Andy Kurkulis gave up corporate life to pursue his lifelong passion – and bring fly-fishing to downtown Chicago.
There are no trout streams to speak of anywhere from the Hancock Tower to Grant Park to Wrigley Field. So what possessed Subaru owner Andy Kurkulis, a onetime stockbroker with no retail experience, to open a fly-fishing store on, of all places, Chicago’s North Side?
He got hooked.
Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters
“It’s the excitement, the thrill and the connection with nature,” says Kurkulis, a Chicago native who, with business partner Jon Uhlenhop, founded Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters, dubbed “Chi-Fly,” in 2001. “Plus, it’s super meditative. I just turned 50, and it’s the only constant passion I’ve had.”
Fly-fishing is a gentleman’s game, but some obsessed anglers aren’t always gentlemen. “One night I was complaining to my wife, Enrica, about an experience in a fly-fishing shop, how they made me feel uncomfortable, and she flat-out asked, ‘Can’t you do it better?’” says Kurkulis. “That was my ‘a-ha’ moment. I think I can!”
Chi-Fly is now marking its 15th anniversary, having outgrown two previous storefronts before settling into its current location. Launched alongside the explosion of the internet, the store caters to customers far beyond the confines of the Windy City. Kurkulis estimates 25 percent of his business comes from overseas.
“Here’s our true strength: We don’t have a trout river in our backyard,” he says. “Our customer fly-fishes anywhere, from nearby waters to Tahiti or Russia. Over 15 years we’ve had to adapt and learn. We’re all avid travelers, so the breadth of our offerings is much greater because, honestly, we cater to the world.” For his part, Kurkulis’ favorite destinations are the trout streams of the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin and, for smallmouth bass, northern Wisconsin’s Menominee River. Further afield, he loves Montana, Alaska, Ascension Bay in Mexico and the Bahamas.
Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters owner Andy Kurkulis' Subaru XV Crosstrek.
Things have been going so well at Chi-Fly that the partners have opened a spinoff, DuPage Fly Fishing Company, in Naperville, Illinois, an hour away. That’s when Kurkulis’ XV Crosstrek became a great catch.
“I needed something that could get me to Naperville and back more economically,” says Kurkulis. “Parking is tricky in Chicago, so the size, the aesthetic and gas mileage all appealed to me. I was convinced it was the right purchase on our ice fishing trips. For what I do, which is mostly urban, my Crosstrek offers a lot of practical advantages. And when I go off-road, it’s as capable as any vehicle I’ve ever owned.”
Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters owner Andy Kurkulis.