Whether you live in Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania or elsewhere in these United States, life, with its never-ending media blitzkrieg and constant parade of emotional highs & lows, seems to be moving faster and faster. We’re all riding the roller coaster of modern existence and there just aren’t many places left where we can pause for a few minutes and catch our breath. Which might explain why so many traditional retail outlets are suffering from decreasing sales, and why web-based shopping is starting to explode. Let’s face it. There’s definitely something to be said for ordering that new jacket or your next pair of boots from the comfort of your living room. After all, who, given the opportunity, wouldn’t rather avoid the traffic and the long check-out lines?
Still, there’s one type of traditional retail establishment that continues to offer substantial returns on our patronage: the fly shop.
Most of us think of fly shops as the place to buy fishing gear, and that’s certainly makes sense. If you’re looking for a new rod, reel or fly line, or a couple spools of tippet, or a new hat and sunglasses - or if you simply need flies for an upcoming day on the water - a fly shop has you covered. That’s not the only reason to visit one, though. There are any number of other inherent advantages.
Personally, I like to take a close look at a potential purchase before I reach for my wallet, which means casting a rod in the parking lot, or pulling on a new pair of waders and making sure they fit exactly like they should, or trying on a new pair of wading boots to ensure they’re not too tight. If I’m going to spend serious money on fly fishing gear, I want to know I’m making an informed decision; a decision that’s likely to produce more dividends than headaches. I remember walking into TroutHunter on the Henrys Fork a few years ago and asking to cast a couple of different rods out on the lawn. It turned out that the rod I had my heart set on - a rod that a number of friends had recommended - was not nearly as nice as another model I hadn’t even considered up to that point. If I’d ordered that first rod sight unseen, I’d have never known it wasn’t the best choice.
The benefits of looking things over on the front end also apply to fly tying materials. If you’ve ever sorted through elk hair or rooster capes in a great fly shop like Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Montana, you know that you’re giving yourself every opportunity to walk out the door with the best of the best. Sadly, you can’t say the same about the materials you order online. It also makes sense to give fly shop employees, most of whom eat, breath and sleep fly fishing, the chance to weigh in before you make a final decision on your purchase.
Then there’s local knowledge. Last summer I stopped in Lary’s Fly & Supply in Columbia Falls, Montana just to say hi to the shop’s owner, fly fishing rock star Hilary Hutcheson. Even though it’s only 35 minutes up the road from my home, I still left with excellent advice about three or four new wade fishing sites to check out, along with some really detailed information about local hatches. Hilary knows the Flathead system about a thousand times better than I ever will, and she made sure that I had both the information and the flies I needed to maximize my success.
I can even take advantage of that kind of local expertise online. Before I drive down to fish the Missouri river, I invariably check out the HeadHunters website. A couple clicks and I can find the updated river conditions, see if the fish are biting, and learn what flies and techniques are working best. Of course, it’s also incumbent upon me to swing in to the shop and buy a few flies or a couple of leaders when I roll into town. If I’m going to avail myself of a shop’s expertise, it’s only fair that I support the business with a purchase or two when the opportunity arises.
The most important reason to go into a fly shop, though, may not be apparent unless you think about it for a while. Seriously, where else are you going to find a bunch of folks who love fly fishing as much as you do? Sure, you can head down to the local stream and chance are good you’ll bump into a handful of other anglers. But if you’re anything like me, you’d probably rather spend your time on the water fishing, as opposed to socializing.
When I’m in the mood, though, I can stop by Bigfork Anglers, which is a sweetheart of a fly shop right here in town, and whether it’s packed or empty, I know that Jason Lanier, the owner, is always going to have a smile on his face and a couple of great stories to tell. And that’s also true of Lary’s Fly & Supply up in Columbia Falls, or the Mystique Fly Shop in Kalispell, or TroutHunter on the Henry’s Fork, or Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, or HeadHunters in Craig, or the Elk River Guiding Co. in Fernie, B.C., or The Trout Shop on the Missouri, or hundreds of other fly shops all over North America.
At the end of the day, humans beings are tribal. That’s how we roll. And it just so happens that our particular tribe wears waterproof pants, fishes with really long rods, and fixates on trout, steelhead, bonefish, pike, tarpon, smallmouth bass and permit. So the fact that there are stores just for us, retail emporiums that not only provide the gear and clothing we need but also help educate us with fishing reports and expert advice, is a huge bonus for anglers all over the country. When we throw in the fact that fly shops are also a great place to hang out and socialize … well, it’s sounds like it’s time to visit the local shop, doesn’t it?