Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lord of the Flies: How Shawn Brillon Decides Which Patterns Make It Into the Orvis Catalog

Via Orvis News:

Brillon doesn’t judge flies by their looks; he wants to know how they perform on the water.
Photo courtesy Shawn Brillon
“Here, I’ve got something to show you,” says Shawn Brillon, the man who chooses which new fly patterns will make it into the Orvis collection. “Wait until you see my most recent submission.”
“Is it a Woolly Bugger?” I joke.
“Good guess,” he replies, holding up a Zip-Loc back containing what look to be several tiny, beadhead versions of the venerable pattern invented by Pennsylvanian Russell Blessing in 1967. “Poor guy thinks he’s invented a new killer fly, too.”
According to Brillon (rhymes with million), 90 percent of the submissions that litter his desk here at Orvis headquarters in Sunderland, Vermont, are little more than slight variations of existing patterns—a tweak here, a new material there. Of course, this is understandable, as there are only so many ways to attach fur, feathers, and other materials to a hook, and folks have been creating flies for hundreds of years. Chances are, your great idea has probably already been done.
If that’s the case, then, what does it take for a pattern to make it from a tier’s vise to the pages of the Orvis catalog? It turns out that Brillon’s process considers much more than the actual fly before him.
The initial evaluation of a new submission involves four criteria:
  1. Market Need: Does Orvis need this pattern to remain relevant in the current marketplace? A fly collection cannot survive if it contains only established patterns that everyone has seen before. If certain styles of flies or materials (say, foam terrestrials or jointed streamers) are creating a buzz in the fly-fishing world, they need to be represented.
  2. Following: Does the pattern already have a dedicated following? A compelling story about a fly’s history—i.e. “Savvy Midwestern anglers discovered this pattern last year, and it’s been responsible for some of the biggest steelhead of the season!”—offers a marketing advantage.
  3. Innovation: Is it truly something new and exciting that solves a problem? This is the real deal-breaker for most submissions. A new fly must be the product of both the tier’s creativity and his fly-fishing knowledge. Anglers need to recognize not only how a new fly is different, but whythe tier made the choices he or she did and how that will lead to more fish coming to the net.
  4. Sales Potential. This one is obvious. Flies that don’t sell are dropped pretty quickly to make room for something else.

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