The call went something like this:
“Mountain High Fly, this is Sara.”
“Ah, yes. Hello. I’m Bub, the rep in your area for______.”
“Hi there, Bub.”
“So I hear you have a new fly shop.”
“Why yes, I do.” [How astute]
“So you’ve owned a fly shop before?”
“So then you must have been a guide…?”
“…Well whatever possessed you to want to open a fly shop?”
“We needed one. Anything else?”
Bub didn’t really have anything else except a now defunct sales pitch falling on deaf ears. I thought to myself, ‘I will never do business with this man.’
It wasn’t the first time and it won’t have been the last that someone’s preconceived notion of ‘who should’ and ‘who should not’ own a fly shop lost a sale for him.
I started fly fishing six years ago in Jackson, Wyoming, where I lived and worked as a wildlife guide in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. With an M.S. in Natural Science, guiding was the best job I could hope for in Jackson Hole. It was grueling work, waking up at 4 am only to return at 10 pm on many nights, but I learned the Park wildlife’s daily habits, enjoyed tracking them every day and reveled in my clients’ experience of that abundant and historically rich ecosystem.
So yes, I opened a fly shop, Mr. Old-School-Rep-Fella-Who-Believes-You-Must-Be-the-Best-to-Own-a-Fly-Shop
It’s hard to make a living in Jackson. I ate alone a lot. But inevitably, one always drinks with someone in Jackson and, of course, I met a boy. As a woman in the valley’s 52 percent male, aging Peter Pan population, that’s bound to happen.
It was summer and the male winter sports enthusiasts were free to romance after their powder day bromances and I fell for this fellow who just happened to have been a fly fishing guide once upon a time. On our first date, he took me on a drift boat down the Snake River and taught me how to cast. We periodically stopped the boat on the bank to track elk and mule deer and give his dog a place to run. It was the most romantic date I had ever been on, as a naturalist myself, and I fell hook, line and sinker for him and for fly fishing.
The summer was a blur of hikes, bikes, rivers, fantastic food, campfires and necking under the stars. We even lasted through hunting season, dining on fresh pronghorn and elk with drizzles of homemade vodka blackberry sauce. But in October I got a call for a salaried job and I made the choice to leave. It seemed like the right thing to do.
I worked the job for a while, but adventure beckoned. For the next five years I lived in the mountains of New Mexico, the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, Washington‘s Columbia Gorge and the Cascades of Oregon. I taught field science, brushed up on my Pacific Northwest ecology and fished in the summers.
Eventually I found myself unemployed and possibly unemployable due to my gypsy lifestyle
I would find mentors for a short time, maybe just a session, as I explored. One man, Barry, an oilman and well-digger from Texas, showed me the spectacular confluence of the Red and Rio Grande rivers in Taos, a 1000 foot drop down a canyon to prolific waters. Another Star Trek aficionado brought me to Valle Vidal and the lush tributaries of Comanche Creek with its wild cutthroat trout. In the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, I explored small creeks and lakes alone, casting around in small pools, while in the Pacific Northwest I fished the Deschutes, the White Salmon, the Sandy and any smaller waters I crossed on my wild mushroom hunts.
When I left, I left him, but I took fly fishing with me.
Eventually I found myself unemployed and possibly unemployable due to my gypsy lifestyle, so I took off for New Hampshire to test the fishing waters there. I was feeling the call of my family in the east. Part of me felt as though the west had defeated me. Twenty-two years in the west, an undergraduate and graduate degree, a massage license and multiple teaching jobs behind me, at 37 years old, I had nothing to show. I came up empty in fishing too, losing most of my flies to small stick-laden brooks teeming with vegetation and caught not one fish. Frustrated, I hunted for a fly shop and found nothing within an hour and a half from me. I made the long trek to L.L. Bean to buy the most expensive caddis flies I’d ever encountered and marveled at New Hampshire’s multiple watersheds and lack of fly shops.
As luck would have it, a teaching job appeared right in the vicinity I was fishing, just south of the White Mountains. It seemed serendipitous, as it was a new nature-based school aimed at connecting children with the ecosystem, something I had done for a long time. I took the job, but the school turned out to be a disaster, (as I surmised it might, having witnessed their lack of oversight or knowledge about education). After seven months of much reckoning, I resigned mid-year.
Empty-handed and yearning for a project that wouldn’t send me reeling, (yes, pun) I realized the answer had been in front of me the whole time. There was no fly shop right where there should be ... at the entrance to the western White Mountains. Within two days it was a done deal. Jerard Derossier was looking for a new summer tenant in the winter home of The Snowboard Shack and I met a local chef and gear-head with a kind heart and a knack for understanding industry reps. Within three weeks, I created a new fly shop: Mountain High Fly. As I’d hoped, anglers have come out of the woodwork and I have a steady stream of excited customers as well as scheduled events led by local experts and guides for hire. I am filling a gap and creating more interest in the sport. No one needs to have been an expert or a guide to achieve that.
Within three weeks, I createda new fly shop.
I’ve never been much good at catching fish. I’ll say right here, that I’ve only caught a handful in my six seasons, but fly fishing has brought me to the most beautiful places in America. I never had anyone to observe me or help me hone my skills. I learned “noon and ten” and from there it was trial and error. Don’t scoff, but fly fishing has never been about catching fish for me. It’s about connecting, patience, observation, and the luck of seeing a bald eagle steal from an osprey, a moose swim across an oxbow’s bend or a beaver creating a slow wake as it heads for its lodge. Finding the cut, holes, eddies and overhanging boughs where fish might be hiding is the reward for time spent. So yes, I opened a fly shop, Mr. Old-School-Rep-Fella-Who-Believes-You-Must-Be-the-Best-to-Own-a-Fly-Shop, because I want to help people connect with the land. I’m not competing for a title or the biggest fish. I’m adding value to people’s quest to connect. I may be a novice at fishing, but I’m an expert at listening. I fished that cut and found the sweet spot, and that is what fishing is all about.