On the Way Out
Former Vice President of Winston Rod Co. will miss Madison County
Jim Murphy thought he’d be working at R.L. Winston Rod Company for at least five more years. He moved to Sheridan, Montana in 2016, adopted a dog named Beau from the Beaverhead County Animal Shelter, rented a white house along Mill Creek and took his place as the Director of Exports at the warehouse in Twin Bridges, Montana.
A year and a half into the job, he became the vice president. Murphy worked with the design team to create and market the high-quality fly-fishing rods that R.L. Winston Rod Co. is known for. His design, the Winston AIR TH, won the award for best new fly rod at the Brussels’ 2019 European Fishing Tackle Trade Exhibition in June.
He’s won many awards during his 28 years in the fishing industry.
“It’s not just me, it’s the team,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s little white house that he thought he’d buy one day, was almost empty inside. A green chair, a white sofa, a couple of Turkish-style rugs and Beau’s dog bed remained. All of which, except for Beau’s bed, now belonged to the land-lady who is worried about finding a new tenant. He sold most everything else, and the rest was in the small U-Haul trailer that sat unhitched beside the road.
Down the dirt road immediately after Sheridan welcomes people to its town, where the booming mining district of Brandon once existed, was the first and only place that Murphy lived in western United States. He’s lived all over the world and regards this section of the Big Sky as one of the finest.
Mill Creek takes a sharp turn before rushing by the little white house Murphy lived in for three years.
“Brook trout just fills the backyard,” Murphy said.
For Murphy, fly fishing is an escape. A meditative state washes over him and the land appears to move as if it were a river and the water seems to slow down in his focus. The sport is a strong part of his relationship with his four adult sons.
Originally from Massachusetts, Murphy’s path to becoming a leader in the fly-fishing industry was unconventional. It began with his first love, books. He jokes with his wife of 41 years, Tess, an oil painting restoration specialist, that he’s loved books longer than her, not more, but longer.
Tess and Murphy met in England, where he went to university. They moved to Martha’s Vineyard and got married. Murphy worked as a commercial fisherman and enjoyed diving for scallops. They began their family on the island.
Murphy opened academic libraries in college towns all over the country during the ‘80s and early ‘90s. He marketed the libraries as a necessary part of the university experience, especially to northeastern ivy league university-towns.
“You can’t have a university town without an academic library,” Murphy said.
His marketing strategy was hatched: sell an experience and people will buy the product. Murphy understands this better than most.
In 1987, Murphy purchased a historic gristmill on the Sawmill River outside of Amherst, Massachusetts and transformed it into a used bookstore, the Montague Bookmill. When Amazon came along and the market for retail bookstores spiraled, Murphy sold the business. But the Bookmill was a “labor of love” for Murphy and upon its sale, the new owner had to be well intended on operating the building as a bookstore.
Thomas & Thomas, a fly rod company out of Michigan, couldn’t convince Murphy to sell the Bookmill to them, so they offered him a job.
Murphy saw an opportunity in the industry. He moved to Stuart, Florida and started the rod company, Redington in 1992, shortly after the movie A River Runs Through It was released. As fans flocked to fly shops to buy rods, the market boomed.
“A River Runs Through It came out with a rather expensive outtake in the industry,” Murphy said. “I wanted to create something more accessible, pricewise.”
He and David Redington created a $195 fly rod and it was a success. They were one of the first companies in the fly-fishing industry to offer no questions asked lifetime warranties for their products.
Since Murphy’s inception to the fly-fishing industry, he sold Redington to Sage, served as the President of Hardy North America for several years, founded more rod companies – Albright Tackle and Douglas Outdoors in New York – and took a director position with Winston Rod Co., where he rose to vice president before leaving.
R.L. Winston Rod Co. recently decided to consolidate its business, according to Murphy. A decision that Murphy said was reasonable, making the business more manageable. Some of the ambitious company leaders that are “retiring” won’t be replaced.
The company employees about 40 people in Twin Bridges., Montana. According to Jeff Evans, the operations manager of R.L. Winston Co., the company will continue to grow and keep its 90-year-tradition of high-quality performance fly fishing rods.
Though fly fishing is becoming more popular, the retail market of the industry is competing with recycled products being sold online. The old distribution model that drove the market to its peak in the ‘90s doesn’t exist, according to Murphy. Consumer expectations are high, new products have to hit the market more often than ever before, and that takes personnel and an ambitious design team.
Winston Rod Co. has a personal history with its home, Twin Bridges, Montana. It’s a small town in the Ruby Valley with a small employee pool, which can make consistent employment difficult. According to Murphy, moving the company to an area with more human resources could solve the issue.
But R.L. Winston Rod Co. is committed to Twin Bridges – its history as essential as its personnel. Though the demand is hard to keep up with, the company doesn’t target customers whom appeal to a larger production model. Quality rods is their target.
Murphy might disagree with some of R.L. Winston Rod Co.’s business ideals, but is confident in its ownership, David Ranch, and leadership.
“Winston belongs to the industry, David is a care taker,” Murphy said. “It belongs to the culture and experience. It’s important that I support Winston.”
Murphy loved living in Madison County. He loved the community and the “overwhelming friendliness, openness and acceptance” that he felt. As a poet, Murphy said that the beauty of it all was constant inspiration, but the most difficult part is leaving the R.L. Winston Rod Co. team.
“You come to care about people, their families and kids,” Murphy said. “And then it just disappears.”
Though relieved to be more help to his family during hurricane season, the little white house on Mill Creek is Murphy’s favorite place that he’s lived.
“It’s been 12 years since I’ve lived at home,” Murphy said.