Who Is Your Fly Shop Owner



Unless you are a “box store hack”, every avid angler in this sport has a preferred Fly Shop. Yeah there’s a lot of variables to that statement, but in the end Fly Shop’s are like “club houses”. Both Boy’s and Girl’s pick the “club house” that makes them feel the most welcome, the most comfortable, and the most appreciated. Fly Fishermen and women can be the best and most rewarding customers to have, and they can sometimes be the most difficult. The Foul Hooked Whitey has customers he would carry through the eye of a needle, and others that feel a need to tell everybody what hot shit they are. Fly Shop owner, customer relations are the difference between a good shop and a bad shop. If a shop owner doesn’t know his weekly or monthly customers by name, he isn’t working the counter enough, and he isn’t recognizing the folks that pay his mortgage.

The trait that ties all avid anglers together is our tendency and curiosity to check out every fly shop we come across. Whether an angler is travelling on business, on a fishing trip, or on a family vacation they will explore a fly shop because for most angler’s, fly shops are a cross between a high end jewelry store, and a porn shop. This is where the fly shop owner and the culture of his shop comes in.  A visit to a fly shop can either be a good experience, or a rude and “snobby” one. I’ll never forget a good customer of mine telling me about a negative experience he had in a shop in the Northwest corner of Montana. Apparently this angler was really doing well with a San Juan Worm in an area stream, and had to go into a local shop and pick up some more “dirt snakes”. When the angler asked where the shop’s San Juan’s were, the shop staff rudely replied “Well first of all, you shouldn’t even be fishing those, and second of all we don’t sell that pattern”. Ouch! Not the best way to deliver the feedback that you can have the same luck throwing a Red Copper John, Bloody Mary or Lightning Bug.

Another customer whom I refer to as “8 Mile” buy’s fly rods like a high end Dame swipes a Neiman Marcus credit card. No matter how hard I have tried, “Eight Mile” has repeatedly said that under no circumstances would he ever buy a Sage fly rod from me. When I pressed “8 Mile” as to why, he admitted that over 20 years ago, some guy in a fly shop in “8 Mile’s” hometown of Detroit Michigan told him, “if you are not fishing with a Sage, you’re not fishing with shit”. This interaction had nothing to do with a fly rod discussion, and everything to do with a shop culture that involved “preaching from the pulpit” which in a fly shop turns more folks off than it turn’s on.

Another customer related how he bought his first salt water set up, rod reel and line from a Montana shop owned by a “celebrity”. Apparently as this customer was completing this near thousand dollar transaction at the register, this shop’s “celebrity” owner came out of the backroom and stood by the counter waiting to talk with his staff. After looking at the customer and obviously seeing a quality transaction going down, this “celebrity” owner neither said “Hello”, or “Thank You” for doing this kind of business in his store. Instead, the “celebrity” owner acted as though thousand dollar sales grow on trees. This customer is still livid that he wasn’t thanked and recognized by the “celebrity” owner whose historical reputation in the sport was one of the reasons this customer decided to shop there to begin with. For the record, and for fear of The Foul Hooked Whitey getting his ass kicked, this “celebrity” is not Kelly Galloup.     

Fly shop owners come in all shapes, sizes, attitudes, and egos. Some are dudes with fly fishing backgrounds and others are dudes without fly fishing backgrounds. Most Fly Shop owners work very hard to remain profitable, relevant, and a factor in their marketplace.

So tell us who your Fly Shop Owner is! Below is a simple survey. Please click on the shop owner that best describes your local or most recent shopping experience.

1)   The Crusty Old Guy! - This is the fly shop owner that has had a shop for a couple of decades. Pre “River Runs Through” generation if you know what I mean. This shop owner is in his shop all the time, tying bugs, drinking coffee late into the afternoon, and listening to Rush Limbaugh on the shop radio. He generally doesn’t like his customers anymore, unless he is in a really good mood. This shop is just as likely to recommend a Pflueger reel over a Hatch, as well as truly believe there is little difference between a $100 no name graphite rod, and a Sage ONE. This shop owner still carries more “old guy twill hats” than Trucker Hats, and his selection of soft good’s consists of a rounder full of basic, boring t-shirts that only a wide eyed tourist would like. The Good News is, this shop owner is like “Gandalf” from the Lord of the Rings regarding fly fishing experience, knowledge, and history. The Bad News is, he is not going to have a very good sling pack selection.

2)   The Fly Shop Owner That Doesn’t Fly Fish! - Yeah, Yeah, Yeah they say they fly fish, but they don’t. This might be the rarest of all fly shop owners, but they are out there. This is the same type of guy that owns a strip club, but can’t get a hard on. What’s even more curious about this owner is the customer’s that gave this guy their money, even though he had no practical angling experience what so ever. This would be similar to approaching a cosmetics counter and asking for makeup advice from a woman that doesn’t wear any. The Good News is, there isn’t any good news. The Bad News is this owner is in the sport solely for the short dollar, and not because he loves fly fishing and the joy of casting a fly line.

3)    The Box Store Fly Shop Manager! - Ok, he doesn’t own a fly shop, but he thinks he does. That’s the funny thing about these places, they actually call these sections in their store a fly shop. Let me clarify, YOU DO NOT WORK IN A FLY SHOP. You work in a box store that sells fly fishing equipment less than 50 yards away from a display of women’s camo, Under Armor panties. The Foul Hooked Whitey has the pleasure of competing with both a Cabela’s and Scheels in my market place. Though there are plenty of quality, competent and skilled staff working in both of these retail locations, the truth remains that you are just as likely to get fly line advice from a guy that either just put a bike together on floor 3, or who just filled the “stink bait” display. The Good News is, you might be able to get a ride on a Ferris Wheel. The Bad News is, you are giving your money to an out of state business entity, and in reference to Cabela’s, a company that schemes to prohibit public access in certain outfitter settings.

4)   The Trust Fund Guy! - Whether it’s an “M” that describes his portfolio, or a “B”, this is definitely the shop owner that doesn’t worry about where his next 10K Simms payment is coming from. Shops like this tend to stock everything, be visually beautiful and play the latest episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless” on their shop monitor. Don’t get me wrong, this is the type of shop owner that won’t fail his customers. Take it from a Fly Shop owner that like any specialty retailer both strives and struggles for profitability, The Trust Fund shop owner probably worries more about how his Exxon Blue Chip will rebound as opposed to tomorrow’s store sales. Let there be no doubt, this isn’t envy talking but rather a salute to a Fly Shop owner that can deliver the goods to his customers without having to rely on sales and acute risk to build a legit shop and client base. The Good News is, The Trust Fund Guy is going to have a bad ass shop. The Bad News is, he doesn’t need your money to survive.

5)   The Retailer! - This is the guy that lives for the retail fight. He is a compulsive, obsessive, neurotic, workaholic that is willing to dig through a box of inventory to find and sell a $1.95 fly tying item. He doesn’t even tie flies yet he hypocritically sells more fly tying materials than most shops in the state. This shop owner isn’t comfortable unless product is stacked in more places than not, and his checkout counter always looks like it just got tossed and turned by the FBI.  “Clean clutter” is this shop owner’s comfort zone. Merchandising is priority one, and having the right mix of product to sell to everyone that comes through the door that day is this shop owner’s professional mantra. This is a shop owner that is a control freak who doesn’t believe that anyone can do things as well as him, and that is why nothing ever gets done or put away. He daydreams in his shop thinking of Pink Pookie “eats”, Sparkle Minnows, and a drifting Royal Wulff when his time could be spent more wisely. All of this tightly controlled chaos ensues with the reverberating sounds of Angus Young echoing throughout the shop. The Good News is this shop owner would do anything to keep a good customer happy. The Bad News is, the bathroom always smells like weed.

6)   The Outfitter! - This is the shop owner that if he is good, he can really hit a “dinger” in the business covering all three bases which is Outfitting, Retail, and Internet business. Outfitters get a lot of respect in the fly fishing community and that leads to business on the river and in the shop. Though it can be extremely difficult to pull off outfitting AND a vibrant retail operation, that “spiff” an outfitter gets off of every guided trip he books, has got to be as addicting as taking lines of Peruvian Marching Powder off a quality woman’s chest. Damn, I hear that certain Outfitted fly shops in Montana even charge their customers for the bugs that are used on their guided trips. I would say that most of Montana’s premium destination fly shops are built around this business model. The Good News is this shop owner can take his operation and his customers to the “super bowl” of fly shops. The Bad News is, if he isn’t good enough to go to the “super bowl”, he usually ends up playing in the fly shop “pee wee” league.      

~The Foul Hooked Whitey

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