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The Five People You Meet in Fly Shops

We’ve all been there before. Standing in front of the rod rack at our local fly shop, trying to justify another 5-weight, and you hear the voice. “Kids these days! With their sling packs and their Twitters… no wonder I can’t catch any fish!” The shop employee is nodding along, but at a rhythm that clearly demonstrates his well-honed skill to hear without listening. His thousand-yard stare is evident to everyone but the ranting grump.

After nearly two decades of formal, empirical anthropological research, I’ve developed an efficient classification system and taxonomy for the types of individuals one encounters in fly shops. As a former fly shop employee, an occasional customer, and a curious observer of awkward situations, I believe that I am uniquely qualified for such a study. I’d like to present my completely objective findings.

One quick note: I try to be as gender-inclusive as possible when I write, but here I’m using male pronouns. I’m sure I’ve noticed the following behaviors/traits in women, but honestly, in my mind these characters are all men. A braver author than I can write the “Annoying Lady Anglers” article.

The Gear Guy / The High Roller Is it new? He wants it. Will it be redundant? It doesn’t matter. No plans to fly fish for tuna? Well, you never do know when a 14-weight might come in handy.

Fishing primarily in the stocked delayed-harvest streams of an urban environment, he’s convinced that the most advanced technology is necessary for his once-a-month excursions to the local creek. Even if casts over 15 feet are impractical or impossible, he’ll throw his arm out trying to shoot the whole line in the parking lot. All while, between grunts and breaths, talking about the modulus binding compound. On the stream, he looks like he stepped out of a 1990’s Orvis catalog. There isn’t a D-ring that doesn’t have something dangling from it, no pocket has gone unfilled, and everything is clean as a whistle.

His talk isn’t so much about the fish and fishing as it is the latest nipper technology. And why $65 for a pair of nail clippers is completely necessary. If the guys in the shop work on commission, he is definitely tolerable.

The Leaner / The Loiterer “Do you work here?” another customer might ask. “No, but I’m here so much that I’m sure I could!” he replies, as the shop owner rolls his eyes, less inconspicuous then the last time he heard this exchange.

The casual atmosphere of the fly shop breeds this kind of individual. Leaning on the counter (probably right where one would typically purchase items being sold at the establishment), he offers a running commentary on fishing, gear, angling personalities, the weather, the state’s stocking policies, politics, music, big box stores, and, most importantly, his personal advice to help the shop really bring in some customers.

If the guys at the shop turn the vacuum on while you’re talking to them, you might be the Loiterer.

The Name Dropper / The Seminar Guy “I was reading what Lefty wrote the other day, and it reminded me of a conversation I had with Tim at Somerset last year. Tim Rajeff, that is. Anywho, it all goes back to that time that I was having pizza and Tom Rosenbauer walked in…”

It’s fun to meet someone who has written a book or has been on television. But it seems to me like fly fishing “celebrities” can be some of the most down-to-earth men and women out there. I’ve met some that believe that fish bite because even the trout know how big of a deal they are, but most are hardworking and pleasant individuals. I think the last thing that they’d want is to be the object of hero worship of a 45-year-old angler.

The pinnacle of Name Dropper’s awkwardness doesn’t always happen at the fly shop. It is when he is hovering around the famous fly fisher as he is setting up before a presentation. It is a scene played out time and time again: the speaker fiddles with their laptop, rotating around the little table to check connections and test settings. Their dance partner is the overzealous fan, who has to shift constantly in order to stay as close to their idol as possible. Something cordial but ultimately dismissive is said, and the star struck angler takes his seat in the front row.

The Curmudgeon / The Scowler You knew this guy would be on here, as he was mentioned in the lede. Perhaps the most infamous of fly shop customers, if not the most notorious of fly fishermen, the crusty old angler is an essential part of this scene.

Like an antagonistic angling Amish, he spreads his fundamentalist preferences with the stinkiest of stink eyes. “If Izaak Walton didn’t use it, it’s newfangled and detrimental to the sport!” is only slight hyperbole. The most common targets of his ire, in no particular order, are:

  • Kids
  • The internet
  • New things
  • Young people
  • Things that are different than they were 30 years ago
  • Electronics
  • Kids (these days)
  • Those *$#%&! liberals/conservatives

Can youth be obnoxious and irresponsible? Are experimental policies misguided? Yes and yes – just like they’ve always been. The reality is that there are a lot of jerk teens and there are a lot of jerk codgers; the only difference is that one group should know better. Some of the fly fishers I respect the most have “been in the stream for a while,” and they’ll freely share their opinions. But it isn’t at the stake of alienating anyone or coming across as an insufferable elitist.

If you disagree with me, I’ll scowl at you from in front of my keyboard. >:\

The Genuinely Nice Guy Well, this might be a little bit of a letdown. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the primary reason why fly fishers go to fly shops.

In this day and age, I can buy anything I want online and send it back if it doesn’t make me 100% happy. So why step foot in a brick and mortar storefront? Knowledgeable, helpful employees. Rubbing shoulders with other customers who are my angling peers. Men and women who care about the sport, the resource, and others make all the difference.

Shops can be the town square of the fly fishing community. While picking up goods can be the crank that keeps the wheel spinning, it is relationships that ultimately turn that handle. The Genuinely Nice Guys/Girls can make or break a shop’s success – both financially and in terms of legacy.


So there you have it. The fruit of countless excruciating conversations, uncomfortable situations, and comical scenarios. Surely you’ve experienced these specimens or some hybridized strain at your local shop. Perhaps you can see tendencies of your own to morph into the Leaner or the Gear Guy from time to time. No one is perfect, but self-awareness is the first step to fixing the problem. That, and bringing coffee for everyone the next time to go to the shop.

Here’s the moral of the story: be nice. If you’re a fly shop owner or employee, being nice will sell more than anything else. If you’re a customer, being nice will endear you to everyone at the shop. If you’re a human: being nice is a good way to go through life. It won’t necessarily translate into catching more fish, but neither will be being difficult. Actually, I think I read somewhere that a fish’s lateral line can sense annoying and miserable organisms…




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