My friend Scott had an idea to "Keep them wet" - referring to waders instead of fishes - as a way to show the impact of anglers on local economies. Our economic impact is important to local communities and I agree with Scott, our visibility is important. Though I live in La Crosse, I still see myself as a tourist angler to much of Driftless. As I stop in Coon Valley to get gas, Westby for food, or Viroqua at the fly shop; I am typically wearing my fishing gear. In part, we are showing that anglers are bringing in a significant amount of tourism dollars to the local economies. When a local issue comes about - how to deal with wastewater, a landfill expansion, proposed mines or CAFOs, and other potential sources of degradation.
I am a fan of buying local. I try to buy as much of my meat, eggs, and other products from a local farm, veggies and maple syrup from the local farmers market, and I try to buy my groceries, gas, and booze near where I am fishing. I think it is important that anglers are a visible part of the communities they live in and visit. We have a much better chance of getting support for environmental issues that affect trout streams when it our economic impact is evident. Yeah, I know it should not come to that but let's face it, it often does. What gets the attention of local business owners, politicians, and many others is our economic impact. For many the environment matters because it is a commodity, a monetary value can be put on it. Angler provide much of that monetary value in the Driftless. We buy food and drinks, rent places to stay, buy gas and other essentials, and in general, we have a pretty significant impact on a number of local economies.
Wisconsin does not have a lot of fly shops, nor does the Midwest in general. I am always a bit shocked when traveling west and seeing several "destination shops" in towns not much larger than Viroqua. WIFlyFisher keeps a list of fly shops in Wisconsin and the surrounding area. A quick look says that there are ten local fly shops in Wisconsin; thirteen if you include the fly shops within Cabelas which is now owned by Bass Pro Shops. Having traveled to New Mexico's San Juan River - the best / worst fishing travel destination I have ever experienced and a post for another day - I think there may have been about ten fly shops in the tiny community downstream from the Navajo Dam.
What better place to spend your money than your local fly shop? What maybe not everyone understands is manufacturers set a suggested retail price (MSRP) on most items, whether they are tippet spools and leaders or big ticket items like rods, reels, lines, waders, wading boots, etc. - are pretty well set in stone. You are going to pay the same price for most everything whether you buy it online or locally. Of course, when you buy local, it helps assure that your money stays in the community.
My Local Fly Shop
The Driftless Angler is my local fly shop - local being about 30 minutes away - prior to that, it was The Fly Fishers Fly Shop in the Milwaukee Area. Island Outdoors in La Crosse carries some tying materials too and they are particularly good on some of the materials for larger streamers. A local fly shop is more than a place ask what is working or the dreaded "where should I fish?", or that posts fishing reports (but they do), or a place to pick up a few flies, leaders and tippet, or to grab another thing of floatant before a day on the water. They are - or at least they should be - vested in the area. Trout streams across the country face challenges - water withdrawals in the west, CAFOs in the Midwest, and mining, fossil fuel extraction, and development most everywhere - just to name a few challenges. They donate to our Trout Unlimited chapter (Coulee Region), our state banquet, and help with events. They are part of the community.
Fly shops matter for more than fishing reports, a place to pick up a few necessities like tippet and floatant, or a place to tell you where to go fishing. A local fly shop knows - and cares for - the streams in the area. Because they are rather the place that anglers and non-anglers know about; they tend to get a lot of information about local issues. We have faced wastewater, landfill, and CAFO issues that the Drifless Angler has lead the charge on informing people about these issues and in getting involved in making decisions that help support local fisheries - and economies.
Less than Local Fly Shops
Not all fly shops that I support are local to me. I try to buy "big ticket items" locally - boots, waders, rods, reels, fly lines, and such. But I have a bit of an addiction to trying new materials and a "destination shop" like my local shop is not going to have materials and tools that are going to fill my wants. And I totally get it, a fly shop in Viroqua is not going to stock thousands of dollars in fly tying materials. In Wisconsin, there are a number of other great options. I fairly often purchase tying materials from The Fly Fishers in the Milwaukee area, Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company in DePere, Bill Sherer's We Tie It Fly Shop in Boulder Junction, Lund's Fly Shop in River Falls, and other shops in Wisconsin. Online "shops" like Nightmare Musky Flies, Brad Bohen's Primo Tail Musky Flies, Musky Fool in the Madison area (a new "brick and mortar shop is coming...), and the just over the border Brammer's Custom Flies are other "sort of local" options for me. There are others as well - please share them in the comments.
When being a true tourist angler, fly shops are not only a great source of information and souvenirs but many of them do things to make fishing in that area better. They do the same things you hope you local fly shop does. Charlie's Fly Box in Aranda, Colorado was a personal favorite as I had watched the videos and used their tutorials and had ordered from their extensive online fly tying selection. The shops along the San Juan were a little different - small flies as far as the eye could see.
Why Shopping Local Matters
Every fly shop is local - and I hope they do the same things for their communities that fly shops in Wisconsin do. Depending upon where you are in Wisconsin, the environmental threats to trout streams vary but they exist across the state. In northern Wisconsin, mining has been a significant threat and in other places it is agricultural runoff or groundwater withdrawals (and maybe both at the same time). Travel elsewhere and you will see that they have their own environmental concerns. And we all share the threats that climate change present to trout streams. Stream access in Wisconsin is quite spectacular but that is not the case everywhere. You may not see it when you travel to Wyoming, Colorado, or somewhere East of here but their fly shops are doing the same things we see shops here doing.
Not persuaded by the "greater good" argument? From a totally selfish point of view, for the vast majority of fly fishing gear, you are going to pay the same price if you buy it locally or you go online. There are few bargains on name brand waders and wading boots, fly rod and fly lines, and most (but not all) inexpensive online flies give you what you paid for. It is really hard to string up a fly rod and get a feel for it online.
Buy local as much as you can - those dollars stay in the local economy. In a trip to Viroqua, a bit more than 30 minutes from home, the dollars I spend at the fly shop, my occasional dinner at the Driftless Cafe, food and drink purchases at the Viroqua Food Coop or Quillin's, and other places help make Viroqua a better place. Lodging at a local hotel, B&B, or campground. also are dollars spent in the local economy. My purchases along with those of hundreds of other anglers provide jobs, allow those people to spend their money in the local community, and that money is basically "recycled" in the community. Same for any number of other Driftless destinations or when I have traveled elsewhere to fish.
Spend your money locally - wherever that locality may be at the time and do it in a way that draws attention - but in a good way. Be part of the community, even if just for a weekend rather than an interloper. Enjoy your time, not just the time spent fishing but enjoy the entire experience. Act as if you are a guest that would like to be asked back again.
A few articles on the subject:
Kirk Deeter, Angling Trade Magazine - Angling Trade will not do product review that divert sales from fly shops
Kirk Deeter, Field and Stream Magazine - The pros and cons of buying flies online
Geri Meyer, Dun Magazine - 12 do's and don'ts for shopping in a fly shop
Andy Braker, Fly Lords Magazine - Fishing Etiquette - How to navigate a fly shop