Frasca’s fly shop is rich in merchandise, memories

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RALPH BARTHOLDT/Press Longtime fly fisherman Bud Frasca grew up and fished with some of the best known fly anglers in America. His fly shop, Northwest Classic Tackle, has been operating in Hayden for 25 years.

Bud Frasca isn’t your average fly fisherman.

The owner of Northwest Classic Tackle in Hayden, a fly shop that sells just about anything necessary for a day trip onto local rivers — it doesn’t sell a thermos of coffee or booze if that’s your thing and arguably they aren’t needed for a day on the water — is steeped in tradition.

Frasca grew up in New York where as a kid he worked at the country’s oldest fly shop, the William Mills and Son tackle store, which for more than 70 years was located on the edge of New York’s financial district at 21 Park Place until it closed in the early 1970s.

He learned fly fishing on regional waters with people whose names were found on book covers and gear. Fishing alongside Lee and Joan Wullf, Bob Jacklin, Ernest Schwiebert and Vince Marinaro had its benefits.

“These were people I fished with all the time,” he said. “They taught me a lot.”

Frasca’s first fishing trip to Yellowstone Park was in 1961 when he loaded a car with gear and headed west. He has fished the rivers and lakes of the national monument religiously every year, ever since.

“With the exception of 1968 and 1969 when I was in Vietnam,” said Frasca, who has a trip planned again this year. “If I missed a year in Yellowstone I would feel like I lost a year of my life.”

He was sent a pair of hard-soled fly fishing shoes by Hodgeman, one of his many suppliers, and plans to use them in the park because despite the ability of traditional felt soles to stick to a slippery river bottom, they aren’t allowed in Yellowstone’s waters.

Felt soles can carry invasive species to other watersheds and have been outlawed in some areas, or are at least frowned upon in portions of the fly fishing community.

“I’m going to try those out and see if I kill myself,” Frasca said.

He bought some screw-in steel rings for the shoes that are supposed to help the hard soles grip the river’s slippery rocks, but if he had his way, he would go with the tried and true material.

“There’s nothing like felt,” he said.

His background working in the country’s oldest fly fishing shop and at the Leonard Rod company, the country’s oldest fly rod makers — the original shop closed in 1984 — has left Frasca with unique insight.

Call it old school.

He grouses about brash fly anglers who shun river etiquette, who think owning a drift boat is a license to cork walk and wade anglers, and whose days on the water are more akin to a full-contact sport than a learning experience.

“God forbid they read anything,” he said.“There is more written about fly fishing than any other subject besides the Bible.”

What modern anglers often know, they have picked up from YouTube, which bipasses what Frasca terms the fineries of fly fishing.

“The sport has a tremendous amount of tradition,” he said.

He sells books in his shop, as well as fly angling DVDs, magazines and everything from rods, reels, line, shirts, hats, nets, clippers, hemostats, bags and boots, rod holders and fly vests.

“I have more merchandise than any shop within a thousand miles of here,” he said.

The inventory is jammed inside the retail space in the small mall at the 9751 N. Government Way where he set up shop 25 years ago.

Opening a shop was not something he had planned.

His classic fly fishing collection outgrew his home office and his wife demanded he store it elsewhere. When he couldn’t find warehouse space, he rented the storefront at the minimall. Because it is a retail location, he hung out a shingle.

He sells the classic gear online and reserves the retail accoutrements for his shop.

Frasca, one of the original members of the Federation of Fly Fishers — he joined in 1965 — has been active in the local North Idaho Fly Casters fishing club for decades. His office is a museum of memorabilia. Tiers, some nationally known, have presented him with their creations, framed behind glass. They grace the walls. The office is his own quiet place where he conducts business, corresponds to inquiries and remembers.

One of the flies behind glass with an autographed signature that hangs by the door was a gift from master fly tier Royce Dam. There are just two others like it.

Dam, a former Marine, who wrote among other things the book, “The Practical Fly Tier,” donated a similar pattern to the Smithsonian and another hangs in the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

“He was with the second wave at Iwo Jima,” Frasca said.

Dam, who died last year at 92, called the fly behind glass in Frasca’s office, “Dress Blues.”

“He was a phenomenal fly tier,” Frasca said.

If you ask him how much it costs for a reel or a rod, he will come back with a pat reply.

“It depends on how much you want to spend.”

His inventory includes names such as Hardy, Fenwick, and Winston — he fished a lot with Tom Morgan the company’s owner in Montana — Abel and Ross reels, Thomas and Thomas, Echo and St. Croix.

“I used to fish 100 days a year, sometimes 120,” he said.

He’s slowed down a bit lately.

“I haven’t been out yet this year,” he said.

But he plans to hit the water soon.

Frasca can usually be found in his shop after 10 a.m. with the radio on.

He’ll turn the volume down if you ask.

And it’s worthwhile to ask, because Frasca talks with the quiet voice of someone who remembers rivers and the people in them, carrying a fly rod as moving water gurgles past.

And the stories are as abundant as the shop’s merchandise.

And they are free.

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