Have you seen the price of fly tying materials these days? Well, I haven't in a long while for most flies I make. I am guessing that like everything else the cost for fly tying materials hasn't escaped the current round of inflation. Fortunately, over the last few years I have learned to pare down my supplies and not to become a "materials hoarder." I try to buy a few capes, look for unique threads, and seek unconventional dubbing materials.
This is likely just part of my inclination and enjoyment I get from foraging. I guess I forage even in commercial places. Sure, I have purchased a few capes usually at the touring fly shows, and acquired my share of items from the "seconds bins" of fly shops. I found a happy place for the amount of materials I own at any given time and it takes a real whim for me to step out and purchase much in the way of additional materials. Once you have your base supplies you just do what you do with them. Our tenkara forefathers had it right with the concept of using what was readily available to them to make their flies. I like to think some days that I am continuing that practice and tradition.
Let's start with some initial places to start foraging materials...
Garage / Estate Sales My family loves a good garage sale or even better estate sale. These have been an interesting place to find fly tying materials. Garage sales can be spotty for materials, and sometimes it helps to ask about materials. Sometimes they are right there being interesting on a table. I find skeins of yarn, spools of sewing thread and occasionally balls of woolen felt that I can use for dubbing. One time I thought I had scored big with a taxidermy duck that unfortunately had dried out way to much to find much use with the feathers. But man was I excited at the possibility. Estate sales sometimes turn up materials in unusual ways. You have a wider selection of things to see as they are trying to get rid of more stuff at an estate sale than at garage sales. Keep your eye open for peacock tail feathers and even ostrich feather dusters... My wife just found one and I plucked a feather out for my tying supplies.
In the wilds of your neighborhood When I walk my dog in the springtime we have a high school field we cross that is occupied by flocks of geese who often drop feathers here and there. I started picking these up from time to time and tucking them in my shirt pocket. Occasionally I remember they are there and put them into a bowl on my office desk and then occasionally again I actually get them to the vise to be tied onto a hook. I have also found natural materials in my backyard or while foraging. Things like yucca plant fibers, cattail or cottonwood fluff. Some of these things work better than others but you know why not give them a try just for the novelty. We have traveled to the ocean from time to time over the years too and in the tide wash up you might find some really interesting fibers that can be used as well. There area some great books out there on making natural fibers from plants in the wild.
Look around your house. I won't give more than a small mention to dryer lint as dubbing. I do know though that I have in the past used scraps of yarn from my wife's yarn bin. We also have a pillow that she bought in our living room that is down filled and I have an annoying habit now of watching television and pulling out down feathers from the "pokey pillow". Not all feathers are equal of course. Once you know what you are looking for though you begin to see potential for some of these downy treasures.
Fabric, bead and craft stores. Of course these stores will have some of the standards of materials but not always usable. You have to hunt a bit. I did however find a bead store that carries some really unique feathers as well as horse hair. A deep blue died pheasant that I continue to tie with. I love a good mom and pop yarn shop or embroidery store too.
Friends with fur and feathers The increase in urban farmers across the USA has also created a great oportunity for feathers and even dubbing materials. Recently my eldest child, Alex (adult of 35 yrs old now!!!?) sent me a bag of feathers from their coop. They raise chickens and quail for meat and eggs. Quail have become as much fun for me to tie as starling feathers. I used to have chickens myself and there are always feathers dropping off inside the coop that are perfectly useful. As for fur... well, I have a friend who raises alpacas as well and he has been generous in the past with alpaca wool and even yarn that he has made from those wonderful beasts. Finally, I am guilty of brushing my dog out and finding a black fur that makes a wonderful dubbing material. It even "noodles" well. Check my shop soon for "German shepherd mix" dubbing... Just kidding.
Have a fly tying event with a pot luck table of materials. We did this some years ago and I still have a some of the items from that table. You would be surprised how much stuff people are willing to just give away at these events. Sometimes I have purchased a cape and thought... I will never get through this whole cape. Its more than I need. We should consider when we buy full capes if we could maybe split them with a friend? Maybe I will set up a facebook group or use one of the current ones to create a swap meet event? Okay, this is too good and idea not to do... So look for the online event in the not so distant future.
Try to only keep reasonable amounts of feathers. Don't buy more than you need and if you do consider sharing or trading with someone else.
One of my handy yarn containers. These pill box style containers are a great way to keep a nice pallet of yarns without having to buy or keep full skeins of yarn.
Many things can work as dubbing. Look for alpaca and sheep felt wool at your local sewing and craft centers.
This amazing dyed pheasant swatch I got at a bead store. I also found horse tail strands and some fur there too.
Natural fibers are all around us. Yucca, palm and many long grasses are suitable for tying a very rustic fly body. Plenty of books to study fiber making from natural plants too.
Its sometimes who you know. These feathers were free from my oldest. They raise chickens and quail.
Look at those colors. Yes, Fezzik the river dog has given up fur fibers for some flies I tied "just because". Long hair shepherd works great. Your results may differ. :)
A word about "Micro Plastics" I have made a personal decision to stop using materials that don't break down naturally in nature. Many flies are lost to both creek and trees and we need to be mindful. So much is still out there on the market that is synthetic or "plastic". Too much of this is ending up in the environment. Of course we have very few options with regard to our tippet lines except to collect our scraps and keep them out of the streams. Too many yarns and threads are made from synthetic fibers. Consider using only natural fibers as part of your own effort to be green in your fishing.