On a hilltop overlooking one of Massachusetts’ cleanest and deepest ponds stands a very modest dwelling. Most visitors of the pond know this shack to have been constructed by Henry David Thoreau, the esteemed author and philosopher; but few recall the house was built for a mere $28.12-1/2. Yes, that’s a half-cent. Nowadays you couldn’t buy a pair of nippers for that kind of money!
So what does Walden and home construction have to do with fly fishing? Well, not a lot, admittedly. However, as I’ve read the book, I’ve been astonished by the drastic price changes in the last 170 years. In listing the modest prices of the food and goods he purchased in preparation for his life in the woods, Thoreau mentions purchasing a watermelon for a whopping $0.01. Today, a whole watermelon would set you back $9.99. A 99,900% increase in the price of watermelons – that’s one pretty penny. This got me thinking: we all know inflation following the worst of the COVID pandemic greatly hiked the prices of everyday goods and necessities – food, gas, heck, even our Christmas tree – but how has it affected the price of fly fishing gear?
It’s no secret that fly fishing isn’t exactly the most affordable hobby to begin with. Long considered an elitist avocation, it is just in the past few decades that steps have been taken to open the sport to a broader demographic. As a kid with a very humble income, I greatly appreciate the newer, less expensive avenues through which one can enjoy fly fishing. Still, I can’t help but grimace when looking at receipts from fly shop trips or online store purchases. Buying fly fishing equipment has become exceedingly painful, especially in the past couple of years.
It may not be as apparently obvious as the cost of eggs and gas, but inflation has taken its toll on the fly fishing industry all the same. In looking at prices from numerous online fly shops from July of 2019 to November of 2022, the inflation was evident across the board; however, not all items were affected equally. From 2019 to today, the US has had a cumulative price increase of 16.57%. This is very close to the average I found for fly fishing items online, which came in at about 15%. These items covered a wide variety of categories within fly fishing, including rods, reels, lines, wading gear, natural and artificial tying materials, tying tools, and more.
Thoreau, who once described himself as unimpressed and unaffected after witnessing dozens killed in a shipwreck, might even appear distraught upon seeing the prices of fishing gear nowadays. A hen saddle, $12.95 back in 2019, will now set you back $20.00; a pack of Czech nymph hooks went from $11.95 to $16.50; and a pair of wading boots jumped to $179.95 from $139.95. Today’s prices are astonishing and frightening when you look back just three years. The only item I could find that actually went down in price was the late Dave Whitlock’s SLF dubbing, which dropped 4%.
To learn more about inflation in the fly fishing industry, I talked to Dylan Callahan of Concord Outfitters, a shop within walking distance of Thoreau’s historic abode. Dylan explained that the fly fishing world has seen sweeping inflation, though some items have been more heavily affected than others.
To start, plastics and resins produced overseas have seen tremendous price increases due to material shortages. Rods and lines, both of which incorporate a lot of plastic and resin, are both up nearly $50 universally. Similarly, Chinese rubber prices have soared as COVID continues to run rampant. Wading boots, which frequently feature rubber soles, have subsequently become much more expensive.
Domestically, it’s high-end natural tying materials that have drastically risen in price. Natural materials like hackle and bucktail require a lot of manual labor to get from the animal to your tying bench – everything from raising and breeding to tanning and grading. Staffing shortages have seriously cut natural material production, causing our wallets to suffer.
So what has Concord Outfitters done to adapt? First, they’ve started sourcing certain items closer to home. Some tying materials like bucktail now come from within New England, providing many benefits such as a higher quality and lower carbon footprint. Dylan admitted that these items will still be pricey, but that the other upsides outweigh the cost.
Additionally, like everyone else, they’ve been forced to raise their prices. Still, keep in mind that the shop is just as much at the mercy of this crazy post-COVID economy as we are. Now more than ever, brick-and-mortar fly shops need our support. We may be disappointed by what we see on price tags, but you can’t put a price on all the conversations, free tips, friends, and community support that comes from local shops.