Like the proverbial moth to a flame, I have always been drawn to fly shops. And while other features near my home in Last Chance, Idaho possess stronger attraction, it is a rare day that I do not spend time in the TroutHunter Fly Shop.
As one of three first rate operations separated by little more than a long double haul, the TroutHunter is the brainchild of dynamic owners who have carved a reputation for themselves and their business that is second to none in the competitive business of destination fly fishing. And while only one facet of an operation that provides full service to visiting anglers, the fly shop is the hub of activity before dark.
Early morning is its busiest time as owners meet an ever changing crop of expectant visitors and the guides prepare for a day’s work on the water. For understandable reasons, these are the faces of TroutHunter who garner the most attention, and some have ascended to borderline celebrity status. Less prominent in the picture but no less vital to the day’s success is a group of individuals who keep the business machine running smoothly with small expectation of praise or gratitude from the customers they serve.
Like most who live in the Henry’s Fork community, a fly shop staff worker is there for the fishing. The best are as knowledgeable and skilled in matters pertaining to the sport as any river guide, but their personal fishing is always kept separate from business. And unlike many who work the guiding end of the business, most of their free time is spent on the water.
With the level of needed assistance nearly as varied as the number of anglers who walk through the door, the competent shop person is compelled to treat each individual with patience and sensitivity. For a customer who knows what he wants and is impatient to get on the water as quickly as possible, good service is as simple as quick processing of his purchase. On the far end of the scale, however, is the beginning fly fisher who needs help with nearly everything. Proficiency in casting instruction can be an invaluable asset in building a loyal customer, as will honest explanation and advice in the selection of tackle and gear.
Knowledge of hatches, fishing conditions, and other details associated with numerous and diverse waters distributed among three states and one national park can bring added value to an employer whose profitability is largely dependent upon providing a service that brings no direct revenue to the business. Whether face to face or by phone, a solid fly shop staff member will probably spend more time dispensing free information than any other job related activity, and it is done with an understanding that it might be his or her most important role.
While a satisfied customer is the primary objective and general result, fly shop personnel will invariably be subjected to the often unfair wrath of a disappointed fisherman, or sometimes the person is just an asshole. These are the times when a true professional is most clearly revealed. Maintaining dignity, composure, and even cordiality while in the face of unjustified insult and hostility is a trait I do not personally possess, but this characteristic is almost mandated if you work in a fly shop. And this, above all, is justification for the respect and appreciation I have for these unique members of our industry.
Some of my most valued friends and favorite fishing companions come from these ranks. They are truly the unsung heroes of fly fishing.