Staying Afloat #9: Josh Phillips of Spawn Fly Fish

Spawn Fly Fish started in 2017 when Josh Phillips started creating lifelike molded fish heads for fly tying. Since then, the brand has branched out into a full service online fly shop with an avid customer base. Josh built the brand and shop from the ground up in Oregon, so we decided to sit down with Josh and see how online fly shops are weathering the rough times we’re all wading through. Oh, and did we mention he used to play soccer professionally?

Flylords: Who is Josh Phillips? What is Spawn Fly fish?

Josh: I am a 28-year-old fly fishing fanatic that was previously a professional soccer player. I grew up with a rod in my hand and a ball at my feet. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest fishing with my father who was the head fisheries biologist in WA for 20 years and is now the Director of the Coastal Region in Washington for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Fishing has been at the forefront of my entire life. I am now the President and Owner of Spawn Fly Fish, a fly tying manufacturer as well as an online fly shop with thousands of fly tying products.

Flylords: How did Spawn Fly Fish start?

Josh: It started like a lot of companies do, around the table with close friends trying to find a way into the industry we loved. At the time, I was living in Colorado playing soccer. Two of my best friends and I knew that we could make a positive impact on the fly fishing world. This “spawned” the idea of creating our own fly fishing company. In the late summer of 2017, we started with a single flagship product and a goal to create a company that gives to the angler, the community, and the outdoors. We are unlike most online fly shops – who we are is front and center. We share with everyone our aspirations, values, community involvement and we do our very best to build personal relationships with each and every customer. These goals have since evolved and lead the way to creating a massive catalog of fly tying products available to tiers around the world! 

Flylords: You used to be a pro soccer player, how did that prepare you to run a fly fishing business?

Josh: Prior to playing professionally, I received a scholarship to play soccer at Gonzaga University. Soccer gave me the opportunity to learn about business prior to ever playing professionally. I graduated in four years with a business degree and a 1st Team All-Conference Academic Award.  Post-graduation, playing professionally prepared me in ways I’d never imagined. I played in the USL, second division professional soccer similar to Triple-A baseball or the NBA D league, only a substantially smaller paycheck. This is a league where you quite literally are grinding your way through every day just to make a living. I worked nights my first year at a restaurant just to pay rent. You don’t get any sick days and to be successful it takes 110% dedication. All of these lessons are transferable to the fly fishing industry and to business. I still work multiple jobs and I still have to remain 110% dedicated to my goals. Playing sports, you learn that things can change in an instant and that some things are out of your control. However, I can control my effort and attitude on the field just like I can control it today in business. 

Flylords: Can you tell us a little bit about how the COVID outbreak affected your business?

Josh: This outbreak happened at a time where I believed we were getting ready to make a substantial breakthrough in the industry. We had just stocked our first fly rods and were looking into adding fly lines as well as reels, completing the one stop shop we are working day and night to create. Everyone at Spawn works multiple jobs and the money earned on those jobs we put right into Spawn. Many of the projects that we take on are paid out of pocket from the work we put in outside of the shop. Like many people around the country, we lost these jobs which has drastically affected the plans we had in place and halted many of them altogether.

Flylords: As a business have you ever had to experience a situation like this before?

Josh: Never, but we do prepare for things to go wrong and have had things go wrong in the past. But never something this drastic. Just like everyone else, both businesses and individuals, we are learning to adapt to these new challenges and we are doing everything we can to stay safe and healthy. 

Flylords: How is Spawn adapting to the changes brought on by COVID? 

Josh: This virus is completely out of our control. Like I mentioned earlier, we focus on the things we can control. We are constantly learning from the fly fishing community and finding ways to improve the experience for our customers. We don’t want to be thought of as just an online fly shop. We want to be a resource for people around the world and we strive to build relationships just like you would walking into a brick and mortar fly shop. Another thing we are having to adapt to is highlighting our products without being able to fish them. We manufacture and sell products that catch fish but with fishing closed, we are having to change the way we present the products to people around the world! Lastly, never before has there been this much of a focus on the online sector of fly fishing. Every shop in the nation is now focused on driving traffic and getting customers onto their site! Finding ways to continually differentiate ourselves is our number one focal point in a sea of great options to purchase products online.  

Flylords: What are the latest products coming to Spawn Fly Fish?

Josh: That’s top-secret! But we do have some really cool projects in the works! 

Two weeks ago, we released the Micro Jig Shank in both 60-degree and 90-degree, these are a revolutionary product that brings the articulated craze into jig style flies! This Micro Jig Shank is designed for trout but has a huge range of uses across many species! This product is on track to be our most popular product ever and we can’t wait to see all the success it brings! 

Flylords: What are some ways customers can support you and your team?

Josh: Share the experience you had with Spawn! Word of mouth is the most valuable tool – every post, text, conversation on the water, email, snapchat, and phone call to your friend helps support our dreams! Obviously, shopping our website is a great way to support us but if you are interested in supporting us and your local shop our products are distributed and available at any fly shop in the nation through Hareline!

Flylords: For people who still want to go out and hit the water, do you have any advice for them?

Josh: Well… here in Washington, fishing is closed. I would recommend that you follow the rules that are set forth by the Governor and WDFW for our local fisheries. I want to be on the water as badly as anyone else, but I will have to wait. For others around the country that can still fish, I think it’s a great way to practice social distancing. I know many people around the nation are finding places on the water they can be alone and catch fish!

Flylords: What’s next for Spawn Fly Fish in 2020?

Josh: We are not sure! We had a plan in place, but for now we will be monitoring the situation closely to make sure that we don’t stretch ourselves too thin during this difficult time. We will continue to expand our Spawn line of products with new and never before seen innovative products!

Flylords: What are you doing during the downtime to stay connected to fly fishing?

Josh: I have been watching a lot of live events hosted by people in the industry. I have learned a great deal from listening to other people in the business share their experiences. I have also been connecting with our customers via telephone, email, messenger and all other lines of communication daily!

Flylords: When all this blows over, where is the first place you want to send a cast?

Josh: Puget Sound! I love chasing Sea Run Cutthroat. I am fortunate enough to live minutes away from these amazing anadromous fish! There is something truly remarkable about catching cutthroat trout in saltwater. There aren’t many places in the world where you can fish for trout and see a whale swim on by! 

Flylords: Where can people support Spawn?

Josh: Our website www.spawnflyfish.com or any fly shop that carries our products! As well as following any of our social channels @spawnflyfish!

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