ANCHORAGE - Casting about for new fund-raising opportunities, the Alaska Fly Fishers club noted the lingering ripples of the fly-fishing boom, considered the marketability of Alaska and decided there might be a way to bring the two together to produce cold, hard cash.
Starting this year, the 500-member club is moving seriously into merchandising. Look for fly boxes, hats, T-shirts, pocket knives and other merchandise adorned with the Alaska Fly Fishers logo coming soon to a fishing shop near you.
The Anchorage-based Fly Fishers have dabbled in merchandise for decades.
"Fly Patterns of Alaska," a book longtime club member Dirk Derksen first pulled together for the organization in the early 1980s, is an Alaska best seller. Hats embroidered with Alaska Fly Fishers trademark fly, the Alaska Mary Ann, have been in local fishing shops for years, if intermittently.
"It's never been aggressively pursued," admitted new Fly Fishers president Bob Fairchild.
The club would, for instance, get some hats embroidered with the club's trademark Alaska Mary Ann and pass them along to Mountain View Sports or McAffee's Fly Shop for sale. The hats would promptly sell out. Retailers looking for more would find out there were none.
Club merchandising, Fairchild said, "has always been kind of an afterthought."
No more, in large part thanks to J.J. Pilgreen. In 1999, Pilgreen was a power forward for the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves basketball team lured north by a college scholarship, although he now admits that he was more interested in the chance to connect with Alaska fishing than to play hoops.
After Pilgreen left UAA, he jumped into the local fishing business.
"I own a local marketing company, and basically I'm a manufacturers' sales rep for the fly-fishing industry," he said.
A Fly Fishers member for four or five years, Pilgreen also happens to be a young, enthusiastic friend of new club president Fairchild, an avid fly-angler and a big club booster.
Before long, Pilgreen had taken over marketing Fly Fishers merchandise.
"What's happened in the past, in looking back through the numbers and everything, is that we've kind of broken even with the merchandise," Pilgreen said.
"It's tough. It's a volunteer board that's elected. It's all volunteers who do this. Someone takes on the responsibility who has a job and a family; it's tough to do.
"But I'm single. I'm young. I run a marketing company. It's very easy for me. It's easy for me to make one phone call and get things done."
In one way or another, the Fly Fishers have been in the fund-raising business since a group of anglers founded the organization in 1973. Funds needed for promotion and conservation efforts only grew over the years.