In fact, Barnes is both, and that enthusiasm is contagious as he describes his fly-fishing shop, Ye Olde English Fly Shop, 24570 Overseas Highway.
“I grew up fishing for tiny trout in tiny English trout streams,” said Barnes, an electrical contractor who came to the United States in 1972 and ran his own business in Boca Raton for more than 20 years. “To see those tiny trout hit the fly was just so exciting, and still is.”
Barnes and his wife retired to the Florida Keys in 2000, or tried to.
“We built a home in Islamorada and lived there for 13 years at the start of our retirement. Then, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, I told my wife I wanted to sell the house and open a fly shop,” said Barnes, who had been collecting and reselling vintage flies, tackle and other memorabilia related to the sport that requires practice, patience and plenty of sunscreen.
Unlike fishermen using spinning rods, fly fishermen don’t drop a bait in the water and wait for a fish to strike from below the surface. Fly fishermen attach an artificial “fly,” or lure, to a heavier type of fishing line and then try to cast that line in such a way that it lands smoothly on the water without scaring the fish, and so the fly appears as natural as possible.
Using different types of casts, fly fishermen present a fish with a lure that simulates the look and behavior of an insect or other natural prey that would attract a fish.
At least, that’s what supposed to happen. But there are no guarantees, and fly fishing is not for anyone easily frustrated or immediately impatient. It takes a skilled eye, a steady hand and a restrained response to avoid spooking the fish.
And decades of practice.
“I love it. We go to these fly-fishing trade shows in Colorado, New Jersey and Massachusetts every year, and at 73 years old, I feel like a kid around these old guys who have been fly fishing their whole lives,” said Barnes, who started his fly-fishing tackle business about five years ago by renting a booth at the Big Pine Flea Market.
He then moved to a small rented space that was part of the D’Asign Source home design studio in Marathon.
“I had been doing some electrical work for them, installing the electronic security gates on many of their home projects, so the owners offered me a cheap space on their property to sell my stuff, if I would continue doing their gate work when needed, so I couldn’t refuse. Then, maybe two or three years ago, I saw this lot on Summerland Key with deep water right behind, so we built Ye Olde English Fly Shop and a house on the same lot.”
Ye Olde English Fly Shop is the only fly-fishing tackle shop between Key West and Islamorada and offers everything a fly fisherman could possibly need or want.
“Not only do we have all the tackle, supplies and thousands of different flies for sale, but we also sell all the materials needed by people who build their own fly rods and bamboo rods,” Barnes said, rattling off items such as reel seats, grips, guides, resin and line. “And we don’t just sell stuff that we use here in the Keys. Seventy-five percent of my business so far has been from online buyers.”
Barnes’ online customers are from Norway, Russia, Denmark, England, you name it.
“I can’t believe how well the online store has been doing,” he said, touting online businesses as perfect for retirees. “But now I need to focus on getting more people into the actual shop.”
To do that, Barnes is planning a series of instructional workshops to teach people how to tie their own flies and build their own rods — as soon as he finds a fellow fly fisherman to man the shop for a few hours a week.
“I’d also like to find a few local fly-fishing guides who can teach people how to cast in the water out back,” he said.
Local fly guides comprise a large part of Barnes’ local clientele.
“I have the best prices on flies in the Keys. I have to,” he said, adding that Ye Olde English Fly Shop will help anyone interested in fly fishing — from amateurs to accomplished guides, find exactly what type, size and color fly they’ll need for certain species.
“We’ll help them any way we can,” Barnes said, eagerly anticipating the arrival of fly-fishing kayaks he just ordered during a recent trip to China. “These kayaks are wider, and more steady, so you can stand up in them. Plus, the seats can be raised for better visibility and mobility when casting. I’m quite excited for them to get here, but that will likely be another three to four months.”
In the meantime, Ye Olde English Fly Shop is encouraging everyone in the Keys to “tie one on” — but not on Duval Street.
The shop is open seven days a week and Barnes can be reached for guidance and advice ator yeoldenglishflyshop.com