Belated Happy New Year! We hope you had a relaxing holiday and that 2015 ended on a high note for everyone. This past year capped off a rocky road for WILSON’S and the issues and obstacles we encountered from 2013 through 2015 required that we take a step back from our business. The intense naval gazing we have done over the last 9 months has not been an altogether pleasant experience but it has been beneficial on a number of fronts. First and foremost it has caused us to look at what we do, why we do it and, in light of what happened, whether we want to continue operating our Toronto fly fishing store. The answer to the last question took no time to answer because it was an emphatic “Yes!” but answers to the first two questions took a little more time to uncover…
Many believe the foundation upon which WILSON’S was built is retail fly fishing because sales are what a fly shop is supposed to focus on. As hokey as it may sound, while we run our fly shop to make money we also do it because we love fly fishing and, as importantly, because we enjoy meeting people who love the sport as much as we do. Seeing a fly rod tube being carried in an airport, watching someone skimming a fly fishing magazine in a book store, catching a glimpse of the top of a fly rod being carried through high grass or simply by saying “Hi!” to a stranger at a gas station who has a fly fishing decal on their car are just some of the cues that constantly remind us why we love being in fly fishing retail – it is about meeting people who share a similar passion for the sport.
Over the years we have made a lot of friends through the store and ironically some of our closest friendships have been with people who have absolutely no interest in the sport.
Eleanor “Ellie” Doda
One person on that list in particular was Eleanor Doda. Ellie lived on the Forks of the Credit Road in Caledon near the Dominion Street bridge where she ran an ice cream shop through the summer that catered mostly to hikers, motorcyclists and tourists who wander up to the Forks of the Credit every year to take in the autumn colours. I knocked on her door several winters ago to ask if it might be possible to rent space in her store because I was interested in seeing whether a seasonal fly shop on the banks of one of the most popular fly fishing destinations in the Greater Toronto Area might be viable. Long story short, we sold more ice cream than fly fishing gear (which isn’t saying much) but Ellie and I struck up a friendship that grew into one of the closest non-family relationships in my life. Ellie did not have an easy life but she had a great outlook on it, was smart as a whip and she made a great cup of tea. Over the years I would drive up to the Forks under the guise of fly fishing but would plan on having a visit with Ellie to discuss the latest motorcycle accident on one of the various bends and dips in the Forks of the Credit Road (a regular occurrence), family (“Are you married yet?”) and politics (we were diametrically opposed). One hot summer day when I was filling in for one of the summer students we had working in the store Ellie and I sat on the benches facing the road at the front of the building and listened to the sound of the river while watching cars drive past us and I shared a story from my childhood in North Bay. As we sat there having ice cream I explained there used to be an Ontario Psychiatric Hospital on Highway #11 just north of where I was raised and patients were known to sit on the side of the road and wave to traffic as it went by. Being the precocious child I was I often thought while watching these people wave that their actions proved they belonged in a mental health institution because no one in their right mind would do something so silly as to wave at strangers driving on the
highway. As I sat on that bench relating my story to Ellie she and I realized we were waving at each car as it drove by and with that realization we shared a laugh as long and hard as any I had experienced since I was a child. We operated a satellite fly shop in Ellie’s ice cream store for two seasons and in hindsight I think we stuck it out for the second year in part because I enjoyed going up to spend time visiting Ellie. She heated her home with firewood that was delivered every fall leading up to Thanksgiving weekend and it arrived that second year while I was having a visit with her so I delayed my departure home and helped stack the wood at the back of her house (and found out that day how large two cord of wood is…). She appreciated the assistance perhaps as much as I appreciated the opportunity to help and when she found out I was not able to go home the following weekend to spend the holiday with my family she invited me to share Thanksgiving dinner with her and her family – and she would not take no for an answer. The honour I felt at the invitation and the privilege in spending that evening with her family on the banks of the Credit River cemented a relationship which reached beyond friendship. Ellie became one of those people I called through the year just to say hello. We talked when my day was going well – and at times not so well – and we always ended our conversations with, “I look forward to seeing you – take care!”.
Sadly, the breast cancer Ellie battled in years past revisited her and she was taken years before her time but our last visit a few days before she died involved laughter rather than tears. Ellie came into my life through fly fishing but she remained part of my life because of friendship and the same can be said for countless others I and the rest of the team at WILSON’S have had the privilege of meeting since we first opened. Those friendships are what WILSON’S is all about so in spite of the issues we have faced or perhaps because of them we have realized we are very fortunate to be involved in the fly fishing industry because it allows us to meet and hang around really cool people. The support and words of encouragement we have received from those people over the last few months in particular has cemented our resolve to get back on track as quickly as possible and we look forward to doing so.
Welcome to 2016 – let’s give ‘er!
It is Christmas eve and the team at WILSON’S is in the final stretch to ensure the holiday season goes well for our families and friends. We all know it takes a considerable amount of planning behind the scenes to ensure Santa arrives on time with the right presents for everyone and try as we might there are sometimes unseen circumstances that crop up (like that instance over dinner last year which is a whole other story) and have to be dealt with. Coincidentally, the same can be said for the process of re-opening a certain Toronto fly fishing store. We had originally planned to reopen before the Christmas season but finding the right space with the right combination of parking and accessibility by Toronto public transit – at an affordable price in downtown Toronto – is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle in that you know all the pieces are there but it takes time to find them and put them in the right place. Much planning has been going on behind the scenes over the last few months – and much work has yet to be completed – before we know we have the right combination to ensure a successful relaunch of WILSON’S. Having 18 years of knowledge on which to build certainly helps but launching a successful retail fly fishing store is like hosting Christmas dinner – it takes a lot of hard work (and luck) and we want to get it right. So on that note we hope you have a Merry Christmas and we look forward to seeing you in 2016!
Join our community!
We are one step closer to reopening WILSON’S Toronto Fly Shop and one of the items on our ‘to do’ list is to invite people to become members of our online community. We are extending this invitation because enriching our social media profile and creating a fun, interactive and informative online presence is central to our business plan. It is important to note we have never sold or given our email list to anyone – nor will we – because we know how annoying unwanted and repeated messages from a friend (let alone a retail store) can be. If you have not already signed up to become a member of our online fly fishing community at Community Information
we encourage you to do so. We have some exciting contests planned along with some great sales that you will only be able to access if you are a member of our online community.
We thought readers of the WILSON’S store blog will be interested to know we are in due diligence on our new fly fishing store location in downtown Toronto. Because we are looking for a long term home a big part of the process involves having consulting engineers inspect the premises before we consider spending money on leasehold improvements. Well, the inspection happened today and we are expecting to receive the consulting report next week which we will be tabling with the landlord. We can tell you the location on which we are focused is a shorter walk from King and Bay than our previous location, there is parking at the front door and it is twice (!) the size of our last Toronto fly shop. This last piece of the puzzle is critical because, most importantly, a larger retail area will correct an ongoing problem at our previous location which was simply that it was too small. A larger store will allow us to not only carry more inventory but also allow us to better display it! Not coincidentally, a larger store will also provide the storage we so sorely lacked for the last 7 years. We hope to know quickly whether this location is going to be suitable and if so we hope to have a full-time fly tying classroom and a lounge area for customers to escape the office.
We now know what it is like to watch molasses flow… Stay tuned!
This time of year is a bit depressing for many members of the Ontario fly fishing community for the simple reason that the trout season has ended on many rivers and they cannot fish their favourite runs. However there is one thing anglers can do in the fall that is difficult at any other time and that is to scout water. Driving to usual destinations when the leaves are off the trees often provides a surprisingly different perspective on water because the lack of leaves and undergrowth allows a relatively unobstructed view of a river – and this was the case for us yesterday. There is no guarantee a tree that has created a great holding pool on a stretch of river we would not normally visit will still be there after next spring’s frechette but it did cause us to make a mental note. Change is good even when it goes unnoticed but noticing change when it is the process of occurring is often even better…
Today is Thanksgiving south of the border and we want to wish our American friends a happy and safe holiday. For many who love fly fishing it is also the unofficial “official” – or the official “unofficial” – start to the fall Great Lakes Steelhead season.
Snowfall and Steelies
This is a time when arguably you will find only the most dedicated anglers on local rivers because when the temperature approaches zero so too does the willingness of fair-weather anglers to get out on the water. The hearty group of anglers who prefer good fishing conditions over personal comfort may be far out-numbered by those who fly fish only when there is nothing better on TV but they are arguably the backbone of the angling community and the people for whom we hold the utmost respect. So to those men and women who are fly fishing on Great Lakes tributaries today we raise our glass and offer you tight lines…
Part of the appeal of fly fishing – and one of the many myths about the sport – is its apparent exclusivity. Many who are not familiar with the sport think that it is comprised mostly of tweed-wearing old men who fish rivers for salmon and trout while thumbing their noses at their bait-casting cousins who troll for bass while half asleep in tin boats drifting lazily on local lakes. It is a good-natured competition between those who prefer cigars over cigarettes, single malt scotch over beer, delicate, hand-tied flies over worms and passion over paunch.
If you have not yet figured it out fly fishing is not special. It is just a different style of fishing and, contrary to the elitists in the sport who will try to convince you otherwise, you will often catch more fish using conventional tackle and a worm than you will with one of those traditional flies tied by your grandfather.
Fly fishing is not special. It is just fishing… [but truth be told it is an incredibly cool way to catch a fish!]
If you are like Ontario fly fishing the Ministry of Natural Resources has an excellent resource to view Ontario river flow information and map Ontario watersheds that we highly recommend. The menu allows users to focus on individual watersheds and check historic data which will make planning your next fly fishing trip that much easier! Check it out at http://www.ontario.ca/page/watershed-flow-assessment-tool#section-0
Regardless of season there is unfortunately one common denominator we typically find on the banks of a river when we go fly fishing in Ontario regardless of destination and that denominator is garbage. Perhaps it is just us but there is no faster way to put a damper on the start of time on the water than to find garbage on the side of the river upon arrival. Seeing this lack of consideration for the resource by people who do not use it is all too common but seeing garbage strewn along a path frequented solely be anglers is something we see almost as often and that is something we have never understood. If you see someone littering please politely suggest to them they are ruining it for the rest of us.
They say, “You can’t fix stupid”, but we are going to keep trying… and in the interim we will continue to pack a garbage bag in our pocket so we can clean up the path on the way out.
Many in the Ontario fly fishing community pack away their gear at the end of September because the trout season on many inland waterways ends at that time. That is a mistake on their part that benefits a growing number of hearty souls who add an extra layer of fleece and head to their nearest Great Lakes Tributary in search of fall steelhead fly fishing. If you do not know what it is we are talking about we strongly suggest you do some homework… [photo credit to Nick Kuchmak]