Matt Dickerson: For the love of fishing knowledge
When I moved to Addison County 25 years ago, two of my priorities were finding good local fishing and finding a good local fishing-and-outdoor store. The latter of these proved easier. Vermont Field Sports was already a well-established fixture in Middlebury in the fall of 1989. Dick Phillips opened the store in 1982 with 700 square feet of space in the Red School House building on Route 7 South.
At the time, Dick said, although there were some stores specializing in one aspect or another of hunting or fishing, there was no “everything-outdoor-hunting-fishing-sporting goods” store in the area. He obviously met a need because the business quickly outgrew that original space and in the spring of 1985 he moved the store north a few hundred yards to its current location, where he had 1,100 square feet occupying one quarter of the building.
Still the business continued to grow. VFS offered a good selection of guns, fishing gear, fly tying supplies, outdoor apparel and even services such as gun-smithing. Eventually the store expanded to fill the entire building, with hunting, fishing and outdoor apparel spread over 4,400 feet. When a devastating fire gutted the building in the spring of 2007, local hunters and anglers who were their loyal (and dependent) customers feared they’d lost it forever. But Dick rebuilt and now seven years later the store still thrives.
Some things have come and gone, of course. They no longer offer gun-smithing and since the fire have not stocked fly-tying supplies either. But the rhythm of the place has remained steady over the decades. Part of the reason they have business year round is that they offer something at every season. It’s about what one would predict, Dick explains. April and May are dominated by turkey hunting. Then through August it’s fishing that drives the sales. September into October nearly everybody is in for bow hunting supplies. Then it’s deer hunting with rifles and then muzzleloading. In the winter most of the sales are in guns, though ice-fishermen come in as well.
Though I can’t actually remember VFS without Greg Boglioli, he has been working in the store for “only” the past 17 years. Greg offered some of his own insights into how things have or have not changed. Selling guns has remained about the same since the business started. Customers come in with questions, looking for information or advice, wondering what is the best gun for them. His job is just to walk them through the process and find something that will meet their needs. But firearms themselves have not changed significantly since he has been working there, except that the quality of less expensive firearms has improved significantly making them a better value.
Archery, on the other hand, has changed dramatically. There has been a tremendous evolution in bow technology and also a great new interest in the sport, especially for younger people. “What the film ‘A River Runs Through It’ did to promote interest in fly-fishing,” Greg explains, “the ‘Hunger Games’ books and film have done for archery.”
The fishing end of the business is also more complicated than it used to be. New fishing products are released regularly. There are dozens of different special-purpose fishing lines (braided lines and fluorocarbons and lines of various densities, in addition to traditional monofilaments) and baits are always changing, especially the soft plastic baits and the finesse techniques used to fish with them. There have also been improvements in both fishing rods and reels and even in fabrics for outdoor apparel. (“All anglers should wear SPF clothing,” Greg notes. When you spend a lot of time on the water, you need extra sun protection.)
And this is part of why Greg enjoys his job.
“I love the educational side of it. I come from a family of teachers,” he said.
Part of his work is going to various sporting goods shows and learning about new stuff and new techniques. He is passionate about passing on that knowledge: educating people who come into the store about what he himself has been learning. About new gear and new methods and ultimately how to be successful at the sports we love. He will go out with a sales rep and try out a $600 reel and will thus know exactly how it is different from a $60 reel — and whether or not that will make a difference to a customer when they take it out fishing.
Which gets me back to where I started this article. Finding good local fishing and finding a good local fishing-and-outdoor store are not unrelated. One of my favorite reasons for going into the local fishing shop is the knowledge I can gain there — the knowledge folks like Greg and Dick are eager to share. And there are other stores in the area that can also provide good stuff and good local knowledge. It’s why I don’t buy my gear from online stores where there is no physical presence and no connection to the local stream. I started the year having caught trout in 26 states. If my plans don’t go awry, by the start of 2015 the count will be 27. (If I succeed, you will read about it in a month.) One thing I’ve discovered on the way to 27 is that finding the local fishing store is usually one of the best ways to find not only the local fish but the best way to catch them.
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