Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters’ walls are covered in fluorescent green rabbit fur, feathers and glittery silver tinsel—these materials used for fly tying seem like decorations for a drag queen’s dream supply store. A corner of the shop is dedicated to fishing poles, which line the walls like pool cues. Wading jackets, Merino wool socks and general apparel occupy a room of their own. But this store does not lie next to one of Chicago’s rivers or even the lake—the store sits at 1279 North Clybourn, just a few blocks away from the remains of Cabrini Green.
Andy Kurkulis, the owner of Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters, is very much aware of the store’s unconventional location. “It’s a very unique store,” he says, “It’s different than most of them out there in Chicago. We don’t have a big famous river or beach where we fish but we have two great airports. So we pretty much travel everywhere and fish for everything.”
Its customers fish everywhere from the Amazon to Wisconsin, so the store carries flies that accommodate the fishing in thousands of different rivers, lakes and parts of the oceans. “It’s part of the joy of running this joint—the variety. We barely talk about the same fish in one day,” Kurkulis explains.
There are trays and cabinets full of different kinds of flies, nymphs and dry flies that resemble real fish and insects. The flies are handmade from furs, feathers, foams and synthetic materials. Deer hair and chicken feathers make up a sunfish fly while rug yarn and rubber bands create a saltwater crab.
And if the inventory is diverse, so is the clientele. Jewelry and purse makers are among the store’s fiercely loyal client base, buying fly-tying materials .
Kurkulis shows off a bulletin board of photographs of his customers and their catches. He points and adds, “For some people, these pictures are just as important as their kid’s baby pictures.”
Those who gravitate towards fly-fishing tend to be, to put it bluntly, obsessive. After quitting his high-pressure job in the financial-services industry, Kurkulis’ love for fly-fishing turned into a business venture.
“But it’s one of those things,” the former stockbroker pauses to choose his words carefully, “that brings me true happiness in life, let’s just leave it at that.”
“It becomes an identity to some people, a substitute religion, whatever you want to call it, it’s like a calling. And for some people it becomes all-consuming, obsessive-compulsive.” (Sylvia Kim)