Mud, Belonging and the Bamboo Fly rod

Oyster bamboo fly rods
25 years ago Bill asked me where I wanted to live.  
I told him anywhere in the world as long as it was in Georgia.

Bill: “What am I going to wear to that? We donated my funeral suit.”

This was exactly Bill’s reaction when I told him (breathlessly I might add) that we just won the Georgia Small Business Rock Star Award and have a banquet to look forward to as well.

He had a point.

Almost everything Bill owns has mud on it either from THE river bank or BASIC neglect.

And because I always know what I am going to wear, my reaction was very different.

I was simply stunned.

I knew we had been nominated for the award but logically assumed top honors were reserved for companies that made real money had conference rooms versus work benches and inspirational quotes on the walls versus 2 inches of bamboo dust EVERYWHERE.

In the months leading up to the banquet, the impostor syndrome (look it up)  crept in to my daily routine.

While I have always considered Oyster a personal victory…our business prowess  seems more illusive of a subject.

Do we belong in the mainstream world of business?

Bill doing “business”. PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Payne

Oh sure, as a full-time bamboo rod making business, we are an anomaly.   We honestly don’t know anyone else without a “legit  job”, alternative income, retirement or a rich Uncle to fall back on that  sells bamboo fly rods to pay their bills.

However, in a nation of capitalism, “scaling” and exit strategies (ours being death) being the primary measures of success, can we really expect to share such an accolade with companies who’s original intent was to be a “business”.

Do we belong?  Are we impostors? Did the “powers that be”, in this case the Georgia Department of Economic Development,  get this all painfully wrong?

No, I thought.  We earned this award.  We deserve it as much as any other small business.

“Business as usual” PHOTO: ROBERT PAYNE

So, off we went a car full of impostors to the Georgia Aquarium this past Monday to receive our award.

We belong.

Ummmm…then came the name tags, parking validation and a sea of rather nice dark suits without mud on them.

We do not belong.

Wait…there is a special door for “us special people” that leads to a special ballroom with special access to an area of the aquarium we have never been…we are special.

Okay, maybe we do belong.

Oh shit, There is the Governor of the State of Georgia.

Nope.  We don’t…

Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods Small Business of the Year Award

Honestly, until our name was announced and the film  of Oyster starting playing on this enormous screen (see link below or click here), I still  considered the possibility that this was a mistake  a simple misunderstanding…especially after hearing the other three winner’s stories (there were 4 categories…we were retail).

Video of Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods and Small Business Rock Star Award

Fun fact:  I loathe speaking in front of ANYONE if it’s expected.  Karaoke on a random Wednesday at a local hang?  Fine.  Impromptu narrative about pretty much anything? No problem. But if I have to so much as introduce myself in a rehearsed fashion to a room of 2 people…I completely choke.  This is why, in part,  that Bill is also our “face guy” for all things scripted in nature.

So, when Bill went into his eloquent-as-usual, cooler-than-thou acceptance speech – I stood back and fell in love with him for the millionth time let him do his thing…until…

Bill threw me under the bus lovingly thanked me and insisted I say something.  Ouch.

Belong or not to Belong?

And, here’s the deal.  I survived. I was okay.  I thanked the proper people and organizations (I think) and off I scrambled politely left the stage.

However, if I was able to prepare let alone actually speak to a room of 350 serious reputable people,  you bet there is a thing or two I would have said in my parallel universe concerning small business…ah, good ole hindsight.

Here goes: (after all off the appropriate amount of appreciation)

“If you have a passion and the talent to back it up…morphing that devotion into a business is entirely possible.  

And not in an “all things are possible” type of approach.  

I respectfully say this in a “get out there, dig-in hard and stop placing obstacles in your path” kind of way.  

Your comfort zone will kill you.  

Habitually, move far beyond your self-imposed limitations. 

And when you have shattered your glass ceiling…go some more.

Dream big while preserving your original intent of freedom and legacy.”


Editor’s note:  this WAS the end of my beloved little blog…until…

So, late this evening, as I gathered Bill’s clothes up off the floor (shocker) preparing them for laundry, I could not help but admire what ended up his chosen attire:

Tweed, Howler Brothers shirt, Ledbury pants, Helm boots and a Patagonia belt…covered in MUD.

We belong.


20 thoughts on “Mud, Belonging and the Bamboo Fly rod

  1. Bill and Shannen…and Riley… What a great honor and couldn’t think of anyone who deserves it more! You have great job and a great business and have made a lot of friends over the years helping them make bamboo rods into something very, very special. Georgia is very fortunate to have you here and doing your ‘thing’!
    Charlie Butler

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an honor to have Bill, Shannen, and Riley help me build my personal fly rod. The passion they showed was astounding. I am just as proud as they are how my rod turned out.
    What a well deserved award!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I still love my Guide Series rod made by Bill, not me, many years. I’ve had two people in Yellowstone recognize the Oyster name. Your excellent reputation had crossed the Continental Divide.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a former student I can attest to the fact that the Oyster business is deserving of this award. I have never seen such organization displayed in any other business. Beginning with a person who can barely measure 12 inches correctly, and from that point, giving him from a piece of bamboo and a blow torch and in six days he has transformed that stalk of bamboo into a finished bamboo fly rod is nothing short of phenomenal! And yes I fish and have caught trout with my fly rod.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Congrats your dedication , perseverance, and strive for perfection has made this award well deserved. Your hospitality makes you all “nice people “. Great team! Thank you for all you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oyster is such a special experience. I had gone three times by myself, when my wife agreed to accompany to the class (I really love her). She said she hadn’t used a tool, except in the kitchen, but produced a beautiful 7′-9″ for 6 weight with a “little” help from Bill and Riley. It turned out I needed more. And we had a great time. The rods are treasures, and EVERY student has completed a rod (I asked Bill once). I can’t think of a team (since Oyster is really a family) that deserves the award more. Wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Greetings Bill, Shannen, Riley, and family, I cannot say congratulations enough on your wonderful accomplishment and long overdue recognition from “the suits”. Also, I never could imagine Bill without a hat, and in a sport jacket besides. After a wk. of rod building, and fishing in Belize,I really thought that his Oyster cap was actually a part of his body. My deepest wish for you guys is to stay true to your roots. Just remember, ah, success, the three piece suit, but then the law suit. I cast my bamboo rod, i fight fish w/ it, i remember all the steps in making it, and i have joy. My only regret is that i have to carry my iPad w/ all the photos of that wk whenever i have my rod, because no one believes i made it until i show them the photos. Congratulations, and also thank you, w/ all my heart. Best regards, Bruys “Bruce” Mikkelsen

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations to you all, and there is no doubt you deserve that award. I know that everyone who has an Oyster bamboo fly rod is super proud to have such a masterpiece and heirloom to pass on. And Shannon, I loved your article. It too is a masterpiece. 😃


      1. Oh my goodness…2021 and I’m just seeing this! I get to say, “I knew them when…” The honor of the award pales in respect to the humble, HARD work it took for the acknowledgement (yet still a huge honor). I so admire y’all. And, I’m so proud and happy of the buisiness you continue to work, the family you nurture (personally and professionally) and the LOVE you share. . I seriously got a little teary eyed reading your blog post. Enter heart and smiley face emojis here!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s