Paul DuFour fly-fishing

How Beating Cancer and New Love Inspired This Fly-Fishing Startup

By Keller Northcutt

Rosanna Dufour’s story is Hollywood-worthy. A story that now includes launching a startup in Pagosa Springs: handmade bamboo fly-fishing rods. 

Rosanna Dufour (née Slingerland) owned and worked at Rosie’s Pizzeria in Pagosa Springs, where she met Paul “PJ” Dufour in 2011. 

“He was my first and most loyal customer. He sat at the bar at the end of the day, and we would talk and talk,” she recalled. He came regularly for years, until suddenly he stopped showing up. “I would have never known what had happened, had one of his friends not told me he’d been diagnosed with melanoma.”

Rosanna Dufour had spent two years in an oncology ward regularly visiting her best friend, who eventually succumbed to the battle. She knew the trials and heartache of cancer. When PJ Dufour returned to Pagosa Springs cancer-free after treatments in St. Louis, they reconnected on a deeper level.

“We hit it off in a new way, and out of the blue he invited me on a two-week trip to Europe with him and his family. We’d never even been on a date, but I said, ‘Why not go to Europe for a first date?’”

In the weeks that followed his invitation, PJ left town to take a class on building bamboo fly rods. He was a craftsman and loved building tools and furniture from scratch. His mom knew how much he had always wanted to build his own fly rod, and she promised him the class once he finished radiation. Learning how to construct the rods catapulted PJ into a new passion, one that he’d always desired but never had the time for. 

Rosanna didn’t see PJ again until they met in the airport. With a wealth of rod-building knowledge and a budding romance, they believe the coin they tossed into the spellbound Trevi Fountain in Rome on their “first date” led to their wedding and new business endeavor just a few years later. 

As is true for many when confronted with mortality, PJ’s battle with cancer caused him to shift his priorities in life. He was always a hard worker, but he realized the hustle might not be worth it. 

“Recovering from radiation treatment was both humbling and a gift at the same time. It made me realize how fragile life is. I reflected on how many things that I still wanted to do, most of them pertaining to fly-fishing, and I felt a new found sense of urgency to pursue those dreams,” said Dufour.

As a result of this perspective shift, the Dufours decided to sell the pizzeria in 2019 and devote their energy into building PJ’s Fine Bamboo Rods. Dufour spent his COVID quarantine mastering different techniques and materials. A lifelong angler, as well as a carpenter by trade with a degree in fine arts, it was no surprise he took to rod-building like, well, a fish to water. Dufour appreciates the art of fishing with bamboo, the smoother cast and truer feel for the line. Bamboo offers slower action allowing an intentional presentation of the fly to water. 

Fly-fishing materials
PJ Dufour was inspired to start a handmade fly rod business after beating cancer.

“Bamboo is the top of the fly-fishing food chain. There is something very special about catching a fish on a rod that I crafted from raw material with a fly I tied. For a craftsman like myself, it is a feeling of satisfaction that cannot be bought online,” said Dufour.

He uses Tonkin bamboo and multiple wood species for the rods and handles, both sustainable and renewable resources. He loves playing with the creativity of the inlays, reel seats, and grip designs, and he has created 2D and 3D engravings that can be personalized for his customers. No two rods are alike, and after over 80 hours of personalized craftsmanship, each one tells a complete and unique story.

“I want every rod to be a beautiful representation of the client I am making it for. I want them to be proud to hand their rod down to their child or grandchild and for it to be clear how special the rod has been to them,” said Dufour. 

The Dufours built rods and sold them online throughout the pandemic, but they were happy to finally cut the ribbon for their storefront on Main Street in Pagosa Springs in the beginning of October. The space is a workshop, showroom, and mercantile all in one. They offer a display of PJ’s custom rods and landing nets, but they also sell items such as kitchenware, body and bath, and outdoor gear, with a focus on products made of natural materials such as wool, bamboo, leather, and wood. 

PJ Dufour and others outside fly-fishing
PJ and Rosanna Dufour join a growing number of outdoor startups in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

They will begin offering classes and workshops in January. There will be one rod-building class per month, which is capped at 4 participants. Each person will start with a single culm of bamboo, and leave with a unique, two-piece fly rod. Participants learn the building process step-by-step. PJ’s is the only place in Colorado where someone can build their own bamboo rod, in addition to being one of only about five workshops in the country. As their business grows, the Dufours will also offer fly-fishing guide services, women’s fly-fishing clinics in the summer, and regular fly-tying classes.  

Pagosa Springs’ startup ecosystem is quickly becoming a rich environment for the outdoor industry. Voormi, the innovative merino wool apparel company—launched in 2013—has helped redefine textile standards in the outdoor industry. More recently, Cold Case Gear—a manufacturer of protective outdoor cases for electronics—was founded with the help of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs (SCAPE).  

The Dufours join this growing, quality-oriented community. Rosanna Dufour noticed a post-pandemic shift among their friends and community to caring more about quality than quantity. 

“With our products and Voormi’s as well, our vision is to provide high-quality, self-sustaining equipment for people to embrace their [outdoor] experience,” she said. 

The Dufours love for each other has blossomed into a passion for handmade bamboo fly rods, a community-driven storefront, and a deeper sense of peace and purpose. 

“We moved to Pagosa because of our passion for outdoor activities, so it is exciting to see the fly-fishing community growing in our area. It is all worth it for us if we help even one person find the joy that bamboo fly-fishing has brought to our lives,” said Rosanna Dufour. 

“This business is my love letter to PJ. He was so supportive in my last business, I want to help his dream become a reality.”

A love like that is sure to succeed.