Fly Fishing, What We're Made Of

What We’re Made Of: Waterworks- Lamson

While some companies, like Smith, or Scott, are considered shining examples of entrepreneurs and brands coming out of the Sun Valley area, Waterworks-Lamson has been in business in the area (and beyond) close to 20 years. Created originally as a way to simply release fly-caught fish better, Waterworks-Lamson is now sold worldwide and has developed many more reels and rods than their original Ketchum Release tool innovated in its namesake town.

Michale, Ryan, and Mark

How It Started

The company that would become Lamson, and later Waterworks-Lamson, was started in 1996 by brothers Michael and Ryan Harrison and Michael’s brother-in-law, Mark Farris. The trio had moved to Ketchum in 1989 and were designing bike technology in the world of high-performance cycling, creating and patenting cutting-edge components like frame designs and mountain bike suspension systems. As outdoorsmen who loved skiing, biking, and fishing, Ketchum seemed the perfect place to live and test out bikes and, later, fly-fishing gear.

The three men were avid fisherman who found themselves frustrated with the hemostat, the go-to at the time for releasing fly-caught fish, for the harm it caused the fish and the fly. With their product design background, they came up with a solution, an innovative tool that allowed a fish to be released without handling and for the fly to remain intact. They named the tool after their new hometown, the Ketchum Release. With this new product under their belt, the Harrisons and Ferris started their new company, Waterworks. After a few years in business as Waterworks, the company had the opportunity to buy established brand Lamson from Sage. After introducing Waterworks designs under the Lamson brand, the company was able to reach a much wider audience.

The Product

After the success of the Ketchum Release, Waterworks-Lamson expanded to include other accessories and, just a few years in, began introducing their first reels, a logical move considering the founders’ backgrounds in bike design; reels are, after all, essentially a wheel on a frame. At the time, fly reels were heavy, unreliable, and overly complex, with slow retrieve rates and lines that would coil and drag tension as they fed out. Early R&D by the men resulted in technologies like the ultra-large arbor (ULA), power arm frame, conical sealed drag, and integrated counterbalance that would form the architecture of future reels. In the 17 years since the company started, Waterworks-Lamson has developed an assortment of niche reels for environments including salt water, freshwater, and rugged; needs like super-arbor and two-handed; and various price points. Today, Waterworks-Lamson makes the best-selling reel in the U.S.

Waterworks-Lamson Today

After almost 20 years of developing reels, rods, and other fishing accessories, Waterworks-Lamson has no intentions of slowing down or ceasing to innovate. The company began developing rods for a range of freshwater and saltwater five years ago, and according to founder Ryan Harrison, more rods are in the works for release later this year and lots more in terms of rods and reels for years to come. While company operations are now based in Boise, Waterworks-Lamson maintains a Hailey office, where employees (many of whom have been with the brand since its inception) continue to work.

“It’s a great place for an outdoor brand to be from, to be identified with,” says Ryan of keeping the company in the Sun Valley area. Unfortunately, founder Mark Farris passed away in February 2022, but both Harrison brothers remain involved with their company, though to a lesser degree than in the early days when Ryan says he shipped out of his own garage. “The company is bigger and a well-oiled design and manufacturing machine now,” says Ryan. “But it’s very much the same fun place to be creative, develop cool gear, and build relationships with outdoor enthusiasts.”

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