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Interview with John Arnold, owner, Headhunters Fly Shop.
Describe to us the history behind Headhunters and the principals behind the shop? As guides/outfitters on the Missouri River, Mark and I long ago identified the need for a shop with great customer service, information, a great fly selection and the top guide staff. Changes in the outfitting and fly shop environment in Craig kind of forced our hand, and in 2007 we decided to make the classic outfitter mistake… open a fly shop. Mark and I are co-owners and act at the outfitters for Headhunters. Our focus is to create the highest quality fishing experience for our guided customers. That remains a priority at Headhunters today.
We never envisioned Headhunters becoming what it is today. The idea was originally hatched at a tiki bar in the Florida Keys where we were wintering. Originally, our plan was to close down during the winter and hang out there. Headhunters has grown very quickly, and today we're open all year, 7 days a week. Off-season fishing on the Missouri has blown up, and so has our winter shop business. I guess that's a good problem to have.
The Missouri River is a renowned river for trout, but what would you say is the most misunderstood thing about this great river? The Missouri often gets thrown in the "tailwater" category with rivers like the San Juan, Green and Bighorn. Holter is a hydro generating dam and releases water from the top of the reservoir, unlike many famous bottom-release western tailwaters. We can have extreme temperature fluctuations throughout the year, and because of that, have a much more diverse insect population. Depending on the conditions and season, the techniques and patterns we use vary from classic freestone to spring creek to tailwater. Those who stick to the "tiny fly tailwater" mentality miss out on some of the most productive and enjoyable fishing the river offers.
Other than the Missouri River, what other waterways do Headhunters’ guides take their clients? We do offer guided trips on a few other area streams like the Blackfoot and Dearborn, but it is pretty difficult for our guides to talk their clients into taking a pass on the Missouri River. That's why they're here, and it's doubtful that they're going to find bigger fish or better fishing anywhere else. One thing we don't do - somewhat unique in Montana - is guide on rivers out of our area. If you are looking for a guide on the Beaverhead or Yellowstone, we'll recommend a guide service located on one of those rivers, but we won't take you there. Those guides know those rivers the best, just like ours know the Missouri the best.
Summertime is certainly popular in Craig. What’s the unsung hero of seasons on the Missouri? A couple of years ago I would have said March and April, but that secret is out. The last few years, swinging flies on two-handed rods has become popular with some locals during the off season. Late-November through January is prime time for swinging flies on floating and intermediate lines. The fishing is absolutely fantastic and the weather is typically nicer than you would imagine. The fish are big, and most anglers will catch as many or more swinging a fly as with other methods. We've spent a lot of time dialing in the right flies, lines and spots. We've had a tremendous response to the two-handed-trout thing, and it's great to see anglers out on the water enjoying a different technique during a different time of year.
What the most popular Simms item for Headhunters guides? It's got to be a draw between waders and rain jackets. Most of our guides wear Simms G3 or G4 waders, and they all have at least 1 Simms rain jacket (Paclite, G3 or G4). The Missouri is the capital of shorts and sandals fishing in the west, so the Rain jacket may get the nod. Lately I see a lot of Fall Run jackets in the parking lot every morning as well.
Describe the things you have done to elevate Headhunters as one of the country’s great fly shops? I'm sure many folks would point to our on-line presence. While our blog - the Headhunter, our social network sites and other websites certainly are very important parts of our operation, we lump all of it under the customer service umbrella. To us, providing great and relevant information, whether verbally or online, is a big part of customer service. Our staff is an integral part of our success. They all have an active role in providing information, making online contributions, and creating an incredible customer experience. I can't say enough about them. We're also the only outfitter owned and operated shop in Craig, and that makes a big difference when helping customers with flies, equipment and fishing advice. Our staff and guides are on the river daily and are not afraid to share their opinions on gear and fishing advice with our customers.
Headhunters Fly Shop
145 Bridge Street
Craig, MT 59648
Phone: 877-379-3597 or 406-235-3447