Stonefly Studio

January 13, 2011

Fly Fishing Montana

By BRETT FRENCH Billings Gazette

BILLINGS – Karla Mazel calls her husband’s garage magical. Broken tables and chairs enter, Dan Mazel performs some sleight of hand, and the items reappear amazingly restored.
“He’s really talented,” she said.
It was this wood-working flair, along with the help of family and friends, that has launched Dan Mazel into a new business venture – Stonefly Studio. With inspiration from his son, Isaac, Mazel now crafts wooden fly boxes with laser-engraved designs on the front and back.
“It’s not something you just toss somewhere and get wet,” said Jim McCall, owner of Rainbow Run Fly Shop, one of Mazel’s three retail outlets for the boxes in Billings. “People use them as gifts and put special flies in it. They’re kind of a mantle piece.”
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Mazel got into the business in a roundabout way. Isaac wanted to learn how to tie flies for fishing. So the two agreed they’d join the Magic City Fly Fishers where there are monthly fly-tying sessions. Isaac needed a way to hold all of his fly-tying gear, so Mazel built his son a portable wooden desk. Other tiers saw the desk, were impressed and requested one.
Isaac, a 19-year-old computer whiz who is now a student at Montana State University in Bozeman, helped the fly-fishing group develop its first website. As a thank you, the group sent him to a fly-fishing school at the Dome Mountain Ranch in the Paradise Valley. One of the gifts from the ranch was a wooden fly box. When Isaac lost his box, Mazel decided to build a replacement.
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At first, Mazel did all of the router work out of his garage, shaping the wood and drilling holes for hinges, and magnets that act as latches. To decorate the outside of the box, Isaac created a program to transfer computer designs to a laser engraver.
Badgewest Awards and Engraving cut the designs for Mazel at first, but after he received a large order from a Rock Creek fishing business, he looked into buying his own engraver. Unfortunately, the machines aren’t cheap – starting at about $15,000 for a small machine and going up to $35,000. That was too steep for Mazel, but he managed to find one he could lease.
The increase in business, and a loose router bit that scared the “bejesus” out of him, also prompted Mazel to outsource his box cutting to Big Sky Woodcrafters in Laurel. Big Sky uses a computer-assisted router to quickly cut out the boxes for Mazel. He still does the assembly and inlays the custom designs.
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Although he can transfer just about any type of artwork to the wooden boxes to customize them for customers, Mazel’s most popular designs have been the squiggly details of rivers, shown as they appear on maps. The boxes also are decorated with the detail of a fly, like a mayfly or stonefly, above the map and can be personalized with the owner’s name. On the back, Mazel has etched artwork such as a jumping trout.
He offers four types of wood to choose from – maple, walnut and beech cost $80 with the mahogany box costing $85.
“They sell pretty well,” McCall said. “They’re a big item for Christmas and Father’s Day because they’re a cut above your normal fly box.”
McCall owns two of them, one with his fly shop’s logo and another with brown trout artwork drawn by famed angler Dave Whitlock. Whitlock gifted Mazel the line drawing after Mazel created a fly-tying desk for him.
“I’m pretty amazed by all the work he does,” McCall said. “He’s got a lot of innovative presents.”
Mazel also sells insurance as an independent agent, but he derives more joy from crafting fly boxes, tying desks and other items such as wooden coasters.
“It’s art to me, and each individual is so excited about it,” he said.
It’s become a family business: Isaac also developed the website for Stonefly Studio; Mazel’s 13-year-old daughter Jeannine helps with assembly; and his wife provides designs and new ideas – such as the coasters.
After attending the Fly Tackle Dealer Show in Denver, he now believes the business could go international. Buyers from Germany, South America and Australia indicated interest in the studio’s work. Publicity in a fly-tying journal and retail catalog has also boosted business.
“I’m really excited to see this go,” Karla said. “I think the boxes are awesome. You don’t find them anywhere else.”

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