Owner of New West Fly Co. looks to create a story with his fly-fishing rods
Sawdust fills the air as entrepreneur Mike Kelly sits behind a finishing lathe on the deck of his home sanding a cork grip for one of his handcrafted fly-fishing rods.
“I want to create something that has a story that connects people to their local waters and adds a little more color and style to a fly rod,” said Kelly, who founded New West Fly Co. based in Steamboat Springs. “You can see these fly-fishing rods, identify them from a distance so, if anything, they create a conversation and if a fly-fisherman loves anything more than fishing, it’s talking about fly-fishing.”
Kelly introduced two models of fly-fishing rods — a five-weight fly-fishing rod called the Tailwaters and a four-weight fly-finishing rod called the Yampa — at the Mainstreet Steamboat Farmer’s Market in June. He is also planning to add a six-weight fly-fishing rod called the Elk in time for the holiday season.
Kelly said his fly-fishing rods feature high-end components, all of which are manufactured in the United States. He then uses those parts to produce his small-batch, handcrafted fly-fishing rods in Steamboat Springs.
“We build them using high modulus graphite blanks that come out of Washington State,” Kelly said. “Then I do all the wraps and the epoxy work that goes into putting the guides on, and then also hand turn the grips as well.”
It was his love of fly-fishing that brought Kelly to Steamboat Springs two years ago when he purchased a condominium at the mountain. He was working in electronic commerce retail for CVS remotely, but recently left that position to pursue his passion for creating high-quality fly-fishing rods.
“I was getting a little fed up with the corporate world,” Kelly said. “I wanted to start something that I’d love to do and that kept my mind stimulated.”
Kelly turned a spare bedroom into a workshop where he installs the grips, the reel seat and spaces the guides. It’s also where he wraps the guides and applies a thin layer of a two-part epoxy to keep them secure. He shapes and sands the cork grips on the back deck of his home when the temperature allows it.
New West Fly Co. was incorporated in January, and Kelly got a boost when his new company finished second in the 2023 Yampa Valley Entrepreneurship Center’s Community Business Pitch Competition this fall.
He introduced his fly-fishing rods last summer at the farmers market in Steamboat Springs, and the rods are now for sale at Steamboat Flyfisher and on the New West Fly Co. website at NewWestFly.com.
“It was a great entry point,” Kelly said of the farmers market. “I’m going to do it again next year, and I will also do the farmers market in Vail as we expand a bit. We’ll be at the Kris Kringle Christmas market in Vail. I think Steamboat is also doing a winter market, and I would love to be a part of that.”
Kelly said the time, craftsmanship and high-end components that go into New West Co. products offer anglers a quality product.
“I wanted something that was approachable in the fly-rod world,” Kelly said. “With these high-end rods, you can feel the fish better and there’s just more touch to it. If you’re floating a nymph, you will see more movement in the rod if a fish actually hits on it, and I like the castability of the rod that allows you to access more of the river because they’re more responsive to the cast that you make.”
Kelly said he started making fly-fishing rods for his friends and family about 10 years ago, but it was when he started searching for his own equipment that the idea for New West Fly Co. was cast.
“I was searching for a rod and wasn’t finding anything that was exciting to me,” Kelly said. “That’s when I came up with the concept for New West and thought I could bring something different to the market, something a little more creative, and bring some fun back into fly-fishing.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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