When I first got in to fishing, I didn't understand the relationship between tackle shop owner and customer. I guess I was pretty dull in just assuming everyone shopped at Sportmart or MC Sports, but never knew people would specialize in a such a particular line of gear. Fast forward fifteen years and I'd say the specialized tackle dealer is irreplaceable.
In the age of the internet, many people visit fly shops for their knowledge, try on a few pairs of waders, maybe cast a rod, only to head home and buy them online at a discount.: taking up the fly shop guys' time, attention, diverting it away from customers who are their not just to spend money, but also support the community. I say community because so many people benefit from having a great fly shop in the area. It's not just waders, flies and tying supplies they're dishing out.
When I first got in to fly fishing my dad took me to a fly shop for a "hands on" casting day. After the policeman was done giving our guide a ticket and spending the first hour of our day in his back seat, we finally had the chance to get out on a small pond with a nice casting platform. It was a good lesson and we both learned a lot in the hour and half. Unfortunately the rest of our day would be spent in the shop, learning about all the money they needed my dad to spend to get started in the sport. Before we left, my dad did the math, and they told us it would require just under $1800 a piece before we even got a wader boot wet. Needless to say we walked out without spending another penny.
I only knew of one other dedicated fly shop in Chicago, Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters, and the Orvis off Michigan Avenue. Between Jon Uhlenhop and Andy Kurkulis at Chi Fly and David Heyman at Orvis, they have taught me so much about the sport, outside of what type of waders I should buy, they've made the few extra bucks I might have saved shopping the discount sites online, totally worth it and more.
Recently Chi Fly expanded and Jeremy Spaccapaniccia is now managing a new location out in Naperville, just outside Chicago. DuPage Fly Fishing Co., at least for me, is great to have. I loved going downtown to see the guys and actually got to spend a good amount of time down there. It was a bit of a hike from the burbs, but that just meant I bothered them a bit more, and a bit longer. The Mrs. let me out for a night and I snuck over to the shop and hung out with Jeremy and Bill as Kurt Nelson led a musky tying class. It was great to sit down with the guys, knock back a couple of Spotted Cows and try not to buy everything on the walls.
No matter where you're located, when you're looking for some new gear, go see the guys at the local fly shop. Even if it's a bit of a hike, it's worth it. Fly fishing is about so much more than just gear. Spend some time with the guys. Bring 'em a six pack and tell them how well the flies you bought there last week did. They not only appreciate it, but may allow you on the inside. Remember, even if you're not doing it, lots of other guys are. So imagine how many spots a fly shop employee may have gathered over the years. Getting one or two may change your life as a fly fisher.