Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods
Fishin' on the fly
What motivates your company?
We are motivated by the craft of bamboo fly rod making. Period. Oyster meticulously maintains the heritage of handcrafting a bamboo fly fishing rod in the traditional method while preserving its legacy. This tradition is in tandem with the modern tapers developed by Oyster well suited for the present-day angler.
We are motivated by the sport of fly fishing and conservation.
Oyster is motivated by telling other’s stories that will live on for future generations. These stories are quite literally told through Bill Oyster’s hand engravings on the bamboo fly rod’s components. Oyster is a conduit for sharing family legacies.
Lastly and most importantly, Oyster is motivated by lifestyle. By life style…we mean the life of a craftsmen living in a small mountain town in North Georgia surrounded by beauty raising our family.
Tell us about your location.
Oyster’s brick and mortar workshop/retail is in the heart of historic downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia on Main Street. Bill Oyster’s passion for fly fishing started in the North Georgia Mountains so it was a natural fit to have our workshop located in the heart of Blue Ride, Georgia (the TROUT CAPITAL OF GEORGIA).
FUN FACT: When the showroom is open to the public, anyone can come into the retail area and watch rods being made, Bill hand engraving and / or a class in session.
Tell us a bit about your customers.
Oyster’s clientele is a broad spectrum of people. From heads of state to brick layers…Oyster’s clients are simply bound together by a passion. To quote Bill: “It’s people with a passion and they want to preserve that passion in time through one of our custom bamboo fly rods.”
Share the history of your company.
Oyster Fine Bamboo Fly Rods grew from a passion as far removed from the intentions of business as could be imagined. Bill Oyster spent his younger years in northwestern Wyoming where he was first introduced to fly fishing. Later he moved with his family to South Georgia where he would graduate high school, study at Georgia Tech, The University of Florida and in ’93 would meet and marry his wife Shannen who were both attending the University of Georgia. While fishing has always been his favorite hobby, Bill was also an accomplished racing cyclist who competed for the University of Florida and would go on to win the SEC overall title for the University of Georgia and receive his professional license. In 1996, just after competing in the Olympic Trials and the U.S. Professional Cycling Championships, Bill would suffer a career ending fall while training.
With Olympic caliber energy and a sudden loss of direction, Bill poured all his enthusiasm into his fly-fishing passion. He worked as a fishing guide, fly-tying teacher, and casting instructor. In the world of fly fishing the bamboo rod is the pinnacle of tackle. It was also far out of the financial reach of a young twenty-something who spend more time fishing than searching for a career. Always one to enjoy a good challenge, Bill was further encouraged by his wife Shannen to see if he could make what he had no other means to acquire. At that time there was no internet full of useful information or classes to provide an efficient path. In fact, Bill found the art to be a rather closely guarded, and quickly waning, secret and knew that he would have his work cut out for him. After finding a handful of old books on the subject, he finally began to piece together a system by sheer determination, and lots of trial and error.
From these early struggles in a dim basement, pouring over old manuscripts, there developed a flicker of inspiration that would become a revolution in the craft.
It wasn’t long before the whispers among the local fly-fishing community began to grow. Bamboo rods were being made again, right here in Georgia, and they weren’t half bad! Eventually word trickled down to Atlanta and the AJC paid Bill and Shannen a visit. More than a month later they awoke to an answering machine full of eager anglers ready to place their orders. It was at this point that they realized that their little business was at a tipping point. It was, as Bill’s Dad used to say, “time to fish or cut bait!”
With Shannen’s full-time help Bill was able to pour all his energy into rod crafting, eventually developing a waiting- list of orders more than four years long. With more demand than hours in a day, they knew it was time to think like business people and not just craftsmen. With their success crafting rods, they began to get more and more inquiries from other would-be rod makers. Instead of turning them away (as had been done to Bill) they created professional level, week long, courses to meet the demand and allow the Oyster rod company to expand their offerings.
It was also around this time that Bill received a very special order from former President Jimmy Carter. One of the appointments to this special rod would be a hand engraving of the Presidential Seal. Although they had previously hired out such work, Bill recognized the opportunity. Banking on his skill acquired as a Studio Art major at the University of Georgia, he traveled to Kansas to study hand engraving. With very limited experience, Bill was able to engrave the seal on President Carter’s rod and a whole new dimension of the business was born. Today, hand engraved rods by Bill Oyster fetch higher price tags than any rod in production worldwide.
In 2007 Bill and Shannen took the plunge and acquired a business loan which would allow them to move their operation from Gainesville, GA to the more picturesque mountain town (and trout capital of GA) of Blue Ridge. Here, their operation thrived and grew right through the economic collapse. Orders increased, employees were hired, and an Inn was built to house students who traveled from every state and countries as far as England, Scotland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and more to fill classes for many months in advance. To date, more students have learned the craft at the Oyster shop than every one of their competitors combined. Going through several variations, the Oyster workshop finally landed in a purpose-built space right in the heart of the historic downtown where it stands to this day.
2018 will mark the 20-year anniversary of their humble beginnings.
A few to note:
- Shannen and Bill were honored to receive Georgia Trend’s 40 under 40 award in 2010
- In 2015, The American Museum of Fly Fishing in Vermont designated Oyster a “Fly Fishing History Maker”. This is beyond significant as being recognized in the NE and by the official AMFF was an honor.
- Featured in Garden & Gun magazine’s premier issue, as well as the first winner of their first “Made in the South” awards for the Sporting category
- Featured in Emory University’s newest Entrepreneurship textbook
- Featured in Forbes, Small Fortune, Outside Magazine, Super Yacht World, Sports South, Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Drake Magazine, American Angler and many other publications including international, regional and local.
- FUN FACT: Oyster is mentioned in a LONGMIRE novel by Craig Johnson!
- Oyster has also been featured on PBS, CBS and ESPN.
How are you involved with your customers and community?
Customers: Our clients become an extension of our bamboo fly rod making community. Many of our clients spend the week with Oyster making their own bamboo fly rod under the instruction of Bill Oyster. These students come from all over the world and stay in touch with us and each other. Many of these student (over 30%) return to take multiple classes. We have our own sub culture of sorts. Oyster has a travel club that is exclusive to our clients and we all travel the globe together with Oyster’s bamboo fly rods. Oyster’s workshop is regularly overflowing with former students and rod clients visiting Blue Ridge and to hang out.
Community: With consistent worldwide exposure, Oyster draws attention to the significance of southern fly fishing. This is important because fly fishing in the southeast has long been ignored.
It is important to continually emphasize that the majority of Oyster’s clientele is imported from other areas of the U.S. and physically visit Georgia specifically to visit Oyster. These are high quality guests with far reaching resources and visibility in their communities that ultimately lead to more attention for Georgia as a result. These visits usually last up to a week or more therefore bringing outside resources to our state that stay in our state. These visits also inevitably lead to more attention being drawn to Georgia’s local waters, state parks and conservation efforts.
Oyster sponsors numerous local and regional events including charity happenings, 5Ks and fly-fishing clubs.
Oyster is particularly proud of their involvement in the Fannin County School System. Below are just a few examples of the involvement:
- Oyster started, sponsored and coached and a chess team for Blue Ridge Elementary and Fannin County Middle School.
- Bill Oyster regularly goes to “career days” at the school and inspires children with his story.
- Oyster teaches fly tying at Middle School and Elementary schools in Fannin County.
- Bill Oyster will be educating (volunteering) West Fannin’s 4th grade STEM class from October 2018 – May 2019 on fly fishing and the relationship to entomology.
Tell us about your employees.
Oyster has 4 full-time employees and 6 part-time employees. Our shop manager, Riley, came down for a class over 10 years ago to celebrate his high school graduation…and never left. We absolutely cannot imagine our company thriving on our current level without the help and devotion of our entire crew. I know this is said often…but we are a family. Period.
What makes you excited to work here?
Personally (this is Shannen Oyster), I am excited to work each and every day because we made something out of nothing. We created an industry. We are only limited by our imagination. The atmosphere is creative and free and fun. We work hard. SO HARD. Yet, it’s fun and fulfilling.
The people I meet and their stories that they s willingly share and the absolute evolved nature of someone who understands and/or appreciates our vocation is the absolute most extraordinary part of this “job”.
What do you like about your community and location?
The community of Fannin County (specifically Blue Ridge, GA) is story book in so many aspects. This is a small Southern Appalachian town with old school grit and new school chic. We have integrated with the merchants on Main Street as well as the locals that have been here for generations. This community is fueled by small businesses, a relentless Chamber Of Commerce and a tremendous heart.
Our natural resources allow us as well as visitors to simply transcend in the matter of a 90 minute drive from Atlanta. We have the wilderness, rivers, trails, mountain biking…
Oh, and it is so gorgeous here. Heaven.
How do you embody Authentic Georgia?
First, Georgia is the only state Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods has ever considered conducting business. Georgia has all of the resources and amenities we need to sustain our business. From the convenient proximity to the Atlanta airport for our clientele to access us easily from anywhere in the world to the natural resources literally in our backyard…we have the best of all worlds here in Blue Ridge, Georgia.
Second, what is more AUTHENTIC than handcrafting bamboo fly rods in a workshop on Main Street in a small mountain town while raising your family?
What makes Georgia so special and unique?
Georgia has access to modern conveniences that enables our company to prosper and grow concurrently with cutting edge technology. In addition, Georgia embraces and celebrates the esoteric Southern craftsman (in this instance…Oyster) and allows the small business respect and opportunity. Oyster feels “understood” and heard by Georgia’s leadership on a local and state level.
Lastly, Georgia has the ideal blend of technology, conveniences, weather, natural resources and heart.