YARMOUTH, Maine — When we lose a parent, it’s natural to step back and take stock of our own lives. It happened to Jeff Davis at an especially emotional time: he was returning to Maine after settling his father’s estate and thinking about how much his dad loved fly fishing. What happened on that trip changed the course of Davis’s life.
"On my way back cross-country with a trailer in tow and his fly gear right in the front seat so I could play with it on the way home, a lightbulb went off. And it was just something I couldn’t get out of my head. Fly fishing. It’s all I wanted to do. It was a really deep-rooted connection that I found with him, oddly – after his passing," Davis recalled.
In the months that followed his father’s death, Davis couldn’t push away the strong desire to find healing in the outdoors by standing in a river and casting a line.
Davis remembers his father's love for fishing.
"He’d always talk about the salmon and fly fishing but never really took me out. We didn’t really do it together ... so I started building rods," he said. "It became an outlet."
Over time, that outlet became a business. But there were no guarantees.
"Starting Maine Fly Company was probably one of the scariest things I’d ever done. It was a tremendous leap of faith. It was a tremendous gamble. But for the first time in my life, [it was] one that I just knew I needed to take," Davis recalled.
He had just become a father to twin boys, which added to his determination.
"How do I want to raise these boys? Dad coming home late and leaving early with a briefcase? Or Dad living a dream and inspiring these boys to do the same," he said. "That was very important to me."
In the corporate world, Davis had helped companies operate more efficiently. It involved curiosity and problem-solving. He applied those skills to building fly rods by taking them apart and figuring out how to build a better rod.
Maine Fly Company produces several small batches of fly rods each year. A batch can be anywhere from 50 to several hundred rods.
"I was really inspired by the breweries, the crafting. The idea was that we were not interested in replicating mass production," Davis said. "We don’t want to make ten thousand of anything."
Davis sees his company as a tribute to the resurgence of craftsmanship in Maine.
"I’ve always been so respectful of the furniture makers and all these folks, but even better, the old bamboo guys that were making the bamboo," he said. "It is an expiring generation."
The company designs and builds all of the rods in an old brick mill in Yarmouth, overlooking the Royal River. Each batch of rods bears the name of one of the hundreds of waterways in Maine, like the Magalloway River or the Roach River.
Fly fishermen and women know that different conditions require different rods. The weight, the feel, even the look of the rod -- those qualities matter.
LeeAnne Conway builds rods for Maine Fly. It's detailed work. In one phase of building the rod, she applies epoxy to the rod guides, then allows the rods to rotate for eight hours while it dries. She met Davis on a fishing trip and learned how to build rods. Once she learned the intricacies, she was hooked.
"Once I was able to make my own fly, make my own fly rod – I mean, it doesn’t get better than that," Conway said with a smile.
Fly fishing can take you to some of the most beautiful parts of our state. For Jeff Davis, the sport helped him to heal.
"My thing is – first, fall in love with standing in the middle of a river because that in itself is the passion ... When you love the idea of hearing that sound just running through your knees while you’re disconnected from technology and just living in a postcard, the idea of a fish is a bonus."
Davis feels as though a business like his is one of the silver linings of the pandemic. The last few years kept people close to home, searching for ways to spend time outdoors. To learn more about Maine Fly Company, click here.