Gold Medal Nets catching on
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
With an odd sort of luck, Bill Hilderbrand opened up a whole new can of worms during a fly fishing trip.
It was one of those perfect days that fishermen love to talk about. Crisp morning air, the solitude of the quest, with birds and the river providing the soothing sounds of the great outdoors.
Thinking back to that day, he remembers:
His right arm cocks and he snaps his pole forward, sending the line floating on the breeze. It gently caresses the water, landing the fly in the ideal spot, a perfect cast and a quick strike.
Hilderbrand pulls the fish toward him and grabs the net that’s hanging from his back. But the net smacks on a rock and he hears the “SNAP!”
The wood-framed net has cracked.
That small break opened his eyes to possibilities, and with that happy accident, the can of worms was fully opened.
“I looked at the net and thought, ‘Here’s 27 cents worth of material that I paid $85 for, and now it’s broke,’ ” he said with a chuckle, during an interview in his woodworking shop on 19th Street in Glenwood Springs.
As a woodworker who has been mastering his craft since he was 14, Hilderbrand was irritated and disappointed with the inferior craftsmanship of the net.
He knew he could do better.
He now does better.
Hilderbrand, 42, once a builder of million-dollar mansions and one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture, is now immersed in the fishing net manufacturing business.
The name of his company, Gold Medal Nets, came from part-time worker Jason Stockdill.
“He said we fish Gold Medal waters, so why don’t we call it Gold Medal Nets?” Hilderbrand said.
Like a pair of tributaries that come together, the company’s work is a confluence of two elements for Hilderbrand: passion and supreme craftsmanship.
It took him four hours to make the first net. Now he has molds for all different sizes and shapes, and various lengths of handles. He uses wood from at least 10 different kinds of trees.
No two of the hand-made fishing nets are alike, Hilderbrand proudly proclaimed.
Hilderbrand’s excitement increases when he talks about woodworking and fly fishing.
“I still remember the first time I caught a fish. Do you remember yours?” he asked, knowing the answer.
When it came to casting an impressive business shadow, Hilderbrand landed a major sponsorship. Because of the craftsmanship, Hilderbrand’s high-quality fishing nets were recently chosen to outfit the U.S. Fly Fishing team.
“I felt like I was starting at the top and working my way down,” he said.
With the publicity that will come from such a sponsorship, Hilderbrand is encouraged about hooking customers in the future.
“I I hope to be in every fishing shop in the state,” the soft-spoken Chicago native said.
Currently he has three people helping out part-time at Gold Medal Nets, and he hopes to eventually hire a staff of seven full timers.
His main competition is from two large companies – one in Houston and the other in Costa Rica.
Hilderbrand grabbed one of his nets and started twisting it.
“See how it flexes,” he said.
He has a collection of nets manufactured by competitors for comparison studies. The hinge-point, he said, is the key to his sturdy design, and it’s why he confidently says his wood-frame nets are much superior to other nets.
He speaks with immense pride of his design.
“Ergonomic,” he said, noting the end of the handle and its fan design.
He demonstrated grabbing the long handle and sliding it forward, like an angler would do when ready to scoop up a fish. The wider, fanned-out end easily tightens around an angler’s grip as it slides forward.
He’s frustrated that the netting he must use is only made in Taiwan. The silicone “Ghost Net” is what the U.S. Fly Fishing Team requires. The material keeps fish slimy so the catch-and-release process is less harsh.
He likes the silicone for that reason. He just hopes that an American company will soon start making the Ghost Nets.
A love of fishing, and the nostalgic and subtle nuances of fly fishing in particular, propel his passion.
When Hilderbrand first moved to the Roaring Fork Valley 18 years ago, he was a bait and spinner guy, hitting lakes and reservoirs. Once fly fishing lured him to the rivers and streams, he never went back.
Making a tough, rugged fishing net that will last from generation to generation is a driving force behind Hilderbrand’s craftsmanship.
“Just think about giving your son that net and the photos of him with a fish in that net,” he said. “Those are special moments.”
He introduced his own son, Caine Albrecht, 17, to fly fishing and woodworking.
Hilderbrand’s hands are rough and calloused, the kind of weathered and worn hands that come from decades of working with wood.
“I’ve always had a passion for working with my hands and creating things out of raw material,” he said.
On the walls of his shop, Hilderbrand has scribbled original motivational and philosophical ramblings.
“Surpass my goals.”
“Go beyond anything I imagined.”
He recites the words from memory.
“I never thought of myself as philosophical before,” he said.
Then he pointed to another. “Innovate or be stagnate.”
He nods, “And I chose to innovate.”
It’s a fitting catch phrase for a business endeavor and piece of merchandise to catch fish.
This can of worms is open for business.
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