Introducing the Staying Afloat Series, where we take an inside look into the lives of many different fly fishing guides, shops, brands, and lodges across the world in hopes of finding out how the CO-VID is affecting them, what they are doing to help, and how we can do our part to help them. To kick the series off we interviewed Ben McCormick owner of Cutthroat Anglers, a fly shop located in the Rocky Mountains about an hour outside of Denver.
Flylords: Who is Ben McCormick and Cutthroat Anglers?
Ben: Cutthroat Anglers is a group of 25 fishing enthusiasts from all over the place. Our fly shop and guide service have been operating for 20 years. We have 200,000 flies, 300+ miles of permitted water in Colorado, and a tenured team of guides and shop staff. One of our biggest strengths as an Outfitter is the information sharing within our guide staff and a healthy relationship between our senior/tenured leaders and the hungry/young guns. Our shop folks are both knowledgeable and open to beginners. I like to think we are a collective group of people focused on continually improving the entire fly-fishing experience.
I’m the new guy with little to no experience. I grew up in a small Indiana town called Columbus and fell in love with fly fishing a few short years ago. You could say I’m the stereotypical Midwesterner that moved out to Colorado and made the rivers more crowded. Either way, I ditched Corporate America and was lucky enough to stumble into my current position. I look at fly fishing as an endless journey of exploration and learning. It has helped me heal some tough family relationships, and I believe it’s given me a better perspective on life/made me a better person. I have no fly shop playbook or set beliefs on how things should work and I’m not afraid of change. I’m hungry to learn and will do my best to leave this industry and our waters in better shape than before.
Flylords: Can you tell us a little bit about how the CO-VID outbreak affected your business?
Ben: We went from a booming two weeks of nice weather in early March to a full tourist evacuation in a matter of two days. Just when we are about to make the turn post-winter, this thing shut the area down. Here is a little timeline of how it all went down:
- 03/15 Vail Resorts suspends ski resort operations
- 03/17 Vail Resorts announces closure for the remainder of the season
- 03/17 Summit County closes all non-essential businesses indefinitely.
- 03/18 Cutthroat Anglers suspends all guiding activity through 04/01/2020
Flylords: Are you still operating?
Ben: We shut down our retail operation on March 17th and our guiding operation the next day. Our current business operation includes online sales, curbside pick-up, and supplying fishing reports.
Flylords: Are fly shops in Colorado legally allowed to operate?
Ben: This is still gray in my opinion. The vast majority of shops have closed their retail spaces. Most are doing some form of curbside pick-up and online sales. Some are still guiding….
Flylords: How have your guides and fly shop staff been impacted?
We have 4 folks that work in the shop year-round whose hours will be severely impacted. 4-5 of our guides were running 1-2 trips a week prior to the shop closing. The majority of our guide staff returns in the next month or two after the ski resorts or their “off” season jobs end. The problem is all of those jobs are gone too.
Flylords: What are some of the ways you have been supporting your staff?
Ben: 30% of all online sales (excluding flies) are going to our shop staff. We are still providing limited shifts for pick-up, delivery, and fishing reports. 30% of all fly sales are going to our guides.
We also set up a Gofundme page as a Guide Relief Fund. We will be allocating this fund to our guides in need. Those that donate will be eligible to win some pretty cool prizes including 2 full day float trips with our head guide, Reed Ryan. I may even serve up some cocktails and a gourmet lunch for the winner.
Flylords: What are some ways customers can support you and your team?
Ben: Shop online, buy a gift card, book a guided trip for late summer, or donate to our Gofundme page.
- Buy something online If you are planning on investing in a rod/reel, waders/boots, any type of gear this year. We put a ton of work into our website this off-season and have plenty of new gear for 2020 in the shop.
- Move your trip back vs canceling if you are scheduled to fish with us in the next month.
- Book a trip now if you plan on fishing with us this summer. This is a huge one for us and the more bookings we get for this summer, the more we can do for our guides. We will refund all deposits up to 7 days before your trip in case something changes in the coming months. Call us at 970-262-2878 between 9 am and 1 pm MST or email anglers@fishcolorado if you are interested in booking a trip.
- Look out for local businesses in your area. I can speak from experience that all local businesses are going through a very hard time right now. Any and all business goes a very long way.
Flylords: Do you think it is still safe to go fly fishing? Any tips for social distancing while fly fishing?
Ben: Absolutely and I believe it’s crucial to get fresh air and maintain sanity for most of us. Drive separately if you are fishing with a friend and run your own shuttle if you are floating. Once you are on the river, it’s pretty easy to maintain distance. The key is being extremely careful planning logistics to and from the river. Bring a pair of gloves or hand sanitizer and treat your gas station stop with extreme caution. Bring your own cooler of beverages and food vs sharing anything.
Flylords: Anything else you want to add?
Ben: This is tough for everyone in the fly-fishing industry from the guides, to all the shops, to our reps, and our brands. I anticipate it will only get harder and the negotiating table between all of us is going to be intense. My hope is that we all focus on taking care of people within the industry. If we can do that, we will be just fine.
Thank you to Ben for taking the time to speak with us in regard to the CO-VID outbreak, be sure to check out Cutthroat Anglers online here or give them a call at 970-262-2878.
This series is being helped made possible by the generous folks at Fat Tire and New Belgium Brewing. Throughout the “Staying Afloat Series” we will be sending beer to people who are really in need of a “pick me up”. If you have a good story for someone who deserves some beer shoot us an email email@example.com
All photos from photographer Douglas Hensel (@douglas_hensal).