In over 50 years of selling outdoor equipment, and especially fishing tackle, I have come to realize that most of the things I have learned I have learned from the customers that frequent the tackle shops. They are the real experts as they live their passion and play it forward.
As a boy growing up in Southern Alberta, I hung around the tackle shops listening to the tales told by the people who were in the fields and streams every chance they could get. Like a sponge I absorbed every little bit of info I could. Gradually, and with the mentoring of many individuals, I built up a strong foundation for pursuing fish and game throughout Alberta, Montana and later BC.
The tackle shops and its denizens are where I found new spots to fish, how to get there, the right gear, the best time etc. It is where I was shown new knots, new tackle, new methods and met many new friends. If the customers felt you were worthy, they shared new hot spots with you, hoping that you would zealously guard some of the more fragile spots and that you judiciously gave out some of the info you learned.
Many of the most memorable fishing trips I have been on, came about because of a tip from a fellow angler, who was willing to share a spot or method. That is what I love about fishing. It is a journey, not a destination. If you have an open mind, there is always a chance to learn. Even though I have sold tackle for 50+ years I am still learning from the many anglers who fish the fabled waters of Central and Northern BC.
When I am fishing a new area I always make time to acquaint myself with the local shop, get some recommendations, and add a little gear to my arsenal. I spent a couple of weeks in the great waters of Yellowstone and Montana fishing. The shops were extremely helpful on giving me the exact info I needed to make the trip a huge success. If I had tried to do it myself I would not have had anywhere near the success.
In my early years of chasing Salmon and Steelhead the tackle shops in Smithers, Terrace, Prince Rupert and Kitimat clued me in quickly. Instead of blindly thrashing around I was fishing and recognizing productive water in a very short time. The info they gave me was invaluable in making those first forays successful. Because those first trips were successful my love for these beautiful fish became a lifelong passion.
Over the years we have seen many advances in gear. Graphite rods, fluorocarbon lines, downriggers, depthfinders, ultraviolet lures, fish attractants, fly line technology, braided line, and new lures have all changed fishing, but one thing has remained the same. We learn about the new gear and can talk to someone about that gear at your knowledgeable speciality tackle shop. They are the front line in passing along that new info and helping you to make use of the new advances.
Having current info is especially important in regards to the various Salmon and Steelhead situations. What is running, how are the water conditions, what are the best lures or methods, special restrictions, licence requirements, regulations etc? If the shop staff is busy you may have to wait to get your questions answered but it is time well spent. No sense rushing up to a river only to find it blown out or closed for some reason, or the fish have not arrived. There are ways to get the info you need, and being considerate and patient is the way to go. I have had anglers over the years interrupt me with a customer and thrust a map at me with an order to mark all my favourite holes. Not recommended for best results. There are some spots in the US where books have been written with maps showing where to stand on rock "X" and cast to "Y". Thankfully no such books are available here. In an age of instant gratification, thank God, we don't need that on our streams. The river is like a woman and she gives up her secrets slowly, and then, only to the most patient and worthy lover.
I have met the best people in the outdoors through the tackle shops and learned a great deal from them. Cultivate your friendship with your tackle shop and support them. Of course they sell tackle but more important they value your continued business and trust in making your trips afield an enjoyable one.
Your local pro shop is "value added". They don't charge extra for the right info. They are there to help, feel free to ask questions. Be patient if they are busy or approach them at slack times. They talk fishing and you should listen.
This Value Added is not only applicable to the shops but also to the Guides. There are many guys who can find fish in the easy spots and when there are lots of fish. The good guides can find fish in the tough situations. When the river is high, dirty, low or crowded is when the experienced guides shine, and give you your moneys worth. Years on the water and every day experience, assure you of the best possible outcome. I have learned many valuable lessons from the guides over the years. New casts, holes, flies to try, areas to fish, methods, and sometimes, and maybe the most important new, and lifetime friends. They are on the water every day. Come to think of it, that is where I would like to be.