Angler Evolution By Peter Bronski
Photos by Phil Mumford

After three decades, a Boulder institution embraces its next phase

After the rains stopped, the waters receded and the sunshine returned in the wake of the devastating flooding that hit Boulder County in September, it was time for the difficult work of recovery. The community pulled together rebuilding roads and bridges, shoveling mud from homes and repairing eroded trails. Most such efforts focused on the damage done by raging creeks. For Boulder’s fishing community and state wildlife officials, though, there also lingered the question of the creeks themselves. Had their fish populations sustained a major blow?

That’s why Front Range Anglers (FRA), one of the nation’s oldest and largest independent fly-fishing outfits, mobilized to support recovery efforts. FRA donated 10 percent of Boulder Creek guiding revenues and 100 percent of revenue from a Confluence Films premiere at eTown in November to Colorado Trout Unlimited and Boulder Fly Casters. Consider it the latest investment in the community for a shop and guide service that’s been a part of Boulder for more than 30 years.

Founded in 1982, FRA moved to its current location—a 3,300-square-foot shop on Pearl Street—two years ago, after being near Broadway and Table Mesa in south Boulder for years. In December 2012, 56-year-old Steve McLaughlin, a FRA customer since 1999 and fly-fisherman since the age of 10, bought the business. It would be fair to say that in one year, FRA has undergone an evolution.

Sure, the shop—as expected—caters to Rocky Mountain fly-fishing, with a retail shop, guide service and standing-room-only educational events. But under McLaughlin’s direction, the shop has quickly become much more than that. He added an all-inclusive destination-travel program, with fly-fishing trips to Alaska, Belize and Christmas Island, for example, as well as the retail inventory to outfit Boulder residents for fly-fishing trips wherever their travels might take them.

Meanwhile, FRA has launched an expanded women’s program, with two female guides on staff and monthly women’s events that have included seven-time world recordholder Diana Rudolph and Lori-Ann Murphy, director of fishing at El Pescador fly-fishing resort in Belize. FRA also supports CU Boulder’s fly-fishing club by offering shop discounts for guide instruction, and space for the club’s fly-tying events. “They’ve been really welcoming and open to help us out however they can,” says club president Drew Thomas.

All of those changes, building on FRA’s longstanding reputation, are paying off. FRA was named “Best Fishing Supply Store” in the 2013 People’s Choice Awards of the Daily Camera’s annual Boulder County Gold.

One thing hasn’t changed, though: the knowledge and experience of the staff. “We’re proud of that,” McLaughlin says, noting that most of his staff have been fly-fishing for decades. From Clear Creek to South Boulder Creek, Boulder Creek, the St. Vrain, the Big Thompson, and the high mountain lakes and streams of Rocky Mountain National Park, they know the waters intimately and are happy to pass along their insights.


Fishing the home waters

Rob Kolanda is a perfect case in point. The 42-year-old grew up in Boulder and today lives in Longmont. He learned to fly-fish in Rocky Mountain National Park from his grandfather, a retired veterinarian who had a practice in Table Mesa. That was more than 30 years ago. Since then, Kolanda has spent plenty of time on both the retail and guiding sides of the fly-fishing equation for outfits in Westminster, Longmont, Estes Park, the Roaring Fork Valley, Alaska and, of course, Boulder. He considered buying his own shop before joining the FRA team in 2007. That same year, Kolanda landed a spot on Fly Fishing Team USA (the top 15 anglers in the country earn that distinction). Then, in 2012, he made the U.S. world team as one of five anglers to represent the United States at the World Fly-Fishing Championships, held in Slovenia that year.

For all his experience, Kolanda retains a love of the creeks and rivers and lakes of his own Boulder County, which explains why he, as much as anyone, is keen to see the waters recover from the floods. “There were a lot of questions,” he says. “Were the fish there? What condition was the habitat in?”

As roads have reopened and river access in the canyons is restored, the news coming in has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s been amazing to see most of the fish populations still intact,” Kolanda says. “The question I ask now is, ‘What are you seeing bugwise?’” In other words, if the fish are there but have nothing to eat, that could spell trouble for them.

So far, signs are encouraging. Boulders may have moved, and the creeks and rivers have sometimes carved new pathways through canyons and floodplains. A favorite fishing hole may no longer exist; locals may need to relearn once-familiar stretches of water. But Front Range Anglers is there to help, embracing the next phase in its own evolution, even as Boulder wrestles with its own evolution during continuing flood recovery … both in the community and in the creeks.

“Fly-fishing is an enjoyable pastime that becomes, if you let it, a lifestyle … especially here in Boulder, where the creeks are right out our doorstep,” says McLaughlin. Which is why the shop acted so decisively to support flood-recovery efforts on the Front Range’s world-class waters. “If you want to fish today, you’ll be fishing these rivers that just got slammed,” he says. “This is something we can do to give back.”

Peter Bronski is a frequent contributor to Boulder Magazine. He still owns—and uses—his first fly rod, bought nearly 20 years ago.

Front Range Anglers (303-494-1375; is located at 2344 Pearl St., Boulder 80302. A stream report is available on the website. The store is open Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, and Sun 10am-4pm.

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