Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. For so many anglers getting into fly fishing, a lot of invention goes into assembling everything that is needed in a somewhat expensive sport. Risen Fly, a company that has been selling rods, reels, and a number of other accessories since 2013, was birthed out of that exact necessity.
Ryan, the owner, got into fly fishing as a newlywed. “At that time, there wasn’t a lot of disposable income for my new addiction. I spent a lot of time on Craigslist, and it became clear that there was still the need for good quality gear that is affordable.” That was the genesis of creating a brand and selling his own fly tackle. He was considering his own situation as well as that of young anglers, those who want to give fly fishing a shot, and anyone who might be on a budget. Those same fly fishers, once they get more involved, realize the benefit of having a variety of gear. “Once you get into the sport, it isn’t unreasonable to need four or five rods and reels, and everything specialized that goes with them.”
Risen Fly started on eBay, where Ryan sold products like line and backing. Without much revenue, the money wasn’t there for advertising or a website. However, the success of those initial products allowed the company to move forward. A website was launched, along with the first series of reels. The Icthus reels are built out of fully machined aluminum with cork drags and sealed bearings. With features like those and prices around $150, the reels have been well received. Another line of reels, the larger Anakim, launched shortly thereafter.
Form and Function
“Then we decided to get into rods,” Ryan says. “I fished prototypes of my early designs for four to six months, then I ordered final builds.” The next step in the development of the Risen Fly brand is a quintessential sign of our times: “I connected with people from all over on social media, and sent out 30 rods to be tested for six months. I wanted to know how they fished, how their aesthetics went over, and if that all fit with the price range we had in mind.”
Those rods were what would become the ITB (In The Beginning) models. Back in 2014, right before the fiberglass renaissance kicked into high gear, these blanks were designed to have more flex and an ability to feel the line load the rod. “My local streams are pretty small, and this style of rod is perfect for that. And I try to teach at least one person to fish every year,” Ryan remarked, “the super-fast action rods are horrible for these applications.”
With an ITB, a beginner or long time angler has a reasonably priced (less than $150) graphite rod that has a traditional feel with contemporary components. “The inspiration for the color comes from rods like the old Fenwicks. So you get that old aesthetic with the modern performance.” The burnt orange blank and two-toned cork grips are attractive, and apparently draw anglers in at places like fly fishing shows. “People think they are fiberglass, or even bamboo from a distance. Then they see they are graphite and feel how light they are.”
Of course, functionality is the most important part of Risen Fly’s products. But with competitors that have been around for literally hundreds of years, and in an industry that only leaves so much room for innovation, “you have to be different enough.” Ryan points out a few of these distinctive differences: “We use triangle rod tubes. Every one of our rod segments is labeled at the bottom of the ferrule. Just little things like that, but things that are helpful.”
What are you fishing for?
For Ryan, the products and the brand also serve a higher purpose. “I love to talk to people about fly fishing or the products. Then they see the logos, the names, the Icthus.” The Icthus, which is not coincidentally the name of one of Risen Fly’s reels, is a two millennia-old symbol of Christianity. “Questions come up all the time, and I’m able to share my faith.” He doesn’t force it upon anyone, he says, “but it has been neat to see people willing to support me and where I stand.”
Even a culture as romanticized as fly fishing has a cold, hard business side. Nostalgia is marketed after it is manufactured by conglomerates. Although there are significant limitations in competing with these giants, a smaller company with a core group of employees can keep their finger on the pulse of their customers. “Through Facebook and Instagram, along with fly fishing and outdoor shows, we’re seeing the same people over and over.” Ryan really appreciates that “we actually know our dealers and many of our customers.” It is evident that Risen Fly exists to provide a product that also creates community.
Truthfully, any company has values. It might be conservation, education, or even the bottom line. While those all certainly factor in to the business side of Risen Fly, they all serve Ryan’s desire to form relationships with his customers and get them out fishing. “When I’m at a fly fishing show, people see our shirts which say ‘what are you fishing for?’ That usually starts a conversation. I enjoy getting to know people, as well as helping them get out on the water.” As Risen Fly grows and their exposure expands, he’ll undoubtedly have the chance to do so.
Also look for Risen Fly at fly fishing shows in the Mid Atlantic this Winter and Spring.