Musky love

Couple opens standalone fly fishing shop.
1122 Editorialcontent Start Up
Photograph by Josh Smeltzer

Dan and Jenn Donovan, both 31, have more than age and degrees from UW–Madison in common. These high school sweethearts from the Milwaukee area enjoy fishing, and recently opened Musky Fool Fly Fishing Co. in Waunakee to share their passion with others.

Donovan runs the 1,000-square-foot, full-service fly shop while Jenn, the brainchild behind the business name, works in an executive position with a national retailer. So, what about that name?

“Sometimes we are fools,” Donovan acknowledges. “Why do we do this to ourselves? Fishing is so dumb sometimes. I spent 12 hours this past weekend casting an 18-inch fly until my arm was sore with little to nothing to show for it.”

Fellow anglers out there understand. They do it for the chase, the challenge, and of course, for the fish tales.

The Donovans wrote their business plan in the car while driving home from a fishing weekend in Hayward, Wisconsin, and funded the startup entirely on their own. “We’ve been successful in business,” he says. “We owned investments, made some trades, and my background is in scaling companies fast. There’s an art and a science to it.”

In his previous life, Donovan was a chief financial officer helping to grow startups like BlueTree Network, an Epic spinoff that was later acquired, and Redox, which continues to thrive

But during COVID-19, he grew tired of the venture-backed startup world that often kept him out on the road. “I wasn’t doing all the things I loved and felt life was passing me by fast, so I took a chance and stepped away to figure it out.”

When the Greenway Station Orvis — which he says had decent fly fishing selection — left town, their plan took flight.

“Actually, we felt a little bit of an obligation,” Donovan says. “We had done so much complaining about not having a standalone shop nearby that we had to put our money where our mouths were.”

Musky Fool Fly Fishing Co. is the first dedicated fly-fishing shop in the Madison area, offering anglers everything they need for warmwater fishing. Its true niche, however, is “catching muskies on the fly.”

The store peddles rods and reels, rain jackets, nets, flies — anything needed to buy or tie flies ranging from miniscule to massive (nearly 2-feet in length). Online classes are available, and the business also has a network of fishing guides around the state ready to offer their services.

Donovan says Wisconsin anglers are very fortunate to be able to fish for dozens of varieties of fish, from panfish to perch to walleye and bass. “If you travel out West, the shops are gorgeous, the scenery is gorgeous and the fishing is great, but at the end of the day you may only catch a couple species of trout.”

In contrast to the quiet gracefulness of a fishing line floating back and forth through the air with a handmade fly at the end, fly fishing for the elusive musky, an ornery trophy fish that can grow to more than 4-feet in length, can be “a kick in the butt,” Donovan admits.

Musky Fool Fly Fishing Co. rolled out its e-commerce site in the fall of 2020 and opened the shop this past summer. Its popularity already has the couple hinting of expansion. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” Donovan says.

Musky Fool Fly Fishing Co.
105 E. Main St.
Waunakee, WI 53597
(608) 399-2809 | muskyfool.com

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