Bay Area fly shops have taken a hit and many hanger-ons have slid off the cliff in recent times. In 2006, after witnessing a flurry of shops fold, current California Fly Shop owners Xavier and Karen Carbonnet made the brazen move to embrace the industry and acquire one.
“We felt strongly that the Bay Area, with its devoted flyfishing clientele and unparalleled access to diverse waters could support a modern, urban destination fly shop,” Karen Carbonnet says. “That 21st century fly shop didn’t exist yet, so we built it.”
This fly shop of the future, as the Carbonnets envisioned, would mirror the industrial vibe of Bay Area architecture: high, open ceilings with exposed metal rafters, unpainted concrete walls, and wood product displays. Maximizing minimalism, they used only three basic materials: concrete, metal, and wood. The floor stems from the original concrete slab, ground down to the aggregate, and stained green to resemble the color of trout streams.
“Our friend Tommaso Latini is a partner at the prestigious architecture firm Gensler and an avid flyfisher. He and Xavier worked closely to transform a 4,500 square foot ‘empty shell’ into the California Fly Shop,” Carbonnet says. “The new location was unique in that it had no street traffic, but is visible, via our 30-foot lighted sign, to 400,000 cars a day on one of the most-traveled freeways in the Bay Area. The sign drives new customers to the store daily.”
Those customers include Silicon Valley venture capitalists and contractors, as well as local business proprietors and students. Converged under one stratospherically high ceiling, they find a common space that eschews any “secret society” stigmas attached to flyfishing, and instead promotes accessibility regardless of background or budget.
Inside the shop you’ll find a gallery-like esthetic, one where you’re encouraged to touch everything—without fears of being accosted and escorted out the backdoor by security. You’ll also find one of the largest and most diverse collections of fly patterns in California, with more than 60 feet of bins housing trout, steelhead, salmon, carp, tarpon, bonefish and striper flies from the best makers in the business. Rods are showcased at the entrance, dozens of sticks pitched against a curved wall. A custom drift boat rests at the front of the store reminding people, Carbonnet says, “that flyfishing is a journey to be savored and enjoyed.”
And as far as the journey goes, the Bay Area remains a plentiful destination. From surf to forays in the Bay and Delta, stripers, halibut, perch, and lingcod are always within striking distance. Anadromous fish from kings to steelhead to shad migrate through the rivers and tribs of the Delta. To the east lie the Sierras, with countless streams and lakes. To the north are blue ribbon rivers such as the McCloud, Sacramento, Fall, Hat Creek, Pitt, and the Trinity, to name a few. But it’s the banner striper fishing that marks the core of the California Fly Shop experience.
“We’ve become the hub for west coast striper fishing. We chase them year long from the Pacific coastline to the Delta water and rivers. We work with the best striper captains and offer their unique fly patterns in the shop,” Carbonnet says. “This is our backyard fishery and our staff are obsessed. It isn’t unusual for some of them to fish the 3 a.m. tide before coming in for their shift at the shop.”
Eyes a glaze from pre-dawn striper sessions, on any typical Friday Carbonnet says the shop and its staff must to be ready for anything: customers making moves for far off destinations, local trout enthusiast seeking the best bugs, or newbies gearing up for fresh encounters of the flyfishing kind. The beers are cold. The advice, on point. On weekends the shop hosts educational events and BBQs. It also has a fly-tying area for classes and workshops and a small library with leather club chairs to kick back and ruminate under a giant plasma screen playing fish porn.
Bay Area weekends, clearly, are also about fishing. And the California Fly Shop continues to remix and reinvent the mold, remaining the cultural epicenter of this vibrant movement.
“There used to be eight fly shops here. We’re now one of the last stores specializing in flyfishing. It’s important to us to keep the sport alive and expanding, inclusive to all types of people,” Carbonnet says.
“With our education programs and California’s natural fish diversity, we believe the sport will grow… again.”
For more information, see californiaflyshop.com.