Jon Siehl Interview

Originally posted in The Drake. Written by Geoff Mueller

Last Chance, ID

[Last Friday we posted a short piece on Last Chance, Idaho,
flyshop, The TroutHunter. Co-owner Jon “The Animal” Stiehl joins us
today, filling you in on the dirt: High times, low times, drunken A-Bar
debates, scraps with reps and the establishment, Idaho gun love, and
Rene Harrop’s penchant for Natty Lite. Enjoy.  —GM
]

Drake Magazine: When and how did the collaboration between yourself, Harrop, and Rich Paini come together?

Jon Stiehl: We always enjoyed drinking beers and talking about all
that is flyfishing at the now abandoned A-Bar. When The Rockefeller
family purchased Henry’s Fork Anglers we figured that dude is probably
pretty smart so we should get a flyshop, too.

DM: Why the Henry’s Fork?

JS: We’ve always had the philosophy of go big, be it fish, ass, or
buzzes, or don’t bother. That left no other place to go, we also lived
here.

DM: What was the fishing scene like when you started?

JS: It was crazy. Previous to 1992 the HF was in a steady decline,
then the sediment spill in the fall of 1992 filled the Ranch with muck.
Everyone had written the river off. When Rich and I arrived as Henry’s
fork Foundation interns, living on Harriman Ranch, we were told to get
Montana licenses and be prepared to fish the Madison if we wanted to
catch any fish. What no one counted on was the huge number of fish that
came through the dam. They made for a great summer of fishing. There
were nightly debates in the A-Bar about the merits of river fish vs.
reservoir fish which amounted to nothing because they were both great
compared to what had been caught the previous years. Soon all types of
partying fly fisherman were getting drunk in the A-Bar every night. It
hasn’t really changed that much. The Henry’s Fork the place where you go
to see how you measure up as a flyfisherman. It still has a huge number
of regulars who, when it’s on, won’t go any place else.

DM: Obviously there are some eclectic characters in the Island Park
area. In your mind, what makes it a special place to live, fish, and do
business?

JS: The river is really what makes it special. It attracts the
characters which make Island Park, population of 269, a worldly
location. Flyfishing Sales Rep Brooks Montgomery always called it the
center of the universe. I recently bought a telescope and as far as I
can tell when I look out around he’s right.

DM: How has the shop changed and evolved from its inception until today?

JS: We started small in an old antique store, most of our square
footage was flies and fly tying materials from House of Harrop. There
weren’t a whole lot of reps looking to do business with us thanks to the
fly shop saturation in our area, so we had to scrounge for other
products. One of our guides was a collector and had turned us onto
Charlton Reels and Burkheimer rods which we brought in. He found the
Charletons so impressive he put his collection of Abels, including some
Big Game reels which made the reel case look full, in our shop on
consignment. I think that summer we had one of the largest displays of
Abels in the region. As a result our neighbor got pissed and sicked the
Abel rep on us. Said rep got pissed and held back our Salmonflies. Rene’
got pissed and almost threw him out of a second story window.

We slowly built up a good selection of products which weren’t always
mainstream, Enrico’s tippet, Steffen Bros Rods, Frog Fanny, but the HOH
flies and materials were always what brought folks in to the shop. The
river was on fire, it was not uncommon to see 50 to 75 guys in the
evening prowling the banks of Last Chance on any given Flav Spinner
fall, and they and everyone else needed Rene’s patterns to catch the
fish. After the evening’s fishing was over Rene’ would pull his truck
with cooler full of Bud Light to the shop and the party would start on
the porch. In 2003, our hand was forced so we moved across the street,
which again forced our hand to expand what we were doing. A Lodge and
Bar&Grill became part of the operation, but the shop is still the
heart of it. We still try and focus on TroutHunter products and other
things that aren’t everywhere when we are stocking the shop. We still
have a large fly selection, at the end of the day we still hang out on
the porch, but Rene’s cooler is now full of Natty Lite.

DM: How has the fishery evolved over the past 10 years?

JS: The Henry’s Fork Foundation has played a tremendous part in
helping turn things around since the 2002 dewatering. Through the
Henry’s Fork Watershed Council the HFF established a relationship with
the irrigators. As a result of this relationship HFF has been
encouraging increased winter streamflows which the irrigators have
granted. It helps that we have had a few good snow years and lots of
rain, but the efforts of the HFF with the support of the irrigators
can’t be overlooked. The Henry’s Fork went through a heyday in the ’90s
followed by a plummet in health and trout numbers more recently.

DM: According to Greg Thomas’s recent article in FR&R The Fork is once again “on the rise.” Was this an accurate portrayal?

JS: Everything except the part about the Renegades was accurate. The
past three years the river has been drastically improving while not
quite exponentially it seems close. One of the most interesting
observations is the numbers of truly large fish that have been caught.
In the ’90s a 20 incher was bench mark. If someone came into the shop to
brag about a 24” fish you knew the guy was clueless. No one who fished
the river regularly ever caught Ranch fish that large. We now have a
class size of 22” plus fish.

DM: Why Trouthunter? Obviously, there are several specialty flyshops
in Idaho, including a good mix in the Island Park area, how does
TroutHunter differentiate itself from the competition?

JS: When we started we were up against the establishment as it were,
and the establishment was unhelpful, serious, and boring. There were a
good number of regular anglers that were being over looked by the
existing shops because they didn’t need guides or rods. They needed
flies, information, and a place to hang out and talk about how many fish
they managed to catch “around the bend”. These guys gave us an opening.
We all put a priority on giving out good honest information, and being
helpful, but most of all its about having a good time. We have always
brought on staff, in all aspects of the business, that have gotten that,
and if they didn’t they didn’t stick around too long. After one of the
shop guy flipped out on a customer we had to let him go, Rich was
nervous about standing in front of a window for weeks. We love our guns
here in Idaho, but we did not enjoy the possibility of being sniped.
Everyone of our customers comes here on vacation, so the good time vibe
is contagious. If we wanted to make a lot of money we would be doing
something other that this. If we wanted to have a good time we would go
hang out on the Henry’s Fork which is what we are doing.

DM: What’s new for 2010? Where are you guys fishing?

JS: Rich is currently in Belize attending a board meeting for the
Turneffe Atoll Trust. He claims this is work, but I bet he gets a few
days or Permit hunting in. I know Rene’ was up on Henry’s Lake this past
weekend looking for some double digit fish. I’m going to walk behind
the shop and fish in Last Chance when I get done here. I’m trying to
minimize my carbon foot print.

DM: Conservation projects?

JS: Rich is on the HFF Board as well as The TAT board. The HFF has
been a local force for the past 2 + decades, and while TAT is a new
organization, I’m sure they will be successful in their mission to
preserve the Turneffe Atoll. [turneffeatoll.org] I’m a founding board member of Friends of Harriman.

DM: Trouthunter tippet? With good product from the RIOs, Seaguars,
SAs of the industry, why the venture into that realm? How is
TroutHunter’s better or different? Who is producing it? What kind of
specific applications does it excel in? Take us through the R&D
process.

JS: With the Henry’s Fork as a destination for savy anglers most
sports show up with the necessary gear, so we have finally figured out
that anything beyond what is needed to actually get yourself on the
water – leader, tippet, and flies is for us shop fluff. Don’t get us
wrong we love gear and you need to be a dealer to get the proforms
right? But the terminal tackle is what fills the cooler. Our friends
from the land of the rising sun have always been huge fans of the HF.
They always have some of the coolest gear you can find including
excellent tippets. We wanted that for our fishing here, so through HOH,
we teamed up with a japanese partner to secure the best leaders and
tippets that could be found…remember about us going big? After 3 years
of bringing and sending over samples which we diligently tested in our
fishing, we found the materials we felt were the best for our angling
needs. We were able to get Rene’ drunk one night and he agreed to allow
his leader formula to be converted to an extruded version, now the 14’
RH Sig Leader, and it is wicked good.

—END—


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