Cortland Ready to Bounce Back?

Cortland's Randy BrownWith the news Friday that Cortland had replaced long-time CEO Brian Ward with Randy Brown, who has been the company’s COO, anglers may have reason to hope for change at the venerable line company, which has struggled in recent years.

Cortland produced the first modern PVC-coated fly line, in 1953, and it wasn’t long ago that many saltwater fly shops considered Cortland fly lines the premier lines in the market.   Now a group of investors–of whom Brown is one–has pumped capital into the business and has pledged to make good on their commitment to suppliers and vendors and put the company back on a path to growth.

Read the full press release below.


For Immediate Release


Randy Brown  (607) 756-2851

Chuck Caulkins (212) 903-0332


Cortland Promotes Randy Brown to President and CEO

(Cortland, NY)  After a brief transition period following the acquisition of the company by a private investment group, Cortland Line’s executive committee has promoted COO Randy Brown to the position of president and CEO. Cortland’s long-time president and CEO, Brian Ward, will retire to pursue a career in university-level teaching.

“This is truly the dawn of a new day for Cortland,” remarked chairman Sandy Douglas following the announcement. “We’d like to thank Brian for his 25-plus years of service to the company as well as his assistance during this transition of leadership. We also welcome Randy as Cortland’s new president and CEO. He’s already done a superb job rebuilding our manufacturing infrastructure and reinvigorating our R&D department, and he has the investors’ full personal and financial support to return Cortland to the leadership position it has historically enjoyed.”

A member of the investor group and lifelong resident of neighboring Ithaca, New York, Mr. Brown has enjoyed successful careers in banking, manufacturing and distribution. Most recently, he was the president of Ongweoweh Corp, a national distributor and leading recycler of pallets and packaging, where he grew sales from $25 million to $140 million in 12 years.

“Many members of our investment group have been fishing Cortland lines for years,” explained Brown following his appointment announcement. “So when the opportunity to actually buy the company arose, we jumped on it. Based on our collective experience, we think the quality and performance of Cortland’s fly lines and leaders are second to none — although that’s very obviously been the best kept secret in the fly-fishing market. With the sustained financial backing of our investment group, we plan to change that. We’ve already made substantial investments in our manufacturing and R&D, and our next priorities are marketing and strengthening our retail network; 2013 should be a very exciting year.”

Cortland’s new investment group is made up of business executives with equally impressive resumes, from heads of Wall Street and west coast investment firms, to the founder of a respected advertising agency, the CEO of a leading publishing company, and a Texas rancher with interests in real estate and energy markets. “And, we’re all bound together by a common mission: to build Cortland into a global leader in fly-fishing and braided products – we expect to work closely with our customers and supporters as we develop and test our products along the way. Right now we just might be the best capitalized company in the fly-fishing market, too.” Brown concluded.

Jim Teeny, a long-time customer and friend of Cortland offered his own perspective from his office in Gresham, Oregon. “I have been a fly fisherman since I was 12 and active in the fly-fishing industry for over 40 years. I know something about fly tackle, and it has been my personal experience, as well as that of my wife and business partner, Donna, that without question the highest-quality fly lines are produced by Cortland. As much fishing as we do, it’s most important that our fly lines hold up in both fresh and saltwater fly fishing. Now, with such significant capital provided by their new investors, Cortland has a new energy, a more ambitious trajectory and a new sense of purpose. We are very proud to say that our Teeny fly lines are produced by Cortland.”

About Cortland Line Company:

Cortland’s history of fly line manufacturing goes back to the earliest days of the 20th century. Founded in 1915 by an avid fly angler and successful clothing merchant, Ray Smith put his experience braiding thread to work manufacturing fly line, and quickly grew to become the largest manufacturer of US-made silk fly lines. The company prospered for the next 25 years — and retooled to manufacture parachute and bomb cord for the war effort, which funded a major upgrade in its braiding technologies and manufacturing equipment.

During the post war boom, Cortland continued to grow, introducing the first modern PVC-coated fly line in 1953 (the 333), the first truly slick, glossy-coat, ultra-supple cold-water line in 1963 (the 444 “Peach”), the first high-performance shooting line in 1979 (the 444 SL), the first high-floating tip line in 2005 (the Precision Dyna-Tip), and the first crystal-clear polyethylene polymer saltwater fly line in 2008 (Cortland Crystal). Along the way, Cortland innovated the Cortland Pro Shop, the first true dealer-direct sales and marketing program designed specifically to support independent fly shops, which has been widely imitated by other fly-fishing tackle manufacturers and importers.



“The Bonefish Flat” Interview

Marshall Cutchin Skiff RepublicJ.T. Griffin just published an interview we did last week on his blog, The Bonefish Flat.   Here’s a short excerpt:

“I think it’s healthy for the market to have people passionate about building skiffs for the masses. There is no question you can build skiffs for less money just because of the evolution of technology and design.  The knowledge is not that hard to get anymore.  The guys building the boats in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s were inventing as they go along.  Now you’ve got a culture that is pretty well educated.  The longer term question is can these new designs survive from a business prospective.  Initial runs are advertised as affordable but as demand goes up price goes up.”

By the way, Griffin has a pretty interesting day job himself: he’s the Senior Vice President of Public Policy for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

Slow Fishing: Bill Schaadt and Air-Cooled Outboard History

Johnson Single-Cylinder Outboard

Johnson two-cylinder Model A-25 Outboard, originally designed as a helper motor for bicycles.

The first and only time I ever met legendary West-coast steelhead fisherman Bill Schaadt was on the west side of Loggerhead Basin in the Lower Florida Keys.  My client and I were poling very slowly, looking for laid-up tarpon, and at around 10AM we heard the sounds of a small motor approaching from Cudjoe Bay.

Eventually a tall man in a little metal skiff arrived outside the bar we were fishing.  He shut down his motor–an antique two-cylinder Johnson, from what I could tell–and stood up.  Only then did I realize he wasn’t wearing any clothes.  He broke out his fly rod and began peering over the edge of the cut.  Somehow it was obvious that he knew what he was doing.

The combination of images was too much to bear.  I poled over to talking range.  “Howdy,” I said. “Howdy,” he said back.

“That’s quite a set-up you have there. Where are you from?”


“Where did you get that boat and motor?”

“I drove here with it on the top of my car.”

“That’s a good spot you’re in right there.”

“I hope so.”

“What’s your name?”

“Bill Schaadt.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Bill.  I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Pleasure to meet you too.”

That was it.   We had fishing to do and he did too.

Two years later Bill died of lung cancer.  I hadn’t known he was sick when I saw him there in Loggerhead Basin.  Obviously he had fishing on his mind until the very end.

A couple of things stick with me from that day.  One, Bill was fishing in just the right place –it was the best fishing in the lower Keys all week.  And he got there with a tiny motor that was decades old.

It still reminds me that the best fishing is often fishing that involves what is now properly labeled “slow,” as in slow food and slow gardening.  When I finally realized that my own fish-finding senses were better tuned if I was not in a hurry, I began catching a lot more fish.

Bill Schaadt drove across the entire country to fish a single spot at the bottom of the Florida Keys.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he knew what he was doing, and why.


McGuane, Apte and Brooks Inducted into Fly Fishing Hall of Fame

Thomas McGuane

Thomas McGuane

Thomas McGuane, Stu Apte and Joe Brooks were among eight anglers inducted into the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame in Livingston Manor, New York on Saturday.  “Brooks was the fishing editor of “Outdoor Life” magazine, featured on the ABC American Sportsman’s series, wrote countless articles and ten books on fishing, including the “Complete Guide to Fishing Across North America.” Brooks also developed the “Blonde” design streamer flies that work in fresh and salt water.” Thomas McGuane is on the advisory board of Skiff Republic.

A Chico Fernandez Cuda Story

Chico FernandezHell’s Bay just posted this story from the 1960s by Chico Fernandez about dropping 7-inch barracuda flies into pods of 40-pound fish after drifting in silently in a skiff.

“But when one of more of these big cudas parted from the pack and push a big fast wake in the direction of your fly the level of excitement in the boat was tremendous. And if he took the fly, it was generally a big explosion on the surface, followed by a one second blurred as you cleared the fly line.”

We recently spent about two hours with Chico talking about canoes and poling for snook and can’t wait to share some of  his knowledge on that subject.

Eric Estrada Art

Eric Estrada ArtWe ran across Eric Estrada’s art after some deep digging in fishing and boat forums a couple of months ago, and since then we’ve come to appreciate his unique graffiti-inspired style and south Florida gangstery je ne sais quoi.

Eric was featured on MidCurrent last month, and in the bio there he reveals some of the backstory for his work: “I spent every weekend of my childhood in the Keys, from Key Largo to Key West, wading with my parents and fishing from boats and bridges.  My father is a sign painter by trade and was always painting. When I hit high school, I began doing graffiti. That phase lasted through high school, and when I was 16 a local well-known graffiti artist asked me to be his assistant. I began assisting him in painting high-end power boats, doing custom graphics on the hulls.”

You can see more of his work–and some of the videos he’s been involved in making–on

Airboat Fishing with Joan Wulff

Joan Wulff Bass FishingI’m lucky to know Joan Wulff and be able to have dinner with her at least once a year, so I got quite a chuckle out of this discovery on YouTube.  It’s Joan spin-fishing from an airboat and wading for bass in the Everglades in the 1960s.  (I’m guessing that being a “Garcia girl” is no longer high on her list of priorities.)  Even by the time this video was made, Joan had won several international fly-casting competitions and was recognized as one of the finest casters in the world.  She began fishing with her husband Lee in the Keys about this same time and still has a home there.

Joan went on to produce the best-selling fly casting instructional DVD ever made and just recently came out with a new book, Joan Wulff’s New Fly Casting Techniques. [Read more…]

Johnny Morris Gets Conservation Award

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) gave its inaugural Johnny Morris Award to its namesake, Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops.  “John L. Morris developed a love of the outdoors at early age while fishing with his father.  He started in the early 1970s with a U-Haul trailer full of the newest bass tackle and eight feet of sales space in his father’s liquor store in Springfield, Mo.”

Hemingway’s Wheeler Playmate

Ernest Hemingway Aboard Pilar

Ernest Hemingway aboard Pilar, circa 1950. Wikipedia Commons photo

It may not have been a microskiff but it it certainly showed its owner’s love of customization. Ernest Hemingway modified Pilar–a 38-foot Wheeler Playmate–to suite his flair for the dramatic:  from installing steel plates on the hull for his personal anti-Uboat campaign to replacing the fixed fighting chair with a swiveling barbershop model to pursue ever-larger fish.  (Hemingway was probably the first modern angler to boat a giant tuna on rod and reel.)

The boat also attracted journalists with larger-than-life imaginations.  Now Hemingway’s niece, Hilary Hemingway, wants to set the record straight, and turn the Pilar story into a movie while she’s at it. “‘He loved that boat,’ Hilary Hemingway said. ‘He had it longer than his first three wives,’” writes  Rod Clarke in Florida’s News-Press.

Sixty years ago this month, the Hemingway’s classic The Old Man and the Sea was featured in Life magazine and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

I’m convinced that if Hemingway had begun fishing in Keys in the 70s rather than the 30s, it would have been on a flats skiff.

“Ready for Anything”

Steve Huff, Rick Ruoff, Harry Spear

Three greats: Steve Huff, Rick Ruoff, Harry Spear

After recording a new Skiff Republic interview on Thursday, Keys legend and now boat-builder Harry Spear and I traded some wonderful (in the pure sense) observations of what it takes to be a great angler or fishing guide.  Here are a couple:

“Being great at finding fish has less to do with strategy than it does with being ready for anything to happen.”

“You have to consider all the possibilities and forget everything other than what is going to happen next with the light, the wind, the tide, fish behavior and a hundred other variables.”

“You have to completely open yourself up and let it all flow through you until you’ve absorbed and let go of everything going on.”

“The real pleasure of being on a boat on the flats or mangroves or offshore isn’t as much about the fish as it is about everything you see when you’re trying to catch them.”

“When you leave the dock not knowing where you’re going to go next, you’ve finally arrived.”

If it sounds a bit metaphysical, well, actually, it is.