Fly shops are special places— sources of local fishing information, the original social media hubs, cultural focal points, and one-stop shops for all things fly fishing. For anglers, both new and old, fly shops can be intimidating places. That’s why we partnered with Vail Valley Anglers to put together this guide on how to navigate a good fly shop visitor. We asked JP Modderno, the Store Manager of Vail Valley Anglers, how customers and anglers can  enhance their fly shop experience.

1) Say Hi!

Rather than walking around the shop and avoiding interaction, take the time to recognize and interact with the folks in the shop. These staff members are the ultimate resources for the local area, the gatekeepers of their local fisheries, and they genuinely want to help you have a successful day on the water.

Shop employees are the ultimate resource because of their ability to determine experience level, preferences, goals, etc., and provide you with information that meets your specific needs. Don’t pass up this valuable customer service opportunity!

Front of the Vail Valley Anglers Store
Courtesy of Vail Valley Anglers

2) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions, Even If You Think They’re Dumb.

Many people feel intimidated to ask for help with things they think are too basic. No one that walks through the door is wasting shop workers’ time. The reality is that they love helping people of all skill levels.

Watching people grow in the sport, or come back from fishing local rivers for the first time, is what keeps shop workers going. They’d rather help answer all of someone’s questions instead of watching them struggle and come back disappointed.  It’s also important to remember that a lot of the folks working the shop are also guides… so when they aren’t physically on the river, they are living vicariously through you.

Busy fly shop
Courtesy of Vail Valley Anglers

3) It’s Usually Not the Flies

People working in the shop are going to be honest about what’s working because they are recommending what works for them! Everyone rigs differently, and that seems to make more of a difference than anything after you already know what’s hatching. Ask 40 guides what’s working right now and you’ll get 40 different answers… None of them are wrong answers when they’re all catching fish! Ask about depth, weight, and setups, and your results will improve just as much as finding the “hot” fly.

Anglers floating
Courtesy of Vail Valley Anglers

4) Support Your Local Shop.

Repping your favorite shop by buying one of their hats or shirts means a lot to the shop.  They love seeing pictures of you rocking their gear all over the world (it does get noticed). Leaving positive reviews on sites like Google and Trip Advisor is also extremely helpful for any business, especially in this day and age.  

Do not be the person that uses fly shops to gain valuable intel only to go home and purchase the same gear online. While this might help you save a few bucks on tax, you are not being a steward of the fly fishing community. Every time you are traveling to a new area to fish for the first time, a stop at the nearest fly shop to grab some recommend flies is a must! The stop will usually not just be for flies but for some valuable local fishing knowledge.

Fly container and flies
Courtesy of Vail Valley Anglers

5) Shop Workers Don’t Know Everything

Have you ever met a person that’s had a conversation with a trout? Probably not…  Don’t believe anyone that tells you that you HAVE to rig a certain way, fish a certain way, or tie on certain flies. What makes fly shops such a special place is that they have tons of collective fishing experience, and they’re not afraid to say the words “I don’t know.” The difference between confidence and stubbornness is what separates great anglers, guides, and shop staff from the average ones.  Since fisheries are constantly changing (river conditions, hatches, to boat ramp access) no one will ever have all the answers all the time.

6) Relax, it’s just fishing!

Shops get extremely busy in the mornings and sometimes there will be a line.  Guess what?  The fish aren’t going anywhere!  One of the best parts of fly fishing is how it slows you down and forces patience into your life. Try and remember why you love this hobby before you try and cut the line. You will be called out and remembered.  IT’S JUST FISHING!

Angler holding a brown trout with a dog nearby
JP Modderno and his dog Cutty with a nice Brown Trout. Courtesy of Vail Valley Anglers

7) Pet the Damn Dog!

What good fly shop doesn’t have a shop dog? They wouldn’t be in the shop if they weren’t friendly and they will take personal offense if they don’t get a head-scratch or tap on the butt. PRO TIP: Bring dog treats into a shop. The staff will remember you and greet you with open information every time you walk in… And the dog will put you on the same level as the UPS guy.

Guides and anglers interacting in a fly shop
Courtesy of Vail Valley Anglers

8) Bring Gifts to Share! (Beers never hurt…)

Now, this is a big-time tip! If you go anywhere you’re unfamiliar with (especially for an extended period of time) bring in a 12 pack for the shop staff the first time I walk in.  No matter what shop you’re in, you’ll immediately turn heads and get the staff’s attention. Not surprisingly, you’ll get the info that is typically guarded and not just the same recycled response that everyone gets. Even if you’re a regular who always goes to the same shop, a case of beer will always be the ultimate sign of appreciation for the staff. No one is killing it in this industry and we all knew that when we got into it. It’s not the money that drives us, it’s the passion for fishing, the relationships we build, and the good times.

Thanks to the folks over at Vail Valley Anglers for helping us come up with this valuable list. 

Stay tuned for more installments of “Fishing Etiquette.”

This article was written by Andrew Braker.

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