Anywhere you find fish that can be caught on a fly (which is just about anywhere you find fish) you’ll find a fly shop. Some are grand affairs with carpeting, staff in matching shirts, and hundreds of brands. Others are small with two or three options of each requisite item. Those items, by the way, are:
• Waders & boots
• Fly line & leaders
• Fly tying materials
• Clothing — rain gear, shirts, hats (especially hats)
• Other gear — all the miscellaneous crap you carry in your vest or chest pack in case you need it
• and of course, flies
There’s usually a white board with area stream reports, conditions, flies the fish are taking, etc. And you can usually find a guide or two to hire.
Given all that — and taking into exception size — one fly shop pretty much looks like another. What’s different is the vibe. The atmosphere. I’ve been in a fly shop in West Yellowstone, Montana where the owner is a true international celebrity in the world of fly fishing. But if he’s in the shop, he’s clerking, stocking shelves, and answering questions about the local rivers. He’s just as friendly as your next door neighbor, only a little busier. And I was in a shop once where the guy behind the counter insulted me as soon as I walked in the door — a weak attempt at guy humor. I didn’t spend much money in that one.
So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I wandered into Lund’s Fly Shop on Main Street in River Falls, Wisconsin the other day. Main Street and Lund’s are barely 100 yards from the shores of the Kinnickinnic River, a beautiful little trout river that runs through the heart of River Falls. Lund’s owner, Brian Smolinsky, has put together a great little shop. He’s wedged it into maybe 400 square feet of an old bank building. The old bank vault is over in one corner, its door covered with fly industry decals. Trevor, the kid behind the counter, told me, “It’s where we keep the secret flies”.
I looked around and yep, everything was there. Rods, flies, vest & chest packs, even a corner devoted to spin fishing — no elitist crap in this shop, just a friendly place to come in and spend a few minutes and a few dollars while getting the latest stream report.
Trevor was great. He asked if he could point me anywhere, and then he left me alone. Guys who wander into fly shops are their own worst enemies — and the shop’s best salesmen. Give them a few minutes and they’ll find something to buy. Occasionally they’ll be on a mission. One guy came running in while I was there, with a shout of “I need Coachmans!”
“They should be over there, about half way down”, Trevor replied. A minute later the guy was back in a panic, with a cry of “I can’t find ‘em!” Trevor slipped around the edge of the counter and retrieved the flies from the rows of tiny bins. Crisis averted, but I understood how the guy could miss the Coachmans. The display looked like roughly a third of an acre of little 2 x 3-inch plastic boxes, each one with a different fly in it.
So the vibe in Lund’s that Saturday afternoon was friendly and low key. Trevor was helpful and knowledgeable and efficient, but not at all pushy. A young lady whom I took to be his girlfriend was perched on a stool by the counter, nose glued to her laptop, doing homework. Three kids were over in the spinner section, buying a rod and reel. Another was looking at the high-tech chest packs. And then there was me, half journalist and half fly fisherman, trying to decide which to be.
Typical to what happens to a guy in a fly shop, I went in as a writer to chat a little bit, find out a few things about the shop, and take some photographs, and walked out a fisherman, feeling damn lucky to have spent only $15 when the row of brand new rods were singing their siren song to me.