Thoughts about working in Fly Fishing – The last 16 years … 12 months … and a bit

I find it hard to believe that this will be my 18th year guiding and teaching fly fishing.  To be fair aged 23 I was only just getting started but 4 years later I was up and running on a full time basis.

Those were super exciting times that I vividly remember, even though I am now well past my 40th year on this extremely cool planet.  And still to this day I can hear well meaning relatives and friends (even clients) offering their advice.  Much of the counsel I received was very good, but sadly due to my youthful exuberance and passion to succeed as a professional fly fisher, I decided to continue upon my path and all that advice fell upon deaf ears!

But one thing really sticks in my mind and that was the comment made by virtually everyone trying to reason with me regarding my intended path.  “Be careful Nick, turn something you love so much into a way of making money and it might not turn out quite how you expect; in fact you may even end up not enjoying or evening hating the very thought of fly fishing

Yeah Right!

Where I am going with this blog post; the first I have uploaded in over a year?

Well I guess what I am about to say is that all those friends and relatives (and clients) were right, but also wrong and during the last 12 months I have been thinking long & hard about the journey during the last 10 years in particular.

First things first; I still love guiding fly fishing & teaching fly casting.  When one of my clients hooks a fish, pulls off a fly … fly cast … or suddenly has one of those light bulb moments when something I say helps them connect with their fishing even more … and it does nothing for me … well there is no other solution is there?  It’s time to hang up the waders and get a real job.

Two anglers pose with Trout caught during a 2 day fly fishing course hosted by Nick Hart in 2015

Guiding & Teaching – The most awesome part about working in fly fishing.

I am not about to give myself a P45 just yet because I reckon I get more of a buzz from guiding with each season that passes, which possibly explains why I am so goddamn miserable during the winter!

Fly Fishing P45

One bit of advice I have for anyone interested in earning their keep as a UK fly fishing guide is beware that you have a window of around 6 months to make some cash and if you really want to be full time, then the only way is to get on a plane and get the hell out of here when the increasingly common winter storms appear.  Either that or you need an off season regular job.  I was waiting on tables in the winter until I was 30.

Which leads me to the truth about those wise words that fell upon my large but uninterested ears all those years ago.  It didn’t take long for me to realise that even a busy guide in the UK will struggle to earn enough cash to make a living and so suddenly my vision became blurred.  While I began employing other people to do the job I loved my own focus became retail and Hart Flyshop was born.

Hart Flyshop in 2007

Hart Flyshop in 2007

The idea was to offer a specialist online fly fishing retail outlet, driven by information direct from a guide spending most of his waking hours on or in the water, using and abusing everything from a tippet ring to pair of breathable waders.  Blog posts, videos, reviews … I had it all in my head but there were three major flaws to my plan (there were probably more like 1003!)

Hart Flyshop - an interior view of the shop floor in the early days of trading

Spartan beginnings

Number One – Time.  100+ guiding days during the season doesn’t leave much time and during the off season the time that is now available in abundance needs to be filled with cash flow based objectives.  Guide + Manage Online Shop + Showroom = Disaster!

Number Two – Online is all about price.  I have had long discussions about this, especially with very loyal customers who have booked me for guiding over many seasons and spent 1000s of their hard earned pounds on the latest equipment that I have recommended.

In the flesh, in the moment, trying out gear, listening to my evaluation; that is very different to sitting at a browser, mouse finger at the ready wanting to make a purchase.  A good few of those loyal customers did use the virtual tackle shop but of course for online retailing to really work you need 1000 upon 1000 of customers ready to Add to Cart.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if the products shown are competitively priced and backed up with outstanding service that the business will grow & grow.  Which in other words means discounting, bundles, lots of staff, a warehouse and … Number 3.

The interior of Hart Flyshop during the busy years.

The nearest I came to my vision of a Montana style fly fishing outfitter

Number Three – Money … & lots of it.  A healthy bank balance is something no UK based guide starting from scratch is ever going to have unless hoards of Bonefish, GTs, Steelhead and Lakers suddenly turn up on the coast, in our rivers & stillwaters offering a year round income.  So although I don’t think my idea was entirely without good reason what I really did not bank on, no pun intended, is that a small independent, specialist online fly fishing retail shop in the UK will not be able to compete.  Back in 2007; maybe.  But in 2016; not a chance!

As of yesterday my own attempt at online retail, no longer exists but instead heads off towards something that aligns with my original vision once more, which is to offer entertainment to people in the form of fly fishing experiences.  Click here to see.

Hart Flyshop was a specialist online fly fishing retailer that opened in 2006 and closed 10 years later in 2016.

Hart Flyshop went offline on Monday 1st February 2016

Was this post just my way of announcing that I don’t sell tackle online any more? Definitely not. Instead I see it as an explanation of why I haven’t posted any entries to this blog during the last 12 months.  I needed to spend time thinking about my next steps, time to focus on my vision again and I needed to make time to go fishing again!

Anyway if you have arrived all the way at the bottom of this post, my sincere thanks for reading and if you visited the blog regularly in the past, my sincere apologies for the silence.  I am not going to promise weekly posts or another series of articles that just don’t happen because my time is being taken up where it should be, on the water.

Even so, if you feel like it please check back in sometime, because now that I no longer have to think about the virtual world of fly fishing sales I have a bit more time on my hands which I hope may become evident on the blog this coming season.

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Practice how to make fly casting permanent in 2015

Finally, after all the festivities, the best present of all, a whole brand spanking shiny New Year to play with and a week of it has gone already.  Better get started on my first blog of 2015 but before I do I would like to wish those of you taking the time to read my weekly posts a Happy New Year and if this is your first visit here, well I hope that you are about to have the best fly fishing season of your life and that something you find on this blog may help in some small way.

It’s traditional to kick off with the usual round of resolutions and looking back over my last few years of January posts it is fairly evident that there were plenty of pledges and quite a bit of fantasising about fish such as Steelhead.  Alas I didn’t get that trip together, but it will happen one day and in 2014 the Redfish that I mentioned in this post did take place as can be seen here, here & here.

So this year my mission is to turn the blog into something a bit more informative and rather than beat about the bush, I am going to get started now, with casting.  Why fly casting and not fly tying or perhaps a book review at this time of year?  Well because armchair angling is fun, there is no doubt, but no amount of reading can ever replace practice, especially when it comes to casting a fly.

Several years ago I was teaching a couple of people involved professionally with coaching hockey and a motto, saying, call it what you will cropped up that I have never forgotten – Practice makes Permanent.  I did a bit of research online and from what I can see it was the late, great football manager Bobby Robson came up with the inspirational adage. Practice is famously associated with the word perfect but there is no perfect of course.  In terms of casting this would mean the same size loops every time, the exact amount of distance required every time, pinpoint accuracy every time and a millimetre perfect rod stroke every time amongst all the other things that take place during a cast.  It’s impossible to be a perfect caster; we can always improve something.

But with practice it is possible to become consistent and wind up with controlled muscle memory which becomes a permanent part of our casting.  The trouble is that there is permanent correct muscle memory and in far more cases permanent incorrect muscle memory, often referred to as a bad habit.

Take my client for the day on Wednesday.  Rob has received instruction from me in the past and taken his casting to a decent standard.  But now with a few years of fishing under his belt one of the main habits he had permanently engrained was lifting off the water far too quickly, a subject that I am going to blog about.  By the end of the session Rob had achieved significant progress towards breaking the habit and with practice I am confident that he will make permanent a consistent smooth lift off the water.

An angler practising their fly casting

A super smooth lift off the water – Practice makes Permanent (Photo by Nick Hart – Jan 2015)

Why had Robs casting slipped a bit?  By his own admission he hadn’t been practising outside the situation of fishing.  This may seem like an odd statement because after all we are always casting while fly fishing, so therefore is this not practice in its own right?  It definitely is, but what if our subconscious cast has some inherent flaw or flaws which I referred to above as a bad habit?  Our grey matter takes over, concocts something which will catch us a few fish and that becomes our permanent way of casting a fly and going fishing.

How about this for a 2015 resolution, practise casting away from the distraction of fish and don’t be afraid to experiment.  Book a lesson, read a book or watch a video for some ideas and then wrap up warm and have a practice session (or ten) in time for the new season.  Not sure where to start?  Check back here over the next few weeks or better still sign up below to get notifications  of a new post and I will help you to get started.

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