May 2, 2018

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
Flying Fisherman associate Brittany Burchfield arranges some of the Islamorada company's outdoor apparel available at the Tavernier retail outlet. Flying Fisherman has expanded from a line of angling sunglasses to include clothing, travel fishing rods and the popular SunBandit protective headwear.   

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press Flying Fisherman associate Brittany Burchfield arranges some of the Islamorada company's outdoor apparel available at the Tavernier retail outlet. Flying Fisherman has expanded from a line of angling sunglasses to include clothing, travel fishing rods and the popular SunBandit protective headwear.   

TAVERNIER — The Flying Fisherman outdoor gear company could have taken wing to any place in the nation but remains firmly rooted in the Upper Keys.

“It’s the Florida Keys, where everybody knows the fishing is spectacular!” declared company president Pat Sheldon.

“Because of where we live,” he continued, “people realize that we know what we’re doing.”

The Flying Fisherman company has mushroomed from a single rack of affordable polarized sunglasses sold at a partyboat’s ticket booth in 1985 to a recognized fishing-accessories brand represented in 56 countries. 

“Our merchandising started at the ‘Miss Tradewinds’ booth in Islamorada. We needed to pay the rent,” Sheldon recounted. “Now we’ve been in business for 35 years, with a million customers worldwide.”

Flying Fisherman sunglasses with the patented AcuTint polarized lenses — tested and finally approved by demanding Keys fishing legends Clarence Lowe and Al Flutie — now can be found in Walmart, Amazon.com, Bass Pro Shops and World Wide Sportsman, among many outlets.

The company currently offers 50 styles of sunglasses, from the affordable Action Angler line starting under $20, to the Master Angler RhinoLens midrange line (starting under $70) and professional Master Angler Glass series (up to $150).

Still headquartered in Islamorada, the Flying Fisherman does some retail sales and the bulk of its shipping and handling from a 15,000-square-foot warren of interconnecting rooms at its 171 Hood Ave. location in Tavernier.

“From one room that rented for $150 a month, it just kept growing,” Sheldon said.

The Flying Fisherman brand originated with R.V. “Gadabout” Gaddis, a dedicated mainland angler who flew his private plane far and wide to film some of television’s earliest outdoor programs. 

Sheldon was a musician and sound engineer who always longed to spend more time on the water. 

“I came down to the Keys to spend a week in a Conch house and fish,” he said. “I wound up staying 47 years.” 

Sheldon acquired the Flying Fisherman name in 1980 to host fishing shows and catch reports on South Florida television stations. The name recognition helped spur interest in the first line of Flying Fisherman sunglasses.

“Our focus is totally fishing and our sport-fishing optics are designed by fishermen for fishermen, with a focus on function, style and value,” a company statement says. 

The business now also produces the Passport line of fishing poles crafted for travel, along with more than 20 styles of T-shirts and outdoor performance apparel. 

Keys marine artist Pasta Pantaleo this year has created four new designs that join the line of Flying Fisherman’s SunBandit protective headwear. 

“People love Pasta’s work,” Sheldon said.

Pat and Linda Sheldon still lead the company. Linda’s son Bobby Vaughn, a flats guide who doubles as company account manager, and wife Michelle Vaughn help run operations. 

“We have every intention of keeping this a family affair,” Sheldon said.

For more information, visit flyingfisherman.com.

kwadlow@keysnews.com