Google Maps took me deep into suburban Denver, where I wound up in front of a nondescript two-story house. I parked and rechecked the address. I walked up to the front door and knocked. A man appeared. We shook hands. Then he opened his garage to reveal 400,000 flies in a dozen trays. Apparently this was the right place.
Ascent Fly Fishing is probably the only flyshop in the U.S. run out of a garage. The owner and founder, Peter Stitcher, favorably compares his operation to the likes of Google and Apple in their startup days. Peter launched Ascent Fly Fishing in 2013 after years of dissecting the insects of the upper West Coast. He moved to the Denver area to work as a biologist and started the company as a side-project. Soon, the fly shop became his primary job. Biology is his side-project these days. “It helps me keep my head in the water so I can see what’s going on,” Stitcher says.
Though Stitcher’s garage is well away from the main drag, it is in the heart of flyfishing retail country. Denver has a plethora of noteworthy brick-and-mortar fly shops. But Ascent Fly Fishing aspires to be different. “The idea is to equip people not just with the flies but with the knowledge that’s going to give them success on the water,” Stitcher says.
Stitcher’s biggest advantage is his intimate knowledge of macroinvertebrate biology and fish behavior. As a biologist who works for a firm that specializes in building blue-ribbon trout habitat, he describes himself as a double-agent. “The fish trust me. I make their habitat and then tell people how to catch them.” Stitcher wants to share this information with all of his clients, while providing the equipment and knowledge they’ll need to collect their own stream beta. Both in the shop and online, Ascent offers “biologist packed fly selections.” Tell the shop when and where you’re fishing, and they’ll match it down to the lifecycle of the bug on the water that time of year.
The shop is, beyond bugs, somewhat bare bones. Ascent doesn’t carry rods, reels, or waders. Their inventory starts where the fly line ends. The garage and website carry hand-tied flies, leader and tippet straight from the factory in Japan, and tools to help you read water. We’ve all heard of the phrase “match the hatch” but to Stitcher, it’s a nearly religious mantra. The man considers seines and water thermometers as necessary as a fly rod.
In addition to peddling flies, Stitcher also holds monthly “Sci-Fly” classes and clinics. This is where he takes all the geeky biology stuff and breaks it down into how to catch more fish. Naturally, the classes are held at a brewery. The company has plans to launch videos and a streamside app to help with bug identification.
Stitcher sums up Ascent Fly Fishing this way, “We’re kinda like when you’re looking for weed as a teenager and your buddy’s like ‘I know a guy, he’s got some good stuff,’ and you go over and he’s got a great stash. People come over here in the suburbs and we open the garage door and they see four hundred thousand flies. We’re kinda the dirty secret of the Denver flyfishing scene.”
Due to one zoning law or another, Stitcher doesn’t keep the garage open full-time but hosts pop-up sales around the city. You can make an appointment and see the garage in its entirety if you’d like. Best to call first to make sure Stitcher is home.
[Drake intern Elliott Adler explores Denver’s suburban underbelly in search of high-potency products at reasonable prices.]