There was never an official fly fishing shop in Juneau before Brad Elfers opened Juneau Fly Fishing Goods on the second floor of the Senate Mall building in April of 1998.
As a fly fishing professional himself, Elfers saw a need in the Juneau community and pounced on the idea of running an official store with regular hours and days of operation. Something, he said, that was “more than just something out of a garage.”
This month marks 15 years for the locally owned and operated Alaska Fly Fishing Goods.
Perhaps more commonly known by their original name, Juneau Fly Fishing Goods, this quaint shop has gone from a one-man show, to an all out internet-driven machine that now not only caters to the needs of local, loyal customers, but also to the needs of international fisherman looking to wet a line in Alaska’s fertile rivers, lakes and saltwater.
Owner Brad Elfers said he opened the store after years of working as a guide in the industry.
“I was guiding for Bear Creek Outfitters at the time, and I had guided for them for the first two years they were open, and I had been a raft guide before that, and I had kind of run the course of that. It was fun, but I was ready to try something else,” he said.
He figured he’d give it a go; with little inventory he decided there was little to lose.
“It seemed like there was a lot of interest in town, although there weren’t a lot of fly anglers yet,” he said. “It just slowly kind of built and built and the locals were really into it.”
He attributes his steady, reliable business over the years to unwavering customers. Elfers said they have been like a foundation to the small business.
These days, Alaska Fly Fishing Goods is the second longest operating fly shop in Alaska with the same ownership. Some of this is thanks to the shop’s sizable investment in a new website in 2006. That was also about the time Elfers hired Mike Cole, who had been a fly fishing guide in Bristol Bay for five years and had experience guiding in other parts of the world, as well as in Juneau. Cole became his website manager and an integral part of the expert team.
“There’s very few places up (north) that (Cole) doesn’t have a spot-on idea of what you need and when,” Elfers said.
The website, alaskaflyfishinggoods.com, is organized into three basic sections — region, fish species and season — all created on the heels of frequently asked questions.
“We took all those years of people asking questions of us in here, and we were able to build the website around what people don’t know and want to know,” Elfers said. “One of the common questions we would get surrounds the fact Alaska doesn’t have resident fish. People were very confused about what happens when, and how Pacific salmon drive the life cycle. We were able to organize the website based on these questions. And then, we focussed on trying to make it easy. Take coho flies, for instance. We have 100 or more of them, but we also just have a box. So you can go online, check out the selection and then purchase a box of — not just some good ones — but all the good ones.”
This was all happening when the financial crisis hit the United States, Elfers said. Yet, their business — both online and in the store — stayed steady.
He likened it to a sport like golf. It’s likely no one was buying new clubs during the economic downturn, he said, but people still need golf balls to play, just like fly fisherman will always need flies to fish.
Flash forward. Elfers said internet business has boomed. He said the website is generating so much revenue, it just might surpass the store this year.
“It’s amazing. We’re sending stuff to Switzerland,” he said.
The core team of Elfers and Cole have also created some fly patterns unique to Juneau, such as one pattern called the Jig Spanker — great for cohos, Elfers said. The shop has enjoyed great success developing and testing new color combinations and sizes.
To celebrate more than a decade of great fishing in Juneau, Elfers chose to officially re-brand his business with a clean new logo and new name: Alaska Fly Fishing Goods.
“Over the years, and thanks to the internet, we have grown into a shop that assists and outfits anglers from all over the world in planning their trips to every part of Alaska. I think Alaska Fly Fishing Goods better describes what we do and where our expertise lies,” Elfers said.
The crew is inviting the public to share in the festivities with a First Friday event from 4-8 p.m. tonight at the shop, still on the second floor of the Senate Mall in downtown Juneau. Elfers said they will hold a drawing for a couple big ticket items, such as a new fly rod.
• Contact Outdoors Editor Abby Lowell at email@example.com.