In this installment of our “Behind the Brand” series, we had a chance to sit down with David Jacobson, one of the founders and operators of Outdoor Professionals, or better known as O’pros Fly Fishing. Here, we had a chance to explore just what needs O’pros is trying to address in the fly-fishing space, and discuss the journey of a small business in the fly-fishing industry.
Flylords: What is O’pros?
David: We are 3 bearded brothers from Wisconsin, Mike, David, and Aaron; just trying to make some kickass fly fishing gear to help everyone have a better experience in the outdoors. Possibly, it 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 help them have a better experience. No matter the activity, fishing, hunting, backpacking, camping etc. an outdoor professional is anyone looking to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible.
Flylords: When and where did O’pros start?
David: O’Pros started in 2016 when we traded in our hockey sticks for fishing rods and a new obsession began. O’Pros Bro David was cooking up the ideas of the name brand and products while playing semi-professional hockey in Illinois. Trying to decide between 5 or 6 different brand names, Outdoor Professionals came up. Shortly after, he opened a fortune cookie that said move forward with your current plans. So we did.
After the brand name was established, it was time to work on our products. I reached out to a local university engineering program and asked if I could use their 3d printers to prototype the original belt clip rod holder. After getting to know some of the professors and students, I was soon in the facilities as much as the students and asking every question I could to figure out how to turn my idea into reality. I do not have any formal background in product design, engineering, or manufacturing. I just figured it out along the way.
Flylords: What was the first step in getting the O’pros brand started?
David: The first step for us was for me, David, to convince my brothers that this would be a good idea. It honestly did not take too much convincing, but I had to sell them on the long-term benefits knowing that it would be a grind in the beginning. All I had to do then was figure out how to design and manufacture the products.
Flylords: What was the first product you guys rolled out? What was the inspiration behind that?
David: Our first product, we actually do not even sell anymore, was the first version of our belt clip rod holder. This grew from pure necessity of needing a spot to hold our rod as we stood knee-deep in the middle of a rushing river trying to change up a fly to catch smallmouth bass. The old under the armpit, forcing you to have T-Rex arms, trying to dig your gear out of the back of a waist pack was simply not ideal. We started by tying a mount for a bike tire pump to our packs. It was about the same diameter, and it held in there okay, if you didn’t move at all while using it, but it was enough to prove the concept and get our brains going on how we can make it better.
Flylords: So, what is the issue in the fly-fishing space O’pros plans to address?
David: Our products are all focused around efficiency and providing the angler with a better experience. Fly fishing can be challenging, that is part of the reason we all love it, but some things are just more difficult than they need to be. We try to think of simple solutions to the problems anglers face on every trip out. The rod holder for example; We have all been there, in the middle of a river, trying to keep our balance, untangling a nasty knot in our line as we watch rising fish within casting distance. It is already frustrating enough. The rod holder will free up both of your hands to give you the best chance to quickly get your gear sorted out and back to catching fish.
Flylords: What has been one of the most difficult aspects of being a small business in the fly-fishing space?
David: Playing with the big boys! Trying to weasel into an industry as the new guys is no easy task and a good product idea is not enough, at least for us. We started regional and grew from there learning along the way. After year 1, we encountered 2 replica products being sold in the market from competitors that had better distribution. This was a big blow to the gut as we had to figure out a way forward with stagnant cash flow. We went back to the drawing board, listened to our customers’ feedback, came up with some new ideas, and utilized the wonderful world of crowdfunding to launch a better version of the rod holder!
Flylords: Where have been some of the coolest places you’ve seen one of your products pop up?
David: It has been crazy watching this small product snowball into the hands of some awesome anglers around the world! Seeing the rod holder in more and more fly fishing publications has been a good sign that we are growing in the industry, but our favorite is seeing customers send us pictures of them using their O’Pros gear, catching fish, and absolutely loving it!
Flylords: How much of your own fly-fishing experiences have you found slip into the brand?
David: “Made by family, fished with friends” is what we are all about. We were born and raised in Wisconsin, and this is where we fish and hand assemble our products. Our focus starting out was to grow support in our communities first and then expand. Most companies have ambassadors to help promote their brand and products, we just have a group of buddies from the Midwest that we fish with to help test products, create content, and even help name products. Some of our new products coming out soon have direct Midwest ties to the names, inspired by this group and where we fish.
Flylords: Are there any non-profits O’pros is partnered with?
David: We currently partner with Back Country Hunters and Anglers, as well as 1% for the Planet. As we grow, we will be eager to focus more on conservation efforts and growing the sport of fly fishing.
Flylords: Are there any new upcoming product launches you can give us a sneak peek of?
David: Absolutely! Our entire basis at O’Pros is around continuous innovation and new products. We are launching a line of landing nets this fall and have a few more products in the works for early 2021. The nets have a custom hockey stick handle (carbon fiber composite), aluminum net frame, a custom carrying bag that doubles as a reusable shipper, and a lifetime warranty. These nets are lightweight, durable, and look awesome! We are excited to bring them to you.
Flylords: What’s the best way for someone to get their hands on some O’pros gear and support the brand?
David: Our gear can be found in many fly shops across the U.S. and other countries. Stop in and ask to check it out. If your local shop does not carry our gear, you can find us at www.oprosgear.com.
Thanks to David Jacobson and the rest of the O’pros team for taking the time to share their story with us. You can show your support for their small business HERE!