Ten years ago, podcasts had just been introduced to Apple’s iTunes. Long before This American Life, TED Talks, and NPR’s various shows were seeing downloads in the thousands every day, the medium was being filled by various niche hobbyists. Mostly a sensation in the techie world, podcasting was done by a select few for a select few.
But in 2006, Zach Matthew’s Itinerant Angler debuted as one of the first fly fishing – or outdoors, for that matter – podcasts. “There was a time,” Matthews recalls, “where a few shows in I actually got up to the 17th most downloaded in iTunes overall. Then the next year, ESPN, NPR, and the BBC all got into podcasting.”
The Itinerant Angler now has a back catalog of over 100 episodes, and still ranks as one of the most popular fly fishing podcasts. Shows generally run half an hour, and feature Matthews interviewing a guest. With that many shows all revolving around fly fishing, the variety of topics is quite impressive.
Authors, product innovators, guides, conservation pioneers, and bloggers have all been on the show. “My real job is as an attorney,” says Matthews. “So I’ve been trained to talk to people. From there, the challenge was really just finding good guests and figuring out the technical issues. But it is really all about that interview process.”
By and large, interviews and interactive dialogue are the format of most fly fishing podcasts. Of the over 50 shows that iTunes lists as being primarily about fly fishing, the most popular follow that formula.
In an activity that has always maintained a strong communal element, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Although most anglers prefer solitude on the water, there is a reason why fly shops, lodge bars, and Trout Unlimited meetings are so popular. If podcasts have shown anything, it is that the discussion of gear, conservation, and sometimes even fishing itself has proven to be as interesting to listen to as it is to actually engage in.
“That was part of the goal: to have the feeling of a bunch of guys sitting in a fly shop, shooting the bull and bantering,” says Kirk Werner. Werner, along with cohosts Evan Burck and Derek Young, produced The Open Fly podcast for three years. This past March, due to hosts’ relocations and hectic schedules, they closed the Open Fly. “Podcasts are social media, and very few social media ventures last as long as you’d hope.”
Although new episodes of their podcast aren’t being produced any more, Werner likes the idea of the timelessness of the digital format. “With online media, once you post it and pay for hosting it is there for perpetuity. And it isn’t like the issues we dealt with a few years ago have gotten all better. So there is still value in what we’ve done.”
In the most successful podcasts, conservation issues are prominently featured. The Open Fly took an approach to have at least one guest on each episode that was actively engaging in conservation work. Like many fly fishers, Werner saw the inclusion of such interviews as not only good radio but an essential part of any worthwhile endeavor. “Putting the show together kind of mirrored the path of anyone getting into fly fishing. It starts out innocent enough, but no one gets into it because they want to get into conservation. Then, you quickly realize that you can’t have one without the other.”
A magazine article or some pictures on a blog can go a long way in raising awareness for various conservation concerns. Once you can actually hear the passion of the people on the front lines, however, the entire situation becomes much more real. Even if you’re just sitting in traffic, hearing an emotional human response to something like legislation allowing suction dredging changes things. That connection, although potentially removed by thousands of miles or (due to that digital immortality of podcasts) time, can far outweigh an expertly written article.
“We tried to bring important issues before our listeners,” says Werner. “Even though we’re up in the Pacific Northwest, it doesn’t mean that the issues aren’t pertinent to someone somewhere else in the country. People travel to fish, and visitors need to know this kind of information. It is that kind of content, sandwiched by some entertainment, that made The Open Fly what it was.”
Again, the dichotomy of alone/together time is a necessary tension. For the angler who wants to fill that solitary commute or afternoon at the desk with fly fishing chatter, podcasts fit the bill. The quantity of quality programs available on demand provides a great breadth of options for veterans and newcomers alike.
One particular podcast that caters to the whole spectrum is 2 Guys and a River. “It is purely for the love of fishing,” Dave Goetz says. His podcast cohost and fly fishing partner Steve Mathewson adds to the sentiment, “part of the fun is just talking about this stuff with Dave. We get to relive our experiences on the water, and hopefully help people get better at catching fish.”
Like listening to music or a sporting event, there can be an element of escapism to a fly fishing podcast. Highlighting angling opportunities in far off locales, or just across town, can be enticing if done well.
The 2 Guys and a River episodes are relatively brief, and give listeners some solid advice intermingled with anecdotes, commentary, and some entertaining self-deprecation. “We hope people have fun listening, because we have a lot of fun recording,” says Goetz.
Something so incredibly tactile and tangible, like a cast or tying a fly, seems so ill-suited for radio. But a gifted communicator can give even just one or two nuggets of guidance that can have real benefits on the water. A recent 2 Guys and a River was about making a good presentation. Mending is hard to describe if you are “hands on” with someone, let alone behind a microphone. But by quoting noted angler and author Gary Borger, Goetz and Mathewson broke down some of the basic mechanics and philosophy in a five-minute segment.
Surveying the global podcast scene, the demand for instructional and issue-focused content is very present. However, some of the most downloaded programs today feature stories. The success of programs like Serial and Lore demonstrates our culture’s desire to hear engaging narrative. For as long as it has been around and documented, fly fishing has been presented as a pursuit that elicits an awareness of a much greater experience.
Launching this Spring, On the Fly will seek to fill that particular niche. The new show will include some current events and techniques, but the focus is about sharing an experience. “The goal is to chronicle stories and the sport,” Geoff Bergen says. Bergen just released the trailer for the podcast, but already has a number of episodes in queue. “Some people might have just gotten into fly fishing and might not know the history. I feel like they need to have an opportunity to get and share that.”
With On the Fly, Bergen also thinks that there will be appeal to a non-traditional audience. “If we want more women and younger anglers to get involved in the sport, we have to present something different than we have been.” He sees it as an extension of social media. “A podcast is another way to share and make connections in fishing.”
This reality isn’t lost on the fly fishing podcast veteran, Zach Matthews. “The demographic is changing. Whereas the last few generations had a lot of people that got into fly fishing as a hobby, the new crowd has a different set of priorities.” Whether it is good or bad, the fly fishing lifestyle is all encompassing for many millennials. It might sound too philosophical, but for a number of reasons that crowd may also be seeking the kind of meaning that a show like On the Fly is planning on providing.
At the end of the day, podcasts are the contemporary equivalent of a nearly hundred-year-old medium. Instead of sitting around a giant transistor in the living room, anyone with an internet or cellular connection can stream whatever they want, whenever they want it. This flexibility for audiences and broadcasters alike has allowed podcasting to flourish.
Fly fishing, due to its relational spirit and prose-worthy nature, seems to be tailor made for this digital format. While there are some poorly made and below par offerings, many podcasts are worth a listen and subscription. Most anglers will inevitably want some sort of combination of information and entertainment, so the shows that offer that combination will have a reputation and staying power.
“We hope that over our 31 episodes we made a difference,” says Kirk Werner. “The Open Fly could have been entertaining to people, but hopefully the take away was a new perspective on conservation and fishing. We just wanted it to be worth our time, our guests’ time, and our audience’s time.”
In one of those in-between times – a commute, treadmill session, mowing the lawn – check out one of the aforementioned podcasts on fly fishing. You might not be hooked by the first episode or show that you try, but the overall benefits of regularly listening to an informative and well-fashioned production can be great. At best, you’ll be turned on to something that can improve your next time on the water. At the very least, you’ll have the chance to hear more about this great pursuit from someone who shares your passion.
Geoff Berger’s On the Fly podcast will be launching soon, and the trailer can be listened to on his blog of the same name.
Dave Goetz and Steve Mathewson both write on the website for 2 Guys and a River, where all of their podcast episodes can also be listened to.
The deep library of Zach Matthews’ Itinerant Angler can be found, along with much more, on his blog.
For more of the fly fishing podcasts recommended by Casting Across, check out these articles.