Let’s face it: we live in a digital age. No more are the days of combing through aisle after aisle in box stores and convenience marts; now these goods are available to us with the click of a button. Like any other consumer category, fly fishing is no different.
In some ways, this transition to the online world is disappointing. Visits to local fly shops for fly tying materials and fly lines are less common, and as such, these stores are struggling. Where there may have been a number of options for purchasing fly fishing gear in legendary angling areas in years past, there are typically at most a couple today. More common is a complete absence of a tackle shop from an entire region as the institutionalized shops of yesterday close their doors, finally giving in to what has been inevitable for years.
Luckily, they’re not all gone. My visits to local fly shops are still commonplace, at least when their store hours line up with my fishing hours. The biggest downside to these brick-and-mortar storefronts, though, is the distance you must travel to access the staff’s wealth of knowledge, friendliness, and services. The closest fly shop to my house, Concord Outfitters, is a half-hour away on a good day, and that’s close relative to how far some people must travel to get to their closest fly shop. Other stores, like the Rangeley Region Sports Shop, are only on my itinerary when I’m in the area for fishing. Being in person is crucial for purchasing items like deer hair, which have such a wide range of natural variance that one shouldn’t trust a picker to select the exact texture, size, length, color, and quality they’re looking for. Sure, I wouldn’t trade my time in these shops for anything, but there is no substitute for the comfort of purchasing tackle straight from your living room.
Being an avid fly angler and tier, I spend a lot more time shopping for fly fishing gear than your average teenager. As such, I’ve developed a few favorite online shops that I trust will get my orders correct, to me in a timely manner, and will work with me to fix any mistakes. You’ll notice all of these shops are based out of the Northeast; just because I’m not going to a fixed location doesn’t mean I can’t shop local. These are brands I believe in, and ones I’m proud to have represent my region.
Each store has a different strong suite, which I’ve pointed out. Most of the stores excel in many fly fishing categories, but some are far better in one or two. Without further ado, here is my list of the best online fly fishing/tying stores.
Best for all around fly fishing/tying: Trident Fly Fishing. Based out of their new location in Portland, Maine, Trident has improved countless fly fisher’s confidence in shopping online. Trident offers a huge selection of fly fishing gear, from staples like rods, reels and waders to accessories like tippet and nippers. In addition, the store has a wide variety of fly tying materials and tools that will satisfy the needs of any tier. If you can think of a top fly fishing brand, Trident most likely carries their products. When I stopped into Trident’s old in-person shop a couple years ago, owner Ben Freeman was helpful and knowledgeable, and obviously cared about the direction Trident was headed. Now, not too far in the future, Trident has asserted themselves as the top one-stop-shop for all fly anglers.
Best for all around fly tying: J. Stockard Fly Fishing. With one of the largest offerings of fly tying materials online today, J. Stockard remains a reliable online option for fly tiers across the nation and beyond. From their shipping location in Kent, Connecticut, J. Stockard reaches tiers worldwide, giving them a place to purchase items from brands such as Mustad, Daiichi, Tiemco, Hareline, Wapsi, Whiting Farms and more. They carry state-of-the-art tying tools and synthetics, giving innovative anglers the chance to do some experimentation.
Best for big purchases: Orvis. When I’m looking to make a slightly larger dent in the wallet, I often take a look at Orvis’s site. From their headquarters in beautiful Manchester, Vermont, Orvis is trusted by fly fishers globally. Orvis has built their reputation as the worldwide leader in fly fishing over numerous decades. When you make a purchase through Orvis, you are paying for the incredible conservation and education work they do, as well as the outstanding customer service they offer. Orvis offers many tried-and-trusted lines of quality gear, including their Clearwater, Recon, and Helios series rods, reels, and fly lines. When you make a purchase from Orvis, you can be assured that it has been approved by countless anglers before you.
Best for inexpensive hooks: The Fly Shack. By far, the thing fly tiers spend the most on over their tying career is hooks. The bent pieces of metal that are crucial for any fly aimed at catching fish aren’t particularly cheap, so it’s always nice when you find some good quality ones that don’t break the bank. The Gloversville, New York company’s Saber brand of hooks fits this bill perfectly, offering some of the least expensive hooks I’ve found that hold their own with some of the pricier models. Saber makes hooks for nearly every application, from European nymphing to classic streamers to klinhämmers. At just $6.99 for a 100-pack of chemically sharpened hooks, you really can’t argue with this steal.
Best for tungsten beads: Blue Wing Olive. You won’t find someone that cares about suiting your specific needs more than Bill Norrish from the all-online Blue Wing Olive fly shop. From their headquarters in Groton, Massachusetts, BWO offers outrageously low prices for top-notch tying and fishing equipment. In my mind, their real claim to fame is the tungsten beads, which are far cheaper than those you’ll find anywhere else. If you’re someone that frequently ties with tungsten, you understand just how pricey it can get, especially with the fairly recent Euro nymphing craze. Despite selling top-of-the-line tungsten beads that contain 97% tungsten, Blue Wing Olive sells their beads at a fraction of the price of the competitors. If you want to save even money on what would be an expensive purchase elsewhere, you can use the code “SpencerBelson” at their website for a full 15% off any order you make.
Best for inexpensive fishing accessories: Maine Fly Guys. Greg Labonte, the CEO of Maine Fly Guys based out of Gorham, Maine, makes it his mission to bring fly anglers typically expensive gear at affordable prices. While fly fishing is sometimes thought of as being an exclusive group of snooty men, Greg believes it doesn’t have to be this way. He’s dropped the prices on some of fly fishing’s biggest money sinks without compromising on quality. My personal favorite item he offers, the double-sided fly box, is an utter bargain compared to what other companies are offering it at. With its silicone slots and a waterproof, sturdy exterior, why not spend the $15 to check it out? Greg also does a great job educating the public on topics like fisheries biology and management, so by supporting the shop, you’re also helping to maintain his education outreach. His opinions may be strong, but at least they’re always fun to hear.
There are plenty of other exceptional fly shops on the Internet, but these are some of my picks. The thing that really distinguishes all these stores from the rest is their customer service. You will never receive the same personal treatment you would at a physical shop online, but these sites are about as close as you’ll get. As the world continues to shift to the online world, I think we’ll all have to change our definitions of a day of shopping, especially when it comes to fishing gear.