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In a fishing mecca, fly shop celebrates its 80th year

ENNIS — In the center of a town where fly rods are nearly as ubiquitous as shoes and time is often measured in bug hatches stands The Tackle Shop.

Like many buildings in Ennis (population 871), the shop is a blend of old and new. The wooden door is the same one that mechanic-turned-fisherman Elwood Combs installed when he first opened the outfitter in 1937. The overhead lighting inside the cozy, single-room shop was redone last year by current owner John Way, and the shelves are lined with state-of-the-art clothing and gear that would have been unimaginable to Combs.

The Tackle Shop in Ennnis, MT.

On Friday, Way, a jovial, hat-wearing 43-year-old, was doing what he does best: talking fishing.

 “It’s always a big puzzle. That’s what appeals to me about fly fishing,” he said. “It’s not about catching the fish, it’s about solving what made you catch the fish. It keeps me up at night.”

Way grew up fishing for carp and bass on the Delaware River with his father and uncle near his small hometown of Bovina Center, New York, roughly an hour and half southwest of Albany. When it came time to go to college — a choice between Cornell University and the University of Montana — the rivers and wide open spaces of Big Sky Country drew him west.

It was in Missoula that Way began guiding, and over the next 15 years built a clientele that he would take fishing on the many tributaries of the Clark Fork.

“I was in college and loved to fish, so it seemed like a pretty natural transition to get paid to do it,” he said. “I told myself I would guide as hard as I could for two years, get this out of my system and go back and get my master’s degree. Obviously that didn’t happen.”

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