Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

If you have a financial advisor, they’re probably not going to recommend selling flies on eBay as a hedge on your retirement fund. The day I was writing this, there were over 1,000 auctions or ‘buy it now’ items for Woolly Buggers on eBay. Looking at those that actually sold told me the average price per bugger was 50-75 cents each. You have to sell a lot of buggers to make any money at that price. I am sure there are a few eBayers that find themselves successful at selling good numbers of flies every season, but I won’t be one of them. I’ve been an eBayer since 1998 and for the past five years have been selling flies on eBay twice a year. It works like this.

~50 Useless Flies - eBay $10
~50 Useless Flies – eBay $10

Once in the Spring and once in the Fall I’ll take stock of all my fly boxes and other fly storage containers. The goal, find 25-50 flies that you can lump together in a single, cheap box that you can call something like this: “~ 50 Used Trout Flies in Box” with a detailed description that reads something like this: “Approximately 50 used trout flies. Flies are listed as used as they come from working fly boxes. Most however have never been fished and are clean and like new. Assortment includes bead and cone head Woolly Buggers, various streamers and wet flies, a few dry flies including sparkle duns, elk hair caddis and hoppers. Contained in a Plano 3450 box.” Of course the actual description ought to be close to what you are actually selling. When it sells for $11 (.20¢ + per fly) and the buyer is paying shipping and the buyer is ecstatic about the purchase you’ve successfully sold flies on eBay. Anyone can do it. You just need to meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • You made a purchase from an online fly fishing retailer and they gratuitously included a dozen flies you will never use.
  • You win a guide trip with a famous West Yellowstone guide at a Trout Unlimited auction and he presents you with a dozen flies you’ll never use.
  • You generously pay $15 for a cheap TU logo’ed fly box and a dozen flies you’ll never use at a TU fund raiser.
  • You read a cool article in Fly Tyer magazine about some crazy new material, acquire some and then, after trying to use it, you abandon the pattern and never fish those half dozen examples of Bordello’s Bee.
  • Years ago you learned to fish with density compensated sink tips, OX tippet and lightly weighted streamers. (100s of heavily weighted flies in your boxes are now obsolete).
  • Because you are wisely using 0X tippet with those large lightly weighted streamers, you dredge up more weeds and break off more twigs rather than losing flies.
  • You’ve caught a nice fish on an obscure pattern that you only had one or two examples of in your fly box. You came home and tied up two dozen for the next time which never came.
  • Fishing luminary Joe touts the Big River Special as “The GO TO Fly” for this season. You tie up a couple of dozen but the season ends before you can fish them. Unfortunately it’s not next season’s go to fly.
  • You were living in one part of the country and had a good assortment of the regional go to flies in your fly boxes. However you moved to new territory where they never heard of the Baton Rouge bullet.
  • You spend enough time on the river to stumble across fly boxes, fly containers and fly patches containing all sorts of useless flies that some poor fellow dropped in the river or on the trail. (These guys rarely carry the right flies anyway).
  • You read too many fishing books and fishing reports and think all those fly recommendations are obligations you must fill before you enter the river.
  • Unwisely you purchase a dozen #20 tricos to fish the relentless tricos hatches you encounter every summer, but forget that at age 65, your eyesight is only good for size 16 and larger flies.
  • You are loath to throw a perfectly good fly in the trash even through it has been abused a bit by hungry fish or by you by allowing your fly to linger for months on the boat’s fly patch.
  • You routinely fail to return flies to their proper fly box and allow an accumulation of flies and leaders to tangle on that little shelf in the garage where you tossed them when you cleaned out the boat.
  • You push the limits of experimental fly tying by using Zelon wings on your Elk Hair Caddis. Unfortunately, Elk Hair would have been a better choice.
Fly patch found along the river - eBay $14
Fly patch found along the river – eBay $14

All these conditions will result in excess flies that can be successfully sold on eBay. Honesty is important here and I am very clear in my descriptions that these flies are coming out of working fly boxes. I describe them as generically as possible so as not to raise expectations. Most importantly, I don’t make any recommendations or guarantees that the flies will be useful or catch fish. If they were useful, I probably wouldn’t be selling them. But the buyers seem happy with their purchases so twice every year, I take stock of my fly boxes and contrive some bizarre assortment of useless flies to sell on eBay. Anyone can do it.

2 Comments

  1. …Are you telling me the Baton Rouge Bullet is not the classic Catskills pattern that salesman led me to believe?! Aieeee!

    Seriously, a very entertaining article Mike. I can’t say I’d ever have enough throw-aways to part with (except a few bits of junk I myself tied, but I improve quickly enough that they don’t add up to more than a few each year).

    But I will say that I think anyone would be better off with your used flies than with some new ones I’ve acquired on eBay in the past. One noteworthy example was a dozen #18 Elk Hair Caddis I tried out, which turned out to be tied on soft/cheap hooks the eyes of which were so closed down that a 7x tippet wouldn’t go through them! I had to hammer-tap a sharp-pointed nail into each eye, which opened the soft metal enough that I could get them on a tippet. Needless to say I’d use them only for fish I hope to lose.

    Buyer beware, I guess….

    – Mike

  2. Mike’s blog is interesting and not far from the truth.
    As reported elsewhere, I sell Salmon Fly brooches on Ebay (UK), as well as a few patterns for Trout, Grayling and other predatory fish. No-one is ever going to make a fortune selling flies, at least never the home tyer. But I do it to fund my fishing and I’m about 1/2 way there this season.
    I know that there are hundreds of patterns available, but I have learnt a few things along the way.
    Internet buyers (there are other websites besides Ebay) basically want either cheap (aka economical!) flies or something different. I try and offer the latter, picking up patterns in angling publications that the non-tyer cannot buy, or adapting patterns to make them more attractive and fish catching.
    I use only quality hooks that are specified in the description – e.g. Partridge, Kamasan and Mustad and other quality materials. I also add some basic details about how the fly should be fished. It all adds to a learning experience.
    Now folks I have a rather interesting fry pattern that should catch a lot of fish, trout mainly, but unfortunately I don’t sell overseas! Pity!

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