to buy. Sure, in this era, anglers can probably read fishing reports online from a particular shop in the region they intend to visit, but visiting a local shop might yield extras.
Local shop staffers know what's happening on a local river or stream. They will be happy to share reports with anglers online. Reports are typically generic, but if you buy flies from them in the shop, they'll give you a better idea of where to fish or exact spots to try. They might even share their guide's knowledge and help you connect.
Showing in person at a local shop is also a good idea because, if you only went by the information on the online report, you'll notice about 12 patterns are typically listed for any given water. At the shop, staffers might just say, "Fish a nymph rig with an olive pheasant tail trailed by a zebra midge, if I were you." You just saved yourself from purchasing extra flies.
Online Retailers For Those Who've Done Their Homework
Internet options also offer places to buy Western patterns. In Colorado, Blue Quill Angler offers local knowledge on Denver area rivers. Owner Pat Dorsey is an expert guide and author and can suggest flies.
Dorsey's website features easy purchasing for flies from midges and dries to local favorites like mysis shrimp, Czech nymphs and new environmentally-friendly-favorites featuring tungsten beadheads. Many of Dorsey's patterns come from Umpqua Feather Merchants.
Over in the Eastern Sierra from the Reno area south to Bishop, local fly fishing expert and guide Tom Loe at Sierra Drifters offers patterns specifically designed for the region. These top quality patterns are featured in his fish reports, fly fishing catalogs and magazines.
Most interesting is Loe's "broken back gillie" which is an articulated midge pupa. This new style is working well and anglers are discovering them in the West. In addition to these hot patterns, you'll find custom streamers and terrestrials that will work on virtually any Western water.
Fly Wholesale Online
The last option for Western flies purchases are fly websites, where you typically find great deals on bulk flies. These are places where fliers enjoy free shipping on large orders and patterns as low as 84 cents. Retail shops usually run $1.59 to $3 a fly. That's a deal if you know exactly what you want.
Great places to try include the Fly Shack or eBay. Great deals from private fly tiers and public shops are always posted. When buying a dozen of one fly, anglers can see significant drops in prices.
One warning for fly fishermen when it comes to choosing a "selection" of flies: Stick with packages that feature a "lifecycle" of a bug and stay away from a "Western dry fly selection." These typically feature 12 dries in which some will produce, but there's always a few losers in the pack. Terrestrial selections and pheasant tail or copper john selections are typically strong packages as well.
Last, don't worry about how many fish one fly will catch. Whether the pattern was mass produced in China or hand-tied by a guide in front of you, all flies are designed to catch fish. If anglers pay 84 cents a fly, they'll get their money's worth if they manage two to three fish.