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Vail Valley Anglers
What to Expect from your Local Fly Fishing Shop
Fly Fishing Tips and Tricks

What to Expect from your Local Fly Shop

Permit Hunter

Walking into a fly shop for the first time (or even as a seasoned angler) can be a daunting experience.  Walk into the right fly shop and it’s seamless and easy.  Walk into the wrong fly shop and it may turn you off of fly fishing all together. With the sport growing and endless options, where is a good place to start?  Here are some things to consider when you walk into a fly shop.

Greeting: A warm welcome will go a long way and often set the tone for what kind of shop you are dealing with and the things to come.  Are you greeted? Does the staff look like they are enjoying what they do?  More often than not when I walk into a fly shop I’m either not greeted at all or I get that look, you know the look, “oh no another wannabe” or “great, he has no clue and I have to waste my time explaining to him what to do” or “you just interrupted my lunch.” What they don’t know is that I have been in the industry for over 15 years and they will never find out because I have already walked out the door.  This is not good for anyone and especially for our sport.  And ladies, this means you too. No matter if you are gearing up for your weekend on the water or shopping for your husband – Nothing should be assumed when you walk into a fly shop.

Retail: Once inside, is the store clean and well organized?  Is it well stocked? Do the products look current? Is it crowded and full of local fisherman? *HINT* (listen to the banter, you may even learn something.) First impressions can speak volumes towards what kind of experience you will have. A clean organized shop that is well stocked is a sign that they take pride in what they do and are up to date with the latest gear and products.  If you happen to see local fisherman hanging out shooting the breeze or finding out the latest patterns, this is a good thing.  If they are shopping there, there is a reason and that is usually because that shop knows what it’s doing.  If these signs are present, you can start to feel comfortable at this point but do not put your guard down just yet.

Listening: Now that you are getting comfortable, you may be more inclined to purchase something. Are you being followed around?  Do you feel pressured to buy?  The staff is there to help you and offer advice and when the time comes, assist you with making the right purchase for you. Are they telling you what you want to hear or listening to your needs and concerns?  A good shop will ask questions to get an idea of your experience level, the species you are fishing for, what area you are going to fish or anything else that can help them put you in the right gear. Buying the right gear requires a commitment and if you are like me, you will want to try the equipment out.  Obviously certain products cannot be demo'd however your shop should allow you to cast rods and may even have a demo rod / reel for you to try. Taking the time to make sure you are comfortable and freely offering sound advice is expected. Whether you are buying a $2 fly, a $1,000 fly rod set up or if you are there just looking around, your time in the shop shoudl garner the same attention and courtesy. Perhaps you are there to hire a guide and experience what it’s like to fly fish.

Guided Trips: Hiring the right outfitter is paramount and the first step in ensuring that your day spent on the water is a great one. Similar to buying equipment, when booking your trip, the shop should get familiar with you so they can suggest the right trip for you.  If you book a trip while in the shop and other trips are going out, observe the process. The guide should stand out in uniform and greet you to discuss the day ahead.  Look for the following signs: Are their vehicles clean? Do the guides work well with the shop? Is the guide helping their clients? Does he seem genuinely happy to be there? Along with that, check out the equipment that is included.  Is it the newest wader and boot combo or tattered gear from 5 years ago? Equipment (rentals or not) should be in good to great condition. This will help you stay comfortable for the day ahead and enhance your fishing experience. 

Checking Out: Ok, you pulled the trigger.  You feel great about your purchase and the salesperson helped you out. You booked a trip for the next day to test out your new gear. But does it stop there?  Did they package your goods? Thank you for your purchase? Invite you back?  A good shop should fit like a glove and be a place where you can relax and let them take care of the details.  They want you to come back and are comfortable knowing that they are providing a good service, a service that will earn your business.

Phone Calls and Online: What if you like to shop from home or prefer to call the shop with a quick question on your way to the river?  Does the lack of face to face contact allow for a less than perfect experience? Absolutely not.  In fact, it should be that much more important in your decision making.  Does the salesperson take their time with you?  Are they forthcoming with information?  Are they willing to help complete the sale for you or suggest that they are busy and you do it?  Is the website nice? Are the products listed actually in inventory? What is the return policy?  Your sales experience whether in person, online or over the phone should make you feel good about your purchase.  Did the information you receive leave you better off than before you called?  A good shop will help you no matter the means in which the inquiry is received, the delivery should be the same.

All of that being said, these are standards that we hold ourselves to. We are always striving to do our very best. Next time you are in the neighborhood, visit Vail Valley Anglers and let us know how we are doing.

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Winter Fly Fishing | 6 Essential Patterns
Fly Fishing Tips and Tricks

6 Essential Patterns for Winter Fly Fishing

Permit Hunter

Winter fly fishing, a concept that is foreign to most people.  The mountains are full of snow, freshly groomed runs greet the eager ski and snowboard crowd and the hot chocolate is flowing.  Who has time to fish?  The truth is, winter fly fishing offers some excellent opportunities to catch fish and for those that are willing, the opportunity to have the river all to yourself.

The trout don’t stop eating just because it's 20 degrees outside, but to get them to eat becomes a bit more challenging.  A trout’s metabolism slows down and they are less likely to move too far to feed so choosing a nice slow run and the right fly is paramount.  With thousands of flies to choose from, how do you know what to use? 

The predominant food source for trout in the winter is the midge. Small in stature, their massive populations more than make up for what they lack in size. Knowing the midge’s life cycle will help you choose the right pattern to be successful. Midge Larva are slim, uniform and segmented. The head is usually much darker and more noticeable than the body. They come in a variety of colors and sizes.   Midge Pupae are a bit stockier and still segmented. The thorax is much more pronounced containing the wings, gills, and legs.  Glass beaded flies work well. Finally, the adult stage where the pupae break free of their sheath and the wings unfurl and they fly off.  This is a dry fly fisherman’s ultimate quest. 

Another food source that is often overlooked is the stonefly. Winter stoneflies have, over the years, adopted to the freezing temperatures by undergoing changes that allow them to survive.  Changes include eliminating their gut of bodily fluids that can freeze and producing glycerol which acts like an antifreeze for your car.  Slimmer in profile and smaller than the average stonefly, the winter stonefly is a hardy meal.  

Here are 6 Proven Patterns for Winter Fly Fishing:

Zebra Midge

One of the largest families of insects, midges are readily available throughout the year and the Zebra Midge is one of the better patterns to mimic this important food source.  The tungsten bead head Zebra Midge helps get the fly down to the trout and can be fished at different depths.  This pattern comes in a variety of colors (Black, Red, Olive, Purple etc) and all work well. Size 18-22. 


This versatile emerger pattern developed by Rim Chung, is a must have in every anglers fly box. It imitates a number of different insects and is a favorite of trout. It can be fished behind a dry fly to sit in the film or down deep while nymphing.  Black, Olive and Grey are the most common.  A drag free drift is the key to fishing this fly.  Try the Sparkle Wing version. Size 18-24.

Pheasant Tail Slim 

There are many versions of the Pheasant Tail but I prefer the slim version of the PT in the winter time.  Its slimmer profile imitates a variety of insects that are available in the winter and creates less drag which is crucial when presentation could be the difference between success and failure. Sizes 18-24.

San Juan Worm Flash

Like it or not, the San Juan Worm Fly is here to stay, and this pattern works particularly well in the waters around here. This fly can be fished alone or as an attractor pattern that can get even the most finicky trout to eat. Many worm variations are available but this is my go to.  I like this pattern in the color pink.  Size 18.

Copper John

One of the best-selling patterns of all time, the Copper John is an effective fly for many reasons.  It imitates an array of insects - in this case stoneflies. It can be used to add additional weight to your winter fly rig and as an attractor to get the fish to eat your RS2 or Zebra Midge. Stoneflies are present in winter and are an important food source for trout.  Copper John’s come in a variety of colors but I like black and red this time of year.   Sizes 14-22.

Brooks' Sprout Midge Emerger 

This pattern should be in every fly box year round but especially in the winter time. During the warmest part of the day, it is possible to see trout rising and sipping emergers.  This fly is one of the best and it offers the opportunity to fish dries.  Fish it in the slow flat sections just below the moving water. Size 18-22.

Don’t overlook the untapped resource that is winter fly fishing.  With the right gear and fly selection, you can have an enjoyable and productive day on the water and in most cases, you will have the river all to yourself.   At Vail Valley Anglers we are committed to carrying the best fly selections available.  Stop by the shop and see for yourself.

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