Thursday, January 26, 2017

Space, Time and the Bamboo Fly Rod


It’s a new year…well kind of…

can we still say it’s a new year when it is almost 7% over

(I did the “mathish” on that). 

In usual form, Oyster lunged into the New Year with dust kicking up all around us oblivious to the inevitable reflection and pause experienced by most as a “New Beginning” was celebrated.

It’s just space and time, right? 

The Oyster Tribe Vibe

So, we exited 2016 completely shocked that it was already over dripping with gratitude that once again Oyster was able to flourish in every possible direction.  We dug in harder as a tribe, made several technical and creative innovations with our bamboo fly rods and explored new fly fishing destinations.   This inevitably led to a deeper understanding of ourselves, our business, our treasured clients and our beloved trade.

Oyster growth in the form of 3.6 OZ one piece and new Tibor reel collection

Of course, all of this growth exhausts me while trying to keep two children alive leads to my inevitable (yet humorous and heartwarming) reflection of another year gone.  Sigh.

If it’s just space and time and some form of inexplicable continuum of whatnot…then I really should feel privileged to remember any of it. 

fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish

And while we have already dragged out the 2018 calendar and hung it on the wall for the imminent reference... 

I am present and grateful beyond words…

I am beholden to each and every moment…

Beholden to our American Dream.  It is such a privilege to have successfully taken advantage of the opportunities provided to us not only through our own grit but that of our ancestors...

Beholden to each and every moment spent with our bamboo fly rod making students.  You know who you are...your presence, stories and adulation for the craft of bamboo fly rod making and fly fishing rests forever within our walls...

Beholden to the curious who unwittingly stumble into our shop on Main Street in Blue Ridge, Georgia and have a visceral reaction to our small family business...

Beholden to every dinner invite, photo sent, thank you note, bottle of wine, thoughtful gifts and trips to the general store for Cutter and Veronica...

Beholden to our Oyster bamboo fly rod clients who trust us to preserve their legacy through Bill's hand engraving...

Beholden that we are able to raise a family and run our family business side by side...

Beholden to our clients who repeatedly choose Oyster.  YOU have no idea how much we will never take your faith in us and loyalty for granted... feels like 1997 2016 was yesterday.

But, it’s just space and time, right?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Small is the new Big

Them:  "You should franchise Oyster or try and build your brand large enough to sell it."

Me:  "No."

20 years ago, we decided that making bamboo fly rods for a living was a good idea.  Why?  Why would we ever dream that our passage into adulthood commerce should be anything less or more than a simple choice regarding the direction of our lives?  Everyone else was doing it...not building bamboo fly rods necessarily but our "contemporaries per say" were getting out of school and jockeying for position obtaining jobs that seemed to make a serious impact on the remainder of their lives as least it felt that way in your 20s. 

So, let's be brutally honest HERE.  Bill and I grew up in the 80s.  The honeymoon for "big, fast and cheap" was simply incubating with ambitions well beyond our imaginations.  By the time we finished college, disposable products that made an impression no matter how temporary dug in and enveloped our culture.

Bigger. Faster. Cheaper.

In some ways, the same mantra applied when most of us chose our careers.  It only made sense.   Following your dreams and ultimately doing what you love was just a bunch of bullshit told to you by well-intended strangers seemingly reserved for the three people we watched succeed at some obscure art in a documentary once and people with too much time on their hands the independently wealthy.  So, really...we were actually being guided all along not to explore our dreams but instead to ask ourselves..."What do we do to make as much money as possible as easily as possible so we can ideally pursue our true interests on weekends, paid vacations and just before we die if we are lucky enough to live that long?"
No memo here...

Except...we did not get that memo. And, honestly, we still do not know why we chose the smallest most ill-conceived hand crafted limited obsolete profession possibly on earth. And then MOVED to the smallest most ill-conceived ridiculous most obsolete little town on earth.

Bamboo fly rod making chose us. 

Blue Ridge, Georgia chose us.

Or should I say the overwhelming desire to pursue our lifestyle chose us. 

Small. Slow. Real.

We can all agree that times have changed over the past two decades.  Small businesses command more respect as does the craftsman and the virtuousness of the handmade item...not to mention bamboo fly rods in the fly fishing industry. 

In the beginning, fly fishing trade shows were the most effective way to reach potential clients.  The internet was still in its infancy and fly fishing was basking in "A River Runs Through It" Renaissance.  However, bamboo fly rods were not having any sort of "rebirth"...yet.   (see faster and cheaper fishing was not immune either).

The "GO BIG" misconception mentality about our business was prevalent from day one.  We would sit at these trade shows in the 90s, 2000s and beyond and get giggled at receive (again) fatherly advice from the sympathetic (after they stopped giggling at our ambitions):

OLD school trade show photo!

Them:  " can only make money at this if you have the blanks made in China and use your name."
Me: "No."

Them:  "You should work for Orvis, Sage, Winston..."
Me: "No."

Them:  "You should move to Colorado."
Me: "That would be nice"

Them: "You cannot possibly do this on your own.  You should get a professional sporting or collectables representative."
Me: "No."

Them: " is how you sell custom bamboo fly rods...make people wait...a really long time, limit their customization options because customers will kill you on those details.  You tell them what they want."
*editor's note* This sentiment was told to us repeatedly...really.
Me: "No."

Them: "Aren't you afraid if you share your knowledge of the craft with will essentially be teaching your competition."
Us: "No."

And while this sounds like we say no a lot...we truly DO listen to our clients and have become a successful small business because we listen. 

You:  "Bamboo fly rod making...that looks cool.  Will you teach me how to make one?"
Us: "Yes"

You:  "Will you build a rod and tailor the taper specifically to the type of fishing I prefer?
Us: "Yes."

You:  "I need a very special rod built for a very special retirement/birthday/anniversary/holiday...but we need it soon.  Will you please try and squeeze us into your schedule?"
Us:  "Yes."

You:  "Is it possible to tell a story on my favorite bamboo fly rod?  Will you learn to hand engrave to forever preserve the legacy of such a heirloom."
Us: "Yes."

You:  "Will each and every one of your bamboo fly rods live up to your near "beyond reproach" standards aesthetically and performance related?"
Us:  "Yes."

You:  "Will you always push modern limits while preserving and respecting the tradition and heritage of the hand crafted bamboo fly rod?"
Us: "Yes."

You:  "Is it possible that you are exactly as you seem on your antiquated web site?  Are you indeed a small little shop on Main Street making awesome things while raising children underfoot in an absurd little mountain town in Georgia?"
Us: "Yes.  We are simply not savvy enough for smoke and mirrors."

Small. Slow. Real.

And while we do not aspire to have our logo cantilevered over any given highway peering out from any given strip mall...we do realize there is merit applied to starting a business alone for profit and growth.  We have just chosen lifestyle over a bottom line of any sort.  

Bamboo Fly Rods...

Unarguably the worst business idea ever.

However, the best lifestyle choice ever.

Small is the new Big.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Career Day and The Bamboo Fly Rod

Career Day at Blue Ridge Elementary

Bill:  What is your favorite thing to do in the whole world?

Barrage of answers from the kids:  "Drawing!" "Hunting!" "Basketball!" "Writing!" "Hunting!" "Video Games!" "Horseback riding!" "Hunting!"

Bill:  Now, imagine that you are able to do that "favorite thing"  your entire life and make a living.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Main Street, The Bamboo Fly Rod and Love

"Find what you love and let it kill you."

 - Bukowski

Quinn, me (hiding), Roni and Cutter
My girl Michelle and her baked goods...that just happened to look like a heart today...really.

Bill and I don't celebrate Valentine's Day.  We have never properly observed this particular holiday...well...we did once...23 years ago.  While our memories of this fateful day are completely different vary just a bit, apparently it involved some rant on my part (say it ain't so) about commercializing love, delusional expectations and exploiting a woman's insecurities. 

I know, I know...I groan as well looking back on my 22-year-old self for a variety of reasons (think of an even more absurd version of my current, think of an even more absurd quasi adult and my 22-year-old self starts to come into focus).  Give me a break please...I was in college.  I was in Athens, Georgia.  I was in the Journalism College.  I worked for the art Athens, Georgia while studying journalism...this response was completely clichéd and expected rational given those circumstances.

However, Bill refuses to let me forget how stupid I was we continue to ignore Valentine's Day year after year even if I want those new boots for a present have grown immensely.  In our defense, We honestly don't need any one day of the year to celebrate love. 

Wait for it...

Get ready to groan boorishly...

We celebrate our love every day.  We don't need a special day to single each other out.  We say it, show it and feel it every day. 


However, except for my family and like 2 other people...ever...and the random dog...I personally do not show love to anyone else.  I feel it but do not express it.  And I don't feel like that's a detriment...just a "quirk". Or so I've been told.

But this year is different! 

This year I am DRIPPING with LOVE. This year my self proclaimed Valentine is Blue Ridge, Georgia...more specifically Main Street.  Okay, a paved surface is a relatively inanimate object but it's a start.

The back of our building on Main...below is the view from my office.  See the bucket truck in the background? This random moment was captured when our sign was being installed...

Yes...there is a train in our back yard.
Like any love story, the affection I feel for beloved Main Street has grown over the years.  When we moved Oyster "on the Main", I found myself unexpectedly caught in a deluge of memories from my childhood.  Typically, I grew up visiting the North Georgia Mountains on vacation to escape the Atlanta suburb's  lunacy "hustle and bustle".  My childhood was scattered with countless weekends "looking at the leaves" in the back seat of our family station wagon listening to my father ramble on and on about wanting to be a forest ranger John Denver and Willie Nelson music all while my father made long term plans to "leave it all behind" and "live in the mountains one day". 

Fast forward's 2008 and I am pregnant with Veronica.  The recession is in FULL swing and Bill impulsively decided we meticulously thought out our next preposterous logical move to Main Street.  After almost 12 years as a home based business, we opened our bamboo fly rod making shop in a fishbowl proper retail setting. 

Think Mayberry with churches and beer.

These few downtown blocks that encompass Main Street are genuinely and organically old school in terms of community.    We have found ourselves joyfully content within a square mile.  Seriously...within walking distance we have everything. 


We walk the kids to school. 


Bill started Blue Ridge's first chess club


The Chess Club grew so much...that we had to recruit Riley to teach...of course!


We eat our meals, pick up our prescriptions and dry cleaning, visit our doctors and dentist, go to Crossfit,  play on the playground and buy just about anything you can imagine that a tourist town has to offer within this city block.   And, while the shops and restaurants are obviously our main attraction, the people are undoubtedly the covert vibe that you feel...

We Crossfit...and make our coach and dear friend Robbie run with Roni!


Every holiday is honored.

Parades for....well...everything on Main!

So Merry

Main Street and our infamous Halloween


Our fishbowl

Tiny dancer...and bubbles

Visiting dogs...this one is named Oyster!  :)


Of course...bamboo fly rods


Another unexpected improvement in our lives upon moving here is the small talk...or lack there of...

Let me explain.  EVERYWHERE we go outside of this bubble, we get blank stares, awkward head tilts and even chuckles when people inevitably ask us "what we do" and "where we live".

It's different for shop owners and their trusted employees... we don't have to spend our first dozen conversations (if it ever gets to that) explaining the intricacies of entrepreneurship, impossibly long hours and living in a bubble.

Once our "career path choice" or lack there of is ingested by the morbidly curious, there is usually a barrage of innocent enough comments and questions:

1.  Wow!  That is really cool.  I really want to start my own business too.  How long did it take you to save enough cash to fall back on if it does not work out?
Ummm...I'll let you know when that happens. (see necessity is the mother of invention proverb)

2.  Your hours must be so flexible.
If by flexible, you mean having the ability to work all of your waking hours...then yes...super flexible

3.  Did you study this in school?  Do you have investors? Is your Dad rich?

4.  If Bill can not engrave because he is hurt, traveling, sick...etc...who do you get to engrave your rods?
The engraving fairy!  Just kidding.  If Bill can not engrave...our wait list gets even longer...

5.  You can't ever get fired!
True...except that time I fired myself by text (long story).  I went in for rehire a day later.

6.  Who is your IT department?

7.  Who does the finances?

8.  Who does the marketing?

9.  Who is your ... ?
One of the three of us...Period.

10.  It's just business, right.
No.  It's all personal. If it was "just business", our end game would be money over lifestyle.   We love it that's why we do it.

We do not own these questions.  Each shop has their own adaptation.  It is comforting to have people right outside your door that share your same unique perspective on our life's ludicrous events.  It's lovely to have the luxury of eliminating the niceties and sincerely connect when we get a spare moment (not many of those...see #2).  It's understood. It's our own mysterious hamlet.

Have chess...will follow.  Chesters.  :)


Father and Danny...Masseria...more church

Baby sitting services at the Blue Ridge Brewery

My Main Street.  My Valentine. 

My original intension was to single out those who have become like famiy and write some version of "roses are red" to each and every one but I am afraid that that's nearly impossible.  I honestly have such strong feelings for these people that words are inadequate. 

You all know who you are...

I must make the disclosure that our town's undertow is strong...nothing is perfect.  However...and maybe I am just in a good mood or delusional...I believe conflict is necessary to stay a veritable entity.  We are all bound daily by joy, tenacity and random bouts of grief.

Upon further refection oh shit...look out, it makes perfect sense that Main Street has become one of the greatest loves of my life.  If love is at the center of it all for us (which clearly it's certainly not money, fame or power) then loving where we live is the perfect compliment to the love we feel for our family, friends and profession.


Moving Oyster's bamboo fly rod making shop to Main Street was strictly a business decision. 


Staying on Main Street is entirely personal.


These are my people.

I look so tired because this one (Quinn) wears me out.  Thank you.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Karma and the Bamboo Fly Rod

In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that the following is most likely inspired by my birthday.  I turned 45 yesterday. Forty-Five.  Four Five...Fifty less Five.  Thirty plus Fifteen.  Half of Ninety.

When we started Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods, we were in our  late 20s.   In contrast, the majority of our clientele is and always has been...ummm...older wiser.  I can honestly say that we have received the benefit of said wisdom on many occasions.  Through the years, Oyster clients have generously offered up some tidbits about getting old securing your place in life's phase two...

1.  Getting old ain't for sissies.  (Yes...oldie but goodie)
2.  I have been spending the second half of my life making up for how terrible I was in the first half.
3.  If you have not learned anything by this age, you are not paying attention.
4.  Bending over to pick something up is just hard now.
5.  Teach your kids to fly fish row the boat.

So, why do I feel young?  I do.  Why do I feel as though I am in my prime?  

Time has become illogical.  It has flown by in one sense but stood tortuously still in another...  As I look back on yesterday my entry from five years ago exactly, there has been a lifetime squeezed inside the confines of only half a decade.  

Oh wait...

I just purposely deleted an hour of writing with two paragraphs of clichés' about what I have learned in the past five years...

...Really...but I will say this about being 45 years old.

I own it.

This has been the absolute clearest path I have ever taken in life.  After "getting out of my own way", letting go of superficial hang ups and crossing over into a more refined vision of my second act, I own this age.

Fear and loathing is seriously over rated and the adage "getting what you give" bellows with such great force in my daily routine that it has become sacred.

You Get What You Give. 

If you accept that energy can not be created or destroyed...only transferred...this makes perfect sense.

True giving is not exclusively spoken for by a league of pre-determined people. It's in all of us.  It's often the most visceral reaction to any of life's event.  

Giving is quite possibly the lowest common denominator that connects us why is it so difficult?  Personally, I have found that life's distractions and overpowering need for perceived self preservation can dull down the senses into apathy. 

However, if you pull your head out of your ass long enough to realize the universe was not actually created for you if you exalt kindness and compassion, life's possibilities and tidings are endless

Endless.  Energy.  Endless.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

lost, found and bamboo fly rods

Many years ago, while mountain biking on the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains,  I literally panicked near dusk at the bottom of a treacherous decent...

Me:  "Babe, we are lost."

Bill:   "We are not lost...we can always go back the way we came."


Bill and I met over 21 years ago in Athens, Georgia.  We were both in school at the University of Georgia but that is not where it all began...I worked at the music magazine in town and Bill was a professional road cyclist (please note that even then we both had low paying interesting jobs).  The bike shop and magazine shared the same building on Broad Street  and we would literally pass one another several times a day. 

Bill quietly ignored me came and I went without notice while he trained and worked as a bike mechanic when not on the road racing.

I demurely threw myself at him tried to get his attention over and no avail...let's see...
...I made friends with his friends
...I would repeatedly "visit" the bike shop to "borrow" the vacuum
...I would "cool myself off" at the only available AC window unit in the building in front of his bike stand (okay, this is where I went too far...but COME ON!)

Here is how our first date happened.  The following is true.  It's early evening circa 1993...Bill is sitting on the back of a car in our building's parking lot drained after a long training ride...I am leaving the magazine with a stack of albums (yes...the vinyl kind...I even remember what I was carrying...Pylon, Superchunk's No Pocky for be exact and Stevie Nicks), 

Bill:  (head hanging and body slumped over after riding 10 million miles on a training ride barely making eye contact) Hi

Me:  "Hi, wanna come over on Thursday?  I don't have cable TV but I just rented Fast Times at Ridgemont High...we can watch that.

Bill:  "Ummmm..."

Me:  "Also, I make killer meatballs."

Bill:  "What time?"

We were married on a Thursday a few months are some highlights...

I wore my mother's dress
It was the first marriage ceremony that our priest performed
Bill threw up in the middle of our ceremony (google introvert)...really
My brother video taped said throw up
The food at the reception was delicious
My parents had to cut the cake, made the toast and danced in our place (see Bill threw up)
My sweet niece, Rebekah, was our flower girl

young, dumb and in love
We lived on so little.  We traveled simply (except for the garage full of gear we always dragged along).  We perused our dreams.  The remainder of the world thought we were delusional too young to understand the reality of it all.  We heard a chorus of chatter about the "living in the real world" and "just wait" from everyone but my father  on a regular basis. 

Here's some presumptuous helpful advice through the years:

"You cannot marry one another after a few months...just wait."
"What?!?  No corporate ladder with benefits?" (remember 20 years ago...this was ridiculous)
"You cannot live on love alone...just wait."
"You cannot just buy a sailboat in New Orleans, drop it in the ocean and take a left! You will die."
"You absolutely cannot pay the bills making an antiquated fishing pole...just wait."

Yet, we spoke openly to one another about living sincerely...never losing sight of us.  It seemed as though the easiest way to find ourselves was to stay as close together as possible.  In fact, the entire catalyst for our bamboo fly rod making company was to do something in tandem.  Go with your strengths. 

We spent our 20s and much of our 30s creating Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods, sailing (hence my son's name Cutter), mountain biking, reading books, fly fishing and traveling (rinse and repeat).  We worked and played hard.  We zigged and zagged through life's obstacles and always landed on our feet.

Then came our Rite of Passage...

Shit got real.  Life complicated itself.  We navigated through births, deaths, illnesses and life's unavoidable floods and assholes.  There has not been any one event per say but there were days that it felt like we were being swallowed whole and the life we created actually lost sight of it's very own visceral origins.  It's so true that your measure as a human being is how you handle inevitable complexities.   All the while, we kept our sense of humor and allowed joy to ground us but there were days that we felt umm...lost.


This feeling is the impetus for our future.

Me:  "Babe, we are lost."

Bill:   "We are not lost...we can always go back the way we came."

It's true.  You are never so lost that you can not go back the way you came.  Everyone has a different interpretation of this but for's about immersing ourselves in wonder.   It's about our little family, the nature about us, cooking meatballs to the lull of Tom Waits and knowing (and I mean knowing) that we ultimately always find ourselves in one another.

then and now and now