Carbondale’s YD Flies caters to fresh and saltwater fly fishing aficionados

CARBONDALE—Punch in “fly fishing flies” on any search engine, and it’s not Orvis that comes up first, or Bass Pro Shops, or Cabela’s.

What appears in the top slot is YD Flies, a Carbondale-based online fly store, owned and operated by Jay and Jack Scherrer, two brothers who are as passionate about fishing as they are about seeing their company become the hottest site for flies for both freshwater and ocean fishing.

“Trout flies are our bread and butter,” said Jay, 37. “Our No. 1 market is Pennsylvania where fishing for brown and rainbow trout is popular. Second is California, followed by Colorado and Montana. As far as saltwater goes, our primary markets are Florida, the Gulf states, and Hawaii. We send salmon and steelhead patterns to the Northwest, Canada, Alaska and the upper Midwest. And we’ve shipped to the U.K., Argentina, even Norway.”

Although the Scherrers have a strong following nationally and even internationally, they’re looking to foster the local market.

“One of our main goals is to generate more local business,” Jay said. “We’re not a storefront, so we’re not set up for walk-in customers. But our percentage of local customers is so minute we’d really like to build up an awareness about what we offer.”

The brothers are no strangers to Colorado. Both are native and were raised in Denver. They learned how to fly fish near Silverthorne, floating and fishing the Eagle River a lot as well. Jay has a degree in fisheries biology, and Jack has worked as a ski patrolman, river guide, project manager, and self-described trout whisperer.

Why YD?
The company started about 10 years ago in Bozeman, Mont. where Jay graduated from Montana State. It was named “YD” for “Yellow Dog,” a guide service that partnered with the fly business.

When Jay moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2005 to become a partner in Blue Tent Marketing in Carbondale, he bought YD Flies outright and brought the company and its inventory with him. Jack, who is 45, moved from Ridgway this past year to join his brother in the Roaring Fork Valley. Like Jay, he works at both Blue Tent and YD Flies.

“Right now we’ve probably got 10 people a day looking at our site. I’d like to see us get to 100 if not 200 a day, then 300, then 2,000,” said Jay with a grin. “But then we’d have to get a bigger space.”

Currently, the Scherrer boys run YD Flies out of their garage in the house they share in Westbank between Carbondale and Glenwood. The company’s website offers trout, salmon and saltwater patterns, and close-up shots of each fly that Jay and Jack sell.

It’s a hands-on operation: Orders come in and as soon as they do, the brothers package up the flies and ship them out.

Raising (the price of) hackles
Not only is YD Flies easy to find on the web, but the brothers’ pricing is lower than just about any other outlet for flies. YD Flies are sold in bulk, starting at $6 a dozen. Compare that with other small retailers offering flies starting at $7.92 a dozen, or Bass Pro Shops flies, which can run around $20 for just three dry flies.

Jack is quick to point out that just because YD Flies prices are so competitive, that doesn’t mean that quality is compromised.

“We’ve got premium quality flies at the cheapest prices on the web,” he said.

And the brothers are able to offer inexpensive flies by having them tied in Thailand, and selling them with little markup.

“Very few [commercial] flies are tied in the US,” said Jack. “And when they are, they’re expensive.”

A compromise is to utilize the cost effectiveness of Thailand’s economy while paying attention to quality and labor conditions. Fly tying came to Chiang Mai in the ‘70s, where the local tradition of fine arts and crafts was well suited for the intricate detail required. Today, the industry provides good working conditions, and employs skilled workers who are highly regarded and paid well above the average working wage.

“Some of the cheap flies out there are tied in Kenya,” said Jay. “But Kenya has had problems with bad working conditions, child labor issues, and using substandard materials. A lot of people don’t want to buy flies that come out of Kenya. We don’t.”

Besides that, the brothers have seen an increase in the cost of hackles – the feathers around the neck of a rooster – as the popularity of feathers used in hair accessories has increased. But the Scherrers refuse to settle for second-rate feathers for their flies. Instead, they insist on only using hackles from Whiting Farms out of Delta, Colo., which raise specialized roosters that provide top-quality feathers for fly tying.

“They’re the best,” said Jay simply. “Theirs are the only hackles we’ll use.”

Fresh versus salt
When a lot of people think of fly fishing, they think of the quintessential freshwater mountain river, and a fisherman or woman with waders, a creel, a net and a rod casting into holes, or dories with a few fishing enthusiasts moving slowly downstream. But a good part of YD Flies’ business deals with saltwater flies. Jay and Jack recently returned from a self-guided trip in the Florida Keys – and yes, they used YD Flies.

“Ninety percent of saltwater fly-fishing is in water four feet or less,” said Jay.

“Saltwater fishing is like hunting,” Jack said. “You have to see them before you cast at them.”

When the brothers aren’t planning trips to the Florida Keys or fishing the Roaring Fork, they’re contributing to fishing organizations. Although Jay estimates they probably fish upwards of 100 days a year, they’re also lifetime members of Trout Unlimited, and they donate their flies to charities and youth organizations.

“I’d like to see [YD Flies] become steady enough so we can continue to have the buying power we have,” said Jack.

“And I’d like to see us achieve sustainable repeat business,” said Jay, “where our customers are ordering flies every month.”

But tonight the work is not done.

“Part of our service is that we ship within 24 hours of an order,” said Jay, at the close of this interview. “After this, I’m going to go home and handwrite labels, along with a handwritten thank-you to every one of our customers.”

For more information about and to order flies, go to YD Flies at ydflies.com, and info@ydflies.com.

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