WILLIAMSTOWN — The world’s biggest fly-fishing tournament is hosted by a business located right here in the Berkshires.
Much work goes into the preparation and execution of the event, which was held on May 22 this year, on Cape Cod.
“It was our 10th annual Cheeky Schoolie Tournament,” said Ted Upton, CEO of Cheeky Fishing and Wingo Outdoors, headquartered in Norad Mill in North Adams.
As many as 600 anglers from far and near compete in the catch-and-release tournament. Prizes amount to $25,000. All proceeds go to striped bass conservation.
“It’s like organizing a grand wedding,” Upton quipped when we spoke by phone. “But, it’s well worth it to give back to striped bass.”
Cheeky Fishing is a manufacturer of high-quality fly-fishing reels, and Wingo Outdoors makes many different accessories for the outdoor and fishing enthusiast.
“We do not manufacture any of our products in the mill, but all other functions of the business are located there,” Upton said.
Products are sold online through cheekyfishing.com and wingooutdoors.com and by the largest outdoor retailers, such as Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Locally, the products can be found at Berkshire Outfitters.
“All our products go through a rigorous research and development procedure that ranges from six to 18 months, depending on the product,” Upton said.
The companies moved their headquarters from Boston to Norad Mills two years ago.
“We started the business in 2010, operating out of an apartment in Boston [for] a few years,” Upton recalled.
But, long before that, the impetus for forming the business took root in Upton’s heart and mind: “When I was growing up in Maine, I would go fly-fishing with my father and my grandfather.”
“When I was in college, I was bit by the entrepreneurial bug and started a small business,” he said.
After graduating and spending two years in corporate America, Upton wanted to build a business and work for himself.
“Why not do something I am passionate about?” he recalled asking himself. He not only loved fly-fishing, but wanted other people to get interested in and appreciate it.
“I wanted to teach people to get into the sport,” Upton said. “Not everyone has a father and/or a grandfather who can pass along their knowledge of the sport.”
“Why did you relocate the business to the Berkshires?” I asked. “After spending a decade in Boston, my wife, who grew up in New Hampshire, and I were ready to move on from city life for our growing young family.” (The Uptons are parents of three children, under age 5, including a set of twins.)
The Berkshires were appealing to Upton from both a personal and a business standpoint.
“The Berkshires are a natural jumping-off point for all things outdoors,” he said, “and it’s really the perfect region for a fast-paced, growing outdoor brand.
“The moment I saw Norad Mill, I knew it would be a great place to headquarter and grow our business,” he said. “We wanted to be in a building with other businesses. To be involved and invested in the community.
“Since moving to Norad Mill, we’ve grown our team [at headquarters] from three full-time employees to nine full-time employees, and space has been expanded by 150 percent.”
Now, as COVID-19 protocols and restrictions are being lifted, their business has been increasing, he said.
For the past two years, the fly-fishing tournament has been a virtual event due to the pandemic, and reverting to a live tournament next year is certainly something to look forward to. Upton is ready to go full steam ahead with the fly-fishing tournament as well as Cheeky Fishing and Wingo Outdoors.
“We have no plans to slow down, and we’re always looking for great people as we build out our team in the Berkshires,” he said.