Fly shops—a blinding flash of the obvious

By Walt Gasson

We do surveys at TU. We ask questions and TU members give us answers. We use those answers to guide the things we do. That’s a good thing. TU is a membership-driven organization. That’s one of the things I love about working here.

But once in a while, we ask a survey question that seems pretty mundane and get an answer that knocks your socks off. So it was recently when we asked over 800 Trout Unlimited members about where they go for fishing information. The question provided a number of possible answers: the TU website, magazines, friends, etc. The respondent could check all the ones that he or she typically goes to for information on fishing.

The No. 1 answer? Fly shops – by far. Over 71 percent of the respondents indicated that they went to fly shops for information on fishing. Ahead of friends, ahead of magazines, ahead of everything else – we go to fly shops for intel on our passion for fly fishing. At first, I was surprised. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Where do I go when I fish unfamiliar water? To the local fly shop. Where do I go when I fish my home water and don’t do very well? To the local fly shop. You go to people you know and trust.

So I decided to go to someone I know and trust. I called John Herzer, the owner of Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula, Mont., and Flint Creek Outdoors in Philipsburg, Mont. I’ve learned that John will always shoot straight with me. Naturally, he was delighted to hear the results. But what he said was interesting: “Disseminating timely, accurate information is literally the essence of our business,” he said.

“Seriously?” says I. “I thought you were in the business of selling gear.”

John was undeterred. “More than any time before, fly anglers have endless choices when it comes to getting information. We’re convinced that the commitment we make in time and expense incurred maintaining fishing reports, multiple social media platforms and personal interactions in our shops comes back in spades through customer loyalty. More importantly, we truly enjoy gathering that intel—both on the water and from chatting with fellow anglers. There is hope for the small independent fly shops if we just keep true to our core.”

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I’ve been in John’s shop. I go to a lot of fly shops. I watch and I listen. What I see and what I hear are great. But more important is what I feel. I feel a sense of community – a spirit of being with great people, engaged in something we really love.

If I’ve learned anything in 42 years as a conservation professional, it is that all of us need one another. Conservation needs fly anglers and fly shops. We need good information. Not just about where the fishing is hot and which flies are knocking them dead, but about why a mine on the Smith River is a bad idea, and why we ought not to keep those fish out of the water too long and why we ought to be taking a kid fishing. We’re a community, and those shops are a vital part of the community.

That’s what I would call a blinding flash of the obvious.

Walt Gasson is TU’s business partnerships director. He lives and works in southern Wyoming.

By Walt Gasson.