Scientific Anglers fly line made right here in Michigan
by Allen Crater
If you’ve ever drifted a dry fly, dangled a dropper or stripped a streamer, you likely know the importance of fly line. You may not know that the world’s largest fly line manufacturer resides in Midland, Michigan.
Scientific Anglers began in 1945 with three men (Leon P. Martuch, Clare Harris and Paul Rottiers) and a single vision: to become the unequivocal champion of fly-line production through leading market innovation and development during fly fishing’s early widespread industrialization.
SA is credited with being the first fly line manufacturer to break from the tradition of braided silk lines by introducing something genuinely revolutionary: polymer-coated fly lines. Their proprietary manufacturing method allowed them to adjust tapers infinitely, creating lines tailor-made for different environments and various applications.
In 1954, they introduced Air Cel — the first modern floating fly line. In the late ’50s, micro balloons were introduced in the new Air Cel Supreme lines, revolutionizing how fly lines float.
In the ’60s, Scientific Anglers introduced Wet Cel, the first modern sinking fly lines. In the ’80s, SA pioneered powdered tungsten in sinking fly lines, producing lines that sunk faster than lead-based versions and were safer for the environment.
Later that decade, SA introduced silicone as a slickness agent, a technology that was soon copied throughout the industry and is still used today. A decade after, they established a new level of slickness with the introduction of AST — Advanced Shooting Technology, beginning a new craze in fly-line manufacturing. The patented AST continues to set the standard for fly-line shootability (a line’s ability to be cast through the guides) and durability today.
In the early 2000s, advancements led to the first-ever textured fly line, the Sharkskin, which hit the market to widespread acclaim. By embossing a diamond-shaped pattern on the length of each line, Scientific Anglers vastly reduced friction, leading to lines that floated higher, shot farther, and lasted longer than anything previously produced.
More recent ameliorations include the introduction of AST+, an additive that becomes part of the line material itself rather than being applied as a coating. AST+ improved line slickness over the previous industry-standard AST by 50%, further reducing friction and adding years of durability. They also launched the Absolute series of leader and tippet, featuring a proprietary co-polyblend tippet that reduces water absorption while remaining supple, providing 40% stronger wet-knot strength than the closest competing brand.
But fly line, leader, and tippet aren’t the only industry advancements Scientific Anglers has pioneered. In 2021, they launched the first paperboard fly-line spool, replacing traditional plastic spools — each containing the same amount of plastic as two five-weight fly lines. Using a paper board spool, SA eliminated tons of plastic in the waste stream per season. And, just last year, they launched the Regulator spool, a patent-pending line-management device that creates and dispenses coils of fly line for ease of storage and weight reduction when traveling.
When the word “scientific” is in your name, it only stands to reason that innovation becomes engrained in your DNA.
I recently had the opportunity to fish with my buddy Joe, Scientific Anglers marketing manager, on a trip to Nipigon, Ontario. When I got the invite, I didn’t know much about the outing other than it involved chasing overgrown native brook trout, known as coasters, with a fly rod. It sounded like the perfect environment to test new lines and chase a bucket-list fish, so I was quickly in.
Within an hour of arriving, Joe motored us into a cove in sight of the lodge. I started in the front, attempting to gain my balance while zipping streamers into the shoreline, and he ran the outboard, doing his best to keep me in position and out of the rocks while dueling the Lake Superior wind and waves. About 10 or 15 casts in, I had my first follow. I gave a quick pause and twitch, the line went tight and then started peeling.
The strike was more violent than I anticipated, and the relatively small brookie, at least by coaster standards, began working me over like a tomato can. He circled the boat, dove deep and made a long run before I managed to get him on the reel and work him back close.
“Agwwessive, eh?” Joe snickered with a mouthful of dry Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups before he grabbed the net. We finally landed the fish, probably in the 18-inch range, and I briefly admired the coveted silvery torpedo before releasing him back into the clear, frigid water and switching spots.
We managed a dozen more between us, all in the 16 to 22-inch category, before heading in for dinner, a hearty venison spaghetti, and comparing notes with the rest of the crew.
Using the metaphor of a person, Joe would be considered the voice of Scientific Anglers, ensuring the right messages get into the market and upholding the high standards of the respected brand. Originally from the small town of AuGres, Michigan, Joe has spent most of his adult life in the outdoor industry, guiding in Alaska, working retail and as a wholesale marketing manager, before coming to SA and landing his dream job. Having spent a lot of time with Joe, I can tell you two things for certain: he has the worst diet of any living person I know, and he loves to fish for all types of species in all ways (and he’s dang good at it).
If Joe is the SA voice, it would be fair to say that Erick Johnson, AKA “Moose,” is more than likely the face. If you’ve ever reached out to SA with a question, attended a casting class or been part of a Michigan river clean-up, you’ve likely crossed paths with Moose, the affable head of their terrific customer service team.
But Moose is more than a pretty face; he has been with Scientific Anglers for over 10 years, initially starting as a temp processing warranty returns for rods and reels and answering phones. Since then, he’s worked through the customer service department and now oversees the entire team, managing the guides, outfitters, lodges and pro staff that use SA products.
“It’s a very rewarding place to work and, in the span of an hour or two, I might be talking with a brand-new angler setting up their first rod and then helping a 30-year veteran fly fisherman dial in his gear for the trip of a lifetime across the world. In between, I’m helping coordinate orders between our dealers, sales reps, and customer service team on six different continents. One of the most fulfilling things was earning my FFI Casting Instructor Certification. This has provided me the opportunity to teach fly casting at events around the state, like Women- N -Waders, Trout Unlimited Youth Camp, and others – it’s a way for me to give back and share the sport I love.”
He’d hate the title, but keeping with the metaphor, Josh Jenkins is the brains behind most of the new products that SA develops and launches. With an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and a graduate degree in product development, Josh serves as the research and development manager at Scientific Anglers. At SA, he has launched the Amplitude and Amplitude Smooth family of fly lines and the expansive Absolute series of leader and tippet. But don’t let the “brainiac” title fool you, Josh is a total stick (described by a few co-workers as one of the purest fly casters they know — and that’s saying something), and when he’s not at work or with his family, he’s obsessively chasing fish.
As an engineer and angler, Josh said, “I love my job at SA because it provides the unique combination of in-house manufacturing and consumer product development. On any given day, I can work to improve or optimize our production equipment or choose to develop products for anglers like myself.”
But a healthy body is empty without a vibrant soul. An inner energy and guiding force — the je ne sais quois, as the French like to say — Brad Befus, the President of Scientific Anglers, fills that role.
He casts a vision for the future and ensures the company stays true to its core.
Brad has spent his entire life in the fly-fishing industry — as a fly shop employee, manager, owner, destination travel host, professional fly tyer, and manufacturer’s sales director for nearly two decades.
I’m honestly not sure when Brad sleeps, working harder than most anyone I know, dedicating time to his family, participating in numerous conservation efforts and still finding a few hours to chase fish and author two books on the subject successfully.
“Technology, innovation, and an outside-the-box approach is the fuel that powers SA, and It is both rewarding and humbling to be a part of such a passionate team of individuals,” Brad said. “One of our core missions is the development of products that help solve problems for anglers — improving their overall experience on the water. As such, everyone here is focused on designing, manufacturing and delivering innovative, high-performing products, then supporting those products with best-in-class service. Beyond that, we challenge ourselves daily to be the best stewards of the natural resources our business relies on and to support fly fishing education for youth and newcomers to the sport.”
To Brad’s point, everything at Scientific Anglers is a team effort, and success depends on the whole body. The arms and legs. The hands and feet. The heart. The lifeblood. The folks who get it done.
From shipping and receiving to production and packaging, and equipment maintenance to customer service, SA’s team of 36 is never content to rest on their laurels — constantly striving to push the boundaries of materials science even further for a brand that is proudly made in Michigan and fished all over the world (including chasing feisty coaster brook trout in Canada).