October – Reflecting on the Change of Seasons and Journey’s End

Harvest Time

Everyone has their favorite season and month. For me, it’s autumn and October.

It may have started while I was growing up where autumn, and particularly October, was the break between two unpleasant seasons. Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, summers were what were “90 and 90” – 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 percent relative humidity. Winters were cold with the periodic St. Louis specialty of ice storms. Autumn was a time for transition from one extreme to the other.

October, in particular, was a month of warm days and cool nights. It was a season of many things: jackets for early mornings and late afternoons and evenings; a time for football; a time for family drives out into the country to see the baled hay and harvested fields; and a time for the cool nights that lead to the leaves changing from a palette of greens to brilliant reds and yellows.

But there is more to October than Halloween and the promise of Thanksgiving within a month.

October and autumn are a time for adults. After the long days of summer, hours of daylight begin to dramatically reduce. Patterns of sunlight and shadow appear that at first are unfamiliar after the long bright days of summer, but then there is the comfortable recollection of having seen them before. Many breezes may still be warm, but then there are the days that bring the chilling whisper that alerts our senses that winter will soon arrive.

October as the month of harvest also marks for those of us on the Northwest coast the transition in the salmon runs. The Lake Washington sockeye salmon run is long past The Chinook salmon and pink salmon (the latter in odd numbered years) runs have come and gone. The Coho salmon (silver salmon) have begun to wind down – at least the non-resident salmon.

The chum salmon have begun to arrive and the start of the winter steelhead run is now measured in weeks. But in the main, the life history of this generation of salmon is about to come to an end as they complete their life mission and plant the seeds of a future generation.

Fishing in Puget Sound to me is more than about recreation. It is to share the waters of a life cycle that goes back thousands of years. It is to be able to wade in the tidal waters that bring the salmon to their natal rivers; to observe the other species (seals and eagles) that feed on the salmon for their own food; and to reflect on the native people who lived here and based their lives on the salmon.

Early morning wading in Puget Sound in October is also a time of transition in clothing. The summer wading attire of ball caps, light pants and shirt sleeves gives way to warm hats, a Nano Puff jacket, insulated pants, and often gloves. It is yet another reminder that winter is coming.

And the coming of winter, along with the end of the salmon runs, is a reminder that another cycle of our lives is coming to an end. It is the time to take stock and measure what we have we have done with the last year – our own harvest – how have we lived and how we have affected those in our lives. And it’s a reminder, however unpleasant, that each autumn brings each of us closer to our own final migration. It is a time to take pleasure in the season and a time to remember what is, and what should be, important.

The New Site Launch

I have decided the title of my old blog, Swinging the Fly, does not represent what this blog is really about. It’s more than just fly fishing, but fly fishing is at its core. The thing that was missing was the context of of where I live and where I fish. Living near, very near now, Puget Sound – my fishing is driven by tidal currents.

And for that reason, I felt the site name had to reflect the importance and role of tidal waters. Hence my site’s new name:  Tight LInes and Tidal Waters.

 

Whither Independently Owned Fly Shops?

There have been a number of announcements through 2013 related to consolidation in fly shop ownership. At first glance, the announcements may be interesting to customers of the different businesses. But I think they say something about the future of retail fly-fishing shops.

Grizzly Hackle, a very successful brick and mortar and online fly shop from Missoula Montana announced its purchase of Kiene’s Fly Shop of Sacramento California on January 1st, 2013.  This was followed by its purchase of Bob Marriott’s fly shop in Fullerton California in early May.

The latter announcement was followed that same month by the announcement of the May 17th merger of Grizzly Hackle Holdings (which owns the three fly shops) and the very prominent Fishwest Incorporated, an e-commerce fly-fishing retailer, which also owns one shop in Utah.

The businesses above are all quality companies. At one time or another, I’ve bought from all of them. They are all reputable and are staffed by people who care about customers and the sport of fly fishing.

Each of them will carry, more or less, the same brands from the top suppliers in the business (e.g., Scientific Anglers, Simms, Sage, Winston, and Patagonia – to name only a very few).

And so far, five to eight months on, each of the fly shops still market under their own name, maintaining both a brick and mortar storefront along with a web presence. It will be interesting to watch whether their business models change over the next year or two,.

Perhaps more thought provoking is an attempt to understand the whys of the mergers and speculate what it says about the future for many of the fly shops that remain.

I think there are three reasons. The first is related to aging of owners. The other two are related to economic factors and economies of scale.

The sales of both Kiene’s and Bob Marriott’s, both of which have been in business for well over 30 years, were driven at least in part by the owners’ stated desires to move into semi-retirement and give up the day-to-day hassles and pressures of running a business.

Whether there was store staff with the desire, or more importantly – ability to raise capital, to buy the stores is unknown. It’s certainly true that capital availability has been a challenge for the last five years since the economic meltdown in 2008.

The industry is very small. As I related in a previous post (see here), the total annual sales in fly fishing gear is $750 million, less than some brands of candy. A related post (see here) shared the results of an AnglersSurvey study that showed the majority of sales were flies, followed by tippet and fly line.

Now think about how easy it would be to raise capital to buy a fly shop when your primary revenue stream will be based on a two to three dollar fly ­- and in a market that is not demonstrating rapid growth. Selling an $800 fly rod is certainly more lucrative, but the question is how long that rod has to sit in a store’s inventory before the sale is made; otherwise there is the cost of maintaining inventory.

Unless interested parties can self capitalize or the shop in question is demonstrably a moneymaking success in its local market that overcomes banks’ fears of business loans, I fear we will see many fly shops going out of business as the original owners retire.

A related challenge is dealing with the manufacturers.  A small fly shop is at the mercy of the companies and the sales reps that represent them. There are requirements for required volumes to be carried; promotional placements; and terms of sale that a small shop has to exist under.

And from the perspective of the manufacturers they have legitimate concerns about tying their brands to small fly shops that are struggling or only able to carry the minimum required inventory. It’s becoming much easier for them to put at least some of their inventory in a big box store (witness Winston and Sage rods in Cabelas).

Now consider the merger discussed above. It puts all three fly shops, together with Fishwest’s e-commerce site on firmer financial footing with a stronger multi-channel sale network – particularly with Bob Marriott’s, Grizzly Hackle, and Kiene’s all having both brick and mortar and e-commerce sites.

I suspect (but can’t verify) it puts the new company in a position to better negotiate terms of sales, volumes, and promotional support. And it gives a manufacturer the multiple-channels to get the hot new product out to its customers. They understand the critical importance of brand loyalty. It’s a win-win for both the retailer and supplier.

If you’ve gone into a fly shop to get a new just announced Sage rod (as an example) and you’re told they have no idea when they can get one in – how many times does that have to happen before you stop going in looking for the new products?

Fundamentally I think it is these economies of scale that will drive the transition away over time from the small locally owned fly shop to the horizontally integrated companies described above. Only they may have the  ability to compete with the big box stores in the manufacturer’s competition for market share.

The passing of many of the fine fly shops that operated over the years has been and will be a sad thing to observe.  But there can be hope in the new model discussed here.

It may be a transition away from local ownership but done right local color and knowledge will be retained.  It’s the smart business move and it will be good for fly fishers.

 

A Shared Demo Day – Cooperation as a Model

Puget Sound Fly Company Demo Day

Walk into any fly shop, even one loaded with high-end gear, and you’re looking at a very small business. The industry itself is very small.

Field and Stream’s Fly Talk blog (see link) reported last year that a study done for  American Fly Fishing Trade Association found that sales for the entire industry were only about $750 million – less than some brands of candy bars.

And do you know what sells the most?  The study found it was flies. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. I noted in a recent post (see here) that the highest percentage of sales in May/June 2013 was flies, followed by tippet.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to a shop I may buy three each of three or four patterns.  Even for the saltwater patterns, that’s looking at a total purchase of less than $60.  And I’ve seen plenty of people walk in, look around, and leave. I don’t always buy. Sometimes it’s nice to just go in, listen and see what’s new.

My point in the above is that every fly shop is hungry for customers – lots of customers. Because for every  $800 Orvis, Sage, or Winston rod they sell, they’re looking at lots of sales at less than $100 – often much less.

Fly shops have to compete with each other implicitly whether they want to or not. When a customer can buy the same rod in two or three places (or from an online retailer) a fly shop wants that rod to be sold at their shop.  Brands carried, events, classes, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a loyal customer base are needed to survive. And it is survival – with rent and utilities to pay, salaries for the hardworking but underpaid staff, and maybe being able to stash some money for one’s growing family.

So why do I bring all this up? It’s because of the event I attended today.

Many fly shops hold demo days – events where manufacturers reps are on hand, rods are available for casting, and everyone talks fly-fishing. Many times there are giveaways and prizes. And sometimes there’s even free food!

But not every shop hosts an event that includes other fly shops. Often fly shops will be at the same event that’s hosted by some other organization. But an event where a fly shop invites other fly shops, that’s something unique. And maybe it’s something we need more of in this increasingly hyper competitive society.

Puget Sound Fly Company (Tacoma Washington) hosted a demo day today with two other fly shops invited. When I got there later in the day, Orvis was still there along with Puget Sound Fly Company.

The shop owner from Puget Sound Fly Company (Anil Srivastava) was there. Orvis was ably represented by the beach fishing legend, Leland Miyawaki, and Jason Cotta, their fly fishing manager.

So here’s a couple of fly shops, admittedly separated by 40+ miles, still sharing an event and demonstrating that one can be friends with other people you’re competing against. The thing about it is that the only way all shops will survive is to promote fly fishing. It may mean a lost sale, but the more fly fishers there are, the more all will thrive.

On a planet of diminishing resources, two fly shops in the Seattle / Tacoma  demonstrate the wisdom of cooperation in which all win or all lose.  As individual, regions, and countries that might be a good lesson for us all.

The Rod Maker’s Journey

Tom Morgan is a custom rod builder, and is the former owner of Winston Fly Rods (1975-1981) where he built the reputation of Winston rods first in bamboo, then in fiberglass and graphite. But he is more than a good businessman; he is an artist of the highest order. To own a Tom Morgan rod, which I do not, is to hold an object of art that links one back to a tradition of master craftsmen.

Tom Morgan would be renowned as a fly rod maker alone, but what makes his life special transcends the mechanical aspects of rod building. For you see, Tom Morgan has Multiple Sclerosis and hasn’t touched one of the rods he builds in many, many years. The rod building is done by his wife Gerri Carlson and two other workers. She is now the master craftsman of Tom Morgan rods – a journey that started with her knowing nothing about rod building when she met Tom.

And in addition to demands of filling the orders that come in from around the world, Gerri takes care of her husband through the daily struggles of supporting someone unable to do even the simplest of things most of us take for granted. From shaving to the “poop wars”, she embodies unconditional love.

There is a remarkable article about Tom and Gerri on ESPN.COM. It is inspiring and touching. Read it and think about the tears in Tom’s eyes as he watches a friend cast, wishing he could pick up a fly rod and cast just one more time. And read about the remarkable woman who loves him and builds Tom Morgan rods.

The article is located here.

The Closing

I’ve made mention in previous posts about our move to Gig Harbor. The house was ours on the first of July.  We started hauling boxes over immediately. Movers brought over the big items (e.g., beds and furniture) the following weekend. Last week we cleared out the storage locker we used during the “decluttering and staging” we had done in preparation for selling our Kent house. That means our Gig Harbor house finally has everything we own in it. Plus, it seems for some period of time, storage boxes, as we adjust to new realities in closets and rooms.

This past Friday the buyers of our Kent house finally closed with the recording of the deed. They own the house and we now have only our new one. Everything has been closed.

Closing is a term used in the western of the United States to indicate when the parties in a real estate sale complete the transaction under the supervision of a trusted agent (escrow officer); documents are signed and any funds needed to complete the transaction are collected. Interestingly, as it was something I didn’t know, that in the eastern part of the U.S., it’s called settlement and is handled by a settlement agent.

But did we really close something?

In both a literal and figurative sense we did.  Obviously, we closed (completed) the financial transaction discussed above. And figuratively, we closed out a part of our lives in a place we no longer live.

A good many things will be missed, but not all.

We’ll miss our neighbors – some of whom I didn’t get to know as well as I should in all the years we lived there. The excellent arts program run by the city of Kent, which gave me a chance to see the East Village Opera Company and Roger McGuinn. The routes we developed to walk our dogs or for me to go running. A few very nice groceries and restaurants – specifically Paolo’s. QFC and Nature’s Market – both for their quality vegetables and fruits; the latter for an excellent variety of supplements. And the noise of children on their way to and from school buses – marking the end and the beginning of summer.

While many of the above are close enough for a visit, it’s never the same. Stepping away from a place even for a time means only coming back as a visitor. It’s like going back to the house you grew up in. It’s never quite the same.

Fewer words are needed for won’t be missed: one neighbor for the large numbers of cars in varying states of repair cycled between curb and driveway; the tedious routes endured on the daily drive to work; the tired and increasingly tiresome array of chain restaurants (mostly fast-food) that were close by; and the way in which the main floor of our Kent house became unbearble when outside temperatures reached even only the high seventies.

So this reflection is the final close of that chapter of life.

The new chapter has begun.  We live in a house we like in an area we’ve wanted to live. I can be standing in salt water casting my rod not more than three miles from where I live. Our new neighbors seem nice. I’ve started my list of things to be fixed or upgraded in the new house. And the drive to work – while long – isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. As in all things, there will be the good, the bad, and the things to be endured.

But the last three months of moving are over. It’s time to get back to fly fishing.

 

House SOLD…The Clock’s Ticking

I had mentioned in an earlier post that we are moving to Gig Harbor, Washington. We are now in the seemingly interminable period between the initial flurry of activity (house hunting, offer making, and inspection) and the final closing coming at the beginning of next month.

A parallel activity has been underway – one that hasn’t involved writing big checks, only a lot of effort – and that has been to prepare and sell our current house. We had worked the last month to get it ready as I had noted in a previous post (read here).

Last week we signed the contract with our realtors and the game was afoot. The house was turned into a display case with new bed coverings in the bedrooms and color coordinated towels in the bathrooms. Dirty clothes and wet towels were stuffed into empty drawers and everything else was ready. The dogs, which typically have free run of the house, were kept sequestered in the family room in the basement to avoid spreading dirt and hair throughout.

Last weekend we held a two-day open house, which – by accounts from realtors and neighbors – was a success. We didn’t see it ourselves. We had spent the two days as gypsies: driving around town, at dog parks, beaches, and fast food locations.

Sunday night we got a call from the agent from one of the prospective buyers. She wanted to do a pre-inspection early Monday – all offers would be reviewed that evening. Monday morning, the house was still in in display-case mode, the dogs were loaded into the car, and another day was spent away with the inspection and other potential buyers coming by.

Our realtors came Monday evening. We were expecting three to four offers; we received five. That was very good.

Even nicer was the surprise that of the five offers, four were over the asking price. The offer selected was the high bid, and it came from the people who had done the pre-inspection. And that they wanted the house as-is. So no additional maintenance by us is required.

The bid was even higher by several thousand dollars higher than I thought we could get if the Seattle market was as hot as reported in the newspaper. At least from our experience it is.

Whether a hot housing market is good thing in the long run, time will tell.

For right now, I will say it worked out well for everyone in this parallel activity of buying and selling. We’re moving to the place we want to be. The family buying our house gets to move out of a cramped townhouse to a bigger house, and their children will go to good schools.

Now if all our remaining stuff would just appear in our Gig Harbor house without us having to pack and move it all; that would just about make me believe in magic.

Stuff

As I noted in my previous post, we are moving to Gig Harbor, Washington. The prerequisites to selling – decluttering and staging – have taken most of our time for the last month. The fly fishing gear has been boxed or put out of sight at least until after the open house and raft of offers (we hope), which is one reason I’ve had nothing to post regarding fly fishing in over one month.

Except for taking time out to see “Star Trek Into Darkness” (fun movie, by the way), life revolves around my day job and decluttering and staging.

The longer we do this the more I know George Carlin was right when he said that a house is a place for keeping your stuff. And as time goes on your stuff is everywhere.

We’ve rented a storage unit for keeping some of our stuff – not the stuff we use every day, but the stuff we want to keep but can live without for some period. This includes winter clothing, snow tires; storage racks that have been removed for staging purposes; bicycles; tools, some of our lesser used kitchen ware, etc., etc.

As we drive through the facility and see other people at storage units that are filled to the rafters with stuff, it’s obvious this is an industry that was inevitable in a consumer culture. I wish I would have been the one to see it as fortunes have been made in a society of too much stuff, divorce, moving out, and selling houses.

And the more I deal with our stuff, I find myself thinking about the transitory value of stuff.

It’s somewhat depressing to see things that once seemed urgent to buy and have, now placed under what we call the magic tree outside our house, waiting for some passerby to pick them up and to be added to their stuff. Or the pile on the side of the house of the broken and old, ready for the inevitable trip to the dump.

I’m not the first to talk about the problems of excess consumption and the loss of appreciation for a few valued things. It’s just this experience has made me realize how subtle the problem is.

Until forced to confront it in a situation like ours, individual items are purchased, kept and used for some time, and then sold, given away, or tossed in the trash and it’s often with little thought. Only when dealing with all the stuff in aggregate does it become obvious.

I had friend, now deceased, who held a garage sale when he turned 75. He said he spent the first 70 years of life accumulating things; then all he wanted was to get rid of most of it. I now understand what he meant. Stuff begins to weigh you down.

I’m very fond of the writings of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I particularly like his writing in Wind, Sand, and Stars where he wrote: “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”
He was writing about an airplane wing, but the same sentiment could apply to stuff.

I’m a long way from perfection.

Movin’

For some time, my wife and I had been planning to move at some undetermined time in the future to a continually debated location. Earlier this year we decided that the Gig Harbor area, across the Narrows from Tacoma had everything we wanted. Then less than two months ago, we were sitting in the Tides Tavern in downtown Gig Harbor, and the decision seemed obvious. Why wait for some future time? Let’s move now. We are Gig Harbor bound this summer.

One Saturday in late April spent house hunting with our realtor led to a major disappointment as the prices were higher and the properties less desirable than we had hoped to find with the price range we had specified.

We went home that night and did some quick spreadsheet calculations for increasing the upper limit. Doing a quick search, we found three that looked promising. Next morning, we hit the first house. We liked it immediately even though it was at the far reaches of affordability and maybe a bit beyond.

The other houses did not impress us. Back home we talked for a long, long time, did more spreadsheet calculations, and decided we’d buy it.

The offer was made and accepted. The inspection revealed a few things the seller agreed to correct. The buying part was underway with closing at the end of June.

We then turned our attention to what has proved to be the harder activity. Buying a house is just a matter of writing checks – very big checks. Selling, on the other hand, brings with it the spawn of the Roman goddess of chaos, Discordia; namely, “decluttering” and “staging”.

For anyone who’s not been involved with real estate sales in recent years, selling is no longer a matter of just cleaning the carpets and hiding the dirty socks. Today’s seller now declutters, which is an effort to depersonalize your house so potential buyers can see themselves and their things in your soon to be former space. That means taking something between 50 and 75 percent of all things in your current house and doing one of four things.

The first option was putting things into storage, which necessitates renting a storage unit. The second alternative was to try to recoup some of the purchase cost by selling things on Craigslist. The next alternative was to donate things, for which there are many worthwhile and needy charities. Finally, there was tossing stuff out. We’ve done all four with the majority of things going into storage or to Goodwill.

Along with decluttering came staging. This is the process where a knowledgeable realtor has us moving things around to create a better first impression: no, the bookcase should be there; move that chair into the other room; buy new bedspreads and towels. The list goes on from there.

There was also the last minute maintenance and cleaning, and the hiring of a small army of specialists: lawn and tree service, window cleaners, deck washers and patio power washers, painters for key touch ups, and a maid service to perform a showcase cleaning.

And the key constraint in all the above has been time. Getting the house ready and sold is an imperative – no one wants to carry two mortgages for longer than absolutely necessary. And to attract families, it’s been important to get the house sold in early summer so children can be registered for class in the new location.

That’s why we’ve hired our army and why lately most of the things being evaluated moved from treasured household items to being given away or tossed on the junk pile to be hauled to the dump.

Now, back to decluttering. Only three rooms left.

Suffer the Children

I, as many others, get from fly fishing an immersion in the natural world that offers peace and renewal. We, if I can generalize, look for retreat from the daily irritations – both large and small – as well as an escape from the increasingly dismal news that threatens our sanity.

But some days fly fishing offers no escape.

Monday, April 15th, 2013 was one such day. I shared in the horror of the images and accounts of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, I also felt a sense of admiration and wonder for those brave souls who ran toward, rather than away from, the explosions to assist those hurt.

And of all the images coming from that day and the ones that followed, the one that stays with me is that of eight-year-old Martin Richard; the image shared by a friend of his former teacher: a smiling little boy with the gap between his front teeth holding up a sign that said “No more hurting people. Peace”.

Martin Richard was at the finish line to watch his father finish his race. He had just gotten an ice cream when he was blown up by a bomb made out of a pressure cooker. With him were his sister and his mother. His sister Jane, who loved to dance, lost a leg. His mother Denise suffered traumatic brain injury. Only his brother who was nearby and his father escaped physical injury; but one can only wonder at the depths of the grief and pain they must feel.

The monsters who did this took more than just his life; they took away his chance to kiss a girl (or boy); to fall in love and make love; to chase his dreams; to feel the highs and lows of a long life lived well; and to be a good son, brother, and friend to those who surrounded him.

That little boy haunts me. Perhaps it’s because there’s only one child to mourn.

Not many months ago, we all suffered the loss of 20 children (even younger than Martin) and six adults at the Sandy Hook School in Newton Connecticut.

There were so many lost at one time. It was difficult to keep them straight even with their individual stories and photos. Perhaps their faces have been lost to the majority of us, but their names should be remembered: Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, Ana Marquez-Greene, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, and Allison Wyatt.

And the six women who died trying to protect them should never be forgotten – the word hero has been too cheapened by overuse to properly honor them: Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Leigh Soto.

There are other children who have been lost that will never be memorialized.

The ten Afghan children – along with two women – killed within the last month by a single NATO air strike in Shigal district, Kunar province. The air strike also killed eight members of the Taliban; those children were just “collateral” damage.

The children who go to bed hungry every night.

The children who live in fear of the violence outside, or inside, their doors.

The children who suffer abuse at the hands of those they trust the most.

Many of them suffer in silent shame. I knew one such child for he was my classmate in elementary school. He was beaten for years by his abusive father. We did not learn the truth until after he took his own life when he was in high school. Phil, I remember you.

And there are others we should think about.

The adults who commit mass murder in Boston or the destruction of Afghan children in an airstrike.

The man who brought Phil into this world and abused him.

A human society that cannot find ways to love and take care of all children – for they all are our children – will not survive. The next generation of heroes and terrorists are alive now; they are babies, the first graders of Sandy Hook, and Martin’s age.

What will we teach them? Is it their future to become a monster or a victim?

The choices are ours to make now. At some point it will be theirs.

No more hurting people. Peace.