Years ago, it went out of business. It was one of the first fly shops I stepped foot in. Like many other storefronts on an old main street, some combination of modern economic factors caused it to shutter its doors after decades of service to locals and out-of-towners. It had the reputation for catering to anyone and everyone. Politicians and mountain folk both stopped in before heading into the woods for trout.
Yet, it wasn’t a fly shop. Not in the traditional sense of the word.
One could buy fly fishing gear. But you could also get some graphite arrow shafts, live nightcrawlers, and camp chairs. The shelves had packs of snelled hooks, boxes of target loads, and cans of beef stew. Rods and reels, guns and bows seemed to be stocked with no rhyme or reason. Crusty skin mounts and faded polaroids covered the wood panel interior.
I wasn’t aware at the time but looking back it was probably a lot like most sporting goods stores just a few generations ago. There was a little bit of everything but not a lot of anything.
There were flies, though.
An acrylic display case sat on the counter, yellowed with age and cigar smoke. There were five pull-out trays in the case. Each contained two dozen or so small compartments for flies. Mickey Finns, Irresistible Wulffs, Bitch Creek nymphs, and all the other requisite patterns. Many of these flies looked ancient and frail. Some compartments never seemed to get depleted. Others never got refilled.
On the counter, next to the display case, was a standard Plano tackle box. This was where the real flies could be found. Hornberg wets, pheasant tail nymphs, yellow sally stoneflies, Griffith’s gnats, and, of course, woolly buggers in a few colors and sizes. These were the flies you’d want if you were fishing local waters. The box always sat open and full. Full, that is, unless something was hatching.
Always leaning on the counter, behind the fly cases, was the shop owner.
Along with sharing which flies were working, he was warm and forthcoming with all manner of information: where we should fish, what the latest forecast held, what other streams we could try, which restaurants were worth our time. Better yet, he asked questions. He asked what we had caught, what we had tried, and what we had seen. He also shared stories, local history, and even a few flies on the house.
Every bit of it – the flies, the knowledge, the ambiance, the personality – was remarkable to a teenage fly fisherman. I had been in bona fide fly shops before, but not enough to know that this store was an outlier. I didn’t have much perspective, so every bit of knowledge was pertinent and practical. I didn’t have money, so I wouldn’t need more than flies and the occasional leader. I didn’t have presumptions, so this shop was special.
The store was a part of many memorable trips. I can recall specific conversations with friends as we drove into town. I can think of angling insights received and used to this day. Hours on the stream have faded in my memory, but minutes in the shop are crystal clear.
It was always there; always the same. Then one day it was gone.
Undoubtedly, I’ve romanticized the shop in the 20 years that have passed since I last stood at its counter. I realize that I was just a customer. To put a finer point on it, a customer that didn’t infuse much revenue. The sudden closing of the shop felt like losing something. Part of what I truly enjoyed about fishing a certain creek was gone. Part of what made me who I was as an angler was gone.
This is the first installment of a two part series – check out Fly Shop Found.