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the buzz on the flyfishing biz



The Fly Shop Issue

Shops Rule Consumer Opinions/ Hot Retailers in a Cold Market/ Beyond Fly Shop 101/ Mentors Matter/ Hardy Aims High/ Good Books

the buzz on the flyfishing biz







Kirk Deeter Managing Editor

18 Competing in a Slow

Economy Over 1,300 flyfishing consumers indicate their preferences for finding information and buying product, and believe it or not, the fly shop is still the key… here’s the data and what it can mean to you. By Steve Schweitzer

22 Hot Dealers in a Cold

Market Find the fly shops that are

weathering tough economic times, and you’ll learn that they all share these 10 business habits in common. By Tom Keer

6 Editor’s Column “Dancing with them That Brung You.” Are we in this together? Or is it every company for itself? One thing is certain… you’ll never have better customers and business partners than the ones working with you now. By Kirk Deeter

8 Currents AFFTA lures dealers to FFR... A second coming of the movie... A new travel network opportunity… A dealer protection program, and more news from the North American flyfishing industry.

26 Recommended Reading Charlie Craven’s Basic Fly Tying Tying can buoy sales… this book is a concise primer from one of the best innovators around. And Miles Nolte’s Alaska Chronicles is an insider’s account of working rivers north.

30 Advanced Shop Class Last issue was the “Teaching” issue… now it’s time to start thinking beyond “101” level courses to strengthen the profit connection with customers.

28 Reflections on a Mentor Gary LaFontaine’s willingness to mentor this young writer (among many) is still paying dividends, long after his passing. Who will you take under your wing? By Greg Thomas

By Joe Cermele

Tim Romano Editor-at-Large

Charlie Meyers Art Director

Tara Brouwer Copy Editors

Mabon Childs, Sarah Warner Contributing Editors

Tom Bie Ben Romans Andrew Steketee Greg Thomas Contributors

Joe Cermele, Tom Keer, Brian McClintock, Ben Romans, Steve Schweitzer, Greg Thomas Photos unless noted by Tim Romano Angling Trade is published four times a year by Angling Trade, LLC. Author and photographic submissions should be sent electronically to Angling Trade is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts and/or photo submissions. We ask that contributors send formal queries in advance of submissions. For editorial guidelines and calendar, please contact the editor via E-mail. Printed in the U.S.A.

36 Backcast Reach out and touch your customers. Contact is key… and you must take the initiative. Three shop owners explain why.

34 Hardy Jumps the Pond

Mail Address: PO Box 17487 Boulder, CO 80308 Street Address: 3055 24th Street Boulder, CO 80304

3 / June 2009

Britain’s most iconic brand is making waves again in the United States, this time fueled in large part by its Grey’s product line. By Kirk Deeter

By Charlie Meyers

Advertising Contact: Tim Romano Telephone: 303-495-3967 Fax: 303-495-2454

And in this corner…the all-new, long-distance, rocket-launching, wind-cheating, fly-by-wire, laser-guided Champion of the World. Hail Mary to the no-way bait ball beyond the break? Hitch up

TCX SERIES your pants, rear back and…BOOM! Big brown with a PhD in

Nice Try sipping midges on the far bank across two seams and

an eddy line? BAM! Longshot permit way out past the edge of reason? POW! How you like me now? Fear no wind. Fire when guides say wait. Tighten your loops, all hands on deck, look alive. The water is wide—go long or go home. Casting magic from the guru of graphite. Built by Sage. Feel the love.

© 2009 All rights reserved.


Joe Cermele

Joe Cermele is the associate online editor for Field & Stream. Though desk-bound in NYC during the week, his mind lives on beaches and rivers throughout the Northeast. On the upside, he gets to indulge in the finest liverwurst and onion sandwiches in NYC, and you can find him at noon most days at the Times Square Deli (Madison and 33rd).

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is the guy we turn to when we need a frank story on a hot issue… candor is not an issue for Tom. He has worked in several sections of the flyfishing industry for nearly 20 years. He’s now a full-time freelance writer who digs clams and picks oysters when he’s not writing, fishing, or hunting.

Brian McClintock

Brian McClintock is communiations manager for the Thodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Angling Trade’s Beltway insider. He brings us a report on AFFTA’s Congressional Casting Call, held last April on the Potomac.

Ben Romans is another Angling Trade contributing editor. We’ve received more positive feedback on Ben’s smackdown article on public access vs. mutant pigs in private water (Dec. 2008 Access Issue), than anything else we’ve run to date.

Steve Schweitzer

Steve Schweitzer is the former vice president of sales and marketing for Whiting Farms, and has been in the flyfishing business in some role or another for the past 15 years. His writing work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Trout, Fly Fisherman, and over a dozen books on fly fishing and tying.

Angler’s Accessories proves again and again that high quality fly fishing accessories don’t have to be expensive to be great! Call, fax or email for our full-color 2009 catalog.

Greg Thomas

15353 E. Hinsdale Circle, Unit F, Centennial, CO 80112 ph 303-690-0477 • fax 303-690-0472 / June 2009

Greg Thomas is the managing editor for Fly Rod & Reel, and a contributing editor for Angling Trade. His work in flyfishing has been prolific— from books, to magazine, newspaper, and online articles. We found his eloquent essay on mentor Gary LaFontaine to be especially thought-provoking.

Angler’s Accessories does NOT carry firearms.

Ben Romans



I had dinner with my guide friend Tad Howard not long ago, and the conversation centered on

the tough economy, and the challenges of making a living in flyfishing these days.

Consumer flyfishing media has done a lot to bring new anglers to the dance and keep them there. Now, the knee-jerk reaction for many companies is to cut costs by cutting ads. No ads, no pages in magazines. No websites either, other than amateur ones. No pro media, no pro information. No pro information, no anglers. It’s a lose-lose cycle.

“The one thing you have to remember is that the customers you have now are the best ones you’ll ever have,” he said. How true. I’d expand that reasoning to include the business partners who are working with you now are the best you’ll ever have. The banker who approves a loan now… the manufacturers who deliver on their promises now… the retailer who’s moving your products now… the company that backs a warranty now… the employee who is putting in the extra effort now… the accounts receivable person who cuts you some slack now… the person who pays his or her bills on time now… Those are the people who matter most. If and when the market worm turns, their efforts and loyalty should be rewarded. I, for one, am keeping tabs. One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Stacey Earle, recorded a song some years ago titled “Dancin’ With Them That Brung Me.” Her point is, she believes as a country girl matter of principle, in dancin’ with the fella that brought her to the ball. / June 2009

I think that now especially, everyone in this flyfishing industry needs to reach out and keep dancin’ with them that brung ‘em. I’m talking, foremost, about the specialty retailer. The manufacturers that rode through the boom in the 90’s need to remember that those who “brung ‘em” the profit opportunities were the fly shop people. Many of them do. Likewise, I think the shop owners should embrace the brands that helped build their businesses, and also realize “them that brung you” the money you made in better times, in many cases, were reps and guides. 6

There will be more attrition. I’ve heard manufacturers say things like there are too many magazines now, and the world would be simpler and better without some. I’ve also heard some say—and I think in some cases their actions speak louder than words—that there are too many retailers, and a culling of the herd is in order. That’s fine. It may be true. I think, however, the same herd-culling logic applies to some manufacturers. There are hundreds of product manufacturers in the flyfishing world. Many making good stuff. Many with great ideas. Some of them care about the viability of the specialty retailer. From others, I see a lot of smoke and very little fire. When the chips are down (as they are now), some manufacturers are going to leave retailers holding the bag. It’s that old 80-20 rule, where 80 percent of the heavy lifting gets done by 20 percent of the companies. You know who brung you to the dance. It’s pretty easy to see who’s in it for the long haul with the specialty retailers and who isn’t. For the record, Angling Trade is. We’ve hitched our wagon to the notion that this market will live, thrive and/or die by the fate of the specialty retailer. That’s what we’re all about. That’s also why this is “The Fly Shop Issue.” Not a lot of promo-speak in here. Instead we loaded it with hard data and case histories on what successful shops are doing to survive. Because that’s what you wanted. I hope you find this issue helpful, and I look forward to your comments. at -Kirk Deeter, Editor


Why You Need to Come to FFR… This Year Especially

fortune to extend your business travel by two days. Think of it, fishing in Colorado during the prime time of the year on pristine waters on the cheap. You get here, and the mayflies, and the trout, will be waiting. What will AFFTA do by way of fishing, food, and lodging on September 8th? Get yourself to Elevenmile Canyon. Elevenmile is one of the hottest places to fish on the South Platte River and September is possibly one of the best months to be there, this is where the blue-winged olives come to play. Or bring a few hoppers too.

How about a world-class western fishing trip on the cheap?

If you want to kick it up a notch, you’re welome to fish private water on the North Fork at seriously reduced access rates.

We have set up a super-budget lodging option at Camp Alexander Boy Scout Ranch. Or you can take advantage of other reduced rates to stay at a local B&B right on the river. Fish till you can’t cast anymore, and then you can chill out with kindred spirits, or head off to Woodland Park, where the Crystola Bar and Grill will be anxiously awaiting your arrival. There will be a band But there’s another reason. It’s why we’re all involved in this craziness in the to serenade you while you buy cheap beer and burgers. Depending on how first place. It’s all about the fishing. much you drink and eat, you’ll shell out If you want to get after some prime time about $20 bucks. (Hopefully you won’t fishing in the Rockies, and at the same drink too much, as you still have a bit time share the experience and some in- of a drive after leaving the bar.) Then, sights with other dealers from around the back to the Camp Alexander Boy Scout country, here’s your chance. And if cost Ranch for lodging. Your fishing, and is a concern, you’re out of excuses. lodging on the 8th and 3 “squares” on Wednesday the 9th could cost you less On Wednesday, September 9th (the than $40 total. day before the FlyFishing Retailer), AFFTA and Angling Trade will be coor- Where else are you going to get a dinating an incredible fishing opportu- fishing trip in Colorado for less than a nity, just for retailers. couple hundred bucks? Also, consider / June 2009

Sure, there are always business reasons to attend the trade show. If ever there were a year to tune into the trends and the scuttlebutt… to voice your concerns and opinions in person… to affect some positive change on your business… and to put inside information to your advantage… well, this is it.

AFFTA is offering an opportunity to fish miles of prime public and private water. They’re recruiting local ambassadors to point you in the right direction. And AFFTA is subsidizing the whole effort to keep things affordable. From lodging to river access to entertainment… it’s all part of the deal. If you follow AFFTA’s simple travel guide, you won’t need to spend a small 8

this: Thursday, September 10th is the free Industry Breakfast at FFR. On Thursday the 10th, AFFTA has a professional development speaker talking about “ Keeping your Business Healthy in this Turbulent Economy.” Lunch is included at these educational seminars.

AFFTA has gone above and beyond to incent you to visit . The fishing will be great.

Take advantage of this. If not yourself, someone who represents you should be in Denver for FFR (and the fishing). We need to be talking to each other. (If you’re not sure why, go back and read my column again.) Most importantly, we should be fishing together. This is the chance. Take advantage of it. -KD Bob White to Exhibit in Denver Orvis Cherry Creek (Colorado) will sponsor an exhibition of sporting art by Bob White, a nationally known sporting artist (and AT contributor), who was recently inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame for his work. The event will be held on July 3rd, 4th, and 5th from 10AM to 6PM at the Orvis Cherry Creek Store. Original oil paintings, watercolors and pencil renderings, as well as limited edition prints, and stationery will be on display and available for purchase. A free pencil remarque and shipping is included with the purchase of any limited edition print. Call 303-355-4554 for information. The Second Coming? Sony is releasing A River Runs Through It on Blu-ray this summer. The company has produced all new features on the disc including new interviews with Robert Redford and even some special “Fly Fishing 101” pieces. The package will include a 32-page collectible book and will hit stores on July 28.

Loomis Ends Custom Blank Production G.Loomis has decided to exit custom rod blanks production by the end of 2009, according to company executive director Bruce Holt. “This is a very difficult decision for all of us here at G.Loomis, especially since making custome rod blands for steelhead anglers was how we got our start as a fishing tackle company back in the ‘80s,” Holt said. “While we realize there’s an avid following among custom rod makers for our blanks, the growth we’ve experienced on a worldwide basis for our finished rods—and especially our fly rods with both fly tackle dealers in the U.S. and abroad—makes this the right decision and direction for our business success in the future. AFFTA Hosts a Somber Casting Call

The National Casting Call has become an establishment in Washington, D.C. A day where the fly fishing industry, conservation organizations, and politicians gather to celebrate the good work that anglers do to preserve our nation’s fisheries. Hosted by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association on April 27, the Casting Call took on a memorial tone this year, as it was renamed in honor of Jim Range. Range, AFFTA’s legislative representative and co-founder of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, was instrumental in starting the first Casting Call 10 years ago to show D.C. politicos the role that anglers play not only in the conservation of our natural resources, but also to the economy. The weather at this year’s casting call was vastly improved from the previous years, which led to more boats on the water and more shad caught. While the newly

renamed Jim Range National Casting Call is the venue where the National Fish Habitat Action Plan announces its 10 Waters to Watch and there are awards to honor conservation work within the fly fishing community, the American and hickory shad runs are the main event. The return of these fish runs, which went from huge numbers in the 1800s of fish to a non-existent population in 1970s to a resurgence in the Potomac River today, is one of the nation’s great conservation success stories. Many fish were caught on the Monday event, but also at the day’s precursor, the Family and Youth Casting Call, which saw record numbers of attendance this year, with crowds topping 800 to learn how to flyfish, tie flies, and experience the outdoors. -Brian McClintock Reminder: Take the “Clean Angling Pledge” You can do so by logging on to www., and make an effort this season to inform fishing companions of the importance of being

vigilant. The Clean Angling Pledge and links for more information about aquatic nuisance species can be found on under the “Resources” tab. Great Bay Chimes in with “Dealer Protection Program” In response to a note from Bill Leuchten of Front Range Anglers in Boulder, Colorado, regarding manufacturers selling direct via websites, Angling Trade received a number of energized responses. Perhaps most interesting was a note from David Gibson of New Hampshire-based Great Bay Rod Co., who enlightened us on his company’s “Dealer Protection Program.” Here’s the deal in a nutshell. If a dealer carries Great Bay rods (which are all U.S. made, and retail at $330 on average), and a consumer within a 60-mile radius of that shop purchases a Great Bay rod online, the dealer is still given full shop margin on that sale. It’s that simple. To learn more about the product and the program, see continued on next page...


The Product Buzz Clackacraft Fly Pod It’s not often that someone hands you a piece of gear and asks ‘what would you do different?’ But that’s exactly what Clackacraft did when they asked author, outfitter, and Slide Inn lodge owner Kelly Galloup for his input. The result: the Fly Pod. / June 2009

“We’ve been friends with Kelly for a long time, and he has the 16-foot hull, but he always had some thoughts on the storage issue—that there wasn’t enough storage for guides,” Clackacraft President Bruce Belles says. “He mentioned that when he guided in Michigan he had an aluminum boat custom built with his ideas in mind and he loved it. So I asked him to take one of our model boats that we use for promotions and design the boat he had in mind. With the model boat, some pieces of balsa wood, some popsicle sticks, and some glue he went to work—and a month later the boat showed up in our office. I looked at it and said ‘this looks good!’ And so far, the response has been overwhelming. Mike Lawson’s got one on order. So does Jack Dennis. They all see the advantages of this new model.” In a nutshell, the Fly Pod takes the already innovative design of a 16-foot Clackacraft LP and reorganizes it to maximize the use of space, storage, and functionality. Some of the new highlights include a redesigned anchor foot-release, a stern storage shelf, and ventilated storage lids on all three seats that allow wet gear to breathe.

“We moved the front and back seats a little closer to the bow and stern,” Galloup says. “It helps spread the weight of the boat out a little more and puts more distance between two casters so there are fewer mid-air tangles. We also changed the standing braces so they reach a little higher on the leg rather than just at the knees so anglers can feel more stable.” Gone is the rower’s bench locker. Instead, there are two parallel storage lockers with enough room for PFDs, boxes, or even two-piece rod tubes. Clackacraft even offers options like rod racks and under-the-seat coolers to capitalize on space. What makes the side lockers even more unique is they are strong enough, and low enough, to support the weight of a full-grown man. In the past, gear, coolers, and other boat elements made it tough to move around, but now it’s simple and safe. They make it easier to get in and out of the boat, or swap seats when two anglers have a midriver Chinese fire drill. And they frees up space so whoever is at the oars has more room to lean over and net fish or complete any other on-the-fly tasks (no pun intended). “One of his basic complaints we heard was clients showing up overpacked with rod tubes and gear, and all the extra stuff ended up laying in the bottom of the boat and in the way. Then when you add roll-up tables and packable chairs, and there just really wasn’t adequate storage,” Belles says. “To me, the rod lockers, the long storage, have the most appeal. Before these came along, there was no good place to store long, two-piece rod tubes. Now you can keep everything tucked away and safe.” Like other Clackacraft boats, the Fly Pod includes a 100-year guarantee against punctures or leaks, the oars, seats, anchor, and trailer and is basi-

cally ready to fish from the word go. For more information visit Clacka. com or call (800) 394-1345. —Ben Romans Various Products from Dry Fly Distilling Whiskey, vodka, and gin, distilled in Spokane, Washington, Not a gimmick. Tastes good. Try it yourself. Enough said. DriGrip Fisherman’s Formula Sunscreen This is a fragrance-free 30SPF sunscreen that can be safely applied before and during fishing with no effect on flies or a fly line. This hypo-allergenic powder-dry SPF 30 sunscreen provides the necessary protection from extreme sun exposure without the greasy residue of typical sunscreen products. Its unique powder base dries quickly so it will not transfer any greasy residue to hands and skin. Since it goes on dry, you’ll find eye irritation is virtually eliminated We tested it on the flats and at altitude; it works. See Gerber’s New Fishing Tool Gerber recently introduced the The FliK fishing tool, a multi-tool designed specifically with anglers in mind. The FliK includes long needle-nose pliers for quick and easy removal of hooks. Anglers can also sharpen their hooks with the included file, and cut hooks with the pinch cutters. It also includes scissors, bottle opener, knife blade, continued on next page...


The Rise Series

We admit it. You might fall for its looks first, but you’ll come to love it for its toughness. We started with our bomb-proof CD series and made it even lighter and smoother. Fully machined from 6061 T6 aluminum, this reel is just as durable as it is pretty.



saw, and flat and Phillips head drivers. We recently used it on a bass trip as well as on the flats, and thought it performed exceptionally well. See for information. Circle Hooks for Trout? Bluewater anglers have realized the benefits of circle hooks by way of reduced fish mortality for years now. The new Moffitt Angling System is an exciting flyfishing innovation developed specifically to also reduce trout (and other species) mortality when catch-and-release fishing. Unlike traditional flies tied on J-style hooks, Moffitt flies are hookless and sus-

pended on the leader above a uniquely designed and rigged circle hook. Virtually all fish caught with the Moffitt System are hooked in the jaw -- and accidental deep hooking, gill hooking and foul hooking are all but eliminated. Because the circle hook is barbless, most fish can be released without removing them from the water. See for details. Boss Tin’s Make-a-Weight is Putty Perfect If you haven’t seen the writing on the wall about further restrictions on lead use in fishing tackle (e.g. National Park restrictions on lead), you

need to wake up and smell the coffee. Lead is dead, or it very well could be very soon. For a tungsten putty that is easy to use and environmentally friendly, check out BossTin’s Make-a-Weight. Extensive field tests impressed us. It’s malleable, but holds form. It leaves no sticky residue on hands, clothing or gear. And it sinks. Simply pinch off the appropriate amount and roll it onto your leader. Before casting put your line with the putty into the water to set it (the cold temp locks it in place). Adjustments are quick and easy. Portions can be removed and reused, as currents and river depths dictate. It’s exceptionally versatile, effective, and eco-friendly. See for more information.

Every fly fisherman knows that a slicker line means longer casts, more control, longer casts, less wear and tear from abrasion, longer casts and more durability. Oh, and longer casts. So, in their relentless pursuit of perfection (and that few extra feet), RIO’s Labcoats began reformulating conventional chemical compounds and material combinations, right down to the polymeric mix level. The results are found in RIO’s new XS Technology™ – a pairing of two entirely new chemical compositions, creating a glass-smooth surface and a super slick coating that repels the accumulation of dirt and grime. XS Technology now produces a line that is so slick it actually tops out our ultra-sensitive friction-coefficient-measuring instrument. Nothing, not ours or any other lines we’ve tested, have even come close. So, how slick is it? Think loafers on a spring creek boulder... and a line that stays slicker cast after cast after longer cast. ©RPI, Inc. All rights reserved



Travel Written by Kirk Deeter

Fact One: Travel is an avenue that can generate revenue for specialty fly retailers. Not only does travel offer direct referral/commission opportunities, it also offers reciprocal sales opportunities by way of gear and accessories. Add to that the opportunity to expand your visibility and enhance consumer loyalty, and it’s easy to see how travel can be a key element in the business strategy of any savvy specialty fly shop. / June 2009

Fact Two: The market for fly travel, like other aspects of the flyfishing industry, can be tricky, especially now. Customer recruitment is an expensive proposition. Customer retention depends on ensuring a quality experience. In other words, there is little margin for error when you send customers packing to exotic destinations. Fact Three: In an era when the “selling specialty products through specialty shops” ideal is pressured on a variety of fronts—perhaps most notably the Internet and big box stores— specialty retailers are looking for partners that pay more than lip service to their interests. Interestingly, in the context of travel, a new program designed to help fly shops expand their travel footprint comes from another fly shop… actually, The Fly Shop in Redding, California. 14

Michalak and The Fly Shop Launch Travel Network to Include Specialty Shops Nationwide Of course, if you asked the average consumer angler in Colorado or Michigan, for example, what they know about The Fly Shop, the catalog comes to mind, as does the roster of exotic destinations and travel services The Fly Shop represents. Michalak’s company has been engaged in discovering, and representing, a variety of high-end flyfishing destinations and lodges—many on an exclusive basis—for over 30 years.

In my personal experience, when Mike Michalak, owner of The Fly Shop, offers up an idea, it’s usually worth paying attention. His track record speaks for itself. The Fly Shop is now one of the largest specialty retail operations in the world, with a healthy business model balanced on, among other things, localized shop and guide operations in the northern California region, travel, catalog mailings that reach over 300,000 consumers at a clip, website-based sales, schools and instructional programs, and specialty-branded products. A few years ago, Fly Fishing Trade (the predecessor of this magazine, of which I was also editor) ran a piece on Michalak and his business practices. In the piece, Michalak offered to mail copies of The Fly Shop’s policy and procedures guide to interested fly shops around the country. Hundreds of retailers took Mike up on his offer, and he mailed the information at his expense.

Now, Michalak and The Fly Shop are launching a new program, in which The Fly Shop will make available its “Signature Destinations”—places like Dave Egdorf ’s Rustic Trout Camps in Alaska, and Estancia Maria Behety on the fabled Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego in Argentina—available as travel destination offerings for an expanded roster of geographically-spread retailers throughout America. Basically, The Fly Sop is opening up its travel “jewel box,” making available to a new network of specialty fly retailer partners the opportunity to not only send clients to exclusive The Fly Shop operations from Kamchatka to Chilean Patagonia, but also get a piece of the action in doing so. I asked Michalak, point blank, if his motivation is to buoy sales in a tough travel market, or if he had broader motives. He replied that the Signature Destinations he represents are operating near capacity now. Soft economy or not, the best fishing in the world is still the best fishing in the world, and many of the people who go to these places are repeat customers. From what I heard, Michalak seems focused on the notion of buoying continued on next page...




are a cross section of the world’s finest fly fishing lodges, camps and outfitters. They represent more than 30 years of field exploration, experience and hands-on involvement by our travel team.

Let us help put that experience to work in your fly shop! Until recently, these “Signature Destinations” have been represented exclusively by The Fly Shop™ and our very small network of angling travel agencies and a few fine fly shops worldwide. It’s an approach we’ve found successful, but one that we’re about to change.

We here at The Fly Shop™ feel there’s been a lot of fly industry lip service about “specialty products for specialty shops” and a definite and disconcerting shift in the distribution of fly fishing rods, reels, lines and the rest of what has made independent fly shops successful. Add to that the on-line discounting trend, manufacturer direct purchasing, a worldwide web “free for all” for fly fishing goods, travel, and service. Then couple all that with the current economic crisis and it’s obvious we have to change our tactics if fly shops want to do more than survive.

We’re not looking for representation of our “Signature Destinations” in every shop in America and we don’t want to further homogenize the look of an industry whose stores are already becoming much too similar. Our goal is to find an even greater collective strength by working together with a select number of geographically distinct shops interested in promoting what we’ve already proven is an honor roll of great international fishing spots. Tierra del Fuego Our “Signature Lodges” are acknowledged as the finest and most popular in the “Land of the Giants”!

Chilean Patagonia Lodges are popping up everywhere in Chile, yet our four “Signature Lodges” are renowned as the standard of comparison in Patagonia.

We’ll tailor a commission and referral structure for your shop that will reward you for your performance while guaranteeing that the relationship with the clients you send to our “Signature Destinations” will be respected and honored indefinitely. We won’t “poach” your travellers, and if we’re needed to help answer their tackle questions, they’ll be referred back to you for the sale. Alaska Kamchatka Belize New Zealand Mexican Yucatan

Our “Signature Destinations”

from Dave Egdorf’s rustic trout camp in Alaska to the luxurious lodges of Estancia Maria Behety in Tierra del Fuego are time-tested locations that have earned the stamp of approval from thousands of anglers and have met the highest performance standards in the fly fishing industry. They didn’t get blind endorsements from us purchased with a checkbook. From our remote Kamchatka bush camps to our luxurious Tierra del Fuego sea trout lodges these are among the most famous fly fishing experiences on the planet.

We’ll work with you to customize an approach for your shop to effectively and profitably promote these top-of-the-line destinations that your customers have been reading about in magazine articles and our catalogs for decades.

If your interested, give our travel department a call or e-mail us and we’ll respond promptly with a full explanation of our Signature Fly Shop concept. (800) 669-3474 Redding California


and sends that customer off to El Saltamontes in Chile. Great, the Michigan shop earns a commission, and the customer fishes a fantastic lodge… but what happens two years down the road, when that customer contacts The Fly Shop about a return trip, or even a gear question? the relevance of specialty retailers in dictating the terms of future market evolution, not only in terms of travel, but also beyond.

“We’re not going to poach customers,” Michalak said, flatly. “We’re going to credit the source shop with a commission on repeat business, and when we get the gear question, we’re

“If you’re looking for the quick dollar, by booking a group to Alaska, and thinking only short-term, I have been doing this for 30 years, and I can tell you that does not work,” Michalak said. Indeed having a track record that extends back 30 years is probably more valuable to potential members of a Signature Destinations network than what Michalak calls the “Readers’ Digest accelerated learning course in how to do travel successfully.”

“The days of a fly shop in one part of the country perceiving the fly shop on the other side of the country as just another competitor are gone, or at least they should be,” Michalak explained. “All retailers need to find ways of working together. Every man for himself isn’t going to work 10 years down the road. Working with the right people on the best products, and in this case, travel opportunities, will. “The Fly Shop Signature Destinations Agency (which will involve other shops) moves us into a new realm as an angling travel agent. And it’s only the first step in what I hope will be the addition of a Signature Fly Shop product network.” Another point-blank question: Does this open the Pandora’s Box of introducing a faithful customer to another retailer, in effect creating chinks in a retailer’s own sales armor? The shop in Michigan, for example, introduces a faithful customer to the program,

referring that person to the original shop for the sale. We are going to honor our partners and our referrals indefinitely. We have the database management system in place to facilitate that right now. “Yes, I’m going to make my share of the money on booking the travel, but one thing I’ve learned is that I make my money when people go back to a destination they like.” As such, Michalak warns that he’s not looking to collaborate with shops that simply want to line up the short-term, one-shot, party-of-eight junket to Alaska.


When you think about everything from finding the best guides and lodges, to dealing with political hiccups, flu outbreaks and such… this 30 years of past experience is a platform retailers can leverage for their own future benefit. The “of a retailer, for a retailer” aspect of the plan is sure to garner attention as well. To get more details on how this program could be customized to include you and your shop, E-mail; or phone 800-669-3474. at


Competing In A Slow Economy Five facts you need to know right now Written by Steve Schweitzer

I was given the classic assignment of developing a business plan as a final MBA project. I turned to a local company, Elkhorn Fly Rods, and asked owner Brian Chavet if he was interested. After a few minutes of agreeable head-nodding, we sketched out his business’s pain points. The first thing we realized is that Elkhorn really didn’t know its customers like it should. Brian had some gut hunches but couldn’t cleanly answer the acid-test question of “who buys from you and why?” That point of realization drove the need to conduct primary research before developing a bunch of halfhatched tactics. The survey results confirmed some gut hunches but more importantly shed light on who is and isn’t buying from Elkhorn and why. The analysis yielded some very unexpected and surprising results. Without this deep knowledge of the customer, Elkhorn’s sales-boosting tactics would have been built in the dark, yielding potentially misleading strategies. This article is the first part of two articles which will help you rethink your business and how to grow sales in a slumping economy. This article will give you some insight into five key things Elkhorn learned about competing in a weak economy. The second article will explore tactics you can quickly implement to invigorate sales in your own business. BACKGROUND To provide context, Elkhorn received over 1,300 survey responses world-wide from current product owners and non-owners alike. The survey covered basic demographics, experience level, product ownership and product perception. Besides reaping some valuable information about Elkhorn’s marketplace and competitors, some interesting and surprising facts came from the survey. Below are five key learnings that are applicable to your current business as well.

not show any correlation of age to Internet purchasing habits. In fact, the data shows an equal distribution of Internet purchases despite age. This is good news, as there is a strong correlation of older fly fishers having more disposable income. FACT #2: Quality products at reasonable prices trump a wide product selection. IMPACT TO YOUR BUSINESS: There is no need to spread your inventory investment too thin by carrying a wide SKU range. Don’t try to be all things to all people unless you can afford to carry that inventory load. Focus on your core competency. If you are known to be the best fly tying shop around, ensure you carry the best selection of quality materials. If you are a destination shop, ensure you carry a wide selection of expendables and have the best guide staff around. Whatever you do carry, make sure you have enough of it and make sure it is quality stuff. WHAT THE DATA DOESN’T SHOW: 61% of all respondents ranked having Quality Products as their overall number one ranking. FACT #3: If you want to sell big ticket items, make them available on a try-beforebuy basis. / June 2009

FACT #1: Half of flyfishing purchases are conducted via the Internet. IMPACT TO YOUR BUSINESS: If you aren’t tapping into the Internet as a sales channel you are leaving money on the table. WHAT THE DATA DOESN’T SHOW: Popular belief is that older fly fishers purchase less on the Internet than younger fly fishers. To the contrary, the data did 18

continued on next page...

IMPACT TO YOUR BUSINESS: Value is defined as: the price is right if


the perceived value is greater than the actual price. How do you increase the value in the customer’s mind? Easy: let them try products before they buy them. If a customer is balking at paying $1,000 for a quality fly rod and reel combo, insist they try it for a day on a guided trip or a local stream or pond, maybe even renting a demo outfit for a modest price. Consumers are savvier now than they were just five years ago. They expect more value for every dollar spent. Value can be as simple as extending trust, e.g., “Hey, I trust you with this rod…give it a spin, bring it back and let me know what you think.” Share the risk with them and you’ll convert more lookers into buyers. WHAT THE DATA DOESN’T SHOW: The survey told us the older one gets, the less apt they are to trying out gear. FACT #4: Fly shops and word of mouth are the most popular methods consumers hear of new products

were treated and what their experience was like in your shop. Ensure your shop is well-maintained and merchandised. Greet your customers one-on-one and make them feel like no one else is more important. Even though they may not buy something the first time, their in-store experience will dictate if they come back and buy at a future date; and more importantly, if they become evangelists for your shop. WHAT THE CHART DOESN’T SHOW: Age influenced responses. The younger crowds prefer chat rooms & fly shops. Middle-aged and pre-retirement crowds use all channels equally. Retirement-aged folks preferred word of mouth, fly shops and catalogs over chat rooms and company websites. Consider building different marketing strategies to reach different age classes. Communicate with them via the channel they pay attention to the most. Example: Create some buzz on Internet chat sites and your own website for the younger crowd. Don’t expect to reach the older crowd in the same manner. In all cases, word of mouth is king; treat everyone like gold. Fact #5: Consumers still spend on flyfishing purchases during slumping economies

How Do Consumers Hear About Fly Fishing Products?

IMPACT TO YOUR BUSINESS: Even during tough economic times, consumers still want to buy hobby stuff.

1. Fly Shops 2. Word of mouth 3. Magazines (reviews, article mentions) 4. Catalogs 5. (tie) Fly/Outdoor Shows, magazine ads / June 2009

6. Internet chat rooms 7. Company websites 8. Press releases IMPACT TO YOUR BUSINESS: Treat your walk-in’s like gold; they will spread the word on how they 20

Help your customers buy, don’t make your flyshop the Department of Business Prevention. An example: Empty shelves don’t send a signal to your shoppers. Don’t allow necessary items to run out.

Relatively inexpensive items like tippet, fly line, split-shot and flies should always be in stock. Those are instant gratification purchases that keep customers coming back for more. WHAT THE CHART DOESN’T SHOW: While income level had little bearing on the responses, age did. The most cautious age group was 41-50year-olds. The least cautious group was 31-40-year-olds and those 65 or over. This stands to reason as the closer one is to retirement (41-50) the more he may be worried about savings during a slumping economy. Putting it All Together The flyfishing consumer told us the individual fly shop’s value proposition is still ringing loud and clear and is more valuable than ever. The consumer wants a quality product selection, not quantities of average stuff. The consumer wants to try products out before a purchase, something a big box usually doesn’t offer. Consumers still go to the local fly shop for the skinny on the latest gear, not to the local big box. The fly shop is the information gate-keeper; the old adage of “information is power” is certainly applicable. We also learned consumers aren’t afraid of spending in a shop or on the net; you have to be where they want to buy. While there will always be a certain percentage of the crowd that shops only on price (lured by average quality stuff at big box volume-moving prices), a vast majority don’t shop only on price. Look at hard times, a recession or a depression (whatever you want to call it) as an opportunity to win the loyalty of more consumers. During down economic times, consumers tend to look around more. It is now that you have an opportunity to convert those lookers into customers. Those conversions are all incremental sales you didn’t have during good economic times. (And just think what kind of

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1. Can I - A) clearly characterize the types of customers who buy from me or B) do I rely on business just “happening”? 2. Do I - A) clearly know why customers buy from me or B) do I think I know?

5. Am I - A) known as a trustworthy purveyor of product & fishing information or B) seen as a shop that only gives out information if there is potential money involved? (eg - I’ll tell you the latest fishing hot spots if you buy flies…or, if you look like a serious buyer, I’ll take the time to walk through the pro’s and con’s of the reels I have for sale.) If you answered B to any one of the questions, you probably aren’t optimized to win over new consumers. The questions above characterize five must-have competencies to be competitive in a sour economy: 1. Know your customer 2. Know their needs and why they buy from you

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3. Am I - A) maximizing the potential of online sales to supplement in-store traffic or B) waiting to see if the “Internet will be the next big thing”? 4. For large purchases, am I - A) willing to share try-before-you-buy risk with the customer or B) do I use traditional show-n-tell methods of salesmanship to convince the buyer to spend big chunks of money?

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Hot Dealers in a Cold Market Written by Tom Keer

No one involved in the 1990’s flyfishing boom predicted the current state of plummeting sales. A consistently shrinking customer base. Terrorism. War. Rising energy costs. Inflation. Unemployment. Recession. Just over a decade ago, flyfishing manufacturers were really developing gear. Over 1200 fly shops were busy selling that gear, and thousands of guides were busy taking customers on trips with their newly purchased gear. Heady times for sure. Now, the flyfishing industry has a decision to make, and if you want something sugar coated, go buy a doughnut. What is on the table is a simple decision: Do I want to succeed or is it best to close my doors? While the light at the end of the tunnel is temporarily disconnected, there is still hope. There are enough success stories within the four walls of our own industry. I believe that there are many talented dealers, lodges, and guides. I’ve selected four dealers from four different regions who are representative of deciding to succeed in spite of a declining market. Each one has weathered a variety of storms, from competition, natural disaster, rising unemployment rates, higher costs, and the like. Still, they post annual top-line sales increases as well as net profit increases. Before we review them individually, what are their characteristics as a group? 1. They take planned and calculated risks. 2. They consistently work hard. 3. They work smart. 4. They are creative and innovative. 5. They are savvy. 6. Mediocrity is not in their vocabulary. 7. They are results oriented. 8. All are focused on solutions. 9. They have a vision and plan accordingly to bring it to fruition. 10. They ask for help when they need it. / June 2009

Who would advise a business owner in an industry with a decade-long decline to expand? No one, but the following four did anyway: South Central: A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action-Elvis Presley The Great Smoky Mountains have long been a strong destination for flyfishing. Some folks like Jim Babb, editor of Gray’s Sporting Journal and Barclay Creek Press’ Jim Anker hail from this region of Tennessee, and the Tellico Nymph was developed here as well. Byron and Paula Begley launched 22

Little River Outfitters in Townsend, Tennessee in 1994. The original store was 400 square feet. “After our initial launch, we found our sales were tracking far ahead of projections,” Begley said. “Our programs were well received and we were growing. We noticed the first signs of decline right when we needed to expand. We had spent three years planning our expansion, and while it did not make sense in the big picture, we moved forward anyway.” In order to realize their dream, the Begleys took significant risks. They purchased a commercial lot, and built a 7,000-square-foot building with retail and back-storage space, classrooms, and offices. They tripled their outreach programs to include more schools, quarterly special events, and free seasonal seminars on weekends. Vendors were added, and product lines were expanded. The Begleys are conservationists, and they selected both national and regional groups alike to work with. “In addition to fishing and hunting like Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, and CCA, we also focus on general interest groups like the Little River Watershed, Friends of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Girl Scouts,” Begley said. “We are big supporters of the Little River Chapter of TU as well.” As the use of technology increased, the Begleys studied, learned, and applied. Their first step was creating an information-based website. A few years later, they had another tough decision to make: the repositioning of a decade-old catalogue into a state-of-the-art website. “In 1996, paper and mailing costs were significantly less expensive than an e-commerce site,” said Begley. “In the ‘90’s it made sense for us to shoot, layout, print and mail a catalogue. Now it does not. So we folded our general consumer model into an e-commerce site. We now reach more than 100 times more customers than our catalogue ever did, and we realize a significant cost savings to LRO.

“We did not anticipate the increase in box-store competition within a 40-mile radius of our store,” said Begley. “Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain and Orvis each added company-owned stores. So, we redefined our business objectives. As box stores are able to inventory millions of SKUs, we couldn’t. We conceded to them on the clothing categories, and repositioned LRO to focus on tackle. We’ve always been committed to personalized service, but we always find ways to exceed our customers’ expectations. Proper forecasting is critical for our two sales channels, and we are constantly evaluating and anticipating trends. Our goal is to maintain proper year-round inventory levels, and the combination of historical sales data combined with forecasting keeps us in an in-stock position. We realize most every sale.” For the first time in Fishing Tackle Retailer’s history, Little River Outfitters received a 100% Perfect Score in March 2009. That new award sits next to their 2004 Orvis Dealer of the Year plaque. Mid-Atlantic: Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance Ever think of owning five flyfishing retail stores? Tony Gehman of TCO Fishing worked for 11 years to achieve his goal. Gehman opened his first store in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1989. After half a

dozen years, he had a taste for the business and made a decision to thoroughly service the eastern Pennsylvania flyfishing market. Gehman studied dozens of markets, analyzed trends, created a business plan, and established a financial plan. After the six P’s were done came the rollout. Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 2005. Lake Placid, New York, in 2006. State College, Pennsylvania, in 2007. Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 2008. To most consumers and shop owners, it seemed like Gehman had struck the lottery and expanded, but that’s not true. “I had an idea, but it was big enough to sink me,” Gehman said. “The decade that I spent studying retail, real estate, and financial trends flew by. I focused on how to make my plan work. My sales reps provided pockets of regional as well as national sales trends for review, and were very helpful. Ultimately I knew that I’d need to make a significant financial commitment on real estate, build outs, marketing, inventory, a POS system, among other fixed and variable expenses. It seems like the expansion happened overnight; sometimes it feels that way, even to me.” Gehman’s multiple brick-and-mortar locations resulted in a seldom out-of-stock scenario. By managing his inventory he achieves higher-than-industry standard inventory turns. continued on next page...


“Lake Placid did not fit my model, and was an interesting growth opportunity. Many of our customers had been traveling to the Lake Placid region, and it fit our model. With our local guide network and our flyfishing schools, the result was an inhouse destination location. Remote management can be difficult, but in this instance a partnership with Jerry Botcher at the Hungry Trout was critical. With his lodging and restaurant in close proximity to the fishery it was perfect.” “The bottom line in this business is people,” Gehman said. “I hired the best I employees I could find and then trained them consistently. Our customers have responded, and our business continues to grow. The more you study, the more things fall into place.”

Northeast: Go Hard or Go Home Manhattan, NYC, America’s most cosmopolitan city, comes with one catch: it’s expensive. The new Abercrombie and Fitch (720 Fifth Avenue) was the most successful retail store in 2008 NYC. While their gross sales/ square foot ranged between $8000$10,000, $800/square foot is the average. With rents ranging from $450-$1380/square foot, every retailer has to hustle. And sandwiched in between the national retailers is Jon Fisher and his Urban Angler. Founded in 1988, The Urban Angler had been around long enough to have picked all the low-hanging sales fruit. As New York’s premier flyfishing venue, its two channels of distribution business (brick and mortar and mail order), foreign business, a guide net-

work, destination travel, fly schools, clinics and outreach programs grew throughout the 1990’s. Fisher was in a comfortable place until a quadruple rent increase threatened. In a bold move, Fisher decided to expand. “Margins in flyfishing aren’t as high as in other industries, so when we outgrew our old location I needed to be very careful that our expansion didn’t come at an expense to our profit margin,” Fisher said. “If I focus only on top-line sales growth I’ll go out of business. Instead, I study GMROI carefully, and place preseason and fillin orders so as to ensure profitability.” As a cost savings to The Urban Angler, Fisher relocated his store to a 3,300-square-foot space in the Flatiron District on Fifth Avenue. The location is in perfect proximity to his target customer base and foot traffic, so one problem was solved. Still, the exorbitant rent did not allow for a mail order fulfillment area for his overhauled Internet business. The solution? A second retail location in a less expensive area. / June 2009

While it sounds like the tail wagging the dog, Fisher made a strategic move in opening up Urban Angler, Arlington in Virginia. He bought an existing flyfishing business that stayed true to it core tackle-model. The 3,500 square feet of retail space accommodates walk-in customer traffic, and an additional 3,500 square feet handles back storage space for order fulfillment. “We were able to address two issues, those being to expand our brand presence and increase our sales. Annual gross sales continue to climb as they have since our expansion.”


Conservation has been a big part of the shop’s business model for two decades. “There is a big green movement, and at one point or another we’ve been heavily involved with most conservation groups. The list is long;

but suffice it to say, our recent addition is Blue Ocean, chosen because of our significant involvement in the saltwater fisheries.”

pond, all in an area with increased traffic flows. A creative mezzanine design makes for additional retail space while allowing for indoor casting.

Rocky Mountains: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome, and Survive

“Savvy dealers look not just towards gross sales, but net profit. Making prudent business decisions regarding margin funded expansion plans. Industry standards are a given 50%, but many manufactures offer in season or promotional discounts of up to 65%. By realizing an extra $50.00 per rod sale extended across 50 rods, the $2500 additional net profit funds advertising or outreach efforts and the positive trend continues.”

In 1996, Colorado Springs’ Dave Leinweber approached Angler’s Covey ownership with the idea of opening a satellite location. The business was founded in 1981, was growing, and a second location made sense. The second location did not happen, and as fate would have it, by 1999 Leinweber owned the retail business, the property and the loans in their entirety. “Shortly after I owned Angler’s Covey we had the total Haymen wildfire that devastated Cheesman Canyon and affected Deckers. We feel those effects today. I just had to roll up my sleeves and work more creatively.”

I only need to look at my own bank account to know that we’re in difficult times. But these four dealers have shown that growth is possible. And to a degree, Death of a Salesman’s Willie Loman was right when he said “the world is your oyster….but you can’t crack it open lying on a mattress.” at

Several years ago, Leinweber outgrew his space. “It needed more space. To arrive at a design I deconstructed the sport of flyfishing into sections. At the core is the cast, which therefore means that to successfully sell rods you need a place to cast. For most of the year, casting rods outside is a treat, but our winters are tough. My solution? I decided that we’d need an indoor and an outdoor casting area. Next, flyfishing is an individual sport. As a retailer, I wanted full assortments of all vendors’ products. But they had to be inventoried properly with a focus on visual merchandising techniques and contribute to the bottom line. I approached each of my vendors with a proposal to work together, and we did. I wish I could just carry best sellers, but the reality is I’ll miss sales if I do. There is a balance that I study every day.”

Contact Information:

As a result, Angler’s Covey has an excellent representation of products from many manufacturers, and decisions are based on GMROI.

-Study your Market.

Leinweber is education-oriented, and devotes a tremendous amount of his time to bringing new participants into the sport.

The result? Angler’s Covey is now in a new location, housed in an 8,755-square-foot building, with 2,000 square feet rented to tenants, 5,000 square feet of selling space, two outdoor casting ponds, one indoor casting

Tony Gehman TCO Fly Shop 2229 Penn Avenue Reading, PA 19609 610-678-1899

Jon Fisher The Urban Angler-New York 206 Fifth Avenue, 3rd Floot New York, NY 10010 212-689-6400 Dave Leinweber Angler’s Covey 295 S 21st Street Colorado Springs, CO 80904 719-471-2984

Tips of the Trade: -Plan, Plan, Plan.

-Community Involvement and outreach programs regardless of age.

-Solicit advice from manufacturers and sales reps and cross-reference with your own research and experience.

-Destination trips.

-Plan for funding.

-Obstacles to success are constant. Rent increases, retail competition, fires, drought, and deluge are a given. Focus on what you need to do to grow.

-Play to your strengths. -Service the heck out of your customers. -Staff training and Product Knowledge-rep clinic-ing are key. -Gross sales are important, GMROI is critical.

-You’re already a fisherman….become a retailer.

-Creative, out-of-the-box, solutions-oriented thinking wins the game. 25 / June 2009

“We offer classes followed up by local guiding and then a loyalty program, all designed to keep fishermen fishing. We’re customer service focused, and have found numerous ways to differentiate ourselves.”

Byron and Paula Begley Daniel Drake Little River Outfitters 106 Town Square Drive Townsend, TN 37882 865-448-9459


Reviewed by Kirk Deeter

We’ve talked a lot in recent issues of Angling Trade about how fly tying can buoy shop sales in a tough economy. Here is the catalyst for getting people to tie flies with effect, written in plain language by one of the best fly innovators in America, Charlie Craven. To be perfectly blunt, this is the best fly tying book I’ve seen in years, period, because it goes well beyond the “how”

and dives right into the “why.” Sure you get the step-by-step instructions to tie some of the most basic and effective patterns around, from Woolly Buggers to Stimulators, to Copper Johns, but the reader also learns why they should select certain materials for certain flies, and why they should attach and why they should proportion elements of flies the way Charlie does. I’ve always thought fly tying is as much about rationale as it is routine, and the rationale had always been sorely underserved in most books I’ve read. This book fills that need to a “T.”

It’s also worth noting that Stackpole did a nice job on the production end with high quality images and design. This book is an artifact. It had to be. Anyone who wants to know how to tie a Prince nymph can get the recipe over the Internet. But here, the reader has a complete resource, with straightshot advice and instruction that would complement any tying bench or bookshelf. Get a copy and leave it by the active tying vise in your shop. Then get a bunch more to sell to your customers. Every tier you create will pay dividends. This is an ideal primer. / June 2009

Reviewed by Kirk Deeter

You should check out (then sell) Miles Nolte’s compelling, honest, and gritty work in The Alaska Chronicles. The work is a collection of semidaily reports from a season of guiding in Alaska. That, in and of itself, is ample fodder for some good storytelling, and Nolte doesn’t hold back. His writing appeals to me by virtue of its honesty and 26

simplicity. Sure, you get the fish stories, but you also get the client meltdowns, the cold hamburgers, bloodied bodies, fatigue, bears... essentially the guide world all-access pass, and that ultimately makes the real Alaska experience come alive. The book is more than worth reading for its candor alone, and the visual images that the reader derives from all of that. It’s also an interesting project in that the content essentially backed its way into hardcover, having initially been posted on the message board of The Drake magazine website. As such it wasn’t a “been there done that”

story, rather a “being here, doing this” thread that connected over 3,000 online message board readers from Singapore to Germany. It will be interesting to see how this website-to-book phenomenon works. My guess is that it is one of the few (if any) flyfishing books that’s been released with its own audience already in tow, which cannot be a bad thing. Where there is substance there is value, and where there is value, books will sell. I have long believed that the real substance in the fly fishing world inevitably lives amongst the guides. There is plenty of all that in The Alaska Chronicles. You’ll enjoy it, and so will your customers. at


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Reflections on a Mentor Written by Greg Thomas

I met Gary LaFontaine while negotiating the banks of the Clark Fork River on a cold winter day in Missoula. He was strolling into Hellgate Canyon along a trail adjacent to the University of Montana campus. I was stomping out of Hellgate, half-frozen and frustrated, having just been handed my ass by the trout.

Photo Courtesy

“I got one,” I lied when LaFontaine asked. Noting his fly rod and an opportunity for one-upmanship I said, “You’ll be lucky to catch a fish today,” adding, “the midges aren’t really coming off and the rising fish are in the middle of the river. I wouldn’t even bother if I were you.”

LaFontaine let a knowing smile creep across his face and said, “I used to catch some fish here, so I’ll at least give it a try.” Then, he added, “What are you studying?” “Journalism,” I beamed. “I’m the outdoors writer for the university newspaper. I’m going to be a free-lance writer as soon as I graduate this spring.” / June 2009

“Well, that’s ironic,” he said. “I was the outdoors writer for the university newspaper about 20 years ago. Now I make my living writing about flyfishing.” Then, as he dug in a pocket for his business card, and despite that juvenile superiority tone in my voice, he made an offer: “I liked going to school here and it’s a great program. The professors teach you how to write, but I’ve always been disappointed that they don’t teach students how to make a living. Give me a call if you have any questions about the business and let’s fish some time.”

I retreated to the crawl space, which harbored a dirt floor and a $50 per month price tag. It was where I belonged given my belligerent and embarrassing rant to LaFontaine. Earlier that day it seemed appropriate to tell a stranger how it was; at the time I thought being a fly fisherman had as much to do with demonstrating expertise—on and off the stream—as anything else. Reclining in a tent, staring up at exposed beams and a labyrinth of fresh spider webs, I determined my attitude had a lot to do with how I and fellow newcomers were treated when entering various fly shops, as if we’d tracked mud across the floor by asking the difference between a larvae and pupae; a sink-tip versus a shooting head; a brook trout versus a bull trout; the stronger of the two—3X or 6 X; and various other basics anglers need to know as they enter the sport. Sometimes, I recalled, we didn’t even ask questions because we didn’t want to endure the wrath. When we visited fly shops we looked through the fly bins and examined the gear and kept our ears open to other conversations, trying to pick up the information we needed without getting lambasted. Sitting in the dungeon that day, I vowed to lose the prove-I’m-a-master fly fisherman above all else attitude that I’d picked up. I vowed to be more like LaFontaine. It wasn’t long after that first meeting with LaFontaine that I required his advice. Over the years I called him on many fronts, often to discuss publishing contracts and the merits of particular business deals. Sometimes I called to say nothing more than hello and to talk about dogs, which we shared equal passion for. Occasionally we’d meet for lunch or dinner and drinks, sometimes in Missoula, other times in Deer Lodge or Helena. Always, LaFontaine offered the most concise and open instruction I could find and he was never competitive, even when I penned a book, Fly Fisher’s Guide to Montana, that ran in direct competition with his publishing house’s title called Montana Fly Fishing Guide East and West.

He wandered into the canyon with a confident and eager gait.

One time I asked why competing with my book didn’t bother him and he said, “Greg, they’re not the same books and different authors have different takes on various fisheries and that only helps the common angler. Overall, having those books out there brings more people into fly fishing and it makes the experience better for them. That’s good for all of us.”

That night I produced the business card for a fly-junkie roommate and he crowed, “You met Mr. Caddis! That guy knows more about Rocky Mountain trout than anyone.”

A few weeks ago, while hanging out at my parents’ house in Seattle, Washington, my father and I saw one of my friend’s bylines in a magazine. I’d introduced this guy to writing by


signing him to a book deal with a publisher I used to work for. My dad said, “Greg, you’ve been able to help a few of your friends and several strangers to become pretty successful writers. You must feel good about that, right?”

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I answered, “Yes, I do and the only reason I’m generous in that regard is because of Gary LaFontaine. LaFontaine was different; he never felt threatened and only tried to help and that example made me a better person. Now my efforts bring more people into the business of writing and into fly fishing and make their experiences worthwhile. That’s very rewarding to me. It all started with LaFontaine. I owe him a lot.” The last time I saw LaFontaine he was restricted to a bed at a care center near the mouth of the Rattlesnake Wilderness outside Missoula. I helped feed him and gave him water when he requested it. Shortly after, he died from Lou Gehrig’s disease, prematurely at 56, on January 4, 2002.

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During that last conversation, in typical fashion, LaFontaine told me he didn’t feel cheated; he’d dined with royalty, fished with ambassadors and legends, and led a life beyond his humble expectations. To this day his landmark book, Caddisflies, is considered the statement on the subject and his life work enhances the daily pursuit of fly fishers worldwide. Before I left his side for the last time he said, “Greg, writing is a burden, but it’s important, and you do it well. Keep writing. Keep fishing. Enjoy your opportunity to share the experience with others.” Perhaps that was a statement for all of us to hear, especially poignant right now; during this time of economic downturn our strength is in numbers and attitude. Don’t just bring a new one into the sport, also let them prosper and breed—one at a time, with respect, we persevere. at

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Advanced Shop Class:

Written by Joe Cermele

Teach more than fly-fishing 101 to boost sales and build better client relations Saying that a large part of fly shop survival comes from the return client is no shocker. But to keep the loyalists walking through the door, shop owners must be top-notch teachers as well as great salesmen. Being able to convey the fundamentals of the sport goes beyond info found in books like “Fly Fishing For Dummies.” From bustling Anchorage to small-town Coburn, Pennsylvania, the shores of Tampa Bay to the mountains of Montana, we grilled four shop owners in very different demographic areas to find out how they increase sales and keep up their rep by teaching what we consider the four elements of flyfishing, and doing so by thinking outside the box. / June 2009

Fly Selection: Jonas Price gets a laugh every time a customers says, “The Adams are really hatching good

today.” “I just answer, ‘yeah, Adams are working pretty well,’” Price says. “I won’t correct them and make them look stupid, but I won’t disagree either.” Price has owned The Feathered Hook in the tiny town of Coburn for 11 years. His shop sits in the middle of Pennsylvania’s Limestone country, with Penns Creek just down the street. 30

Where choosing flies is concerned, Price feels that being able to teach clients how to identify flies, not just what they represent, plays a huge part in building confidence. “People come in all the time with a box of flies and ask me what they are,” Price explained. “If you can dump them on the counter and name them all, you’ve just taught that client what to ask for in the future. Handing someone flies and saying ‘use these’ doesn’t tell them the advantage of a parachute or beadhead.” Price is also a big believer in not pretending you know everything. Though he can walk clients through proper patterns for the local streams, many regular clients travel throughout Pennsylvania to fish. “If someone asks about a stream 50 miles away, I can probably give them the flies they need, but being wrong is bad for business, “ he says. “I’ll often recommend a good fly shop in that area.” Price notes that there is a habit of feuding between fly shops he can’t understand. By sending customers to other shops, they will learn more about fly selection, and both shops come out looking good. “The next time that guy is on Penns Creek, he’ll be in to buy flies,” Price says. “And if I’m lucky he’ll have just ripped his waders.” The Cast: Every season, thousands of anglers flock to Anchorage, Alaska. Luckily for Keith Graham, many of

them end up in his shop, World Wide Angler Outfitters. With such diverse water types and species in the state, Graham learned something very early on: the casting skills shops need to have covered revolve around species, season, and location as much as they do angler skill level. “If you come here looking for silver salmon, the elements of that casting style are miles apart from what the guy looking for small-stream dry fly action with grayling needs to know,” says Graham. “If someone needs to cast a heavy dumb-bell streamer, a few split-shot, plus a sinking head all in one stroke, naturally you have to be able to explain the fundamentals of that cast. But you also can’t forget to tell him to duck.” Graham is a firm believer that having the knowledge to thoroughly educate clients on the differences in rod speeds and materials will help them better understand casting basics. In turn, customers are more likely to step up to a high-end rod once they understand how design and material translates to better distance and accuracy. But if there is one element of casting Graham pegs as the most important

for beginners, it’s distance. Though distance is crucial on Alaska’s big rivers, the fact is unseasoned flycasters want to cast long. Over time, they learn that fishing close often pays big, but no matter how much you stress that early on, they’ll shoot for that farthest riser. Teach them to throw long properly and let them figure out on their own that they won’t need to nine times out of ten. You’ve taught the client want they wanted to learn, and they’ll be back when they need to know how to fish a tight pocket at rod length. The Presentation: “There’s one thing I can tell you for sure about the Big Hole,” says Frank Stanchfield. “The water level changes weekly. So the fish are always in a new place.” Twenty-six years as a guide and owner of Big Hole Troutfitters near Wise where the angler casts straight across to the bank with a wet fly, using no strike indicator and without mending the line.

River, Montana, have made Stanchfield a veritable fly godfather of the Big Hole Valley. And his experience has taught him that the first key to teaching fly presentation has nothing to do with patterns, lines, or rods. “Look at a river like the Missouri. It’s a tailwater, so the levels and the holding locations are predictable,” Stanchfield says. “Figure out where the fish hold and you can pretty much present flies the same every time. But on the Big Hole, presentation varies month to month, week to week, day to day.” As an example, Stanchfield cites the early-spring method of “tightlining,”

“You have to present so your line is tight and you can see the end of the fly line twitch at the strike.” he explained. “Tie on an indicator and the fly drags. But if you look at basic wet fly presentation, the books tell you to cast slightly upstream and use an indicator. That doesn’t usually work here in April. A few weeks later, tightlining is over. The fish are off the banks. Point being, if you don’t know exactly how your fish station themselves, how you put the fly in front of them doesn’t make much difference.” While presentation angles change quickly, Stanchfield does believe that all rivers have outfits perfectly suited to their challenges. “Though it can take time to teach the behavior of area trout, I can tell a client a nine-foot, five-weight rod continued on next page...






is going to be the best choice for achieving almost every presentation you need to make in the Big Hole,” he says. “It helps a lot when the angler starts out knowing he has the right tool for any situation.” The Fight: If there’s a man who knows a thing or two about the end game with big fish on the fly, it’s Dave

Chouinard. He opened The Fly Hatch in Red Bank, New Jersey, in 1993, where customers looking to battle striped bass, false albacore, and tuna accounted for a lot of business. Chouinard recently moved out of the Northeast and took his operation with him to Tampa Bay, Florida. Tarpon, bull redfish, and bruiser snook are his new area of expertise. “Most importantly, what people need to learn early on about the fight is that a fly rod is not a spinning rod,” Chouinard says. “Reeling with the tip vertical over your head is really only useful for picking up slack line in a hurry. Where a spinning rod is the glue between your line and a drag, a fly rod is more a tool for controlling the angle of the thick fly line.” According to Chouinard, the fight is about understanding the resistance of that line and using the rod to best manage that resistance. But that’s not to say rod speed and strength don’t play a vital role.

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“The goal is to maintain steady pressure throughout the fight,” he says. “Rods are getting faster and faster, and understanding how pressure applies to your rod is as critical as knowing when to palm a reel. But unless clients want to get very deep into how different rod materials perform, I prefer to keep it simple. I will be the first to tell them, though, that many of these fine-casting rods are not the best for fighting. There’s too little fiberglass scrim in the rod. They cast like lethal weapons, but under heavy-handed duress, they explode.” From a selling perspective, the fight boils down to deciphering when a customer wants to look good tarpon fishing and when one wants to catch tarpon. The theory applies to almost every species. at



THE POND Written by Kirk Deeter

net worth in the past few years is keeping his money on the sidelines. The bling is gone.” While this portends bleak near-term sales for many retailers, Murphy thinks the trend more accurately reflects an adjustment that will track the market back to more traditional—perhaps more sustainable—sales and growth trajectories for the long term. “I think the flyfishing industry is returning to its historical base, and its historical growth rate from before the movie (A River Runs Through It, 1992), which is between three and seven percent annually,” Murphy said. “We’re going to find that the core market is still going to be the person who makes the leisure commitment, who has the time, money, inclination and skill to be flyfishing.” Certainly, Hardy is familiar with that history.

Alnwick, England-based fishing tackle icon Hardy & Grey’s has been positioning to make a big splash on this side of the pond for many months now. The company hired Jim Murphy, a seasoned fly industry insider (Murphy founded both Redington Tackle Co. and Albright Tackle Co.) to take the reins as president of Hardy North America. The company broke off a seven-year-old distribution agreement with Cortland, and spent more than $1,000,000 to create a state-of-the-art 14,000-plus-square-foot headquarters and distribution facility (which carries over 1,000 different products in the Hardy and Grey’s lines) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It amped up marketing efforts, as well as new product development.

Depression and other economic crises. It even had its shop bombed in World War II. Through it all the art and culture of angling has a way of transcending even the most trying circumstances, and Hardy has played a prominent role in making that happen.

And then, like every other company in the flyfishing market, it came face to face with the realities of a severe global recession.

Murphy explains that the current market is shaped by three critical trends: “On the low end, guys are buying inexpensive gear, and that’s what’s ringing the cash registers more than anything now. There used to be an ‘aspirational’ market in the middle range, where (consumers) would overreach somewhat on product purchases, and that is 100 percent gone now. And on the high end, the consumer who would purchase expensive tackle is now extremely careful and skeptical. The guy who has lost 30-60 percent of his / June 2009

A worst case scenario? Well, not good news, to be sure. Like many other industry manufacturers, Hardy & Grey’s is feeling the pinch and has had to adjust. But Hardy’s seen worse and persevered in the past. Founded in 1872, Hardy has been through the likes of the Great 34

That’s not to say the company is counting on tradition, however to guide its future. If anything, says Murphy, the margin for error for anyone looking to weather the current market—manufacturer or retailer—is now infinitesimally small.

Interestingly, however, the products produced by Grey’s (acquired by Hardy in 1999, Grey’s manufacturers in Asia, and markets products at lower pricepoint), now allow the company to span the consumer price range gamut far more effectively than ever before. Call it the “yin and yang” of the new fly market paradigm—high end product that underscores what Murphy called Hardy’s “comfort brand” positioning on the one end, and Asian manufactured gear (which Murphy certainly helped pioneer into the U.S. fly market filling another niche entirely. To wit: Hardy reels still carry the day in many regards, and among many U.S. retailers carrying Hardy. Look for a new St. George reel (initially introduced in the 1920s, the St. George reflects the tradition of the Bougle, and the Perfect). On the Grey’s side, models like the Streamflex ($230 with warranty) are designed by Howard Crosston (who won the casting competition at the 2008 FFR show). On both ends, Hardy North America is working to expand its retailer footprint; Murphy noted that the company has long been, and will continue to be, committed to a “specialty shops selling specialty products.” To learn more about the company, visit fly.hardyfishing. com/en-us. at




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Reach out and touch someone. Lots of someones. More often the better.

At a time when discretionary income is as wobbly as a worm-eaten cane pole, the solution to boosting sales is as simple as grasping customers by their vest patch and giving a gentle shake. Nothing violent mind you—just enough to let them know that both of you share a passion for the greatest sport in the world and nothing as mundane as a little economic wobble should get in the way.

--From his Los Angeles Basin launch pad, Marriott is surrounded by people, but not many fish—at least not the type that titillate anglers who gravitate to conventional fly tackle pursuits. His best trout streams, in the Sierras near Bishop, are five hours away. --Two thousand miles east at The Fish Hawk shop in north Atlanta, Gary Merriman for the past five years has been fighting a crippling drought, now a recession. The drought finally broke, replaced by a flood. The recession never went anywhere. --In Rockford, Mich., 10 miles north of Grand Rapids, there’s never been a question about the true nature of the enemy. “When Delphi, the auto parts maker, closed its factory,” it cost 2,500 jobs,” said Glen Blackwood, who has owned the Great Lakes Fishing Company 20 years. “I can identify 38 of my customers, good customers, who vacated the area. Do the math on that.” Three widely separated shops with problems that appear as disconnected as the locations. The remarkable part is the similarity in the solutions. From aggressive e-mail campaigns to direct snail mail to actual face time, all three operators have taken a common approach to staying connected to those longstanding and loyal customers that form the backbone of any business. “We’ve used aggressive e-mail campaign campaigns, constant contact, “ Merriman says of a tactic that also includes regular weekend programs featuring tackle reps, demonstrations and drawings. “Anything that might get them into the shop and keep our name in front of them.” This also entails direct mailings of customer appreciation certificates, 25 percent discounts on select merchandise redeemable in a prescribed time frame. “We cleared it through the reps. It’s just a general certificate, but it creates a world of good will as part of keeping those regular customers coming to the shop.” / June 2009

Marriott, too, relies heavily on e-mail.


“The days of sitting back minding the status quo are over with,” declared Bob Marriott, who has tended the store that bears his name in Fullerton, Calif., for more than 30 years.

“We do a lot of blasts, anything we can find as an excuse without seeming overbearing. We still have our customer base and they show up when we do something to get their attention.”

Bob Marriott’s Flyfishing Store is among three shops chosen for this review, each for a different and difficult reason.

His tactics include direct mail cards in cooperation with firms such as Orvis and Winston. continued on next page...


“We had this seminar where the attraction was to come out and cast rods. It was amazing how many people showed up and how many walked out with a little bag of gear in their hands.” Merriman faced a particular challenge in the drought that almost dried up the Chattahoochee River, that marvelous tailwater flowing through Atlanta just a short cast from his shop. “Then this spring the rains came back again, and the river wasn’t fishable for six weeks. We lost a month of the season we’ll never get back.” Against this backdrop, Merriman strives to keep connection, a balancing act not as easy as it seems.

“I had this guy who’d been a customer since he was a kid who called and told me he could buy a product on line at 30 to 40 percent off.

While Merriman’s business is down, he is buoyed by a metro of three million people where the economy has remained relatively stable.

“The thing was, he wanted to do business with me and he was embarrassed to make the call, but thank goodness he did. I tell people to talk to me, that I’ll work with them.”

Not so Blackwood, who watches an almost daily out-migration, many who formed a key part of his customer base. To combat this, he takes an up-close-andpersonal tack.

The Merriman’s challenge is deciding how much that break will be.

“I think it’s all about going back to an old school approach of face time and personal touches and what I hate to call telemarketing, but I guess that’s what it is.

“It’s hard to put a percentage on it. I’m not going to go the on-line route of discounting everything. I’d feel terrible if I did that. That’s not what made me a shop in 1974 and I’m not going to do it now.”


“We keep up with customers we know have been in the Bahamas. We tell them we’ll take their reel apart in get things back in good shape. We call folks to remind them we’ll get their gear ready for steelhead season.” Down South, Merriman has embarked on a personal belttightening in addition to his own litany of personal touches.


“I’m buying on a 30-day turn instead of 90 or 120. I’m not nearly as lax with inventory as I used to be when I was taking in more dollars and had plenty of money.” Drought and flood aside, Merriman is starting to see some break in the weather. “People are starting to feel better about things. I hear them say, ‘Hell, I can’t make any money, I’m going fishing’.” Which is about as touchy-feely as it ever gets. at

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