Fly fishermen are a mildly eccentric subspecies. They are the violinists of the angling world, the sommeliers of the rivers and streams.
Like the rest of us, they likely descended from the apostles who fished the Sea of Galilee, but somewhere along the evolutionary waterway, their pursuit of fish became an art form. It was a ballet performed in an aquatic theater, armed with an exceptionally long and flexible baton.
As some of the more erudite hook-setters in the fishing world, fly anglers require a quirky cache of tackle, tools, and trinketry in order to properly present those painstakingly tied flies, and then seduce those phantoms of the spring creeks and the saltwater flats.
Fly fishermen will have a place locally to find those accessories, seek out advice, and hold impromptu skull sessions on chasing trout, steelhead, salmon, and other fish with the opening of Wildwood Anglers fly shop in downtown Sylvania. The chatter about roll casts, tippets, and the flow on the Pere Marquette will fill the emotional creel for many area fly casters.
“I love to fly fish and it is hard for me to drive by a fly shop without stopping, so this is exciting news for sure,” said Glenn Richter, a member of the historic North Branch Boys Fly Fishing Club. “It’s something this area has needed for a long time.”
The shop represents the manifestation of the vision of two guides with strong ties to the area — Brad Dunkle and Hunter Hayes. The duo teamed up about two years ago to form Wildwood Anglers and provide guided fly fishing outings on the rivers of Ohio and Michigan. But opening a living, breathing facility where the talk would focus not on politics or the NFL but instead on muddlers, nymphs, hoppers, and deceivers was always the goal.
“Every guide I’ve ever known wants to own their own fly shop,” said Dunkle, a 34-year-old native of Sylvania and a Southview grad who earned a degree in natural resources studies from Colorado State and guided in the Rockies for a dozen years.
“But most of those guides sunk themselves by trying to go too big and carry too many different types of inventory. We won’t make that mistake, I hope, by stocking only what we know and what we can readily endorse. There won’t be anything in the shop that we haven’t tested to the hilt.”
Hayes is a graduate of Swanton High School and a fly tying prodigy who learned the craft working side-by-side with the late Chris Helm, one of the most revered names in the world where hackles and hair, feathers and fur, beads and braid, and bobbins of thread and wire can be entwined to create a woolly bugger, a zebra midge, or a bubba’s sculpin realistic enough to fool a shy brown trout.
Hayes, 22, was tying flies commercially by age 16 and his brand, Maumee River Flies, will stock one of the large displays in the new shop. Dunkle said much of the rest of the Wildwood Anglers inventory will be selected to fill a niche market for the higher-end, religious fly fisherman, but the shop will also offer advice, lessons, and a smooth entry into fly fishing for the beginner or novice.
“We’re not here to compete with the big stores — we offer something different and more specialized,” said Dunkle, who added that fly casting lessons and fly tying instruction will be part of the menu at Wildwood Anglers. “I think our passion for fly fishing will be evident in everything we do here.”
Perrysburg’s Brad White, the retired owner of a software company and a loyal disciple of fly fishing Michigan’s revered Au Sable River, said the new fly shop will fill a void in the Toledo market.
“A lot of the big outlets aren’t staffing their fly shops like they used to, so it will be nice to have someplace local to go to. It’s a really good thing,” White said. “And to have people with that level of expertise and experience running this fly shop is very important, especially for the kind of advice they can offer to someone who is relatively new to the sport, or not that experienced.”
Another strength of the Wildwood Anglers operation is that Dunkle and Hayes bring differing skill sets to the business. Call it contrasting fly fishing mojo.
Dunkle’s foundation is in cold water work for salmon, steelhead, and trout. His lengthy stint in the snowmelt mountain streams out west makes the pursuit of those species his forte. He has guided numerous local anglers on outings to Ohio’s famed Steelhead Alley and on the rivers of northern Michigan.
Hayes has melded his fly tying wizardry with the waters of his home range — the Maumee River — where he has fooled a biblical load of fishes with unique flies that mimic the natural food sources of the watershed.
The pair met while both were working at Bass Pro Shops, became brethren immediately, and they launched the guiding side of Wildwood Anglers almost two years ago while the notion of popping open the doors of their own shop danced elusively out on the horizon. The strength of their partnership is anchored in the code of that worldwide fraternity of fly fishermen, and in a respect for the divergent arms of the stream they have waded.
“I think the basis of our friendship is that we’ve always had this dynamic where our skill sets are so complimentary,” Dunkle said. “He knows a lot about some aspects of fly fishing, and I know a lot about other areas. Hunter’s so warm-water savvy it’s ridiculous and his skills as a fly tier are off the charts. In all my years of guiding, I’ve yet to see anyone who can spin deer hair the way he can.”
While guiding on the Maumee, Hayes has opened the eyes of many a fly fishing purist who previously believed trout were the only fish on the planet. Hayes shows them that pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, carp, and even walleye all can be duped into taking the right fly.
“The Maumee River can be a fly fisherman’s paradise, and a lot of people are really surprised to learn that,” Hayes said. “So it’s exciting to introduce them to it. We’re taking something we love, like fly fishing, and turning it into a business that will bring this sport to so many more people.”
Greg Noviski, a Toledo-based design sculptor for General Motors and an avid fly fisherman, said the area needs a bona fide specialty fly shop.
“Those shops just give you a more personalized approach and are much better at finding out what the customer’s needs are,” he said. “That’s what makes the smaller shops just a better place to be for most fly fishermen.”
Dunkle said the store will sell the “good stuff,” such as Simms waders and boots, Costa sunglasses, plus high-end line and a selection of fine fly rods and reels.
“We’re trying to be as strategic about this as possible and have what our customers will want to see in a fly shop,” he said.
They will continue to offer their extensive guide service, with plans to possibly expand that operation in the future to include distant and even exotic destinations. For the immediate future, Hayes will lead the guiding operation while Dunkle will focus his energies on manning the shop.
“If you want to fly fish, then we hope this is the place,” Dunkle said. “That’s the niche that we have to fill. There’s no one around here that has the expertise that we do, so we’re pretty jazzed about sharing our passion with everyone who comes through the door.”
Park Burson, the Ohio-based field rep for fly fishing giant Orvis, said he sees Wildwood Anglers filling a blank spot on his map that shows the specialty fly shops in the region.
“There are great shops in Columbus and the Dayton area, and also in the Detroit area, but there’s been a little bit of a void right there in Toledo,” Burson said. “With that population base, and all of the great fly fishing within a two-hour range of Toledo, there’s definitely a place in that market for this type of store.”
Those sentiments are shared by fly fisherman Keith Burwell, the president of the Toledo Community Foundation.
“What we are getting is guys with first-hand experience that can tell you what works and help you resolve any issues with your gear or your casting,” he said. “Fly fishing can be considered somewhat of an art form, and you just can’t get the type of advice you need at places that just focus on the retail side. Here, I think you’ll get a lot more on the fishing concept side.”
Wildwood Anglers plans a soft opening Friday, with an official grand opening Sept. 1. While the inventory is arriving and the shelves stocked this week, the doors will be open for visitors at 5625 Main St. in Sylvania. More information is also available at the wildwoodanglers.com website.
“This shop has always been a dream of mine since I first started guiding out west at 19 years old,” Dunkle said. “I just never imagined that it would be here, but the need for a shop like this is very apparent, and knowing how loyal Toledoans are to local businesses just adds to my confidence as we start this.”
Richter believes the know-how and experience that Dunkle and Hayes bring to Sylvania’s main drag will make the place the retail equivalent of a quiet stretch of spring creek for area fly anglers.
“That’s the difference. In this shop, you can talk to guys who really know fly fishing,” he said.
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