Stories From Afield • Updated Wed, Jun 28, 2023
For small businesses, differentiation is key; this certainly holds true for fly shops. These angling establishments come in all shapes and sizes — ranging from small roadside shacks servicing local river-goers with the perfect regional tie to highly-scaled operations with tremendous selections and e-commerce presences. The U.S. is lucky to have so many great fly shops that strive for exceptional client service, something that is no small task to achieve.
c/o The Angling Company
Of these invaluable venues, The Angling Company — located in Key West, Florida — differentiates itself via a range of commitments to its patrons. We sat down with company owner Nathaniel Linville to learn a little bit more about the ideology behind the business that he and his wife, Kat, have run since April of 2009.
“Sure, The Angling Company is a fly shop, but we wanted to do it right,” says Nathaniel. You may think a commitment to doing things right sounds vague or wishy-washy, but think again. Nathaniel’s own angling accolades include four IGFA world records, and Kat holds four of her own as well. It’s clear that for Nathaniel and Kat, full-on immersion and complete dedication are crucial elements of their success, both on and off the water. “Look, my wife and I are diehard fishermen, but you gotta know what you're talking about,” states Nathaniel. “Many people love fishing, but do you love it enough to have spent a really long time doing it, at the expense of doing other things?” The answer is certainly “yes” for Nathaniel and Kat, as they are truly committed to living this passion. This allows them to spend extensive time around the Keys fishery, and its constituent guides, all the year round.
When Nathaniel first arrived in the Keys many years ago, he looked to local icons like Sandy Moret as inspirations. In addition to owning Florida Keys Outfitters, in Islamorada, Sandy is an accomplished fly tournament angler of legendary stature. “As an angler, there's so much to look up to there,” says Nathaniel. “And in terms of his shop, it would be nice to look back one day and say I created something comparable to his program.” As enclaves of local knowledge, fly shops have a certain responsibility to provide visitors with gear, intel, and advice that may mean the difference between success and failure on the water. “What sets us apart is our ability to give people the right advice,” says Nathaniel. “If you ask us enough questions, the answer will eventually be ‘I don't know,’ but we'll be able to answer more questions than anyone else about rigging and fishing and equipment.”
Given the toughness of the Key’s fishery, Nathaniel knows his shop’s role is paramount in facilitating successful stays for anglers. “We can help folks get set up with a good guide, and we've helped develop a lot of long-term relationships between clients and guides that have been very fruitful and, at this point, have nothing to do with us.” The Angling Company works with a number of talented, local guides with impressive guiding resumes. These folks know how to consistently put people in the position to catch bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook, and other species that the Keys fishery is known for. Regardless of pursuit, the shop strives to be a resource for what is tried and true — be it gear, rigging, relationships, and even casting — while also recognizing that long-term credibility means constantly pushing the envelope. Indeed, for Nathaniel, the biggest challenge of running a fly shop in Key West is ensuring he can answer all of his patrons' questions. “The people who fish down here are fucking good,” he admits. “So I need to be able to teach people something new — whether they fish one hundred days a year, or they’ve never fished a day in their lives. It doesn’t matter whether it's a leader formula, a new fly from a talented local tyer, a casting tip, or a lead to a great new guide relationship. That’s a real responsibility to have answers.”
The Keys is by no means an easy fishery for anglers of any skill level to tackle. It has long been considered the ultimate proving ground for shallow water sight-fishing in the United States. “I think what attracts people to flats fishing is that it's difficult,” Nathaniel notes. “And the fish are under more pressure here than in other places like Mexico or Belize. So if you want to really lean into that difficulty, this is a great place.” Nathaniel sees guides as pivotal players in the success of anglers testing their mettle on the gamefish of the Keys. In fact, Nathaniel believes that the guides are perhaps the best thing about the whole Keys fishery. “The level of qualification of the guides down here is really, really high on average,” he states. “And the guides are engaged in advocacy and conservation. It’s a real community, and you don't really see that in other places. Additionally, we’ve got folks that have been guiding here for thirty years. And we've got folks that fish with the same guide each year for thirty or forty days. Even if it’s just that first trip that we facilitate — those are the relationships that I'm the most excited about, and the most proud of. Because for serious anglers, once you find the right guide and develop a relationship with that person, you will fish better together than with anyone else, and you'll accomplish things that you wouldn't ever be able to do alone.”
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