When most people think of shopping small business vs. big box they think spending more money. My experience with big box stores is not what products they lack, there is definitely no shortage of gear on the shelves, but in service.
When you purchase from a specialty fly shop, you are getting a quality product that is often backed by lifetime unconditional warranty. Never, ever invest in a rod (collectors aside) that isn’t guaranteed with a solid warranty because sadly $1,200 fly rods break just as often as $200 fly rods. Graphite gets bruised, tips get broken during transport, it happens.
Fly shops are dedicated to one thing and one thing only.
Specialty shops don’t specialize on fishing, biking, automotive, hiking and hockey equipment, they focus on fly fishing and fly fishing only. Their staff are selectively chosen, receive extensive training on product knowledge and know what they’re talking about when they’re selling you a product. If you need something particular ordered in, most shop owners have solid relationships with most companies and will make getting the product into your hands as soon as possible a priority.
Getting innapropriate gear right off the bat will create an immediately frustrating experience, don’t make it any harder than it is. If you’re going to a trip somewhere new, shops will be able to get you specifically outfitted for where you’re heading.
Aside from this, fly shops are usually locally owned operations. When you purchase locally, you’re helping the owner put food on the table instead of paying a CEO’s 4th exotic vacation of the year. Whether you have fly fished your whole life or just considering getting into the sport, support your local shop!