BREWER, Maine — Don Corey sits behind a table in his new fly shop, coffee at the ready, and surveys a room filled with various reels, tying vises, feathers and fly-tying supplies that hang from hooks on every available piece of wall space.
“I’ve got 160 square feet,” Corey says, smiling, not mentioning that he’s also got enough merchandise to fill twice that. “I tell people, ‘We’ve got 10 pounds of crap in a 5-pound bucket.”
One man’s crap, however, is another man’s treasure. And he’s confident that Annika Rod & Fly holds the kind of treasures that will appeal to fellow fly fishers.
Annika — named after his grown daughters, Anna and Erika — is not actually new. But it’s new to Main Street in Brewer, where it takes up space in a former barber shop in front of City Hall and the First Congregational Church.
It’s existed, in one form or another, for several years, the product of a hobby gone haywire.
“[The business] was the original Dry Fly Clubhouse [in the basement of my home in Holden],” Corey explains. “It was a social thing, a get-together [with friends]. I had some [fly-tying] materials, some tools for buddies as they needed them. And it was a way for me to get [products from vendors] that I wanted to try. It was a hobby business at that point. I wasn’t doing much of anything, retail, to the public. It just kind of grew from there.”
First, the Dry Fly Clubhouse morphed into Annika Rod & Fly in name only, and Corey’s tying pals became his official “Pro Staff.” They even had the shirts to prove it. Then, in 2011, he turned his two-car garage in Holden into a brick-and-mortar fly shop of sorts, though the Dry Fly Clubhouse members still showed up to tie, tell tales and build rods.
“I had business hours at that time. Three days a week, I was opening evenings, because I was working full-time at the time,” Corey said. “It worked out. It was a destination shop. There was no drive-by.”
A couple years back, during some life changes, Corey closed the shop. After two years out of the biz, he re-opened Annika Rod & Fly on Oct. 8.
And immediately, Corey noticed a difference.
“[In Holden] we were on a dead-end street, so people didn’t drive by and see it,” he says. “But people knew the hours and they knew where I was, so people who wanted stuff would show up.”
Now, on busy Main Street in Brewer, people honk their horns at him as they drive past. And instead of catering mainly to his pals and fellow members of the Penobscot Fly Fishers, he’s now meeting new people every day.
“I’d say probably a good strong half of the people who have come in are new people, brand-spanking-never-seen-them-before,” Corey says.
And how often did he see people he had never met while doing business in Holden?
“Never,” he says. “I thought I would get a bit more drive-by traffic [here], but I’d say I’m pleasantly surprised.”
What’s on tap
While Annika Rod & Fly is settling into new digs, some things will remain unchanged. Chief among those: The shop is only open three days a week, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
And the focus will remain hands-on, with the goal of helping fly fishers and tiers expand their skills. While he has no paid staffers, the old members of the Dry Fly Clubhouse still drop by to visit and lend a hand.
“I’m trying to do the same thing I did in Holden with vises,” Corey says. “I carry HMH and Dyna-King, Regals and Norvises, and try to have them here so that someone comes in and wants to sit down and try one, they can get one off the wall and not have to look online.”
Low-end vises can cost just $35, while top-end models sell for more than $500, Corey explains. Letting customers tie some flies on the vise before they make an investment just makes sense.
And while wall space is at a premium, he says he’ll find room — somewhere — for the flies that customers will expect to find in a fly shop.
“I did sell a lot of flies [in Holden] and I will be selling flies here,” Corey says. “We’ll have to package them a little bit differently, because I don’t have the floor space or the wall space..”
Corey will also host rod-building classes, likely during the winter, and may offer tying classes for children.
Another piece of the business is less common: Fishermen with personal favorites can go to Annika Rod & Fly to have Corey and his crew tackle custom-tied flies to their specifications.
That task can be challenging, Corey says with a laugh.
“People will come with this super-secret pattern. We’ve had people come in and make us swear that we’ll never let anybody see this fly. Crazy,” Corey says. “Unfortunately, people wait until they’ve got the last fly of this particular type, and they’ve fished it for weeks, and it dawns on them: ‘Before I lose this, I ought to get some more.”
At that point, Corey and others will deconstruct the fly, trying to guess what it looked like when it was brand new.
In general, Corey says he wants to make sure he does the same things that made the original Dry Fly Clubhouse so popular with his friends.
“I think what we can offer here is a friendly shop that people can come into,” he says. “If they’re a novice and they want to try [fly-tying] out, we can help them do that … when you have a problem, to have that one-on-one where someone can help you, that’s the niche we can fill.”
Note: Corey is a former BDN employee.