The history of fly fishing and the emporiums that supported it dates back to the 1900’s, when cities such as Boise, Twin Falls, and Pocatello were established by the movement of people into professions—doctors, lawyers, merchants—created a middle class with money to spare. The lure of the fish-abundant waters of Idaho enticed them.
“Fly shops” sprang up—in bars, hardware stores, and local grocery. But the favorite hangouts of Idaho’s primarily bachelor population were the “sports shops.” Sports shops offered three meals a day, served beer and booze, had pool and snooker tables, and allowed gambling when legal. These shops rented and sold rifles and shotguns, and, of course, sold handmade flies and bamboo rods to the burgeoning class of moneyed folk.
Of significance to sportsmen in the Wood River Valley was the Union Pacific Railroad’s opening of Sun Valley in 1936. Young men gravitated to the resort to work on the mountain in the winter and to give fly casting lessons by Sun Valley’s manmade lake, or guide guests on Silver Creek and the Big Wood in the summer—men like Clayton Stewart, Art Wood, Jack Redden, Ray Marks, and Taylor Williams, who closed his store in Gooding to run Sun Valley’s fishing and hunting operation. Williams (nicknamed “Bear Tracks” because he walked with his toes pointed out) became a close friend of Ernest Hemingway and accompanied him to Cuba every winter for saltwater fishing trips. Gear from Williams’ old store and other specialty fly operations around Idaho were stocked by Lane’s (eventually Pete Lane’s) in the Sun Valley Inn. But fly fishing took a big hit after World War II when veterans became enamored with spinning reels, whose origin is attributed to the French.
Two men—Ruel Stayner and Dick Alfs—were responsible for keeping fly fishing alive during the late forties when fly fishing had become an orphan to the industry. Ruel Stayner opened Stayner’s Sporting Goods in Twin Falls in 1946 and according to Don Anderson, the retired head of Sun Valley’s Sports Center, “Anyone who fished in southern Idaho hung out at Stayner’s.” Dick Alfs of Ketchum was a fixture, learning about resources and retailing with an eye to eventually open his own store.
That was going to take some hard earned cash—so during his shift as headwaiter at the Ram Restaurant in the Sun Valley Inn, Dick would solicit orders for handmade flies from customers. He would tie all night and deliver them the next day. A corner of the Alf’s living room was outfitted for tying, which is what he did whenever he had time away from work. Dick’s wife, Bobbie, jokes that the only way she recognized her husband was by the back of his head.