Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shop Talk: The Northern Angler and Brian Pitser

I'll never forget the first time I walked into The Northern Angler in Traverse City.  It was like....being home!  I let out a sigh of relief.  I was in my happy place.  I was there for several hours with a friend who was installing some displays.  Brian Pitser, the owner, was happy as all get out, as the longer we were there, the bigger my stack of tying materials got.  But here's the thing- it was like hanging out at a friends house.  The checkout counter doubles as a tying area, and Brian and Evan sat there and tied flies and shot the breeze, dealt with the couple of customers that came in and made an excellent pot of coffee that I went to work on.

What makes a great fly shop- is it price?  Selection? Cool hats?  Sure, and no.  I walk into some fly shops and walk straight back out- I can’t afford to be there and they want me to know that.  There are other shops who sell flies, but they sell so much beer and chips it’s hard to remember why they’re there.  Here’s what I want, and have found, in a fly shop.  I want a good selection of gear that I can afford, but still be able to drool over a Sage rod.  I want atmosphere but not a bunch of dusty deer mounts from 1927.  I want to be able to see and find what I’m looking for.  I want good advice.  I want a good cup of coffee.  The shop dog has to be friendly but polite.  I want a thorough selection of flies, even the ones I’ll never use.  I want to be able to find a decent selection of books.  They have to offer a decent range of services including tying classes, seminars and guide service.

 There's those other fly shops.  You've been there.  You walk in and can hardly see, there's an unhappy person behind the counter, there's a lot of dust and clutter and you don't DARE touch anything.  You've also been to the big and bigger box outdoor stores and found some of the things you need and no one to help you.

Back to our happy place.  Meet proprietor and guide Brian Pitser.  Brian gets it, he gets you- what you want and need in a fly shop.  In the space he has he's managed to pack in an incredible variety of gear, flies, tying materials, rods, reels and apparel.  The tying materials really stagger me, as I always seem to be able to find what I need, and Brian has assured me (before we ever talked about this post, I might add) that he can and will get me anything I need.  While he does stock high-end gear, The Northern Angler does not come across as high-end or stuffy.  It is always neat, clean, well-lit, well organized.

 They also offer a lot of services, not the least of which is guide service.  Right now the shop has 3 guides fishing the Upper and Lower Manistee, the Betsie, Platte and Boardman rivers and Grand Traverse Bay.  They pursue steelhead, salmon, trout, smallmouth bass and do sight fishing for carp that has to be seen to be believed- the water is so clear and such a shade of fluorescent aquamarine you would swear that you are stalking bones on the flats somewhere (I’ll finagle a trip somehow).  With casting and tying workshops and classes in the mix, there's always something going on to keep you coming back. The Northern Angler even has a shop dog.
Shop dog Casey- what a face!

 Brian had this to say about his shop and their philosophy:  “I’ve tried to build the kind of place that caters to the hardcore guys, but still welcomes the novice.  We all started somewhere.  Let’s face it- as fly fishermen we’re all a bunch of geeks, but we know we’re geeks here and so I try to make this shop as inclusive as possible.  Fly fishermen come from all walks of life, it’s not just a high-end sport, and so we try to welcome everyone.  I have a great staff here, and I am always here when I'm not out guiding.  I just want to earn peoples business, and you can only do that through good customer service.”  I can vouch that Brian and his staff walk the walk (or is it cast the cast?).  By the way- the coffee is that good, and he has mugs and not styrofoam.
The Northern Angler really is my favorite fly shop in Northern Michigan.  I don't mean this as a slight to other shops- there's plenty of good ones in the state.  I just feel that Brian has done an excellent job of putting together a shop that meets all of my personal criteria.  Too many local fly shops have gone the way of the dodo.  Everyone is shopping online, or going to the Big Boxes, but the soul of fly fishing is not found in those places.  Fly fishing is a hands-on, interactive sport, and fly fishing is always local.  You can get your gear online, but websites will never be able to tell you local conditions, hatches and patterns that you need to know to have success.  We need local shops and all that they bring, and The Northern Angler brings it.  Somehow I think The Northern Angler will be around for awhile.

 Visit their Website by clicking on the links below and look for them on the Friends of Fontinalis Rising sidebar.

426 W. Front Street
Traverse City, MI  49684



  1. Living in Petoskey can be quite a conundrum, drive to Grayling or to TC, 9 out of 10 times it is easier to talk my wife into a trip to TC for some shopping than a trip to the Au Sable. Mr Pitser has been doing all those things and more, knowing the whose who and making more connections, adding the PR and getting national exposure, putting N.MI back on the map w/o giving away all her secrets. The micro-culture TC offers with eclectic shopping and brew pubs, not to mention some 'to-die' for gastronomy institutions, you owe it to yourself to go in and have the staff actually let you feel that mid-flex 3 weight versus the fast action of that 4 weight you have been contemplating pulling the trigger on. Hey B.- can you locate some Wapsi grizzly chick-a-bou? tying up some fry patterns for steel.
    tight Lines,

  2. Sounds like a great shop. I think you hit the nail on the head with your criteria for a good fly shop. Nice post.

  3. Thanks Jay, hope you have one just as good down there in TN. Long live the local fly shop!!


  4. Local fly shops are vital to areas with good resources for fishing. They provide solid information and supplies. Wherever I travel to fish I check out the local fly shop and hire a local guide to show me the streams. Thanks everyone for keeping it LOCAL... Brian Pitser-The Northern Angler Fly Shop-Traverse City