Swimming Against the Fly Shop Tide

Swimming Against the Fly Shop Tide
Trident Fly Fishing owner Ben Freeman believes his "castability guarantee" and fly-fishing expertise sets him apart from other on-line stores.

A decade and more ago, it seemed like new fly shops were popping up all over the country, but in the more recent few years we've seen a retraction, with independent shops closing across the country from Pennsylvania to Montana. That's why I found it both interesting and newsworthy when a new, full-service fly shop recently opened in Maine. I interviewed owner/operator of Trident Fly Fishing Ben Freeman to find out what made his new shop special:

Q: One of the big topics in the fly fishing industry is how we mentor people and bring new faces into our sport . . .how did you get started fly fishing?

A: I started fly fishing when I was about 10 years old. My grandfather put his old fiberglass rod in my hands and showed me how to cast. Once he determined that I wasn't going to injure myself, we tied on a popper and within three casts, I had caught a small largemouth bass. I spent those formative years perfecting my craft fishing for bass and panfish on small Florida ponds.

My grandfather was a great angler – he grew up in Detroit and after meeting my grandmother began spending a lot of time in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. When he got there all of my relatives were fishing with worms, but after watching my grandfather catch brook trout after brook trout on the fly, they were all itching to learn his secrets. Over the years he introduced fly fishing to dozens friends and relatives in the Upper Peninsula.

Q: In the last several years the combination of the proliferation of "big box" stores and a downturn in the economy has contributed to the closing of dozens of fly shops around the country. What made you decide to swim upriver and open a new business in difficult economic times?

A: Local fly shops have traditionally provided consumers with expertise, great customer service, and convenient access. "Big box" stores, on the other hand, provide consumers with low prices and a wide variety of tackle choices. As big box stores grew, customer service and expertise (particularly in fly fishing) started to slip. With smaller specialty fly shops struggling and/or closing and gas prices on the rise, smaller shops have become less and less convenient to shop at. So, unless you're one of the few anglers lucky enough to live in or near a major metropolitan area with a great fly shop, finding great gear at a great price is challenging.

During the same time period, anglers have become more accustomed to the idea of shopping online. I think this has created a great opportunity for a store that can offer customers a great selection and the lowest prices  combined with great customer service and fly-fishing expertise.

Q: What is special about Trident Fly Fishing that would make people want to shop at your store? What makes Trident special?

A: A lot of innovation has happened in fly fishing over the last 10 years – fly rods are lighter than ever, drags are sealed, and lines are textured. What hasn't really changed is how people shop for fly fishing equipment.

We built our website from the ground up to make it as easy as possible for fly fisherman to find exactly what they are looking for. If you're looking for a 10-foot, 6-weight rod, we'll show you all of them on one page, and it only takes 3 clicks.

We also wanted our customers to shop with us for all of their fly fishing needs – not just rods and reels – so we now offer free shipping on ALL orders. The products anglers need most are leaders, tippet, and other consumables, and now you can get them at a reasonable price. 

Finally, we have a low price guarantee, because a great shopping experience begins with the lowest prices.

Q: What is a "Castability Guarantee"?

A: One of the biggest advantages to buying a rod at a local shop is the ability to cast it before you buy it. We wanted to recreate that experience and therefore we offer the industry's only "Castability Guarantee". Order any rod with the Castability Guarantee logo, try it in your yard, make sure it balances with your reel, and if you don't absolutely love it, we'll pay for the return shipping.

Q: What is the fishing like in your neck of the woods?

A: We are blessed with some of the best fishing in the country. Sebago Lake is one of the four original basins for Landlocked Atlantic Salmon. In the fall, they migrate into the Crooked River to spawn and fish exceeding 4 pounds are common. Within a few hours' drive, you'll also find the finest native brook trout fishing in the country: dry fly fishing on the Magalloway and nymphing on the Rapid River. Small stream anglers will find endless opportunities in northern Maine where nearly every stream holds trout.

We have some great saltwater fishing as well. Maine is also last stop north in the striped bass migration and can be caught all summer along our beaches. Sight fishing with crab flies is particularly interesting. If stripers jumped, they would be as sought after as tarpon.

Q: What is the most memorable fly-fishing trip of your life, and what made it so special?

A: About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to fish the Upper Peninsula with my grandfather. The trout were small and bugs were bad, but fishing with my grandfather on his favorite streams before he passed away is a memory I'll never forget.

Ben Freeman
Trident Fly Fishing owner Ben Freeman enjoying a recent trip to the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

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