The other day I got a phone call from my credit card company asking for feedback on customer service. Thing is, it was an automated call, as in “press 1 if you are happy with our customer service.” I’m not kidding, although at the time I thought, “you must be joking,” and simply hung up. I don’t think it takes an MBA to figure out that having customers talk to a recording is probably not the best way to assess customer service satisfaction, but I may be wrong.

I don’t think I’m wrong, however, when I say that customer service is the key to a successful fly shop. I’ve been covering the business of fly fishing for many years now, and during that time I’ve seen a number of fly shops close their doors throughout the country. Some of them were great shops, and it’s a shame to see them gone. Some of them were run by crusty, rude people who wanted money. They didn’t care about the rivers or making customers into better anglers, and that’s why they’re gone. While some people may be quick to point out factors like big box stores, discounted products that anglers can buy over the Internet, and even direct sales by manufacturers, I really don’t think those things are going to snuff out businesses that make going into a fly shop the unique and interesting experience many of us enjoy.

In my mind, there are two types of fly shops. The shop by the river that literally lives up to the name “fly shop” because it primarily sells bug patterns to people who want to fish local waters. In many cases, those shops are bulletproof. So long as there are fish in the water, and people who want to catch them, they’ll do fine (unless a competitor decides to open nearby and do that better).

The other type of shop is a “lifestyle” shop, and we find those in more urban and suburban areas. The best of these shops have an uncanny ability to fuel the angler’s imagination, whether that be getting them ready for a long-awaited trip to Montana, or helping them load a box with carp flies (pictured above) so they can chase adventure close to home. It’s all about supporting the angling ideal. And I think that ideal is very strong–it’s why people go to the Fly Fishing Film tour events, or dare I say, read blogs about fly fishing when they’re at their desk at work (don’t worry, I won’t tell on you).

Whether or not you decide to get qualified, exert help and support in choosing the right fishing gear–based on your budget and casting style–is up to you. I just hope people will at least take the time to swing by their local fly shop now and then. If the service and expertise are genuine, the sales stuff tends to take care of itself. If not, there are plenty of other options available. I think that’s ultimately a good thing. Because the fly shops that are still standing are stronger, smarter, and more in tune with the interests and needs of anglers than they ever have been.