In my tenure working for Georgia, USA, I’ve collaborated with executives from many global brands to elevate the business environment here. One of the greatest joys of my job has been the opportunity to peel back the layers and look inside the inner workings of companies and their leaders. But when I learned of Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods in Blue Ridge, Georgia, it especially caught my attention.
My youth was filled with fishing expeditions. Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, my father took me out in the boat seemingly every weekend. We were also fortunate enough to share a mountain house, and a former fly fishing camp, in Cashiers, North Carolina with 9 other families from Charleston. It was here that my father taught me how to use a fly rod. When A River Runs Through It came out I thought the brothers in the movie held an uncanny resemblance to me and my brother (I’m the nicer one). But that movie, and Robert Redford’s voice, absolutely encapsulated the deep and intricate love one can have for rivers.
Speaking of famous people, rumor had it that President Jimmy Carter had one of Oyster’s fly rods. So I made my way up from Atlanta to the Georgia mountains to learn more.
Meeting Bill Oyster
Bill Oyster is the consummate entrepreneur. When he was 15 his father drove him to the local airport, so that he could then fly off in a plane with his pilot’s license in hand. He joined the Navy when he was old enough, but he ultimately decided that wasn’t his future. Bill jumped in to professional cycling instead where he dominated the sport until he was injured. Meanwhile, he majored in Art at the University of Georgia and fished whenever he could. He tried his hand at real estate, but there was a call for something different. His wife, Shannen, suggested that he make fly rods. Bill got his hands on some relatively underground books on the craft of making fly rods, and he taught himself the trade. Easier said than done, but of course now he is an expert at it. He also happens to be a master engraver.
Bill sources bamboo from a small region of China that is renowned for producing the perfect tensile strength. He fires the bamboo with a blow torch, cuts it down to strips, and then planes it out to an exact triangle. These pieces are glued, compressed, cured and eventually fortified with resin. The eyes and handle are then attached in addition to any custom engraving. These rods are beautiful works of art and highly functional as well. Bill’s customers range from plumbers to presidents to members of the royal family. But he has taken this manufacturing business above and beyond.
Giving it Away
Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods not only makes a product you can buy, it also teaches you how to make it. This is unusual for a company to do something like this, but instead of cannibalizing business, it has made it blossom. Bill and Shannen hold classes every month, and attendees can work alongside them – and their expert staff – to make their own fly rod. And because their shop is a stones throw away from some world-class trout streams, you’ll have every chance to whip some water. People come from all over the world to attend, so if you are interested in doing this yourself then sign up now because there is a healthy waiting list. You may also want to join them on one of their various fishing adventures around the world.
Bill and Shannen’s business is so unique, and has done so well, that they were recently recognized as a Small Business Rock Star. I had the opportunity to return to Blue Ridge to produce this video celebrating their win. Of course Bill is a natural on camera as well.