Sunday, August 31, 2008
I really appreciate good equipment. When I started fly fishing I was so poor that I built my own flyrod, as I was unable to afford a commercial model. (O.K., so it also might have been a craft project as well)
I bought a pair of nylon bootfoot waders from Cabelas, and used these for the first two years or so. I owned no polypropylene, it was too expensive. Instead, I utilized an old pair of cotton pajama bottoms and an old pair of sweat pants with worn-out elastic. I kept them up with rope. Once when fishing in cold water with ice still flowing, (I should not have been doing that) my less than adequate waders and insulation left my legs literally blue. My reel was from Cabelas too. I still have it. It was an early Okuma model. The line I bought came from LL Bean on close-out. It set me back eight dollars. With this outfit I taught myself to cast and fish. My first acquisition of good equipment was a Hardy Marquis Disc reel I picked up on Ebay for $100.00. I ate peanut butter and jelly for a month after that. I would argue that people like me who save up to acquire good equipment appreciate it more. When I was able to afford it, I obtained an Orvis 5 wt T3, and a matching 6 wt. I still love those rods. Then I went on a Sage craze. I now own around 15 fly rods. Some see no use at all, and others are favorites. Every one of them fills a niche or purpose.
Working at a flyshop allowed me to purchase goods at a discount, else I would not own all the fine rods and reels I do.
So, I appreciate and treasure the ability to own and fish with good stuff. Maybe that is why it irritates me to no end to see some rich guy buy a new $700 Sage as his first rod. Match that with a new Ross reel and Simms waders and boots, Simms underwear, Simms bandanna, Simms suppositories, a $200.00 felt hat, vest with a thousand pockets, three fly lines, and twelve flyboxes, and the poor bastard is out fifteen grand and has the privilege of standing in the middle of my steelhead run flailing around while he tries to figure out what all the gadgets in the pockets of the vest are really for. Don't get me wrong, I welcome new participants to the sport, but I just wish they had to put in their time before they deck themselves out like they are ready for an Orvis endorsed vacation destination.
I probably lost a lot of sales potential at my flyshop. I always believed in easing the customer into the sport. Sell him or her a decent rod and reel, a box of flies, a nipper and forceps, and provide them with a casting lesson. Then send them off to fish for bluegill on a pond somewhere. Several weeks later they would return to the shop with a gleam in their eye, and a story for my ears. "I caught over 30 fish!" "None of the guys with worms were catching anything, but I did just what you told me, and I did it, I did it, I am a fly fisherman!!" Now was the time for the wader and boot sale. I think that by being honest I actually gained customer loyalty rather than taking advantage of a customer by drooling over the fleecing I could give his or her wallet. I always told them "You don't want this to end up in your closet with the karate uniform and soloflex."
I wish every shop would take that approach.
You can tell a fly fisherman anywhere. They have special hats and shirts that help establish their view of their own identity. The shirts are usually nylon ones designed for fly fishing, or one of those annoying cotton print shirts with old flies and bamboo creels pictured everywhere. They are often walking billboards for their favorite tackle company. I am guilty here too. I own a dozen ballcaps given to me by various tackle manufacturers, but they are full of sweat and slightly chewed and rusty flies. When I teach flytying classes somebody inevitably shows up like they are going fishing; sporting a Sage ballcap, Simms flats shirt, and nylon zip-off pants. I don't get this until I realize that these poor guys spend all week dressing like corporate America tells them they must, and this is just their little way of daring to express themselves. I always fantasize about showing up for one of my casting clinics or tying classes dressed in a "Kiss my Bass" T-shirt, and a Coors hat. I really am that deviant.
Getting back to hard goods. I enjoy comparing tackle as much as the next guy, but I also enjoy using it. I can only tolerate so much gear talk before my mind wanders off to the river. The exception is in the middle of a Midwest winter. Here I will gladly drive through snowdrifts to meet in a coffee house and chat about flies, reels, and other junk. Some people however, seem to do mostly talking and little fishing. That is O.K. if you are elderly and have spent the last fifty years crawling around the Trinity wilderness fishing and kill rattlesnakes by biting their heads off, but more and more I see younger people that seem to enjoy the equipment talk as much as or more than the fishing. You know who these guys are. They own a closet of 35 spey rods and plan on purchasing twenty more. I refer to them as 'Gear Nazis'.
The fly fishing industry doesn't help. They are like a ten thousand pound vulture getting the scent of blood. Just as the post-movie boom was dieing off, and the boomers went back to their golf courses, the fly fishing industry expanded ten fold. Instead of five or six reputable rod companies, there were now hundreds pouring both awesome and pathetic products on the market. One needs a seeing eye dog just to navigate it all. I feel sorry for the people taking up the sport. That is why I never stocked anything in my shop that I had not personally approved. When Orvis apparently decided to hire the three stooges as rod designers, I dropped half their rod lineup. I was the first dealer in Wisconsin to stock the excellent and affordable Echo series of rods from Tim Rajeff. I saw it as my job to navigate through the sea of product bullshit and guide the customer to the other side.
So, now when I look down at my Hardy Bougle' and boxes full of fine flies, I can be proud of owning good equipment. I deserve it. Its what I do...
BTW, the photo at the top of this post is of my old flyshop at Laacke and Joys. Bill Schreiber built the business, and I carried it on. When I left, the owners turned it into a clearance room. Alas, a requiem for a fine flyshop. Laacke and Joys flyshop 1979-2007. Rest in peace old friend. I left a piece of myself with you.