What Makes a Great Shop?


Written By: Pete, Jamie Keown & Justin Dobson - Photos By: Pete & Jamie Keown     

Just like most of you who have found us here, I am a follower of Gink and Gasoline. The guys over there do great work and have always been very receptive and responsive to all of us.  One of the coolest things they do is the Fly Shop 500 where people have the opportunity to vote for the favorite fly shop and win that shop free advertising for a year on their webpage.  As I went to vote this year I realized I had been to quite a few shops this year and it started to make me wonder what makes a great fly shop?  I thought I would put my thoughts on paper but also challenged Jamie and Justin to do the same.

It really took a lot of thought to come to a very simple conclusion about what makes a fly shop.  I thought back on all of the places I visited this year and the people I met along the way.  I had the opportunity to visit my local fly shops here in Georgia, a couple in North Carolina, South Carolina, and was fortunate to visit Grizzly Hackle and The Kingfisher in Missoula.  As I thought about all of those place and what makes them unique I came up with a couple of items.

  • Selection- Selection is key, there is so much access online these days for gear but the only way to get it TODAY is the fly shop.  There were a couple of times this year when I desperately wanted something for a trip and didn’t think about it in time or want to wait for it to ship.  The shops that were able to provide that line, pack, or reel in stock made a big difference to me.   While I like to support local businesses I also like my bank account and if I have to order it anyway I may as well do it from the comfort of my own home and usually at a better price.
  • Local Knowledge- To me this is the biggest advantage to a local fly shop.  I always like to hit the fly shop when I venture into a new town or area to find out what has been fishing well and what they are eating.  The shops that do this well are the ones I will come back to.  I know most of the guys in the shop work long hours and probably fish less than most think but those who have the pulse of the local area are the ones I will come back to.
  • Culture/Personality- To me this seems to be bigger in fly shops then in many other hobby/sport stores I have been to.  There are some shops that clearly are interested in the experienced fly fisherman and those who are truly happy to help everyone out.  I like the shops that are willing to take the time to help people get into the sport.  I remember when I was new and was so intimidated walking into the shop not even really knowing what I needed.  The shops that take the time to explain and help you out are the ones that will get customers who are willing to pay more to support the business.  I also notice the shops that recognize you when you walk in.  They probably don’t know your name if you only hit it once or twice a month but they remember you from before and ask about your latest fishing excursions or what has been working for you.

Good shops have two main components.  Friendly peeps and lots of shit. The biggest turnoff for me is going into a shop full of arrogant employees who look at you like you've walked into the store by mistake.  While I tend to chuckle inside when this happens and purposely ask the guys "what BWO stands for", someone new to our sport could easily get discouraged and decide fly fishing is not for them.  Good shops have knowledgeable folks, who are friendly, and willing to share any info within reason (their wives phone number... probably not within reason).

The second component is lots of shit.  I try and support local shops as much as possible but nothing's worse than driving to the local fly shop for a new pack, flies, or some new line and coming home empty handed.  A good selection of stuff is a must to satisfy the gear whores like myself.

I know it's been beaten like a dead horse but support your local shop as much as possible.  I'm guilty of not doing this at times and it's hard for shops to compete with some online and big box store prices, but these guys do more than just sell you the hot flies.  Shops are a vital part and often at the forefront of local conservation.  Their employees don't get to fish nearly as often as you and I, and I can assure you they're not in it to get rich.  The good ones do it out of pure love for the sport and for that we should all be thankful.

Seems I’m the last one to chime in and there isn’t much meat left on this bone.  I do think selection is important, but it’s the essentials that matter most to me.  If I stop in a shop it’s for one of two things; last minute supplies for tomorrows trip and impulse buys.  Last minute supplies are; leaders, tippet, flies and shot usually.  Many people prefer different types of each so I think it’s important to have a good variety of all these essentials.  The impulse buy is that new MFC box I bought with Paul Puckett’s version of Walter on it (had to have it), hats, t-shirts, etc..

Staff definitely plays a huge role in a shops success.  My last reel purchase I had a staff member tell me drag doesn’t really matter much on a reel, it’s just a reservoir for your line.  Maybe he should’ve asked where and how I was intending to use my new reel.  I also know that “look” Jamie mentioned.  You shouldn’t get the look you get walking into Victoria’s Secret as you do entering the fly shop.

[Pete] At the end of the day what each of us want from a fly shop probably varies depending on our skill level and our needs. I do think that one thing is consistent and that is good people with a strong knowledge of the area make a huge impact on the experience. Thanks to all of those who have signed up for long retail hours and miss many of the prime fishing days to share that information with us.