Fly rod  over the Yellowstone
Our first catalog cover.
Yellowstone river  at Mill Creek confluence looking north.

The Absaroka mountain range (11000 ft.+- ) over looks our valley.

The Founding of a Business
Part Three
of a Trilogy

So where does this all lead to?
In parts 1 and 2 of this short  trilogy I’ve ragged on some shop owner’s characteristics  and I’ve ragged on some guide’s habits and other people who are associated with this hobby. I’ve explained how I created a business in the heartland  of American fly fishing. Along with this business I have now put together a fly fishing school, which can lead novice anglers to a more independent way of viewing fishing in general. So, in essence, I’m just trying to do my part to insure , at least temporarily, fly fishing does not go the way of the elitist, the newly  rich, the ignorant and or the old school English  tradition. Regardless of all of this, I’m certain there will be a few  devoted fly fishers who will not profess to my way of thinking at all. That’s quite all right. There are extremists in all walks of life. If you ever own  a fly shop  you will undoubtedly meet more then your share.

So where does this leave us?
I’ve written a little about how I got started doing what I do.  I’ve written about how the fly fishing business could affect the average reader in his or her own pursuit of fishing.  I guess it now comes to line up the rest of the field and take a bunch of verbal pot shots. Accordingly,  in this section I will just write random notes from my desk. After all it is snowing as I write this,  I have time on my hands and if you are still reading these words apparently you have a little time on your hands also.

One thing which amazes me after fifty years of fishing and this reference is not disputed and still written  by many, is the fact that a little kid can usually out fish the well equipped adult. Why is this? I tend to believe it is simple desire within the kid and the kid’s controlled focus on everything he knows about fishing. The kid is patient. The kid is willing to try new things to get a fish to eat whatever he offers. The kid also eliminates, through his inexperience many of the items which can clutter an angler’s focus. The shop owners who are “merchandisers” and not anglers are now saying as they read this, “he can’t say that. He’ll put us out of business. We need to sell stuff, plenty of stuff.” The shop owners who are true anglers are dialing the phone to speak with me and possibly to get a franchise before it costs them  a pile of cash. Because I’m coming to all areas.

My fishing “logic” has continually changed since I started fishing. At one time I owned several neoprene waders. I used them often. In fact, I’ve worn  a set or three out well  before I ever came to Montana. I’ve trashed a few sets since then.  However as time moves on I found that suiting up every time I wanted to get into the water just became  a pain in my back. Right now I am a firm believer in the positive uses of hip waders. They are quick  to get in and out of . They  come in a variety of styles including stocking foot. I don’t make any wading products as of this writing but I do have them on my business’ wish list. However, getting back to the kid,  a kid just says I’m going fishing and off he goes. Sneakers work for most,  but felt soled sandals, for kids and the young at heart, do even better when used in the summer. Well, at least on the freestone streams around here. Except that  the water tends to stay cold in the mountain creeks.  Now here’s a little bit of advice for novices.

 When you fish with a buddy who wears chest waders, you can quickly and  easily get a few fish under  the ‘hooked and flip released”  category   because he or she is still messing with waders, gravel guards and boots while sitting on the tailgate watching you fish. Ask any well qualified angler and they will tell you that, “you can’t catch a fish unless you have a line in the water.” Simply put, hip waders will keep your line in the water for more time. They will keep the car cleaner because they a quick to remove and provide more time for fishing instead of calling over a friend to help in  removing the neoprenes. Air also does not stay trapped around your body so you don’t wind up stinking like a soggy bear at the end of the day.

I ’m  not one to haul around a fishing net on a daily basis even though  Knoll’s Fishing Products does make twelve different models of nets. Yet,  in some of the nation’s fly shops the owners would have you believe, especially as a novice, that  you need one right from the onset of fishing. Then again,  some anglers have read so much advertising and viewed so many pictures in magazines that  they believe it is as important as a rod or fly selection. Sorry, but in most streams and creeks a forceps which is simply  clipped and unclipped from  your vest or shirt pocket will work quite well. And we must all remember that all of our trout are coated with a thin membrane of mucus which wards off infections and such. Nets, no matter what kind or what advancement in the bag fibers or even how much they are  promoted or  cost  will naturally harm a fish more then leaving the fish  in the water and having a quick twist with a forceps or pliers to remove the fly. Now I have to admit when keeping a fish for a dinner use any net you can find. Sometimes  a club will also do the trick efficiently. However  a simple single strand stringer will keep the fish alive for hours or at least until you depart for the kitchen. 

Floatant is a wondrous thing. Without floatant we’d be false casting like we did in the sixties. I’ve been experimenting with these substances for quite some time and I find it totally amazing all of the different products that are advertised to the readers of magazines. Do they all fulfill their claims? I don’t know. I really don’t care and I’m not about to start testing every product  that comes out. All I know is that my floatant works exceedingly well. In my shop I carry other products which are well advertised  but my “good stuff”  outsells the others annually. Here is the reason why.

First off my floatant comes in a jelled form. I’ve  also placed this jelled concoction in an oversized bottle which does not fit in standard  vest caddies. My reasoning  was simple as a child’s thoughts. I was tired of having a loosely capped, inverted bottle of liquid drool down onto my waders like loose snot. The K.I.S.S. method, which stands for  Keep It  Simple Stupid, made me take the bottle out of the inverted caddy and make the product into a jell. It works well and many of my customers say that it is the best line dressing and cleaner they ever used. Three for one isn’t too bad a deal. So should I add a weak dye and call the same product as something else? I don’t think so. It’s just not my style.

 How about fishing vests. Knoll’s Fishing Products does make this as part of the product line  and personally I fill my whole vest with everything I can fit into the pockets. Well, in actuality most of the items are small boxes of flies.  Do I use all of these items? Not really. Nevertheless,  it is good to know that you have something with you when you leave the  proximity of your vehicle and a trunk full of other neat stuff. I do have some friends who swear by these lanyard necklace thingies. I’ve tried one out a few seasons ago  and every time I caught a fish the stupid necklace was swinging like a pendulum from my neck and became a pain in the neck (just as a figure of speech) as I fought   the swinging  mass of tippet material, flies, and vest accessory tools. I just couldn’t  cut it. Sorry but I’ll just keep to my old stained and over stuffed vest in use. And for some of the anglers who wouldn’t wear a beat up vest I say this, “I drove  a ‘vette in the sixties. When the new style came out, the new ’vette owners like to flaunt the fact that they had the new model. I just looked at them and didn’t say too much. I drove mine first.”

We now move into all the vest accessories and fly tying gizmos and doohickeys. I’ve seen dozens of different makes and models of these well thought out items and  I do not believe that any make or model is much better then any other brand. Most of the gizmos will out live us all or, if used in a river or stream will be inadvertently dropped in the water and lost well before their time. Most of these products we dangle from our vest need not be built with planned obsolescence.

 However I am not eliminating  these guys from the overdone advertisers. For example I’ve seen the “new revelations” in forceps. The new “thing” is a forceps with a scissor included just behind the beak of the forceps.  I’ve had a set of these for maybe twenty two years. They are a common  tool used in the medical industry and, in the past,  I  built numerous medical facilities and had small gifts of one or two pairs of these “new revelations” given to me by the presiding  physicians.   I have these “ new innovations” in my shop right now and have had them for four or five years. Heck, I even have them in three colors.  But, the glossy ads will be paving their way to your door every month touting whatever.

How about hackle? Here’s a few thoughts. Genetic hackle is great stuff. Feathers which are sold as “Dry fly hackle”  isn’t as good. It’s a different breed of bird so that‘s why the “genetic” name has been eliminated.  Also the length of a feather isn’t the only criteria for a good product.  Feathers sold by the strand are extremely expensive as compared to the whole saddle. And the feathers in a #2 or #3 neck can still tie some good flies even though the cost of the piece is  less then a #1 cape or saddle. Naturally, the more a product is advertised the greater the price of the product becomes. My customers would never pay $75 -$125 dollars for a neck or a saddle. Well that is not correct . If held hostage they will cough up the money but only under pressure.  Some of the tiers are honestly cheap and others just know I don’t have it in my heart to charge that much for one. Enough said on that.

So what is it that we have here? Am I a “spoiler” or a friggin’ hero? Do I downgrade an industry to  promote angler independence? Or, do I promote a great hobby that has been saturated by hype and elitist attitudes? Personally, I really don’t care if you can tie a trout fly or if you have to purchase your fly arsenal. I do not care if you cannot easily spew the Latin names of bugs or you can only tie one or two knots.  This is a simple hobby so why promote a caste system within its ranks? I have also found that most of the elistists wouldn't be good leaders anyway. They are so bogged down with "proper" and "suggested" that many of the faithful  miss the point of why they dabble in the hobby anyway. Many elitists  will even take offense that I call fly fishing a hobby instead of an art form. But, in my opinion art is pure flowing motion not the structured metronomic casting of a purist fishing two flies on one line at a high priced getaway that stocked the pond with pellet fed big fish.

 But, one thing is for certain. I orchestrate all of my products on need basis and created a retail price  for the product which is not based on some driving force to take advantage of the inexperienced. Like I have stated before, “flies should be like snicker bars. Available everywhere in fishing locations.”  Outfitters and guides need to be a little more honest even at the cost of a few trips or even change their ways to aid in the promotion of an area’s resources. Without this attitude the industry is spiraling downhill.  Manufacturers should take a really good look at what their products do and the value they have placed on them. Then again maybe they should up their prices a little more. I’ll be waiting in the shadows like a big brown trout.”  Doc Knoll

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