Vintage. Retro. Timeless. Quality.


Such words are prompted by the look and feel of Joe Goertzen's outdoor adventure equipment, which he crafts from canvas and leather in his Missoula home.

There's an old-school aesthetic to these fly-fishing creels and rucksacks that calls to mind the earlier models of legendary outfitters C.C.Filson and L.L. Bean.

They aren't copies of the classics; instead, they are inspired by and capture the spirit of that time when the world was perhaps more wild and the gear people packed had to be carefully designed, form following function, and sturdy enough to endure the abuse of sand, rock, wind and water for decades of outings.

Goertzen didn't set out to create an outdoor equipment company. As a classically trained artist who specializes in fine-art oil painting, the gear was just another outlet for his own aesthetic expression and his real need for equipment he couldn't afford as an artist.

"It started as a hobby," he said. "I wanted all this stuff to go fly-fishing with and rock climbing, and I knew I could make it so I did, and I wanted it to be simple."

"With the fly-fishing lanyard in particular, I wanted to be able to ride my bicycle to the river and carry everything I needed without having a big vest on," he said. "I wanted a simple item that was very versatile and carried what I needed and adapted to things as I needed it to."

As he fine-tuned the designs and went on his own adventures, he came back with orders from friends and strangers he met along the way.

"People started asking me about this stuff, where I got it," he said, "and when I told them I made it, they started buying it."

In the two years since Goertzen launched his one-person company - Goertzen Adventure Equipment - and began selling via the Internet and at the Missoula People's Market, several trends have emerged: People seek and appreciate handcrafted work, and fly fisherman are his best clients.

For whatever reasons, Goertzen's canvas-and-leather creel and the lanyard he makes to hold flies and other small fishing necessities are his best-sellers.

"I'm big on quality and I think people are still looking for quality products," Goertzen said. "And I think too, people who are drawn to fly-fishing are very much about style - if they really wanted to catch fish, there's a lot easier way than fly-fishing.

"I think my equipment is very much in sync with that idea."

If his stuff has an Old World appeal, Goertzen explained it's because his design inspiration comes from the Old World.

"I love these old photos of people climbing mountains in what looks like they are in their Sunday best," he said. "It goes along with my own personal tastes in terms of style. It's style with these outdoor sports that is very functional."

From the first moment he set eyes on Goertzen's lanyard and creel, Dan Shepherd, owner of the Missoula fly-fishing specialty store Grizzly Hackle, knew the products would be a hit and was eager to sell them at his downtown store.

"I just knew they would be hot," Shepherd said. "It's a completely different product than what's out there, and for people who like old-school, handmade leather and canvas, this is so appealing."

Goertzen's gear is more expensive than the manufactured kind made with high-tech new-age materials, Shepherd said.

"But this wouldn't be their thing anyways," he said. "This is for people who love one-of-a-kind."

With that unduplicated style comes another benefit, Shepherd said: "It gets better looking with age because the leather gets broken in and looks so neat; it looks great and it holds up."

Goertzen hasn't given up on his fine art - he still paints and takes on commissions. It's just now he's juggling several art forms.

"I'm not getting rich at this," he said. "But I'm glad I'm doing it. I really enjoy the design part, and I have plans to hire employees and grow the company to the point I can have a gallery and a shop.

"I do look forward to the day when my employees are working on this stuff and I'm out fly-fishing."

Outdoors and online

To find Joe Goertzen and his adventure equipment, log on to www.goertzenae .com or call 546-0061.

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