The tie that binds


by Jan Gillis ('07)

Photo of JMU alumni Brian and Colby Trow holding fish
Colby and Brian Trow

Twin brothers Brian and Colby Trow are building a successful business around their shared passion for fly fishing

By Rob Tucker

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You might say it’s been a pretty good year for twins Colby and Brian Trow.

The brothers were featured in an award-winning documentary film released late in 2014. They taught classes in fly fishing, guided anglers and fished together at scenic locales ranging from the Bahamas to Bridgewater. Brian was featured on a magazine cover; Colby became a father.

The Trows are rising stars in the world of fly fishing, a billion-dollar industry with about 4 million fly anglers in the U.S. alone. They opened Mossy Creek Fly Fishing in Harrisonburg in 2003, one year after graduating from JMU. They were 23 at the time.

Brian earned a degree in geology, while Colby majored in biology with a pre-med preparation. Brian was planning a career in geology, while Colby was poised to take over his father’s dental practice in Richmond, their hometown.

When the opportunity arose to launch a business centered on their shared passion, they took the plunge. Now, little more than a decade later, they manage the largest freshwater guide service and the largest fly fishing school in Virginia in addition to their retail operation.

“Hard work, honesty and common sense helped us grab a foothold in the fly fishing industry,” said Colby. “Our JMU education prepared us to take on the challenge of building a small business with confidence.”

As their business has grown, their reputation as expert, innovative fly anglers and conservationists has spread far beyond the ridges and valleys of the Commonwealth.

They are the subject of the award-winning Blood Knot, which was selected as Best Fly Fishing Film of the Year and Best Freshwater Film of the Year at the 2014 Drake Film Awards in Orlando, Fla. Brian was recently pictured on the cover of industry giant Orvis’s catalog, which is circulated worldwide.

Colby serves on the board of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, while Brian is on the board of Project Healing Waters, an organization dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled veterans through fly fishing.

“We have been working with Project Healing Waters from very close to the beginning of its creation,” Brian said. “We have enjoyed working with veterans from all over the country and introducing them to fly fishing.” The Trows have helped to host an annual fishing tournament and fundraiser in Bridgewater, Va., since 2007. Their initial goal was to raise $1 million for PHW in ten years, but they exceeded that goal in seven years. The tournament is “the favorite day of the year for our entire staff,” Colby said.

Their business is named after the sultry spring creek that enchants anglers from all over the country. Mossy Creek’s cold, mineral-rich waters cascade down from the surrounding mountains, sinking underground on the way to the valley floor before bubbling back to the surface via limestone springs. Brian and Colby have hosted numerous anglers there, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, presidential candidate Rick Santorum, country music superstar Luke Bryan and NFL player Reed Doughty.

'Better habitat equals more fish; more fish equals better fishing; better fishing equals positive economic impact for the community.'

The Trows were the catalysts for a 2,000-foot stream restoration and dam removal project on Mossy Creek, just one example of their leadership on conservation efforts throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

“It is our duty to continue to work towards clean water,” they say. “Better habitat equals more fish; more fish equals better fishing; better fishing equals positive economic impact for the community. Results aren’t always visible overnight, but we all need to contribute to the benefit of future generations.” The Trows and their staff are continually building partnerships with landowners, agencies and politicians to protect and enhance local water quality.

They also are heavily invested in education and were instrumental in founding Madison Fly Fishers, JMU’s fly fishing club, which involves about 80 students.

“They are very supportive of Madison Fly Fishers,” said Tom Benzing, the club’s advisor and a professor in Integrated Science and Technology. “They offer store discounts to all members, they donate fly rods to the club and they offer free casting lessons.”

The Trows have been avid fly anglers since the age of 8. They started selling artificial flies they created themselves at age 14. In addition to fly fishing for brook trout in the mountain streams, brown trout in the valley spring creeks and smallmouth bass in the Shenandoah River, the Trows have pushed the envelope by pursuing eclectic species of finny critters such as large, predatory muskie and difficult-to-fool white amur, or “pond sharks” as they call them. They are generous in sharing their hard-won fishing knowledge, and their enthusiasm for being on the water and traveling to beautiful destinations is contagious.

They have served as fly fishing instructors and guides during the winter at East End Lodge in the Bahamas, teaching anglers how to fish for the elusive and turbo-charged bonefish on saltwater flats.

Their current obsession is saltwater fly fishing off the Virginia coast. It is believed that Brian caught the first blue marlin on a fly in Virginia waters. The creators of Blood Knot, TwoFisted Heart Productions, is currently working on another documentary showcasing the Trows’ saltwater fishing adventures. Look for it in late 2015. It’s sure to make another big splash.

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Published: Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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