We all dream of a life on the water. Sneaking a flow update at work, many of us pause and think if I could quit my job and work in the fishing industry all would be wonderful. Maybe I would guide, own a shop, work in conservation, I might just go out to my garage and invent something wonderful that all the world of fishing would need. Well, fishing is an industry, whether you work as biologist or build boats, you are part of it. Like any trade it is full of opportunity and change, as well as growth and failure. I spent a day with two such dreamers, Ryan McDonald and Wes Campbell on an Oregon Coast river a few weeks back. Both of these men are taking a huge risk, by being creative and contributing to our culture of a life on the water, while trying put food on the table.
We twisted down a dark rain slick highway through the Doug fir cuts, dropping into the big spruce, massive empty maples hung over creeks growing to rivers. Coffee pushed conversation into our work and fish- a defining part of our lives. Wes and I talked water and his shop, would he expand, spey rods, social media, guiding and the culture of the Oregon fishermen. Wes may be the youngest fly shop owner on the West Coast. He went from degree to guide/shop boy to owner operator by 25. We stopped for burritos in a fog tattered junction. Wes knew and got a report from three men who just started shaving, with paint swelled salvaged drifter and a lifted F-150, six rods hung from the stern – pink worms, plugs and floats. We don’t judge in the Coast Range, we fish.
Ryan was in from Vermont, but had spent some years living and working on the West Coast. He knew the game and had the addiction. After years designing for the athletics industry, he just recently gave it all up to seek his passion, fishing and design. Finn Utility was born – and is nearly a toddler today, one employee and some contract sewers. Ryan is taking the big step, with a style and idea that reflects his historic tie to fishing. We talk life, files, family, as boat ramp becomes riffle to run. We all have a story we all have a river. This lifestyle is our heritage, as is the state of our rivers.
The Lucky One - Ryan
I’m at work – they know I’m on the river, but I’m at work. This is how the conservation game is played. The discussion that wins the conservation efforts for fish begins with Wes and Ryan. Politicians understand one thing well, jobs. Healthy rivers create fishermen; tackle makers, shop owners, guides and road side café’s. Bring their story and their economic numbers to a politician and change begins. Place their concern about livelihood and future in the press – and the ball gets moved. Back it up with a ton of patience and persistence, a bit of a big mouth, with a side of science and things get done.
The Trout Unlimited boat office – after 5 of course
We breakout back into the valley, I’m at the wheel Wes is sleeping in the front seat. Ryan and I have talked everything from boat design to conservation, thread count to outdoor politics. We pull up to my house to find my wife made too much dinner so the conversation continues into the night, wine and beers. Another generation of fishermen, working on tradition, education, and conservation is before us. Finn Utility will become a handed down tradition like that Filson jacket. Cascadia Fly Shop is already becoming a meeting place for ideas and banter, besides a respected Fly Shop. I think the three of us are well aware we are lucky, but with it comes a bit of passion and hard work.