There was a time when I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. I was LOST. I had met Jan and given up the rock and roll highway. Now, what was I going to do? I had made music for a living all of my adult life and now I had no idea of any way to make a living. A friend of mine, the Missouri trout biologist, knew I was good at tying trout flies. I had done it since I was a kid, and he set me up with a client on Lake Taneycomo. He would buy everything I tied. So there I sat tying trout flies in the kitchen all day while Jan was at work. Not a bright future as I saw it but at least I would be doing it with Jan.
At some point, I was offered an opportunity to open a fly fishing and backpacking shop in the Ozarks. That sounded great. We found an old abandoned bus station and, with the help of one of the partners, went about the labor of converting it into a store. It turned out to be quite a beautiful place, the wall covered in cedar with racks full of backpacking equipment and fly fishing materials.
And then came the truth. I had lived my life as an artist and now I had to make a living as a merchant. Wow. If ever there was a change in direction that would be one of them. So off I went. I had always been involved in adventure and the outdoors. My college years had led me to the brink of a Masters Degree in oceanography so I understood the outdoor environment. But putting together a business based on that was something I had never considered.
I had been involved with the Conservation Department for years doing public service announcements whenever they needed one. And I was very involved with stopping the Meramac dam. So, while I was no longer a road musician, I and my guitar still had something to offer. Joel Vance at the department’s publication, The Missouri Conservationist, did a story about this fly fishing musician. Being written about by one of my favorite writers was really cool and I hope, deserved.
It looked like I was set up for success. I was getting recognition for something other than Brewer and Shipley and that illegal hit song. “I guess I am a real person after all and not just one half of something out of Hollywood,” I would think to myself as I presented a fly rod to a customer.
However, like it or not I was still an artist. While I sold backs, tents, and outdoor clothing my heart wasn’t in it. Part of the store was dedicated to fly fishing and if there were no customers around I could be found at my bench trying to design a new trout fly. Like all good stores in that genre, I was surrounded by hooks, feathers, fur, rods, and reels. While that was bringing me a bit of a reputation as a trout fisherman and fly tier I was also trading mostly in items that sold for $1.25. A good creative move but a financial disaster.
Undoubtedly, the best thing to come out of Ozark Mountain Sports were the friends I made. To this day I still hold them, dear. I have waded the shoals of the Current River with them, sat in the bed of their pickups trading stories, and in one case even traveled to the wilds of Yucatan and Costa Rica with an old fly shop friend. Current River hosts a lot of people that stopped by our fly shop. Some are still using flies that we came up with decades ago. So some of the things that we did back then were more than just business. And I do take pride in those people who we turned on to the tradition of fishing with a fly.
Without a doubt, the most important thing at Ozark Mountain Sports was a small publication of sorts. A multi-fold map to the trophy trout streams of Missouri. Using USGS maps and my own experiences I was able to answer the question most asked at the shop. “Where can I go to catch a big trout?” At that point, Jan was working at the local newspaper doing ad layout. She deftly put into real print the maps I had drawn which included access points to the rivers and some description of what to expect when getting there. To this day I still run into people who first used them as they became involved in the pastime.
In closing a note to those who don’t understand or say “ich” when it comes to any kind of fishing. First, fly fishing may be one of the older sports in existence, first written about by Dame Juliana Berners in The Boke Of St. Albans in 1496. So it has some history going for me. In the modern-day, its devotees include a lot of well known people. Tom Brokaw, Oprah Winfrey, Harrison Ford, Lindsay Vonn, Kevin Costner, and of all people Barack Obama, as well as musicians like Jimmy Buffett and Eric Clapton. Clapton holds Ice land’s record for the largest Atlantic salmon. Of course, he does. He even has a fly rod named after him. The Slow Hand Special.
Eventually, Ozark Mountain Sports faded into history. And Kansas City’s classic rock station asked us if we would do a reunion concert to celebrate their first year anniversary. Of course, I would. We were pretty broke and could use the money and it would be fun to make music with Michael again. It didn’t take long before we started getting offers. I was no longer burned out and the road bum I had been back in the day. So Brewer and Shipley began touring again and the future held nothing but promise. And from what I can tell, the promise was kept and turned out to be almost too good to be true.