The beauty premium

Flyfishers commonly pronounce that ‘fly choice doesn’t matter’, or that ‘any fly rod is really just a bendy stick’. It seems that flyfishing these days is all about utility and efficiency. Yet, economists have long recognised that there is such a thing as ‘the beauty premium’. They’ve found that aspects of physical beauty affect salaries in ways that don’t seem relevant to job performance. It seems that attractive men and women are sometimes paid more than ordinary people for the same work. I wondered if there was such a thing as a flyfishing beauty premium in a world dominated by utilitarian flyfishers. I set out to discover if it really is more fun to catch fish with beautiful things.

Let’s start with flies. If ever there was a commodity in flyfishing, it must be the flies. Flyfishers sometimes refer to them as ‘ammo’, so are they just things you buy at the shop, without a heart or a soul? I am learning the art of fly-tying and I’m now, among other things, a serious CDC addict. With the proliferation of tools, fur and feather on my desk, I set my furniture designer spouse a challenge: help me sort out this mess. She went one step further and completed a 6 month design and make project supported by Dan Flynn, another avid flyfisher and renowned designer. The result was the ‘Meander’, an all-Tasmanian, rare salvaged timber table of modern art and beauty. Designed and made for the specific purpose of fly-tying. How would my flies, produced from this unique fly-tying desk, compare with the ‘ammo’ commonly found at the shop?

Not just a desk.

Before answering that question, let’s turn to the fly rod. After coming into possession of more fly rods than I like to admit, I thought I had covered all bases. I have short rods for tight creeks, all-purpose rods for lakes, fast rods when the wind blows, a few long Czech nymphing rods, and even a recent addition of a trout Spey rod. However I was given an opportunity to design yet another – my own bamboo rod to be made by Nick Taransky. So I spent a year thinking through all elements of the design, helped along by Nick, and then a year checking the mail each day with a pounding heart until one day, out of the blue, my new bamboo rod arrived. The rod is called ‘The Fly Fishing Dutchman’, built on a Payne 97 classic template, a 7 ft 3-4 weight. Created by a master rod builder, what would be this rod’s beauty premium compared to my utilitarian rods already stacked against my wall?


I chose a trip to New Zealand’s South Island in October with my good friend Chris Schrueder to put both the bamboo rod and newly minted flies from the ‘Meander’ table to the ultimate beauty premium test. Chris and I quickly agreed that compared to the life-like beauty of my size 16 CDC Blue Duns, some of the commercial flies we had in our boxes looked like the fly equivalents of a mannequin. All the latter had clean forms and were based on the newest materials, but they looked rigid and lifeless. To the first sighted brown we saw, Chris offered numerous examples of these mannequin flies, which were all duly ignored. After a while, he passed the opportunity to catch that fish to me, and the first Blue Dun drifted over the fish was accepted like turkey on Christmas day. After the usual tussle, a nice brown was landed. This fish inaugurated both the bamboo rod and the first fly tied on the new fly tying desk. What a buzz!! And Chris immediately helped himself to a couple of my Blue Dun CDC’s, which provided him with instant success on the next sighted fish!

The beauty premium’s practical result.

And then there is beauty and pleasure in the way we cast. Recently. I fished the bamboo rod (and my own CDC flies of course) with Matthew Howell on a mountain creek near Bright. Matthew, tongue-in-cheek, refers to all fly rods as ‘bendy sticks’. (If I had his casting skills, I guess I would too!) I handed him ‘The Fly Fishing Dutchman’ on a particularly long pool and asked him what he thought of this bendy stick? Well, within a couple of casts, Matthew was able to load the rod on pickup, and deliver the fly smoothly 50 feet across the pool with one swift and effortless forward stroke. Matthew was so impressed with the rod, the balanced Hardy reel and Nick’s selection of matching fly line, he called Nick that same evening to commend him. So, I think Matthew now agrees that not all bendy sticks are made equal. That’s the beauty premium.

The economic concept of a beauty premium definitely exists in flyfishing. From the beginnings of working in a beautiful environment, wrapping a feather gracefully around a hook, to the way the rod bends on the delivery of that fly in a spell-bound pool you hiked to with great friends. Forget cold-hearted utility and add a beauty premium to your entire flyfishing experience. It’s where the magic of flyfishing truly happens.