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  • Unwritten rules of the fly shop: How to not be "that guy" (or gal)
  • Post author
    Brita Fordice
  • fly fishingfly fishing tipsfly tying

Unwritten rules of the fly shop: How to not be "that guy" (or gal)

'Tis the season for fishing, sun, and, in some cases, being a tourist in another state on another trout stream or bass pond.

And because all fly anglers are magnetically attracted to every fly shop within a 100-mile radius, this means visiting new fly shops too.

After many years working in and guiding out of a fly shop, I compiled a list of the do's and don'ts of fly shop patronage to help you make your trip more successful.

1. Don't expect the shop to have the exact version of your pattern that "caught every fish you ever landed in '84-'97," but do expect them to offer to tie you some.

I understand the sentimental value of flies. I have some that worked 25 years ago on Pass Lake in Washington better than anything.

I also have a pattern that worked so well on Lake Lenice at one time that I made $125 in 5 hours of fishing by selling them to other anglers on the lake who kept kicking over to me and asking to buy some.

Do these patterns still work? Rarely.

Every once in a while I find a dumb enough fish to hit one, but considering those fish have seen everything (word spreads like wildfire when it comes to patterns that are working), I'm better off trying something they haven't seen every day for the past 25 years.

Flies these days darn near fish themselves and can contain rubber legs, propellers, and everything short of dancing ladies that pop out when you cast.

Try something new and exciting. Throw out your preconceived notions on what "should" work, and enjoy your day on the water.

And if you simply must have exact copies of your favorite pattern, ask the shop staff to tie some for you. After all, that's what specialty retailers are for. But don't be surprised if it's a woman who ends up tying them for you :).

2. Don't say, "I've taken this week-long trip to 'XYZ' every year for 8 years, so I know what I'm doing."

Was it wise to guide in 25-mph wind? Nope. Between the wind, releasing salmon in 3- to 4-foot surf, and constant pouring rain, this was one of the most challenging yet rewarding days I've ever guided. It was worth it!

Shop staff don't get commission, I promise; I would've been much nicer if I had. They're offering help because they want to.

And because compared to your 56 days on said water in the last 8 years, they've likely fished it 56 days in the last 3 months alone.

Listen to their advice.

You don't have to agree and you don't have to buy everything they suggest, but listen out of courtesy. They might introduce you to the one bug that ends up becoming your next go-to pattern.

3. If you find a female behind the counter, don't ask, "do you fish?"

It's the 21st Century. Women can vote, work, and, believe it or not, even work in a fly shop.

While it's easy to assume that they're there because their "boyfriend owns the shop," it's actually highly unlikely that's the case these days.

Having been fly fishing since 1988 and working in a fly shop for almost 12 years, I can say you need to be tough as heck and know your stuff up and down to spend one day working in a fly shop. 

4. Don't say, "It must be a defective rod, because it keeps breaking at the same spot."

Yes, the fly shop staff will agree with you and send it in happily for repair because they want to keep you, the customer, happy.

But they know the reason it breaks at the same spot every time is because you're fishing the same creek from the same side doing the same roll cast with the same beadhead nymph hitting the rod in the same spot day after day.

This weakens the graphite in that one spot. Then, "It just breaks" the next time you're overhead casting, leading to the obvious conclusion that it's a defective rod.

It's generally not. Rod performance is greater than ever before. Rods of the 90's could generate high line speed, but they're nothing compared to the 130 mph that flies have been clocked at on certain rods today.

As a colleague (who shall remain nameless) has explained: "You wouldn't expect to hit a rock on the highway and shatter a car window driving at 50 mph, but you would expect it to shatter driving at 130 mph."

5. If you're using a shop rental rod in a class or on a guide trip, don't feel bad.

As a guide I know that my rods will break annually. All of them. And generally when a client has the smallest fish of the day on.

That's why I always bring backups.

Do I blame the rod? No. I know that I watched a cone head bugger hit that rod 6 times in 4 days. Do I blame my clients? Not at all.

That's why I do what I do. I love teaching, and teaching includes hitting the rod some days.

An 8-year-old broke one of my rods recently by "poking a slug". Did I blame the rod? Nope. Did I learn a lesson? Yup, slug 1, rod 0.

6. Don't say you need to have 300 yards of backing (unless you're fishing for marlin, GT's, or sailfish).

Any fish that gets that far into your backing (if it's not a "big game" fish) has already won. You're never seeing that fish again.

Now I'll tell you, I've had a fish darn near spool me once before. The fish that did it was not a GT, a tarpon, or even a trophy king salmon. My experience came from accidentally foul hooking a 20" brown trout in the dorsal fin on a five-weight rod while sitting in an anchored-up pontoon boat on a lake.

Cheers fish, you win.

7. Don't say "I've been tying flies for years, so I don't need help finding materials."

Case in point: why I don't do live tying videos on my Instagram.The video was going great, was educational, and was rated somewhere between G and PG... Until I realized I'd forgotten the eyes. Oops.

Guess what, I've been tying flies for year too, and I can safely say NOBODY can truly keep up with every new fly tying material at the rate they are showing up in fly shops.

From the new Fish-Skull Faux Bucktail to new dubbing colors, there are new fly tying products created monthly. Even if you know all there is to know about tying one pattern, there may be a new material available that could give your fly the edge that sets it above your fishing buddies' version.

Most fly shop staff love talking fly tying. If you ask nicely enough, some shop staff may even break out a vise and show you a trick or two.

On that note – may you all have a great summer season! Tight lines to all.

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About Brita Fordice:

Brita Fordice fly fishing guide Avid AnglerGrowing up on the Stillaguamish River in Washington state, Brita learned to fly fish at the age of 8, and taught herself to tie flies at 10. After living in both Alaska and Idaho for a few years, she moved back to Seattle in 2004 and has been an employee and guide with Avid Angler Fly Fishing Outfitters since. Her passion lies in guiding Puget Sound beaches and hunting cutthroat and salmon off the sand with baitfish patterns she's created. Follow her on Instagram: @seafly907. If you're interested in booking a guided trip, email her at: britaf@avidangler.com

  • Post author
    Brita Fordice
  • fly fishingfly fishing tipsfly tying

Comments on this post (22)

  • Jul 18, 2017

    Awesome article! I like what you brought up in #3! Don’t make the assumption that the female’s boyfriend owns the fly shop, make the assumption that the FEMALE owns the fly shop!

    — Kevin Nunnelee

  • Jul 18, 2017

    Great article. Being a female in fly fishing is tough. Sometimes I feel as though we are always having to prove our skills to the men. If I had a dollar for every time a man asked, “Do you know how to fish?”, I’d be rich.

    — Lesley Allen

  • Jul 18, 2017

    8. Drop off a six pack or some token of appreciation if a piece of advice/intel a fly shop worker provided you with resulted in a successful day on the water.

    — Kyle Banashek

  • Jul 18, 2017

    Great article. Come down to New Orleans and we’ll try to get you fouled hooked to a Blacktop so you can run up and down the beach out on the Chandeliers for an hour or so! Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    — Windknot

  • Jul 18, 2017

    Nice article, thank you

    — Boris Geyl

  • Jul 17, 2017

    good advice.

    — Jeff Mann

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Great article. All these years I have never seen one in the numerous fly fishing magazines.

    — Pen. Wimbush

  • Jul 17, 2017

    you nailed it I have been working in fly shops since the mid 90’s in one capacity or another. your post made me smile someone else gets it. I have guided and worked part time out a friends shop now going on 10 years and some days it is the most rewarding time and other times I go home shaking my head

    thank you for a great post

    — Steven Babbitt

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Great article n advice! I’ve been tying since I was 14 but always ask about new n different materials at a newly visited Flyshop! Keep up the great articles n Tight Lines!

    — Lyle Bradford

  • Jul 17, 2017

    I have experienced much in my 15+ years of retail, most of it spent in all species all tackle fishing shops. I had fun for a few years, but eventually had together out of retail so I could afford to have a life.
    Some great customers, some absolute nightmares! This article brought back some memories.

    — Scott A. Soucy

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Nicely put. Regards from HHI, Ken at vintagerod.com

    — Kenneth Prager

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Put me on your mailing list

    — John Svetina

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Great article add me to your list

    — Ron polanski

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Please put me on your mailing list,if I`m not already on it. Thanks Scott

    — Scott samuel

  • Jul 17, 2017

    this is so true keep up the great articles we need more off this thx larry pauley

    — larry pauley

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Great article. I’ve encountered #3 more times than I’d like, thanks for including it.

    — Samantha

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Great article. As a former shop owner and current operator of a fly shop for 30 plus years, you hit the nail on the head. And don’t forget the question of “What time will the Hatch begin?”

    — Lenny

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Great article and advice. I look forward to reading more of your stuff. Tight lines back at you from The Great Smoky Mountains!

    — RockyTopDoc

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Great article. I’ve always had total respect for everyone working in fly shops that can deal day in and day out with frustrated fisher’s who aren’t doing quite as well as they think they should be.

    — Gary

  • Jul 17, 2017

    I put in 4 years in a shop, and although I’m not on the “expert” level like some anglers I know, I can say this for sure…my biggest pet peeve was the customers who would come in and brag non-stop about the great trip(s) they had taken, or were going to take.

    Inevitably, my sense was that some of these types would be challenged by a clinch knot. They had deep pockets and could afford the best equipment and always landed the most/largest fish!

    I don’t begrudge them their fantastic trips…just show me a couple pics on your phone and let’s get back to business…you’re going to Chile? Great! Here’s some suggestions for patterns, leader, liner, etc. don’t have to rub my face in it.

    — Prosser

  • Jul 17, 2017

    “Most flies are designed to catch fishermen.”Stick with a few traditional ones.

    — Chase

  • Jul 17, 2017

    Great article and lots of good points! I do enjoy talking fly tying with the folks in the shops and I always go by their vice to see what they’re tying at the moment. Generally they’re either sold out of the pattern because it’s working well, or it’s about to become the go to fly. Hope to see more writing by you on this site.

    — Bill

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