Saltwater, sinking lines & scenic escapes: A look into adventure travel with Little Forks Outfitters

“For the right person, it gets in your blood.”

Bo Brines spent the 1980s and 90s traveling the world fly fishing: Alaska, Belize, Yellowstone and beyond. At the same time, the mainstay department stores had fled Downtown Midland a few years prior, opening new storefronts in the mall. It was the perfect storm of passion and opportunity coming together.

With all of his travels, Brines didn’t have anywhere in Midland to source gear for his fly-fishing needs. It was former Dow Chairman and community philanthropist Carl Gerstacker who helped inspire Brines to make the jump and open a store.

Bo Brines, owner of Little Forks Outfitters.

“Carl really thought the future of Downtown Midland was in small retail and commented that he thought something ‘like an Orvis shop’ would work well,” recalls Brines. “And my wife Karen and I had already been traveling to explore fly fishing destinations for some years, so I knew there was a need for certain gear in Midland.”

Thus Bo’s travels and the feeling that specialty retail would be supported downtown led to the launch of Little Forks Outfitters – that was 24 years ago.

“It’s a pretty small world when it comes down to it, so once you go a few times it is fairly easy to get to know people in the community and who the best guides are.”


The travel component of Little Forks Outfitters has been active just as long as the store has. It just so happens to also be Bo’s passion. “I don’t think we did a trip with the store that very first year because we were busy getting the business off the ground, but we have ever since,” he recalls.

Fly fishing trips have set Little Forks Outfitters apart from big-box equipment retailers.

“As a specialty retailer, we can offer people the experience to fly fish in a completely different environment and the ability to expand their skills in a sport they love,” says Brines. “It’s really something special to be able to curate an experience for people, and it has become a natural extension for building their skills as an angler.”

One of the many trips to Alaska with Little Forks Outfitters.

Brines notes that when people think about fly fishing, they most likely think about trout, but it spans well beyond that one species. “You can fly fish for many different kinds of fish,” he says.

All the trips are expertly scouted by Brines himself, meaning he can give people an experience he has already researched. “I won’t lead a trip to a place that I haven’t scouted out and fished before,” says Brines.

Planning includes researching the best guides in a new destination, lodging, food and more. The saltwater trips are usually all-inclusive and the only thing anglers are responsible for beyond the cost of the trip is the flight and tips for guides and staff.

A fly fishing boat waits for anglers in Alaska.

Brines runs two to three trips per year on average, with trips out west running anytime between July through September, in peak trout season and saltwater trips scheduled during Michigan’s winter season. He books excursions at least six to nine months out from the date of travel.

For saltwater trips the group often heads to several remote destinations including the small inlets of Andros, Long and Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, Belize, the Republic of Kiribati and several other locations. The longest trip so far has been to Kiribati (also known as Christmas Island).Christmas Island is a coral atoll in the middle of the South Pacific (about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii) and a legendary destination for chasing bonefish and Giant Travally. 

“It definitely helps break up the winter and the entire ecosystem changes, which is really neat to experience as an angler,” says Brines.

Midland local Jeff Gandy with his catch on a recent saltwater trip.

There are typically one or two pre-trip meetings to cover logistics and gear, that way the group can rest easy and know that all the appropriate flies and tackle will be taken care of.

Regardless if it’s Montana or halfway around the world, Brines notes that the fly-fishing community is quite specialized, so coming to know the people involved has been a rewarding part of the process as well.

“It’s a pretty small world when it comes down to it, so once you go a few times it is fairly easy to get to know people in the community and who the best guides are.”

Ultimately, the lure of adventure travel is what attracts people to this sport.

It is a perspective that has served him well. “I’ve come to know the guides in these places like Andros Island much better over the years,” says Brines. “It has been rewarding getting to experience their culture and way of life for the time that we are there. It is a different way of life, where they are more apt to savor the moment.”

The trips often provide a different viewpoint too. “One time when we visited Christmas Island in the Republic of Kiribati, I asked one of our regular guides if he had traveled or been anywhere else before. He looked at me, very surprised, and responded with ‘why would I ever leave this place’ which really hit home for me,” says Brines. “It gave the group so much perspective.”

A Grizzly Bear swipes lunch out of the water.

The excursions tend to be small groups of around 10 people, and two anglers are paired with a guide in each boat. The way the camps usually work is that the group on the trip gets first right of refusal for the next year, so the good spots can be difficult to get into, which is one of the reasons Bo has such longstanding relationships with guides and industry contacts.

Often, each location presents its own set of challenges. One of the trips to Alaska was in a remote location in a dry town. Brines plans for the group in these situations and alcoholic beverages had to be ordered ahead of time and delivered to the camp by helicopter, as no alcohol could enter the town they flew into.

“It definitely helps break up the winter and the entire ecosystem changes, which is really neat to experience as an angler,” says Brines.
For him, part of the fun is finding new places to fly fish and explore. Each trip is typically joined by a third of “regulars” who excursion with Little Forks regularly as well as those who always make a point to go every three to four years. The neat part about it, is that Brines also maintains customers from all over, some coming from locals who have happened to relocate.

“The network has grown and still includes many decades-long travelers,” says Brines. “It helps that in today’s world, it is completely viable to maintain international relationships in the sport easily. Ultimately, the lure of adventure travel is what attracts people to this sport.”

Fly fishing trips have set Little Forks Outfitters apart from big-box equipment retailers.

So what’s next?

Little Forks Outfitters is taking a trip to Andros Island again in January 2020. Next year is also the shop’s 25th anniversary, and Brines is planning an anniversary trip, but is still working on the location. His bucket list is still pretty long too and includes New Zealand, Cuba, The Seychelles, Slovenia and other places in the EU.

For Brines, it much more about the impact these experiences have on customers than anything else. “It’s truly fulfilling to reflect on how we have enriched lives over the history of the store, whether that is through fly fishing trips or supplying people with gear to support their own adventure.”

Asked to sum of the last 24 years, Bo says, “Wilderness tends to put everything into perspective.”

“Wilderness tends to put everything into perspective.”

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