New Store Caters to Anglers of All Ages
Ethan Martin hardly takes a breath as he talks about his love of fly fishing, tying flies, and teaching others about this pastime.
Martin opened TaleTellers Fly Shop, a store for expert anglers and novices, at 920 Commerce Street in Downtown Lynchburg in February. He couldn’t have found a better niche for his passions.
On his website, he says “Everything tells a tale. Every pool, every leaf, every fly, every thread wrap, and every car ride contains countless potential stories. We want to tell those stories, and help you create your own!”
A graduate of Liberty University from Waynesboro, Martin said he and his wife wanted to come back to Lynchburg, where most of his family lives, so they took the opportunity to open their own business.
Not only does Martin sell flies and the materials needed to make them, rods, reels, and other fishing paraphernalia, he offers free fly tying classes twice a month. He hopes to hook newcomers on the sport.
Martin vividly remembers the first time, at age 6, that he caught a fish. His grandfather took him to the James River off Percival’s Island in Lynchburg. He had already heard tales about small-mouth bass from his grandfather. “I thought fish were mystical creatures,” he said.
Martin and his grandfather searched for hellgrammites—the ferocious larvae of dobsonflies—to use as bait. Martin’s first catch was a small-mouth that tugged and leapt from the water. “In my brain, it was like a foot long,” he said. Tall tales can start at a young age.
Martin soon found that he preferred artificial lures, in the form of flies, rather than live bait. The hobby took on a life of its own. After college, while he worked in a school office, he found himself spending four to five hours a night tying flies for an online business he started in 2016.
“As my customer list grew throughout nearly every state in the U.S. and many provinces of Canada, I decided to begin my next adventure—a full-service fly shop,” he said.
He found a storefront on Commerce Street and started building the displays he would need for his wares. Within a month, he was ready to open his doors.
With the help of friends, social media, and some media coverage, Martin said his opening got off to a strong start; he made enough money in the first two days to pay his rent. Business has been steady ever since, he noted.
Customers are likely to find Martin at his bench, putting together a fly that looks like a minnow or a grasshopper. “If you can get a fly that looks like another fish or an insect, [a fish] is probably going to eat it,” he said.
Fish look for movement. When the water is clear, they can see a lure that is one to three feet deep, but at greater depths, it’s harder for fish to distinguish color. Only purple is visible at 40 feet, Martin said.
Martin satisfies his artistic bent making a variety of flies. He can teach anyone to make a fly in five minutes, he said, but you can also spend an hour on a larger, more complicated one.
Flies are made from a variety of materials, including feather, most of which come from chickens and ducks. Most also have barbless hooks, making it easier to release a fish without killing it.
While people traditionally think of fly fishing for trout, any fish can be caught with a fly, and this area has lots of great places to fish, according to Martin.
With just a quick walk from the shop down to the James River, you can find smallmouth bass, largemouth, carp, and the elusive musky. Freshwater striped bass at Smith Mountain Lake are about an hour away, where the record catch is 53 pounds 7 ounces.
Native brook trout can be found in the Piney River and other smaller streams in the mountains. “I’ve caught 100 fish in one day on small streams,” he said. Another tall tale? No, Martin says, but they were small fish.
Trout like cooler waters, at about 55 degrees. While there are concerns that climate change and deforestation could drive trout out of traditional areas, Martin says they are pretty hardy creatures. Brook trout seemed to disappear during the 2016-17 drought, but with last year’s excess rain, they were once again abundant. “This year I’ve seen the biggest [trout] I’ve ever seen,” he said.
One of the lessons Martin likes to share is when to fish and when not to. In colder months, fish hang closer to the bottom, while in the summer, they will hit anything on the surface.
In addition to teaching people how to tie flies and cast, Martin likes to give lessons on the joys of nature and the positive effects of being outdoors. “You create a fly fisher, you create a conservationist,” he said.
He also likes the fact that his business is hooking up with an existing community of fly fishers, including Project Healing Waters, an angling club for military veterans. “I always wanted to be people-focused, not fish-focused,” he said. And that’s no tall tale.
AT A GLANCE
Located: 920 Commerce St., Lynchburg