With only $700 left, Scott Hunter had to make a choice: build fly-fishing and climbing packs full-time or move on.
He had been to the best business school, written a business model and worked with factories, but still didn’t have any products to show.
“It was a moment where you say do you shut down the business and walk away or bite down and figure out how to go about it,” he said.
Hunter decided to try. He spent $300 on a used sail-making machine he found on Craigslist, $300 on material and paid for his website for one more year.
He had $12 remaining and a dream of making practical, no-nonsense fly-fishing packs.
But first he had to learn how to sew.
The Casper native, like fishing-accessory maker Matt Cassel, is proving that an outdoor gear market already saturated with countless companies has room for one more.
On the water
Hunter’s idea started in the early 2000s with frustration on the water. Like many outdoor enthusiasts, he wanted a type of gear he couldn’t find on the market.
His beef was with fishing packs. Chest packs would become so bulky and lumpy anglers couldn't see past their feet in the water. Backpacks are a pain to take off and put back on to access line, flies and reels.
“I switched to sling packs" he said. "They’re effectively built on a big circle."
Some companies already made cross-body packs, but Hunter wanted one that didn’t slip or slide on a shoulder.
He was a finalist in 2005 in an entrepreneurship competition at the University of Wyoming, but tabled the idea. He knew he had a lot more to learn about building a business and a company.
Three years later he went to business school in New England and faced the decision to start making his own packs or give up.
“If you don’t know what’s involved in building something like that, you don’t have any business being in the business,” he said. “It was a big leap of faith, but I had a belief that there was a gap in the market.”
His background wasn’t in gear making. His mom didn’t teach him to sew as a boy and his girlfriend didn’t give him pointers.
He fought with his sail-making machine for most of 2009 before he learned to sew his first pack. It was a daypack for rock climbers, where he believed he’d find the biggest market. A second one was a smaller pack for fly-fishermen, hikers and climbers and a large mountaineering pack came next.
Soon after he built the sling pack for anglers, the one he’d wanted to build all along.
He named his company Vedavoo, after the outdoor mecca near Laramie. Now he has three people who help him sew packs and another general support person. All of his packs are hand sewn using American-made, military-grade fabric.
He still lives in New England where he went to business school and is waiting for a chance to move back home.
The Ugly Bug Fly Shop in Casper started carrying his packs in November. Hunter’s sling pack is the only one on the market the Ugly Bug’s fishing manager Blake Jackson has found that doesn’t slip.
“A lot of the annoying things that similar products do, he has gotten rid of the glitches,” Jackson said. “It’s made by a fisherman for fishermen. Instead of made by a clothing designer who doesn’t really understand the premise or the purpose.”
Cassel tells a similar story. He and his buddies were fishing on the Bighorn River in Montana and their vests were weighed down with line, flies and every fly-fishing thing they owned.
Instead of shoving everything in a vest, he wondered if anglers could put the bare essentials on a lanyard system. It was the early 1990s and Cassel figured he could create a system people wanted and sell it in catalogues along with other fishing and archery gear.
But the only person who made fly boxes that would work on his lanyard system didn’t want to work with him. Crushed, he decided to build his own fly boxes.
With a box called the Days Worth, Cliff Outdoors was born.
The Internet made niche catalogues less relevant and Cassel realized he had a product line in his boxes. They were simple, durable and tailored to types of flies and fishing expeditions.
He kept his day job in insurance until about seven years ago when he started running his business full-time. He now has 26 products in all, 13 of those are boxes. He also makes drift boat, fly tying and stream side accessories and “the best traveling gaming system ever created.”
The injection molding for his products is done largely in a plant in Riverton called Legacy Molding, and all are assembled in his downtown Casper office. He sells them to fly-fishing shops around the globe.
“Our components are American made and our products are made in Wyoming, which has a unique marketing cache,” he said. “When it goes out to a fly shop in New York or Pennsylvania it has a sticker that says Made in Wyoming and it gets their attention and they take a minute to look and see why it is different.”
His success has largely been from word of mouth.
Cliff Outdoors products are the highest selling fly boxes in the Ugly Bug, said Jackson, the fishing manager.
“It’s very impressive to me, and somewhat the American dream: Find a niche and create a career,” Jackson said. “You can still make something unique.”
It all starts with a little frustration on the water.