RAY BROOK - Vince Wilcox likes to talk. Especially about fishing.
And with well over a million of his fishing flies having been sold in the last 15 years, Wilcox has a lot to talk about.
Wilcox is the owner of Wiley's Flies in Ray Brook, a full-service fishing and guiding outfitter.
Vince Wilcox, owner of Wileys Flies in Ray Brook, stands in front of one of many cases of hand-tied fishing flies at the store.
(News photo — Justin A. Levine)
When you walk into the small shop, there is an unending rainbow of colors greeting you, and one almost gets a glimpse of what it feels like to be a trout, perusing an endless buffet of tasty treats.
But all those colors and threads and feathers aren't actually food for the fish, they're fly fishing lures. The vast majority of those at the shop were tied by Wilcox at his work station upstairs.
Wilcox started the business in the early 2000s while he was still living in Colorado, before he moved back to the Adirondacks and opened a shop in Rainbow Lake.
After a few years, he and his wife, Andrea, bought the property in Ray Brook, which includes the fishing shop, a rental cabin, motel rooms and rented space for the Pine Cone ice cream stand.
While the name of the shop may give you the impression that it's just for fly fishing, Wilcox also offers plenty for warm-water fishermen and non-fishing visitors as well.
"Probably 75 percent of our business that we guide with is warm water - pike, bass, muskie," he said. "But the fishermen that come and that stay with us, and are staying and taking trips with us, are mostly all trout people. They're here mid-May to late June, so most of the people at that time are all fishermen.
"But July, August, those two months, it's mostly random. A lot of hikers, a lot of people that come into town (and) they don't know it's Ironman, they don't know it's rugby weekend. They just happen to see our little sign, so we fill up that way a lot of times."
He also said that on rainy days in the summer, he will sometimes see people come from the campground across the street to get a room for the night.
While he started the business as a fishing enterprise, Wilcox said having the motel has, in general, worked out.
"It was quite a process, so we just decided we were going to have to run this in the winter, but it works out good," he said. "There's quite a few people who come back once a month. They're here to do some skiing or whatever they're doing (and) it keeps the heat on."
Wilcox, who hails from Saranac Lake originally, said his dad used to tie flies so he's been around it his whole life. But it wasn't until after college that he rekindled his interest in the fishing arts.
"I moved to Colorado in 1995," he said. "I got out there in December and by January I was looking around and there's all these rivers ... and I thought 'I've gotta get back into this.'
"As soon as I started buying flies they started falling apart. They weren't working that good, and I decided to start tying my own flies again and do it that way.
"It didn't take long. From that point on it was pretty much obsession-oriented."
Wilcox began tying flies for himself and was giving them away to friends, but it took the better part of a decade before he was able to sell his flies to local shops in Colorado.
"Guys would see my flies, like my flies. I gave some to friends and things like that," he said.
In 2001, Wilcox had his second heart surgery due to a defect and was laid up for quite a while. He said muscle relaxers and pain killers were not giving him the recovery results he wanted. His doctor recommended trying something else to aid in his recovery.
"That's literally how it went down," he laughed. "I like tying and fishing (and) it was like, 'all right, I'm going to do that.'"
He said the popularity of fly fishing in Colorado dwarfs the local scene, and that fly fishing shops in the Centennial State greatly outnumber most other fishing destinations.
"It was brutal. There's so many shops in the Rocky Mountains and in Colorado that'll sell as many flies in a month as we do all year," he said.
Wilcox said he started out going from shop to shop with boxes full of flies that he had tied, and quickly earned a reputation as a quality fly-tier whose products were delivering fish.
"It didn't take long. You get them in a few shops and then all of a sudden your name's out there, you get a reputation and they're trying to get you to tie and do demos and big shows," Wilcox said. "And then I signed a contract with Idlywilde flies. So there's maybe two, three hundred guys in the world that are signature fly tiers. So you have a contract with the company and they tie your patterns. They sell them around the world and you get paid a royalty every time they sell your fly."
Wilcox said at that point he was tying about 15,000 flies each year. Working on the sometimes minuscule flies can take its toll on the neck, back, eyes and hands, so signing with a manufacturer made both physical and financial sense. He is still tying more than 10,000 flies by hand each year, and many can now be done in about a minute.
He said that he still sells about 15,000 flies at the store or through his online store, all of which are still tied by hand in Ray Brook.
Wilcox offers far more than just flies in the shop, though, and fishermen can still purchase classic fly patterns that Wilcox didn't develop himself. The shop also offers guiding services along with rods, reels, clothing and an entire room dedicated to fly-tying supplies for do-it-yourselfers.
Despite the wide array of products, Wilcox said the ancillary businesses like the rent from the ice cream stand and motel business all play into his continuing success.
"Everything kind of has to click on all cylinders," he said. "You don't make that much money in the fly shop. It's a thing of love, (and) there's a little bit of money.
"Not a lot of people get to go to work and do what they love every day. When the day comes that I don't love it anymore, I'll be done. But I don't know if that'll happen."