Dunsmuir fly shop has long and ‘weighted' history
By Earl Bolender
Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2007 2:05 PM CDT
Joe Kimsey holds the original sign Ted Fay designed when he started the Ted Fly Shop in 1948.
For more than 30 years fishing enthusiasts who visited Dunsmuir sought the services of one man to discover the best locations on the Upper Sacramento and McCloud rivers and what gear was best to catch the trophy trout.
That man was the late Ted Fay, who owned and operated Ted Fay's Fly Shop in the small canyon community from the late 1940s to the early 1980s.
“As far as I can recall, he started the business in 1948 when he first came to Dunsmuir from Oakland,” said Joe Kimsey, Fay's friend and business partner who continues to work at the shop with current owner Bob Grace.
When Fay died of cancer in 1983, Kimsey bought the business from the Fay estate and operated it until 1997. After undergoing five-way bypass heart surgery, Kimsey sold the business to Grace who has kept the nearly 60 year legacy of the Ted Fay Fly Shop alive.
“I believe this is the second oldest fly shop in California,” Grace said. “At least, the second oldest in terms of continual operation. The only one that I know of that is older is Buzz's Fly Shop in Visalia (in the San Joaquin Valley).”
Kimsey said the Ted Fay Fly Shop is also one of the oldest in the western United States.
“One thing's for sure,” he said, “it's been around a long time.”
The Fly Shop has moved five times, most recently to its new and larger location at 5732 Dunsmuir Avenue, across from the California Theatre. To welcome the business to its downtown location, the Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony last Thursday.
“I've received a lot of compliments from customers about how much easier it is to find exactly what they want,” Grace said. “People come in and say, ‘Where did you get all of this stuff?' I tell them we've always had it, it's just that you couldn't see it in the older and smaller shop (at the Acorn Inn in north Dunsmuir).
Kimsey, now 75, began working for Fay shortly after retiring from the Air Force in March, 1973.
“I spent 20 years, 15 days and 12 hours in the service,” said Kimsey, who was born in McCloud and moved to Dunsmuir in 1943. “I joined on St. Patrick's Day, 1953. When I came home, Ted, who I had known before joining the service, asked me what I was doing and I said not much of anything. ‘Why don't you come to work for me?' So, I did.”
When he first came to Dunsmuir in '48, Fay took ownership of the Lookout Motel, which was located in north Dunsmuir just south of Hedge Creek Falls. Kimsey recalls Fay as someone who loved to talk about fishing almost as much as he loved to fish.
“Ted wasn't what you would call cantankerous, but he wasn't very sociable if he didn't know you,” Kimsey said.
That is, unless a stranger brought up the subject of fishing.
“Ted sold a few flies and BB shot (weight) at the Lookout Motel,” Kimsey said. “Guests would go into the office and ask him where a good place to fish was. He would say, ‘Wait a minute, I'll get my rod and go with you.' People just started asking him to serve as their guide.”
Kimsey said Fay got a reputation as one of the best-known fly anglers, not only in the Dunsmuir area, but the world. A 1962 Dunsmuir News article reported Fay as “Dunsmuir's most avid sports news reporter” and cited him for putting the south county on the map. The article stated Fay was responsible for getting articles printed in major newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times about the excellent fishing opportunities on the Sacramento and McCloud rivers.
Grace said the worldwide reputation that Fay started continues today. Since he has owned the shop, Grace said customers, both walk-in and mail order, have included those from such countries as Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as throughout the United States including West Virginia, Georgia and Alaska.
A popular item at the Dunsmuir shop is the “black bomber,” one of many weighted flies that designed for the swift waters of the Sacramento River. Fay is credited with the design of a number of original weighted flies that Kimsey and Grace said have proven effective.
“Weighted flies were originally created by an Indian fellow named Ted Towendolly,” Kimsey said.
Towendolly is known for creating the black bomber in the 1920s, but it was Fay who made it popular, according to Kimsey.
“Towendolly showed his flies all over the country, but he never developed a method of fishing with them,” Kimsey said. “Ted (Fay) came along and developed short line, weighted fly fishing.”
Fay went on to create some of his own flies, and Kimsey added a few too.
“There are now about 14 original patterns, which we sell here,” Kimsey said.
Unlike the dry fly, which stays on the surface, or the the wet fly, which floats just below the surface, Kimsey said the weighted fly is designed to go to the bottom.
“It just makes sense since 90 percent of fish food is on the bottom,” he said. “That's where the majority of the fish are. People get excited when they're walking along and see fish feeding on the top. They don't realize they're looking at only about 10 percent of the fish.”
Today, much of Kimsey's time is spent tying the weighted flies as well as other types of flies to meet customer demand.
The original sign Fay designed when he first went into business, “Weighted Flies by Ted Fay,” is going to be hung in the new shop location in memory of Fay, said Grace.
When the state purchased the Lookout Point Motel from Fay in the late 1950s to begin construction of Interstate 5, Fay moved the shop to the garage at his Dunsmuir home.
“It stayed there until I purchased it in '83,” Kimsey said.
The shop was then moved to one of the rooms at the Garden Motel, now the Acorn Inn, on north Dunsmuir Avenue.
“It was there when I bought the business from Joe,” Grace said. “We moved across the courtyard to a larger location at the Garden Motel in '98. It remained there until last month when we opened the new shop.”