A week ago, I was covered in sawdust, industrial-strength adhesives and varnishes, using power tools, wearing ear, eye, and breathing protection. Why? To understand the process by which hand-crafted oars for drift boats, rafts, kayaks, SUP’s, and canoes are made. …
Smallmouth Bass are a “Big Deal” in the recreational angling industry. Big enough that for more than the last 200 years, anglers have been pursuing them using varied techniques all across the United States as impacts to their native range increase. Like cold water species, demands on Smallmouth habitat and conservation are issues that anglers and fishing guides are paying big attention to. Once an Upper Midwest species that thrived in specific watersheds, you can find Smallmouth and anglers chasing them in places like California, Texas, Washington and referred to by many names – bronzeback, brown bass, brownie, smallie, bronze bass, and bareback bass.
There are a fair number of well-known guides that pursue these fish with great interest, including Team Sawyer Ambassador Tim Landwehr at Tight Lines Fishing Company in Wisconsin. Guides like Tim and others in the Midwest have written books about Smallmouth, including “Smallmouth: Modern Methods, Tactics and Techniques” chronicling their passion. So, with the attention being paid to this species, anglers have followed a familiar model for protecting them, and raising awareness to ensure a future for their fisheries and the natural world.
One of the groups working to protect these fish is led by Mike Simon, Founding Member of the Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance. “We’re very excited about partnering with Sawyer Paddles & Oars. Funding for our projects is so important, and an opportunity like this doesn’t come around very often.” Mike says that the need and requests for conservation work grow each year. “This year’s projects include working with other organizations to continue supporting children’s programs. We are working with the newly forming Northern Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance. We are helping to fund access to the Couderay River and to get special regs on the St. Croix and Namekogan Rivers (part of the National Scenic Riverways). We have also received a request to fund stocking of smallmouth bass in Little Falls Lake in the Willow River State Park. We’ve recently purchased new aluminum signs that will continue our program of posting “Free the Fighter” signs at landings around the state.”
There are groups of anglers following the example of Wisconsin, with members in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan, where Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters guides clients and operates a fly shop. Mike and his team offer guided trips on six rivers in Southern Michigan and in exotic locations, but his “local” water, the Huron River, is the river his shop is on and is truly a gem of a Smallmouth stream. Flowing 125 miles from its origin in Oakland County, to the mouth at Lake Erie, the Huron is a varied and productive fishery. Schultz Outfitters is the only full time fly fishing guide service working the entire Huron River watershed. One of his signature fly patterns, the Swinging D, is a six-inch long foam head baitfish imitation that mimics a wounded meal for a hungry Smallmouth. I’ve got a few in my streamer box, and their massive profile is intimidating, but appealing to anglers too.
So, why is a 53-year old paddle and oar company based in Oregon excited about a Midwest fish found in warm water? Well, for one, our founder Ralph Sawyer is a Michigander (so is the author) who made his name as a canoe racer on the Au Sable, the same places where anglers and guides like Tim and Mike have made their careers. And, we care about conservation; not just cold water species, but fish that our customers and Ambassadors advocate for. When I visited Tim and his crew at their shop and “guide house” in Wisconsin last summer, I found guides just as passionate and “real” as anywhere. Same boats, same stories, same Ping Pong table (ahem, we did beat the guys from SCOTF at a match) in a well-worn garage complete with grill, supplies, and fly-making materials scattered about.
Among our lively discussions was creating a new Artisan Series SquareTop Oar featuring a well known warm-water species artist named Matt Stockton. Matt’s work has been featured on Simms products, fly shops, lodges, and stickers on probably most of Michigan’s guide boats. Like our Artisan Series artists, Matt is an angler who expresses his passion for fishing and conservation visually, and his work is striking and expressive. When I reached out to him for a partnership, he had already heard that Sawyer was interested and we progressed quickly in the design and production process. In March, Tim and Mike will launch his signature Smallmouth Oar at two of the biggest fly fishing shows in the country, the MidWest Fly Fishing Show and the Great Waters Fly Expo.
Their shops will be the exclusive source for pre-ordering until March 23rd, when this model will be available at Sawyer Station and at select Authorized Dealers across the country. Proceeds from the sales of this oar will benefit the conservation projects and work done by the Smallmouth Alliance groups across the country. We at Sawyer Paddles and Oars are excited to partner with passionate anglers, artists, and conservation groups working to protect places and species they care about. Through our collaborations, financial support is provided to fund their programs and goals. Join us in celebrating their work and “functional art” with the Artisan Series SquareTop Oar!