In the Adirondacks, one of the country’s most historic fly shops is for sale, so its 77-year-old owner can finish several books. In the Hudson Valley, meanwhile, a young couple is taking over another well-established fly shop in the faith that it will not be driven to extinction by big-box stores and the Internet.
There’s just no place like a fly shop.
Just ask anyone milling around in the Adirondack Sport Shop in Wilmington, near Lake
Placid, on a weekend in May or June. The customers buy flies tied on the spot by Francis Betters, the dean of the West Branch of the Ausable and inventor of some of the most popular trout flies of all time, such as the Haystack (the original Comparadun), the Ausable Wulff, the Picket Pinn and the Usual.
And they confer with Fran and each other about where to find hatching flies, rising fish or big fish — hopefully, all three.
Except for a brief interlude a few years back, Betters has run this shop since 1963, but he’s getting tired of working long days.
“I’m hoping to find someone to carry on the tradition. And this place is a gold mine,” he said. “If I were 10 or 15 years younger, I wouldn’t be selling. It’s a golden opportunity for somebody.”
Fly-fishing has always struck me as a tough business, mainly because it’s a niche sport with relatively few customers and lots of competition for their business. But Betters has no complaints.
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “If you like what you’re doing, if you like people, if you like the sport, then, no, it’s not a tough business. I’d rather be doing something I love doing than be in a 9-to-5 job.”
If you’re interested, you can find information about Betters’ shop — which now includes a restaurant, eight-room motel and another retail space — at www.adirondacksportshop.com.
Justin Seeley isn’t interested; he’s now got a fly shop of his own.
The 26-year-old and his fiancée are in the process of buying Hudson Valley Angler in Red Hook, across the river from the eastern Catskills.
Seeley grew up a few miles away in Elizaville, and was a customer of the shop, as was I, back when it was Don’s. He was also a customer when Vinny Sherburne ran the store as Hudson Valley Angler. Sherburne died in February at age 48 from a rare genetic blood disorder.
Seeley is a licensed guide whose beat is the Hudson Valley/Catskills area and the Farmington River in Connecticut, and he’s just finishing a year working in the mother of American fly shops, the Orvis flagship store in Manchester, Vt. He doesn’t worry much about competition from big-box stores or Web sites.
“I think a fly shop provides a much greater knowledge base, it provides a more specific service, than a big-box store,” he said. “And I think the kind of small shop-vs.-big store sort of parallels why some of us get into fly-fishing, because it’s kind of a throwback mentality. There are easier ways to catch fish, but it’s the process that we enjoy.”
Hazel Sherburne, Vinny’s wife, had only good things to say about her and her husband’s three-plus years as fly shop proprietors.
“It’s a good business to be in,” she said. “You don’t make a lot of money, but it’s a good business. It’s a very clean business. It’s a business that’s very environmentally positive. It’s a healthy sport. It’s a gentleman’s sport — there’s a lot of unwritten politeness involved.
“It’s so much more than money,” she said, “and it made him happy.”