Does Grand Teton Fly Fishing look familiar?
By Paul Bruun, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
May 15, 2013
February 26, 2013, marked the official rollout of Grand Teton Fly Fishing, the fresh and unencumbered outfitting operation forged from Snake River Float Trips and Jack Dennis Fishing Trips. In addition to an informative and colorful website — GrandTetonFlyFishing.com — the guiding business, license sales and miniature retail outlet reside in the Dave Hansen Whitewater building at Broadway and Milward.
Those familiar with fly fishing outfitting culture will sigh, acknowledging a soothing ending to a grueling Jackson Hole soap opera that began in August 2009. Irreconcilable differences between fly-tying legend and float trip operator Jack Dennis and his business partners in the Jack Dennis Outdoor Store and ancillary Pepi Stiegler Sports in Teton Village appeared on course for an unpleasant divorce. During the process, Mark Fuller, 42, and Scott Smith, 42, two senior Jack Dennis fishing guides and experienced winter shop employees, expressed interest in purchasing the outfitting assets should that opportunity arise.
Throughout this circuitous and confusing saga, Fuller and Smith were scrambling to assemble suitable investors while also continuing service to longtime fishing trip customers and new anglers. Fortunately, Bruce James, 63, the world’s most loyal employee and human being, managed to keep the outfitting nuts and bolts tightened via his consistent attention to reservations and scheduling. This was accomplished despite the business feud and despite guide service locations bouncing around like a pingpong ball.
Since 1975, when he arrived in Jackson, Bruce has been guiding and booking trips, ultimately devoted to this same outfitter. His knowledge of permits, guides and logistics is extravagant. He remains permanently attached to his unhip flip-open cellphone and its venerable reservation number, 307-690-0910, even when well-deserved winter vacations find him briefly in Arizona, Texas or Florida.
One step back, two steps forward
In the fall of 2010, as the painful Outdoor Shop litigation came to a head, time became an object. After making personal investments and securing adequate remaining capital, Fuller and Smith watched their backers disappear following a series of delays.
As the two guides paddled back to the drawing board, several good things happened. A big break came when Dana Smith’s dad, Bob Allen, a South Carolina air conditioning contractor, and another associate decided to become involved after remotely observing the gruesome struggle of his son-in-law, Scott, and partner Mark.
Mark began Outdoor Store employment in 1995 and started guiding in 2001. Scott arrived for retail/ fishing department work in 1998 and began trout guiding in 1999. They met Trey Scharp, who in 1996, at age 17, also began working summers for fishing department honcho Jeff Currier. Trey began river guiding full time in 2000 after graduating from the University of Wyoming. In winter he rambled between Argentina and Chile, guiding at exclusive trouting destinations.
Smith and Fuller sought to involve Trey in their venture not only because of his helpful background in international and domestic guiding and travel but also because of his understanding of the intricacies of the hospitality industry, which he gained through lodge management with his wife, Shelby.
Coincidentally, Ronald Hando, founder of Sundance Resources and a Wyoming geologist specializing in energy development, became interested in this Jackson fishing outfitting version of musical chairs. Hando’s son, Tyler, and Trey were fraternity brothers at UW. Once the bean counter and legal smoke cleared over the transfer of the outfitting business, this final partner gave Grand Teton Fly Fishing a strong financial foundation.
After recent visits with Smith, Fuller, Scharp and James, it is obvious to me the current goal is to provide a first-class fly-fishing experience on waters where they have historical permit access.
“We have no intentions of being a big fly shop,” Smith said, “but we had to have essential tackle for trips, tippet, flies, caps, sunscreen and Wyoming fishing licenses. We’re going to be a storefront with Pro Guide Direct. We’ll see what we want to do next. At best this is a five- to six-month business. Our place is small so that rent doesn’t eat us alive.”
So, you ask, what exactly is Grand Teton Fly Fishing?
That’s an intriguing question to which co-managing partners Fuller and Smith smile, knowingly whispering that possibly a lot of blue sky came with their purchase.
“But who knows in an outfitting business!” Smith said.
Prior to additional float fishing permits being issued by Grand Teton National Park, Snake River Float Trips/Jack Dennis Fishing Trips was the park’s largest daily fishing concessionaire, especially between the Jackson Lake dam and Moose. Today Grand Teton Fly Fishing views the park as its hub for a long-term business model. In addition, guided trips will be conducted in Yellowstone National Park, on the Snake River in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and on river access areas in Sublette and Lincoln counties controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. South Fork of the Snake River floats and overnight camping/fishing packages are booked through Idaho outfitter Heise Expeditions.
“These permits hold a lot of history,” Smith said. “And ironically, Dave Hansen Whitewater, where our shop is located, was originally inside the Outdoor Shop. Dave Hansen also was a partner in that whitewater float trip business, which he later purchased.”
Along with Scott Smith, Grand Teton Fly Fishing fields a skilled staff that includes Ed Dutilly, Neil Chamberlin, Josh Gallivan, Tom Montgomery, Chris Brylinski, Max LaPrade, Dave Smith, Weldon Jones, Scharp and possibly Brandon Keene, rumored to be returning to Jackson after guiding in Costa Rica.
Bruce James reports that the daily float trip for two, which includes lunch and transportation, will be priced at $525. He says bookings are good and naturally very far ahead of 2012.
“Over the last five years we’ve been all over the board, from 600 to 1,200 trips,” he said. “This year we’re estimating 750 to 800 because the season’s getting started earlier.
“We realize that many of our customers don’t come to Jackson every year,” he said, “but when they return they usually call us. We rely on word of mouth and our reputation.”
A colorful, comprehensive website
Smith emphasizes, “We’re proud of our new Internet presence.”
He should be proud, since many of his wildlife, action and hero photographs brighten the GrandTetonFlyFishing.com scene developed by Marylynn Wilmore of 9 Cloud Web Works (formerly VerticalMedia.com). There’s plenty to see and read.
Fuller, instigator of the outfitting business purchase, is a survivor of what was often an infuriating and nightmarish wild goose chase that finally ended.
“Without the new business prospect, my wife, Rachael, and I realized we were spinning our wheels in Jackson,” he said. “Things were still way up in the air when she landed the municipal operations manager job for Gresham, an adjacent Portland community. This was a dramatic career opportunity for her and our family, so we grabbed it and moved to Oregon.”
Mark learned of his wife’s favorable interview while traipsing “down under” in New Zealand with Scott, celebrating their 40th birthdays.
Universally recognized as the sanitary Mr. Clean who operates from a spotless South Fork skiff and Toyota Tundra, Mark is weighing whether to return for summer guiding in Jackson or remain the detail-driven partner/manager of a new business. He’s in this just as Scott, Trey and Bruce are: for the long haul.
Paul Bruun writes weekly on his adventures and misadventures in the great outdoors.