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Independence lures local fishing guide

Janet Urquhart
Dave Johnson guides a fishing trip while he's not manning the store at Crystal Fly Shop and Decor in Carbondale. (Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times)
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Carbondale fishing guide Dave Johnson is “the man” ” sort of.

He has come full circle, from working as a guide under the shingle of a Basalt flyshop and then at the Roaring Fork Club, to founding Independent Flyfishing Guides last summer ” a collection of guides who weren’t working under the auspices of a shop.

Now, Johnson has opened Crystal Fly Shop and Decor ” a small presence on Carbondale’s Main Street that represents something of a reversal of the philosophy behind Independent Flyfishing Guides, or IFG.

“After a decade of guiding, I didn’t want to work for other people. I just want to work for my clients,” Johnson explained. The idea behind IFG was a collaboration of guides who could charge less to take clients out because they weren’t supporting a retail enterprise. And, the guides could retain more of the cut than they often do as guides working out of a flyshop.

“The difference was, we were not working out of a shop. That was the whole idea of Independent Flyfishing Guides,” said Johnson, who credits former Fryingpan Anglers owner Roy Palm for giving him a start as a guide.

About 10 guides, many moonlighting from their gigs at established shops, worked as IFG guides over the course of last summer, which Johnson deemed an acceptable debut season.

“It could have been better, it could have been worse. There are shops around here that did more volume in a day than I did all season,” he conceded.

But Johnson didn’t need the kind of volume that supports a year-round retail enterprise in an extremely seasonal business. IFG operations were as fluid as the rivers its clients fished ” the clients who discovered the guiding enterprise, anyway.

“The only reason I went into retail is to sell more guide trips,” Johnson said from his tiny shop on Carbondale’s main drag. Some clients want a physical locale, so Johnson acquiesed with a different kind of flyshop. When a tiny space across the street from Mi Casita became available, he took the plunge, opening up in early June.

The 200-square-foot shop sells no waders, boots, vests or the usual assortment of apparel associated with angling. But it does offer flies, in handmade wooden display boxes because Johnson eschews plastic decor.

“I want to offer items that you can’t usually find at a flyshop around here.” he said. “A lot of it is one-of-a-kind.”

There are flyrods from Loveland, Colo-based Elkhorn Flyrods, as well as lures of a different sort ” items of decor that hold appeal for the flyfishing enthusiast. One shadow box, boasting an assortment of antique gear, hangs on the wall and more are planned.

There are prints ” originals, not reproductions; a copy of “The Complete Angler,” published in 1887; wooden flyboxes and that sort of thing. Several mounted specimens, worthy catches of recent and not-so-recent vintage, adorn the place.

Now, Johnson is getting a taste of being “the man.” The shop buys the necessary outfitting licenses, the insurance, the advertising, etc. The enterprise is a trial run, for this summer anyway, but Johnson declares he’s holding tight to the vision of IFG.

“I’m a small businessman. I’m not going to work for the man,” he says.

Though IFG now has a home base, its principles remain intact, according to Johnson, who says he intends to make sure its outfitting prices are competitive.

IFG guides also have the ability to offer discount trips to locals, especially during the offseasons. And, Johnson is introducing what he calls the 20/20 referral program ” refer a client to IFG and get 20 percent off in the shop or 20 bucks (after the client pays), he said.

But don’t expect Johnson to start keeping banker’s hours.

“They’ll be plenty of times when the ‘Gone Fishing’ sign’s going to be hanging on the door,” he said.


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