Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
BLUE RIDGE — It is always good to return to this mountain community where tourists like to hang out. Anytime of the year is a good time to come to Blue Ridge, especially now with the leaves turning and everybody enjoying the opportunity to put another log on the fire.
Walking the streets and browsing the shops only requires that you allocate the time for a pleasant drive to the mountains. There are plenty of nice restaurants including a favorite, “Harvest on Main.” If you order trout, your affection for good cooking is heightened by knowing that your dinner came from one of the nearby streams. The atmosphere is as refreshing as the environment, and you might find David Ralston, Georgia Speaker of the House enjoying lunch with friends.
Down the street from “Harvest on Main,” you can experience something unique if you observe Bill Oyster holding a class for fly fishing aficionados who build their own bamboo fly rods.
At almost any point of the year, you will find a half dozen people, or more, learning from the master. The finished product will be their very own fly rod which means fishing becomes more personal, more satisfying when you hook a fish and more memorable. Most of all, more fulfilling when fly fishers spend time on the river and cast with their own equipment which can only be exceeded by netting a big rainbow.
As they work, fashioning their fly rods, fly fishers conjure up images of what it will be like when they get on the river and hook that nice rainbow. When their handiwork is complete, they can wander over to the nearby Toccoa River and test their equipment. Who knows, they may choose to christen their personal fly rod on a popular river in Montana or Idaho. Or Canada. Or Scotland. More often than not, it’s the Toccoa, which offers you the quickest and most convenient option.
To appreciate the artistry for which Bill Oyster is known-even internationally-all you have to do is peruse his promotional materials or the Internet to learn what goes on at “Oyster Fine Bamboo Fly Rods” at 534 East Main Street: William “Bill” Oyster is a full-time career bamboo fly rod maker. Each Oyster Bamboo fly rod is intensely hand crafted. Bill is the only professional bamboo fly rod maker in the world who personally hand engraves his own rods. The performance and aesthetics of each rod is truly remarkable. Bill has been commissioned to make rods for many of the world’s finest anglers including former President Jimmy Carter. As the most prolific teacher of this rod making art alive today, Bill draws students from as far away as England and Scotland as well as every corner of the U.S. to his southern mountain town studio in Blue Ridge.
Word of mouth advertising has brought people from far away places to enroll in classes with Bill to make a bamboo rod from start to finish. And when you start, you begin with bamboo which originates from the Sui River Valley in China, “Tonkin bamboo,” which comes from only 20 square miles of the precious stuff.
Bill enrolls classes year round, a six day course with a routine of 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or whenever the student has had enough for the day. Then they gather at one of the local restaurants or watering holes and talk about what they have experienced.
The base cost of producing a bamboo fly rod at Bill’s shop is $1,390 but you could spend $10,000 or more if you like. He sells many fly rods in the $4,000 - $5,000 range. This is about the only place in the country where you can find high end fly rods for sale. It brings about a rarefied atmosphere for a fly fisherman to own a fly rod with “Oyster” engraved on it. In the fly fishing industry that name is the ultimate in branding. To have your product endorsed by a former President of the United States is about as good as it gets. Bill has guided President Carter on North Georgia streams for years, most often the Soque River, near Clarksville.
The consummate craftsman, Bill, (and his wife Shannen, his business partner), treats every customer alike — like you are the most important fly fisherman ever to find your way to Blue Ridge.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.