Casting a Line to Success

Travis Duddles and Gorge Fly Shop lead the industry

By Drew Myron

Angler and Gorge Fly Shop owner Travis Duddles shows off the trout he caught at Justesen Lake. Photos by Lindsey Duddles

Hood River’s first fly-fishing shop is now 31 years old. Established in 1992 by teenage angler Travis Duddles, Gorge Fly Shop is an
industry leader now in Odell. “Moving to Odell was the best thing we ever did,” Travis says.

In 2019, Gorge Fly Shop moved from a visible downtown Hood River storefront to an industrial spot tucked along Lower Mill Road less than 10 miles away in Odell. The new location offers a combination of walk-in retail shop and ample storage space to fulfill online orders.

As a teen, Travis built a business on fun. Three decades later, that passion endures. Many consider Travis and his shop to be bellwethers in the field of fly fishing.

From a young age, Travis was both an entrepreneur and overachiever. The Hood River wunderkind was only 8 when he first went fly fishing with an old rod he found lying around the house. By 10, he started tying flies for money.

The hobby quickly ballooned, and he produced thousands of flies each year.

Travis Duddles opened Gorge Fly Shop more than 30 years ago. Today, Travis and the business are leaders in the fly-fishing industry. Photo by Drew Myron

His patterns attracted accolades, earning first-place and runner-up finishes in competitions. Soon he was making enough money to take notice.

“I had to start filing tax returns at 12,” Travis says.

By 17, he was eager to expand his hobby.

“I had to learn to do something I love and make money at it,” he says.

Still a senior in high school, Travis pushed through classes to graduate early so he could open a storefront. With $3,000 saved from fly sales, and a bit of help from his parents, Albert and Ruth, the teenager established Gorge Fly Shop.

The small shop opened in February 1992 in Oak Mall, tucked behind Bette’s Place on Fourth and Oak streets.

The store was popular with local anglers tired of driving to Portland for gear and supplies, and with visitors who were discovering the area’s recreation possibilities.

“We opened small, and grew and grew,” Travis says. “I took everything we made and put it back into the shop.

“Back then, windsurfing was a big deal. If the wind didn’t blow, they didn’t have anything to do, so they’d shop and fish. Then we got a reputation as a destination shop.”

By 1997, the shop needed more space. It moved down the street to a larger and more visible location on the corner of Second and Oak streets.

In 2012, Travis, center, and his parents, Albert and Ruth, celebrated 20 years in business. Photo courtesy of Travis Duddles

Gorge Fly Shop was an anchor in the downtown core for 22 years.

“Customer service has made the difference,” Travis says.

By the early 2000s, as the internet grew, business models changed. Once again, Travis was an early adopter.

“We were one of the first fly shops on the web,” he says. “Online sales took off really quick.”

Today, online orders represent 90% of all sales. The shop’s comprehensive website features thousands of products. Rods, reels and waders are consistent top sellers, with customers hailing from across the world.

“We’re one of the top 5 shops in terms of sales,” Travis says. “We’ve been doing it so long.”

Though quiet with an unassuming manner, Travis, now 49, remains a leader in the field.

“He is one of the most astute players in the U.S.,” says George Cook, renowned angler and longtime representative for companies that manufacture fishing gear. “I met Travis when he was just barely out of school. I was 29, and he was 18. It was shocking to see someone of his age and caliber.

He’s dedicated to the craft and unrelenting in study. Over the years, I’ve seen lots of people come and go. He’s a real warrior of the pursuit.”

Travis resists the praise.

Travis holds a Louisiana bull redfish. Photo by Lindsey Duddles

“I’m a hard worker,” he says. “But there’s definitely luck involved.”

He is quick to credit his staff, a team of nine that includes his wife of 21 years, Lyndsey. The couple live in Parkdale and have two teenage children, Mattie and Austin.

Many of the shop employees have worked with Travis for years or have known him since he was a kid growing up in Hood River’s west end.

Travis doesn’t tie flies much anymore, though he is still fully committed to the business and has no plans to retire. He still casts a line at least once a week.

“I grew up fishing the Hood [River] where there’s piles of good trout,” he says. “The Columbia has smallmouth bass fishing, and the Deschutes has steelhead and trout. And I love tropical locations.”

In the early years of the business, before marriage and children, Travis offered guided fishing trips throughout the region. Now that the pandemic has eased, he says he looks forward to restarting hosted fishing expeditions in exotic locations.

In 2024, a small group of fly-fishing enthusiasts will travel to Christmas Island, 1,200 miles south of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.

“It’s extremely remote,” he says. “It’s fun to go explore.”

Throughout 3 decades, the more things change—store locations, sales methods and inventory—the more they stay the same.

“I like working for myself and watching it grow,” Travis says. “I still like seeing new people get excited about the sport.”

Gorge Fly Shop is at 3200 Lower Mill Road, Odell. Visit the Gorge Fly Shop website, or call (541) 386-6977.