Where to Go When You Need a Fix

It was the same tired, tawdry pick-up line that I’d used many times before without success.  But when you are new in town and really need some action, you never stop trying. The object of my interest had deep brown eyes, a husky voice, and a three day beard.

“I’ve just moved to the area and I’m looking for some fun. Do you think you could show me a good place to fish?”

Charlie Shadan taking care of a customer.

Charlie Shadan, owner of the Evening Sun Fly Shop in Pepperell, Massachusetts, recognized the withdrawal symptoms in my desperate bequest. (A prior interview with Charlie here.)

He’d heard the tremble in the voice, felt the strike-twitch-reflex in the handshake, and had seen the same furrowed brow in many others who were just like me.  He knew I needed a fix.  I didn’t need a hug, I needed a tug.

Maybe my second pickup line would have magic today, I thought, though it never had before: “I’m not asking you to point me to your favorite spots, just a decent one.” I could tell this was not the first time that Charlie had heard this line either.  I didn’t think it would do any good to try the “If you were going fishing today, where would you go?” approach either.

To my utter amazement, Charlie went behind the counter and pulled a blank piece of white paper from the tray of his computer printer.  Before I knew it, he had drawn a detailed map of the Swift River above Route 9.  He mapped out where to park, pointed to the best access points, explained how to fish the bubbler arm, and instructed me on Y Pool etiquette.

Charlie’s map of the Swift River

I was getting ready to run out the door with the map when Charlie asked if I had waders.  Since it was the middle of the summer, I figured I could just wet wade in my shorts.  Besides, I had foolishly left my waders in Georgia with other “non-essentials” until we could move into our permanent housing.

Because of the 55 degree water coming out beneath the Quabbin Reservoir dam, Charlie strongly recommended that I use waders.  Then he insisted that I take one of his pairs of waders, fish ’em hard, and bring them back as soon as I had a chance.

Now what kind of person takes the time to draw a detailed map, explains how to fish the river, and gives his waders to a complete stranger?

That’s the first of many Charlie encounters that have left me dumbfounded.

My wife and I are rich in family, friends, experiences, and rewarding work.  We are not hurting financially, though we do have a fairly conservative budget.  Unfortunately, hiring a fishing guide does not fit in that budget.

One day in October, out of the blue, Charlie called me up and asked if I’d like to go fishing with him. I knew Charlie was a sought-after guide, but this didn’t sound like a guide trip invitation. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be able to go fishing with him.

We met at the Swift River and got geared up.  I expected Charlie to do his thing while I did mine, touching base at various times during the day so Charlie could tell me about the fish he caught and I could tell him about the sticks I caught.  But Charlie stayed by my side all day giving me pointers and doubling my knowledge of fly fishing, which admittedly didn’t take much.

Now what kind of person takes a day off and spoon feeds a novice fisherman all day?

A colored up brookie from my fishing trip with Charlie.

Okay, here’s my point.  I’m not recommending Charlie Shadan for sainthood.  But Charlie is a great example of the wonderful fly shop owners who serve the fishermen of New England.  The same could be said of Andy Bonzagni of Concord Outfitters (interview here), Torrey Collins of Upcountry, and Brian Comfort of Deerfield Fly Shop.

It’s not a coincidence that I am on a first name basis with all these guys and most of their employees.  It’s not because of my striking good looks that they remember me when I come in, though upon reflection, it could be that. It’s because they make it their business to make friends with their customers and they bend over backwards to give great fishing advice to anyone who asks, even the ones like me who can’t afford a guided trip or the top-of-the-line fly rod.

These fly shop owners keep giving and giving.  Concord Outfitters raises funds to make sure that the Assabet River is stocked twice a year so that a trout stream is within 30 minutes of Boston anglers.  Upcountry has fishing reports twice a week that are second to none. This week, the Deerfield Fly Shop is hosting free online fly tying seminars.

These guys keep feeding our need for fishing opportunities and information year-round.  We are so fortunate to have them.

One last Charlie story: This past Saturday I was at the Evening Sun Fly Shop, not because I needed to buy something but because I needed to get out of the house.  The frigid conditions and pandemic were giving me cabin fever.  When I need to get away for a while, the Evening Sun is one of my happy places.

Another Charlie map. Can you guess where to?

Actually, I did find something I needed; I just didn’t know how badly I needed it until I saw it in the shop.  After a nice visit with Charlie and purchasing my newfound treasure, I was getting ready to leave when I noticed that Charlie sold Apex fly tying vises just like the one I use.  But mine is missing the little screw that puts tension on the rotary arm of the vise.

I mentioned this to Charlie.  He promptly unscrewed the one out of the new vise, handed it to me, and compelled me take it with me.

Now what kind of person…?

Maybe you have a story of how a local fly shop owner or employee bent over backwards to serve you. Feel free to share it in the comments section below.

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11 thoughts on “Where to Go When You Need a Fix

  1. Morning bill, I to have similar experiences at Upcounty, Grady and Torrey both have helped a novice guy (me) get geared up, pointed me in the rite spots and told me to hold off buying new high end rods until the new stuff came out a few weeks or months later. Truly stand up guys to say the least. And there help in the store is top notch. Jake is another friendly guy with tons of info for all who ask. If your in the area , do your self a favor and stop in if only just to chat with the guys and learn something new and interesting. Thanks again for your read. Always a good fishing story for the mid winter blues..

    Regards,

    Steve

  2. I used to go into the “lower forty” I think it was called. I think the owners name was Jim Bender. A nice enough guy. Friendly but not overly so with me. I think part of it was that I wasn’t “committed” to the fly. I actually wasn’t a fly fisherman at all, I just liked the idea of fly fishing. I did buy an entry level Redington 9 weight from Jim one time. Eventually picked up a intermediate fly line. A handful of flies here or there. Jim liked fishing the flats for stripers I think and would much rather be fishing than working. A couple or 5 years ago he closed up shop to make room for the Worcester Red Sox. A fair exchange I guess. Right Jamie?

    Haven’t been in any other fly shop but I guess now that I’m actually trying to become a fly fisherman that is going to have to change. I hear great things about the Bears Den in Taunton. Anybody been there?

  3. I’ve never been to the Bears Den, but plan to visit it sometime. Another shop I love is the Natick Outdoor Store. They used to have a guy working there, Rick Raftery, who was super-knowledgable and was even more happy to offer help than I was eager to ask for it. Rick has moved to Michigan now, but it’s still a fun store to visit. They sell their Levis at a discount and have a bin of thick wool socks that are seconds for $6 that I can’t resist. I buy a pair or two every time I’m in the store.

  4. Wow, that natick outdoor store sounds interesting. Gonna be in wellesley next week I think I’ll stop there and the Bears Den on way back to Rhode Island. Thx for heads up.

  5. That’s Charlie for ya! Real class act. He truly loves the sport of fly fishing. He gives everyone who walks into his store respect and attention you will not find elsewhere. That’s why Evening sun is MY fly shop. Bill you did a great job of painting a picture of just how special and important Charlie is.

  6. Good stuff as usual Bill. I second Natick Outdoor Store. It has the largest selection of flies in Greater Boston and an outstanding saltwater selection. A favorite place of mine is L.L Cote up in Errol, New Hampshire. Also Mountain High Fly in Lincoln, New Hampshire. I’ve had good service at all of those places, as well as at Evening Sun. In fact, I have a large garish yellow Evening Sun bumper sticker on my sea kayak!

  7. If you live in Boston and you need to go to a fly shop, the closest one is going to be about 25-35 minutes away in light traffic – depending on where you live in the city. Pepperell, Natick, West Concord aren’t real convenient for most of us. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is something refreshing about a leisurely drive outside the city through small towns, past beautiful old farm houses, and down winding roads. That’s one of the reasons why we fly fish, right? To get away from it all. There must be six ways to get to Pepperell from the 128 corridor, and I enjoy everyone of them. Visiting the Evening Sun is a great way to spend a couple of hours on a frozen weekend in the middle of the winter. Same with Concord Outfitters and Natick Outdoor Store.

  8. Natick Outdoors is a great local (to me) general sporting goods shop with a very good fishing and especially fly fishing section. Tying materials, leader, tippet, flies, gear, clothing (I buy my Levi’s there). One time years ago, I was shopping there and was talking to the guy at the fly fishing section (pretty sure it was Rick). Somehow we were talking about nymphing and he asked if I knew how to use orthodontic rubber bands to attach yarn. I said no, and so he showed me and then gave me a whole pack of orthodontic rubber bands. A small gesture, but he didn’t have to do it, but he did. Bear’s Den in Taunton is also great. I don’t often go there, except for special events, cause it’s a little far. But they do a good job of answering questions on the phone, do a good job with mail order, always calling me to clear up questions or issue with the order, and only charge actual shipping charges. I lived in Boston during the 80’s and 90’s and there were at least 5 places I could go to buy fly fishing stuff in the City of Boston. Now I think there are zero.

  9. I’ll bet it was Rick with whom you interacted. He used to work at the Blue Quill fly shop in Evergreen, CO out of which Pat Dorsey guides. Pat was the one who first started using the orthodontic rubber bands for his strike indicators. Rick is an outstanding person and would bend over backwards to help you. I miss him.

  10. Here, here! I’ve had such great advice and service at our local fly shops. Sometimes I get the “Amazon itch” for some piece of gear and then I remember the care these people put into supplying us and I just have to wait a day or two and make the trip & shop local.

  11. Bill sent me this blog and if I helped any one learn a trick or two about Flyfishing it was my pleasure! I thank my God for each of you and hope you saw Jesus in me.
    Richard Raftery (Rick)

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