Since the days of and before “A River Runs Through it”, Fly-Fishing has bedded its roots within the ethereal bond of family ties. Although old flies and rusted tins of tippet passed down from father to son lay perched upon wooden basement shelves where they shall only exist as permanent mementos to a time passed, the same owners will forever carry with them lessons learned. On sunny days, young and curious siblings race to spring creeks with their passed down fly-rods in hand, forever solidifying a bond that will carry them in tandem through life. While now, the modern-day Mclean brother looks a bit different, the remnants of what it means to be brothers on the fly live on forever in the spirit of eternal pursuit of something greater than an individual.
We recently had the privilege to sit down with the brothers behind O’Pros, a fly fishing gear brand that seeks to improve the fishing experience of anglers throughout the world. Behind the scenes, we have our founders: three bearded brothers from the midwest who’ve combined their love of hockey, fly-fishing, and each other into one. Check out what they had to say below to see what O’Pros is really about!
FL: Who are the Three Bearded Brothers?
Opro’s: My name is Mike, I am the oldest brother and I have the longest beard when I let it rock. I mainly oversee the inventory, logistics, and manufacturing for O’Pros. But at my day job, I work as a site foreman, building large commercial buildings.
I am David, the middle bro. While I too have a decent beard, it’s usually trimmed up due to my day job as an account lead and project manager for an international cancer diagnostics company. I am the product designer, marketing manager, director of operations, and President of O’Pros Fly Fishing.
I’m Aaron, the youngest O’Pros Bro with the biggest beard. No joke, my beard gets pretty gnarly and is usually a big hit at our trade shows! I build houses by day and manage the O’Pros shop on nights and weekends.
FL: For who are unfamiliar, tell us who IS O’pros
Opro’s: We are 3 brothers from Wisconsin, Mike, David, and Aaron. We are just trying to make some kickass fly fishing gear, and help everyone have a better experience when outdoors. Possibly, our gear will even help you catch more fish! O’Pros is short for Outdoor Professionals. Growing up playing hockey, we always wanted to be the best and play in the pros. Similar to professional athletes, the outdoor professional is always improving and looking for new ways to better their experience on the water. No matter the activity: fishing, hunting, backpacking, camping etc, an outdoor professional is anyone looking to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest. At O’Pros Fly Fishing, our products are made by family and fished with friends. You can check out the thinking behind the brand HERE.
FL: While growing up, you three shared common interests, one of which being Hockey. Did you have a lot of close proximity with each other throughout your childhood?
Opro’s: Although hockey has been our main sport since age 3, we pretty much played them all, including some we made up on our own. It didn’t matter the sport, we were always super competitive and wanted to beat up on each other. I feel like we were fighting all the time! Hockey was a bit of a wild ride. We all played during the same season, and were sometimes on 3 different teams (thanks mom and dad for driving us around.) We even built a hockey rink in our own backyard every winter, just to make sure we could play as much as possible. We were always trying to make each other better with the dream of playing in the NHL! We all played through high school and had opportunities to play after, but only I (David) chose this route and pushed on through college and even 1 year of professional hockey before hanging it up
FL: If so, do you think this helped form the working bond that you now share while running O’pros?
Opro’s: After hockey, that competitive spirit needed somewhere to live, and in came the obsession of fishing. We started off kayak fishing for Bass and always made modifications to our gear. Shortly after, we picked up fly fishing and continued iterating our gear, which led to better performance, and completely new pieces, like the rod holder. This competitive drive and close relationship we have as brothers, along with a little maturity, really helps us push our company forward, and create innovative products. That’s not to say that working with family is always easy, but we do enjoy keeping the connection that comes with working beside each other every day.
FL: Oftentimes, the love for fly fishing is passed through family or tradition. Was this the case for you three growing up? If not, how did you find fly-fishing?
Opro’s: This was not the case for us, neither in fishing or hockey. Before us, no one played hockey, no one had a strong connection with fishing, and no one had beards the size of ours! We kind of just started our own thing. When Mike was little, he loved watching hockey. He’d throw fits if someone turned off the T.V mid-game. Finally, our parents let him play, and we soon followed suit. As for fishing, I started with one of my buddies and instantly fell in love. Then, just as before, my brothers followed.
FL: Growing up in Wisconsin, what were the usual fish species you guys targeted?
Opro’s: Here in Wisconsin, we began by targeting Smallmouth Bass, and they have since been our go-to species. As we’ve grown our interests in fly fishing, we now target smallmouth, trout, and even musky!
FL: When you guys are together, and you’re not fishing or building kick-ass fishing equipment, what’s your go-to activity?
Opro’s: Oh, we always have a different flavor of the month, but it almost always revolves around some sort of competition. We still play ice hockey and roller hockey together. If we are just hanging out, it’s typically around a fire where we enjoy Wisconsin’s own Spotted Cows, as well as some pretty intense yard games (sauce hockey, ping pong, Spikeball, etc..). Check out how their love for competition and fly-fishing came together in the new O’pros Nets below.
FL: Do you have any advice for anyone else working in a family business in the fly-fishing space, or who’s starting a small business in general?
O’Pros: Just go for it, but be prepared to grind. Hard work and patience have been key for us. We launched our brand and learned everything we needed to on the fly. Don’t be afraid to work with family, but make sure your family relationship always comes first. Pick your battles to keep everyone motivated and working together.
FL: Do you see any remnants of your guy’s journey growing up show up in your work?
Opro’s: Yes, the most obvious collision of our hockey and fishing journeys is in our new landing nets. We took a hockey stick shaft and made it into a fishing net. There have always been a thousand uses for a hockey stick, but this one was the perfect fit for our fishing company, as it pays homage to our past.
FL: Do you feel it’s easier to get along with family in the workspace, or more difficult than working with strangers?
O’Pros: This really depends on the day, time, and situation. For the most part, now that we are grown up a bit, we get along great. I would rather work with my brothers than some random Joe Schmo because we are past the small talk, get to know you phase. When it comes to work, we get right down to business. We know what each other are good at, and not so good at, and work together better that way. But, that’s not to say that we don’t piss each other off every once in a while.
FL: What’s next for the 3 bearded brothers of Wisconsin?
O’Pros: For us, our plan is to keep growing O’Pros Fly Fishing by continuing to introduce new, innovative products to the fly-fishing industry. We have a lot of great ideas, at least we think so. It just takes time and money to bring them to the market, and hopefully improve the fly fishing experience for all.
Thank you to the 3 Bearded Brothers of O’pros Fishing Products for their time, and for sharing their journey growing up into the fly-industry with us. To learn how you can support this family-run small business, check out their site HERE.
Header image courtesy of Justin Carfagnini