Whitehorse is home to a tiny fly shop with a big heart

Big fish. Tiny fly shop. At just 10 feet by 12 feet, and built in a mobile tiny-home style, H20 Troutfitter fly shop – located in the parking lot next to the Gold Pan Saloon in downtown Whitehorse – is the smallest fly shop in the North, if not the world.

“Yukon has a cluster of ‘smalls,’” says H20 Troutfitter owner and operator, Steve Hahn. “We have the smallest railroad in the world, the smallest desert ecosystem in the world, as well as the smallest bridge that has a bend in it. And (this is) the smallest fly shop that’s on wheels.”

If you’re into fishing, stepping inside H20 Troutfitter is bound to make your jaw drop. Stacked floor to ceiling with fly rods, waders, boots, lines, knives, fly tying gear, and rows and rows of beautiful, professionally-crafted flies for everything from the tiniest grayling to the biggest old lunker pike, an avid angler could spend a good part of the day in there. The shop caters to a broad range of fly fishers and price ranges, says Hahn, from beginner to intermediate, as well as destination anglers – although what you really get when you come in is access to knowledge and advice, not just products, he notes.

The impetus for the tiny shop was practicality and economy. A traditional brick-and-mortar set up is expensive and impractical to maintain, due to the Yukon’s fly fishing season, which is shorter than it is in southern climates, and so Hahn had been running the business out of his home, which was starting to become a nuisance for both himself and his partner. The mobile fly shop – which can be towed to a new location as a needed, requires no plumbing, and can simply be stored when the season is over, similar to a food truck- was a perfect compromise, says Hahn, although “to try to get it going was roadblock after roadblock,” with the city, he says.

“That’s our motto,” he jokes. “‘Always one step ahead of bylaw!”

Getting into fly fishing can seem like a technically – and financially – daunting prospect, and while that used to be true, that doesn’t have to be the case these days, says Hahn. Advances in fly fishing technology and style mean that it’s a lot easier to get set up and get fishing – and catching – than it once was. Fly fishing has a reputation for folks who like to go out to expensive lodge destinations, or get really far out into the remote mountains to access top-tier fish, that doesn’t have to be the case, says Hahn. That’s all well and good, he notes, but a “great Friday evening’s fun,” can be had just by going down with a fly rod and fishing for grayling, “right on the Yukon River in town.”

“It doesn’t have to be hugely technical or expensive to start,” says Hahn.

“The technology has advanced with rods, with lines, with monofilament, so that you can get into fly fishing and cast out with very little effort, you know, 20 to 30 feet,” he adds. “You don’t have to cast for 1,000 years to perfect the fore-cast.”

A person can get set up at H20 with a rod, reel, line and leader for around $230 to $300, he says. They also offer in-person lessons for $80 a session, as well as guided half-day fishing sessions and a “fish along” program where participants don’t fish, but watch and learn from guides to get the hang of the basics, like casting, reading a river, and fly selection and presentation.

“One of the biggest things is, don’t be afraid to come into the local fly shop – because we are your neighbourhood fly shop, and in terms of tying knots (and) tactics, that’s what we’re all about,” Hahn says.

“When I was 12 or 13 years old, when I would go into a fly shop I wouldn’t even be talked to; there’d there would be (adults) at the desk and they’d be talking about their latest adventures on the Kispiox River or the Bulkley, and I’d be this kid that comes in, buys a couple flies with lawn maintenance allowance, the rod sticking out the back of his Tennessee bicycle,” he says. “But where the future is, is young folks, is new folks getting into fly fishing.”

For more information about H20 Troutfitter, visit the shop downtown, or their website at www.h20troutfitter.com.

*Please note that, due to Covid restrictions, H20 Troutfitters can only accommodate one customer at a time, but Hahn has kindly placed chairs outfront for people to wait in.