Get the Most Out of Your Fly Shop Experience

Monday Jul. 1st, 2019

Fly shops can seem like a secret society, one that to the outsider is largely mysterious and a little intimidating. Men who have dedicated their lives to the gentle sport of fly fishing sit behind the counter tying flies, pouring over maps or discussing at length the complicated relationship between man and fish. 

In reality, though, fly shops are a tool. A room full of gear and information that exists to get people on the water. They are just like any other shop, and they aim to employ reliable, knowledgeable and friendly staff who are there to help you with gear and give you tips for fly fishing. 

Fly shops can be overwhelming, especially to someone new to the sport. Once you walk through the doors, you are met with walls of lines, tippet, and tools that resemble medical equipment. There are bins full of tiny flies and some really big ones, as well as racks of clothing that promise to keep the sun, rain, and bugs off of you. If you are new to fly fishing, it can be an incredibly overwhelming environment. 

It’s fair to feel nervous about doing something new, so here are some tips for making the most of your fly shop experience.

Confidence is key 
Walking into a fly shop is really no different than walking into any other type of recreational sports shop. It is a very niche environment with racks of gear you didn’t know you needed. A good way to start off on a good foot with the crew is to be friendly and introduce yourself to staff when they ask how they can help. Strike up a conversation and ask questions; they are there to help and want you to get the most out of your experience.

Don’t be intimidated
Shop employees are being paid to give advice, sell gear, and help with the technical aspects of rigging and fishing. Fly shops exist to serve anglers of all demographics. If they make a derogatory comment, have an attitude, or talk down to you because you are a beginner or asking questions, that is their problem. You’re great and deserve to be there and go fishing just as much as anyone else! We all started somewhere and shop employees are valuable teachers for anglers of all abilities.

Take time and familiarize yourself with the terms and gear
It’s always helpful to have some idea of what is going on. Before you go looking for a new rod, line, reel or other gear, read some blogs, reviews, or how-tos. This will give you a good starting point for info and help you ask better questions. Plus, you will have a couple of opinions or viewpoints to go off of and be able to form your own in a more educated manner.  There are a ton of great online resources to help kickstart your fishing journey.

Become a regular
If you live close to a fly shop or fish near one frequently, take the time to introduce yourself to the staff. Start building a relationship with the folks who work there, and become friends with them. I can speak from experience that shop employees appreciate getting to know frequent customers and like it when regulars stop by to show off fish photos, tell a good story, or restock on their gear. I promise it won’t be weird to introduce yourself. You already have a lot in common; you all love fly fishing and most likely fish the same waters.

Test out gear 
If you are in the market for a new rod, try and test a few to see what you like. There is no substitute for being able to get the rods in your hands and feel them side by side. If you are looking for reels, pick them up, test how the drag feels, and see what sounds and feels good. When it comes to bigger gear purchases like rods and reels, it is OK to look with your hands. Get your hands on as many as you can and ask questions to find the right fit.  Ask the staff what they use and why, why certain lines pair better with certain rods, and if you are comfortable, even ask for some casting tips when testing rods. The more information you can get the better.

Get plugged in
Fly shops are great spots to get plugged into the fishing community and find educational and social opportunities. Some shops host fly tying nights, clinics, casting lessons, and outfit guided trips. Get involved to learn about upcoming events. You may even meet a new fishing buddy! A community is important, so even if you don’t have a local fly shop, try looking for meetup groups online, like on Facebook, to grow your network.

Bring a friend
If you have a friend interested in fly fishing, bring them by the shop. It’s an ideal way to introduce them to the sport and show them some basic gear. Go over a couple of flies, what certain pieces of gear do, and help them feel comfortable and capable in the shop as well. Fishing can be more fun when you share it with someone! Plus, going somewhere new can be a lot more comfortable with a friend.

Support local businesses
Your hometown fly shop is most likely owned by a local who makes a living selling flies to passersby. Try to get everything you can from your local shop itself. By buying local, you are helping that shop keep the doors open and helping the local economy thrive. Sure, other major retailers may be cheaper, but we don’t want our local shops to disappear. Big online retailers won’t give you advice on where or how to fish, so try to at least buy a few flies or a spool of tippet when you stop into the shop for info. on where to fish.

Be a good listener and have an open mind 
Being open-minded could be the most important tip here. As it’s been said here many times, fly shops are there to serve. It is also important to be open-minded about gear. Buy what you like and what fits or works well for you. If you are on a mission to get info., listen to what the shop employees have to say. They are the experts in this case and want to help you. The employees can tell when you are listening and will be inclined to go in depth or open up more if they see you are interested and engaged.  

Above all, be kind and have fun
Fly fishing is a purely recreational activity. Though many of us find therapy and meaning through fishing, it is something we choose to do. There is no reason for anyone to be nasty, competitive, or rude to each other. Set your ego aside and remember why you are there. Don’t take yourself too seriously and just have fun!  We are lucky we get to fly fish and have access to streams and other waterways. Take advantage of every day on the water and live it up. Be kind to your fellow anglers (and non-anglers too), and kind to the environment. 

Now, go stop by your local shop on the way out to the water and get some flies, strike up a friendly conversation with the shop employees, and be at peace knowing that you belong on the water.     

Chloe Nostrant is a writer, photographer and fly fisher from Livingston, Montana. She works full time at George Anderson’s Yellowstone Angler. When she isn’t chasing muskies or trout, she’s working on her upcoming book, Montana Women Who Hunt.