CEO & Founder of Cheeky Fishing, Ted Upton, sat down to chat about the recent ICAST win, the new Spray Fly Reel for 2024, and what's next.
CF: You founded Cheeky Fishing almost 14 years ago. What was it like in the beginning and how has it changed in those 14 years?
Ted: A lot has changed over the years, but many things are the same. We started Cheeky because we were tired of the uninspired, traditional approach to fly reel design. That is still true! We are always looking to push the limits of what’s possible in the sport by developing innovative, smart products that solve real problems on the water – and we like to have fun doing it by adding in our uniquely Cheeky aesthetic to all products. We’ve also always been committed to our people. That means you, our customers, as well as our staff. We hope you would agree that we have some of the best customer service in the business. That’s always our goal. And as we’ve continued to grow our staff, we’ve been investing in our workplace, culture, and benefits. If all our employees look back and say, “that was really a fantastic place to work” then we’ve done our job. One of the things that’s evolved for Cheeky over the last 14 years is our commitment to the planet. We’ve always been passionate about conservation (we’re now in our 13th year of the Schoolie Tournament where all proceeds are donated to help protect striped bass), but as we’ve grown, we’ve dramatically upped our commitment to giving back.
You may have seen our recent announcement to give back 3% of all revenues to water-based conservation organizations. That means when you buy a reel from Cheeky Fishing, you know a portion of every sale is going to a meaningful cause. Those are the themes of Cheeky Fishing: People, Product, and Planet. Some of those were true from the beginning and some have evolved, but at the end of the day, if we can take care of our people, make products that are second-to-none, and give back to our planet, the business end will take care of itself.
Also, 14 years ago we calculated our first line capacities by wrapping line around a leftover keg in the living room. That’s changed too. We’ve recently upgraded to a line winder.
Ted: It was one of my proudest moments as CEO of Cheeky Fishing. I don’t know if people outside the industry really know this, but the chances of a small company winning an industry award like this are … slim to none. These awards are highly coveted and competitive. We are up against companies whose media and PR budgets alone far exceed our total revenues for the year! So for the little guy to win? It was a special moment for our entire staff and a real testament to the Spray Reel and its incredible feature set. The new Spray Reels are definitely turning some heads.
CF: Can you tell us a bit about what features of Cheeky’s new Spray makes it such a world-class fly reel?
Ted: Cheeky has always been known for one of the smoothest drag systems on the planet. This is important when fighting big fish because as the fish moves and changes directions, you need a drag that can start and stop smoothly with the fish or you’ll likely break off. This concept is what’s known as “startup inertia”. All Cheeky reels have some of the lowest startup inertia on the market. So how is Spray any different from reels we’ve made in the past? Whether you’re targeting trophy trout or the silver king, the Spray is designed to target big fish. There’s an inherent design conflict between a really smooth reel and a really powerful reel. To create stopping power, you need friction. And friction isn’t smooth. So if you ask me, the holy grail of fly reel design is an extremely powerful drag that’s also incredibly smooth. That’s what the Spray has…lock down strength and virtually no startup inertia, ideal for targeting big fish. The drag is also fully sealed with our Gasket Drag System, so it’s protected from the elements and maintenance free. It has a massive arbor for top-end line retrieval rates, it’s extremely light weight and strong, and it holds a ton of line capacity. Top it off with some new smart solutions like a rounded reel foot so you can wrap your line around your reel without kinks, a pass-through hole in the reel foot to serve as a hook keeper, and a flattened out counter-balance to reduce tangling and you’ve got one hell of a fly reel. It’s available in three sizes (4-6wt, 7-9wt, 9-12wt) and two colorways (Electric Blue/Gold and Burn /Steel), and all models retail for under $500.
CF: The name Spray is super unique! What inspired the reel’s name and its vibrant design?
Ted: At Cheeky, we’re all about that moment when the fish takes and all hell breaks loose. Line is going everywhere and then if it goes right you’re tight and the drag engages and you’re on! That moment of chaos where the reel begins to spin and spray as line rips off is just part of the inspiration for the name. In 1895, Joshua Slocum set sail from Boston, Massachusetts, where Cheeky was founded, and became the first person to sail around the world alone. He was the ultimate DIY’er, a concept that’s very important at Cheeky Fishing. We build gear for the DIY angler. We believe that anglers who fish in their backyard or save up every penny for their next big trip should have the same access to premium gear as those travelling the world. So what did Joshua Slocum name his sloop? The Spray. We thought it a name befitting of our best fly reel yet. If you’re interested to learn more about his journey, find yourself a copy of Sailing Alone Around the World, Slocum’s 1900 sailing memoir about his global circumnavigation.
CF: When will Cheeky customers be able to get their hands on the award-winning Spray reels?
Ted: Spray Reels will be available in early November at any fly fishing dealer nationwide that carries the best gear. You’ll be able to pick them up at CheekyFishing.com beginning in December.
CF: What is next for Cheeky?
Ted: We’ve got a lot of big plans in the works. The best way to stay up to date on all things Cheeky is to or follow us on Instagram.
In short, expect Cheeky to continue its mission focused on People, Product and Planet. We want to provide the best customer service possible, invest in our team, make products that will knock your socks off, and take care of our planet while doing it. That’s the Cheeky way.