RIP: Sports Chalet’s fly fishing expertise quietly fades to black

Sports Chalet: This ad from its Facebook page suggests a vibrant retailer. (Courtesy Sports Chalet)

There’s nothing quite like being new at a sport and being in love with it. Everything, from equipment to practice, cries “potential” to the newcomer who dreams of being great: How great could you become? Maybe if you worked really hard, you would be as good as ________. Maybe better?

That’s the beauty of being in love with a sport, not as a spectator, but as a participant.  It can pull you out of yourself, out of your comfort zone and show you a whole lot of possibilities.

Moments spent engulfed in your sport mean moments spend completely in the present. No worries, frets, dark clouds, nothing at all like that. Instead, you are purely “time in,” like K0be practicing without a ball for two hours before practice actually begins. Or the freeze-frame moment of the “Bush Push,” when quarterback Matt Leinart made sure USC beat Notre Dame in the last second of the 2005 game.

Besides lots of practice and a role model to chase, being in love with a sport also means finding a place of camaraderie.

Today, for fly fishers, that place is Orvis on South Lake in Pasadena. Fly-fishing manager David Wratchford and his staff , they’re in a groove. You’ll feel it. You’ll want a piece of it.

Or, for the valley folks, Fisherman’s Spot, where the energy isn’t quite as electric, but the expertise can propel you to look deeper into the sport. I mean they still carry flies invented by Gary Fontaine and featured in his 1984 classic “Caddisflies,”  because, historically, these are important.

Once my place of sports awe and camaraderie was Sports Chalet, the original, in La Canada, Calif.

That was pre duplication-store mania, which ended badly with stores closing. That was when the mountain man and founder Norbert Olberz made sure that when you walked up the stairs to the fly-fishing area, you were transported into the world of your sports passion.

There was a big wooden box of flies, all sizes, types, full of mystery, mastery and wonder.

Alas, not anymore.

There were friendly experts who talked about water, and spots, and getting away for that weekend on the water, prepared. They dressed the part in fishing shirts and appropriate angling pants, and never seemed to care if you bought anything or not.

Alas, not anymore.

And there were magnificent fly rods with astounding prices — six, seven, eight hundred dollars — that made me want to save and save my money.

Alas, not now.

In fact, going into the “new” original Sports Chalet just makes me sad.

The wooden magic fly box has been replaced by cheesy, tiny cardboard boxes, sealed in plastic, a passable fly, visible within. It’s the difference between buying shrink-wrapped Romaine lettuce  at Fresh and Easy, and going to the farmers market, where the sun shines on each healthy head.

The guys who used to hang out to spin fishing yarns? Now, they wear uniforms and want to “up sell” you on one of the dozen fly rods innocuously stashed in a rack above the countertop.

Guess that’s the good news … if you go to the SC in Arcadia, the store doesn’t carry any flies or rods at all. The “inventory” was quietly removed last month, according to an employee. Yet, take a look at its expert advice about fly fishing. You’d think that the magic fly box would have been there forever.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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2 thoughts on “RIP: Sports Chalet’s fly fishing expertise quietly fades to black

  1. It is sad to see these things happen, we used to have our own fly fishing shop and it went the same way. Passion doesn’t fair well against those driven only by profit. The main features of our shop were a couch and a coffee machine.

    Fly tying lessons every Wednesday and as a concession to modern times it was relayed live onto a TV screen. People would sit on the couch and jaw about the fishing. Now it is the hackneyed and passionless canned advice. “Weight forward lines are best for the beginner” and flies come neatly packed in threes, bubble wrapped and poorly manufactured. You used to smell wet waders, fresh coffee, musty feathers and tanned skins. Now your olfactory senses merely detect credit card plastic.

    Rows of rods all far too glossy to be practical on a hard fished spring creek, everything, pre-rigged, pre-knotted, and pre-posterous.. Gone are the photos of the kid with his first six incher, to be replaced with myriad images of someone blasting a line over and azure bonefish flat, as though nobody fishes home waters anymore.

    But that is why we store our memories in our hearts, because there they are safe from the ravages of time. RIP Sports Chalet and every other passion filled, musty aired, feather floored shrine dedicated to the love of our lives.

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