ClosedThe fly shop death toll is rising. Every week, it seems, I hear about another biting the dust. And that makes me sad, because the specialty fly shop is an American outdoors icon. I remember many long hours during my growing up years, listening to stories, learning to tie flies, and just hanging out in my local fly shop (now gone). I can almost smell the must, feathers, and head cement … hey, maybe that explains my hair falling out, those trout hallucinations and the urge to flyfish for sharks …

Anyway, it’s easy to blame the big boxes for the fly shops’ demise. Wal-Mart killed the toy stores. Bass Pro and Cabela’s are killing the fly shop. Well, not exactly.

I shop at Cabela’s and local fly shops with a clear conscience, knowing that each has a value proposition, and, as an angler, I can benefit from both.

Think of Cabela’s as the grocery store, and the fly shops are restaurants. At Cabela’s (in the mega-stores, in the millions of catalogs they print, and online) you can find an almost unlimited array of products, at good prices … instant gratification. But, by and large, mixing the recipes (meaning learning how to fish) is up to you.

That’s where the fly shop can help, and this is the niche that the good ones will fill if they want to survive. A fly shop is ultimately only as successful as the information it provides and the service it delivers. They cook up your fishing prowess.

Sure, there are certain fly shops that are bulletproof by virtue of location; the shop selling flies on the Bighorn is about as permanent as the vendor selling hot dogs in Yankee Stadium. But the ones who have to struggle to stay afloat have one way to survive – by making you a better angler. The smart ones get it, the ones who don’t … well they won’t be around long anyway.

So don’t be afraid to ask questions when you go to that fly shop. What’s hatching … where should you go … how do you do this or that? The smart shop will have plenty of people willing to tackle those questions as if their jobs depended on the answers.

Because, the truth of the matter is … they do.