Over the past ten years or so, I have had the occasional privilege of spending a few days on the waters of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, or Montana with a few good friends, two educators by profession, one of whom I work with, and one retired firefighter. The two aforementioned men, somewhere between their genius and their insanity, thought years ago how much fun it would be to collectively produce their own fly fishing television show. Their only goal became their mission statement: “Having fun, catching fish.” Although I did not know either of them at the time that the show was begun, I can imagine that they were thinking that doing this would get them outside, doing what they loved to do, which is, of course, fly fishing. Well, it did get them outside, and it did get them fly fishing as well. In addition, over a longer period of time than they probably thought it would take, they were able to occasionally experience the privilege of spending time in a nice lodge or at an amazing fly fishing destination that was sponsored, but mostly only in part, by the show that they had produced. Aside from the fact that they are not full-time fly fishermen—but instead both have full-time jobs aside from their show—one would probably be astounded by the number of hours that it takes to produce just one, twenty-three minute episode, of which they have now produced well over one hundred.
Producing a fly fishing show is more difficult than would be expected. One just doesn’t go out and place a camera on a tripod, turn it on, and go huck flies. Even with the recent addition of a full-time cameraman, there are often weeks of planning in advance of taking even the first video on the water—plans that often have to change at the last minute due to weather, river blowouts, location changes, etc. Then there are the numerous calls that must be made to garner sponsors for the show. Then there are contacts with fly shops, guides, and other connections and resources, as well as hours of online research in order to give them the best possible opportunity to fill the brief window that they have available to them with a successful outing. After this, they need to make sure that all of their equipment is in order, accounted for, and ready to go. This may sound simple enough until one has gone through an equipment breakdown in the field that literally requires them to stop fishing—no matter how well the fish are striking—pack up all of the gear, retreat to their vehicle, travel whatever distance it takes to find and locate the piece of gear to fix a camera or microphone (or whatever else has broken down), get back in their vehicle, return to the same location and the same hole in the river, only to find that either someone else has now moved into that hole or that they have lost sufficient daylight to film, or some other circumstance has taken place that does not allow the show to go on—so to speak. If all goes as expected, the day does not end once they return to the hotel.
When they arrive back at the hotel, it is not just time to rest and relax. First, they unpack the vehicle (cameras, boots, waders, fishing rods, clothing, and other gear). Then they remove all of the digital storage from the cameras and load every last bit of their day’s video onto a laptop. Then they locate each piece of useable video from multiple storage devices taken from up to twelve or more hours of camera shots to determine what worked well, what didn’t work well, what video or informational piece is missing from each fish caught, and what clips should go in which order on the show, all in order to begin to develop a plan of attack for the following day’s work. Viewers of their show certainly want to see the fish that are being caught, but they seldom realize that what often makes a show appealing are the other aspects of a good production, such as the beauty of the surrounding scenery and the tips for catching fish at a particular river or lake or in a particular location. Add to this the personalities of those involved in the show, the “talking head” moments that make the fishing location on a river or lake relatable and appealing and the fishing methods understandable. All of this is done with the ultimate goal of making the viewers’ time watching worthwhile. Finally, the night ends with planning and agreement of the next day’s agenda, a time when discussion can go on for hours past when a logical person would already be in bed asleep. But these are not logical-thinking men when it comes to fly fishing; rather, they are individuals who love what they do so much that it goes beyond logic into the sometimes fanatical.
What I have just described does not fit into the category of fishing—although fishing is, of course, what it’s all about. This is, to put it simply, bulldoglike determined administration. It is the work that goes on behind the scenes that the vast majority of people just will not do. Yes, there are thousands of people who create videos of their fishing exploits, and sometimes these videos are great. What most people do not do however, is to repeat this process over and over and over again for well over a decade.
Why, one might ask, would anyone go to this extreme to produce twenty-three minutes of fly fishing entertainment over one hundred times? I’m sure that many have tried to resolve this question with answers that seem to satisfy, such as, “They must get a lot of perks from doing their show.” Well, this is true to some extent. Sponsors are out to sell their products, and so they may provide some gear here and there in order to have it seen by viewers. I can tell you that while this happens a little bit, it is absolutely not the reason these two do their show. Quite frankly, the amount of time that they put into their show would pay many times over—even at minimum wage—for the gear that some of their sponsors provide them. Others might say, “Well, they must get to go to a lot of their destinations for free.” Again, I can tell you that most of their trips are within the Pacific Northwest and are paid for out-of-pocket. Only occasionally will they get to stay in a lodge or be flown to an off-grid location. The vast majority of their trips are to local areas that almost any fly fisherman could drive to. Most of the time, these are public fishing destinations open to everyone with an appropriate fishing license. Possibly a few times per year they may go to privately-owned ranches or lodges, and these may be sponsored or they may cost them a bit more. These trips are still within the financial reach of virtually anyone who loves to fly fish. These are not “bucket list” trips such as going to New Zealand, Patagonia, or Kamchatka (even though I’m sure that if they had the opportunity, they would jump at the chance to go to one of these places).
Many of their viewers appreciate that they do shows on at least some of these slightly-higher-priced opportunities in order to show them the ins and outs of affording and enjoying these trips as well. Just recently, for example, I had the opportunity to go to Armstrong Spring Creek near Livingston, Montana with these two. In order to save money, we went during the shoulder season. Each of us paid out of our own pocket to reserve a “rod” on the creek for the day. The trip was fantastic as we had many encounters with both rainbow and brown trout, and viewers were able to witness what private spring creek fishing was like. Hopefully, some of the viewers were able to make a similar trip of their own as a result of watching the episode. All-in-all, the trip cost a little bit more than the average destination, but nobody’s budget was broken.
If it hasn’t become clear yet, these gentlemen produce their show and fly fish on a tight budget. In fact, I just got home from a four-day fly fishing trip to Montana with them. We drove in one of their cars, an early 2000s four-door sedan with 164,000 miles on the odometer. The car is not of the “Clyde” generation as seen in Drake magazine, but it isn’t Kevin Costner’s fully-stocked Toyota Tundra overlander either. Just a confession here: I always selfishly offer to drive when I go with them. First, I do want to contribute my fair share; however, I also like the extra room that my SUV provides. It is amazing how quickly a vehicle will fill up from floor to ceiling with fishing gear, camera gear, clothing, and food for three people for four days. It goes without saying that if you’re in the back seat, you are likely sharing it with a cooler, duffle bags, and a number of rod cases.
By now, it probably also goes without saying that if you are going to do this, you’ve got to love it. These men definitely do what they do for their love of fly fishing. All else is secondary. The vast majority of their gear hasn’t changed in a decade. Their fishing rods are stored either in an old aluminum rod case, a plastic mailing tube, or not at all. They have one or two fly rods that might cost over $400 new, but the rest of their rods would be in the under $200 range, and all have seen their day. One of these gentlemen had a pair of wading boots that had no stitching throughout the boots that was intact—there were many holes torn at the seams—and only one boot had the felt left on the sole. The night’s accommodations are frugal for sure, and this makes some sense, since the hotel is little more than an away-from-home office, a place to sleep, and maybe a location for breakfast in the morning. There are a few horror stories they could tell when it comes to accommodations, but they chalk these up to experience and have a long memory (and a few funny stories) about those accommodations that were less than (or much less than) perfect.
If you have had the opportunity to fish with these gentlemen—you will get to know the kind of effort and dedication it takes to do what they do. When you arrive at the river or lake, you can expect to experience a few things. To start, they really know what they are doing when it comes to fly fishing and producing a television show, and these two things are in constant conflict with each other. In a television show, the director controls the daily agenda. Everything is in order and is set to go off as planned. In a fly fishing show, nature is the director, and nature does what it wants, when it wants. These guys know how to adjust to nature’s fickle attitude in order to work around it and to get the job done. I recall one particularly strong storm on the Clark Fork River when the wind and rain kicked up so hard that three foot waves were lifted up and actually pushed flies upstream against a fairly powerful current. Somehow, they were able to continue filming through this to finish out the segment of the show.
Once these issues have been dealt with, however, other issues will unavoidably crop up. The video may have to stop at some of the most inopportune times for the sake of the production. For example, the fishing might be fantastic within an hour or two window of time. In producing a show, however, the fishing might have to stop for a while in order to get all of the non-fishing shots required to complete an episode. Reality dictates that catching some fish might have to be sacrificed in order to get all of the segments needed, and this takes time to do. In addition, this is in some ways, an endurance contest. The work of creating a television show is just that—work. I have seen these two fish a specific location for hours and hours on end, just to catch one or two fish. I’ve also seen them leave a spot within ten or fifteen casts. The reason for this is that there is a filming priority that is not altogether desired in fly fishing, which is that the needs of the show must outweigh the desire of the fishermen to fish. It takes both time and the right situation to get the shots or clips that are needed. We have actually gone to a fishing destination, not to fish, but rather to film a segment that requires a specific time of day at a specific location. Finally, there is an expectation of being ready for anything, whether that means slogging out miles of river terrain or standing either behind the camera until your legs go numb or standing in the river and casting while your back is seizing up from the constant motion. If an episode required just one more fish to be caught and filmed, we might stay out hours beyond the planned exit or drive many miles out of the way the next morning to get that one fish on video.
All of this is stated simply to point out a few key things about producing a fly fishing show, and more specifically about these individuals. Time, an immense amount of effort, and financial expense rather than gain, is what can be expected. These men love what they do enough to understand and to deal with these realities. Living with and appreciating what one has, not regretting what one doesn’t have is the choice that a person has to make in any professional undertaking. For these men, this sacrifice is worth the gain that they feel for doing something worthwhile for themselves and for others who watch their show. Most importantly, these guys do have fun catching fish, and they relate this to their viewing audience each time their show comes on. Yes, the show has an occasional critic; however, no one can criticize their genuine love of fly fishing or their passion for creating a fly fishing show that both entertains and instructs their audience. I, for one, have had to learn to appreciate the intricacies of doing what they do. I have had to learn patience in not stepping into a great piece of water and hooking into a fish before the camera was set up. I have had to learn a little longsuffering on long rides to and from fishing destinations as well as how to deal with breakdowns and forgotten gear. Finally, I’ve even had to learn to endure a little pain. In one episode, I took a fly hook in the calf, delivered by the namesake of the show. He simply said—as apologetically and honestly as he could, “Welcome to the club Larry.” (Thank goodness he pinches his barbs.) In the end, what I found is that all of these things were worth every second. I look at it this way: The viewers get to watch 23 minutes from a nice, comfortable recliner in their home, wishing all the time that they were there. Occasionally, I get to live all 48 to 72 hours of the work of a show from a first person perspective, and it has added up to become some of the great days of my life.
Larry Hardie is a high school English teacher who loves the outdoors and joins Ladin and Steve on many fishing trips.