“We want to start a fly company out here,” Steve said to me just as my panga from Jones Key to the airport was about to pull off the dock. I grabbed my fly boxes, and started handing him my flies. These had landed countless bonefish and proved to be way better for those technical permit than any of the commercial patterns that anglers were trying out at the Faraway Keys. “I’m in, let’s start with these, I’ll call you when I get home.” Could this really be possible down here? There were a lot of things that had to line up just right if this was going to work. But, that was pretty much the conversation that kicked off Guide Flies for Steve Brown and me.
I passed the next three plane rides home filling my notebook with business ideas that had been in my mind for years. I had been in the fly fishing industry for a few years now, but I had been tying and designing flies since I was a young kid. As a manager of a popular fly shop, I had experience stocking shelves with all sorts of high and low end commercial flies. We were starting our own fly company from scratch. This wasn’t going to be any regular fly company importing flies from Asia or African factories. These were our custom flies that were landing some of the toughest fish in the world. Making the flies at right at the lodge meant new jobs for our friends on the island, and would provide excellent livelihoods. Saltwater and trout flies would the starting point. This wasn’t going to be easy, but it was going to be a hell of an adventure.
Steve had over 20 years guiding some of Colorado’s most technical trout rivers and he already had a few of the lodge employees trained to tie flies. Guanaja has some of the most beautiful and technical flats on the planet. It took years to get these flies just right and rarely did a client ever bring the right flies, they just weren’t commercially available. There was a problem with commercial flies and Guide Flies was going to be the solution. We had a big vision and now it was time to make the dream a reality.
The year before that conversation took place was when the real inspiration for Guide Flies began. I had trusted Steve Brown enough to jump on a 38’ snapper boat with Noah Thompson and a crew of fourteen Honduran guys I didn’t really know. This was after our helicopter ride fell through. I highly recommend you watch Beyond The Horizon if you want to see the back story on that whole story. (For the past few years we had been hearing stories from Rankin and the guides that there were dangerous little keys 160 miles east that were covered in 10lb bonefish and permit that would eat bare hooks). After a lot of work and backup plans, We headed 160 miles east to the Faraway Keys. I had no idea what we were getting into, other than there was going to be a lot of fish and some good stories when we got back. No one had really ever thrown a fly to these mythical bonefish schools or eagle ray surfing permit. We were going to be the first, basically writing the fly fishing field-manual for the Faraway Keys. The pressure was on. There was a film crew coming in a week, a season full of anglers including personal friends booked to stay at this remote new fishery and we had no idea what these fish were going to eat.
Archey and the crew kept telling me that these bones are so big they eat lobsters! Ok, we’ll see about that. He wasn’t kidding! It turned out they wanted giant, lobster sized mantis shrimp. Probably because they resemble the lobsters those bonefish spend six months a year eating when the lobster boats are docked at the islands. Noah and I had filled a 5-gallon bucket with two vises and all the saltwater tying materials we could fit. We’d pass the nights and rainy days sitting on lobster traps teaching the guys to tie and tying flies to match the big local shrimp and crabs. The bigger the better, but they had to land soft and move right. There’s a lot that goes into designing a successful new permit fly or a better permit fly. We had a lot of shots out here to test flies on and these fish were the ultimate test. Flies like the Psycho Mantis and Predator Mantis were born out here. They get to the target fast, cast easy and fool big fish. The permit needed to see them off a ray so visibility and a realistic movement are essential without being too crazy.
Patrick and Darren were learning the Faraway Keys waters as guides and had designed a few of their own killer flies out there. That was three years ago. Today Patrick, his wife Claudia, his brother-in-law Johny and sister-in-law are some of the best fly tiers at Guide Flies. I first met Nathalie when she was working in the kitchen at the island. She’s now our head manager and a mentor to every person who works at Guide Flies. I had no idea at that time what we were laying the groundwork for.
Those vises on 5-gallon buckets on that little Heli-Salt basecamp turned out to be the inspiration for what we’ve done from then through today. The experiences you share with people when you are truly in the middle of now where and off the grid have significant impact.