This winter, anglers across the country are buying tickets and filling venues to attend the International Fly Fishing Film Festival. Short films about arctic char, the Montauk coast, and how the internet is impacting fishing will be viewed by thousands at theaters, fly shops, and the Fly Fishing Show. A case could be made for today being the golden age of fly fishing media.
But a few clicks on social media or fly fishing blogs will make it clear that it isn’t just the premier events that are tapping into the medium of video. The availability of iPhones, GoPros, and other electronics equipped with cameras has made cinematographers out of trout bums and catfish noodlers. Not every clip uploaded to Facebook or Vimeo is the caliber of the IF4 selections. However, the angler with a computer, tablet, or smartphone has a library of thousands upon thousands of fly fishing videos to watch at his or her leisure.
One of the most recent additions to this virtual collection came from William Knouse. Growing up in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley, Knouse has had daily opportunities to fish some of the top notch spring creeks and freestone streams on the east coast. Furthermore, his grandfather sat on the banks of the LeTort and watched local fishermen like Vince Marinaro, Charles Fox, and Ed Shenk become nationally known anglers. Those stories, along with his own time on the stream, endeared Bill to the sport and the resource.
This week, Knouse released a 10-minute video to YouTube. Through the use of a few GoPros and an extra set of hands, he chronicles two weeks of winter fishing on the Yellow Breeches Creek. “Even outside the fly fishing only stretch of the Breeches,” he says, “there is some water that should be designated as a Class-A trout fishery.” Flowing through over 50 miles before it meets with the Susquehanna River across from Harrisburg, the river is one of the Commonwealth’s most popular trout fishing destinations. The most well-known beats surround the village of Boiling Springs, where the Breeches receive a cold, clear infusion of water from the springs that the town is named for.
Knouse capitalized on that aesthetic: “I stuck the camera in the river for five minutes, took it home, plugged it into the computer, and was amazed. I knew I had to film more. The GoPro is perfect for limestone streams.”
It was this footage, really just a new perspective of an ecosystem he already knew was special, that led him to make the first video. Knouse is passionate about fishing for the trout in the Yellow Breeches, but also protecting – and now sharing that river. “I thought about throwing something together to show that you can fish here year-round. How you can catch about as many fish as you could in any other season.” Then it morphed into something else. “The trout on Instagram might get people going,” he asserts about his pictures and first video. But the goal is more than that. “It is the next step in a process of getting a generation involved, active, and restoring streams.”
Bill Knouse is in his 20’s, and like many millennial fly fishers he uses social media to share his adventures with friends and the world. While there are plenty of anglers that fill their feeds with the biggest fish or the prettiest flies, many also support the conservation efforts that underpin the sport. Causes go viral about as rapidly as anything besides celebrity gossip. That applies to “hashtag activism” in conservation. A video clip has the potential to open eyes and minds to the fact that there is more to a stream than hungry fish. “It is a way to communicate to a world used to seeing so much information – and a culture where fishermen fantasize about other fishermen fishing.”
Even though he just completed and posted his first video, Knouse is already planning on making more. This time, with a pointed message and focus. “The state says that less than one percent of fishermen target wild trout,” he claims. Anglers, local fly fisherman dedicated to catch-and-release even, might not understand the value of the watershed in their backyards. “There just aren’t a lot of limestone streams with wild trout in them, and I want to make a video that is stunning enough, educational enough, and passionate enough for people to get behind.”
Whether it be at a sold out theater or the desk of a daydreaming angler, more fly fishers are learning about techniques, destinations, and conservation issues through videos. Manufacturers promote products, tyers demonstrate their patterns, and organizations like Trout Unlimited encourage activism. Fly fishing is a pursuit that begs to be filmed. Nothing will duplicate the experience of being on the water. But a camera in a skilled hand can capture those moments that anglers mutually know and enjoy. The coming years will undoubtedly see this medium used in new ways by more people. Through individuals and events, exposure will increase. As with everything else, the technology will become more accessible.
It is a good thing, because it only takes one person watching one video another person made. That is all it takes to spur fly fishers to take action. Like Knouse, it could start with an angler playing with some gear and figuring out how a shot might look. That could be the inspiration to make and do more. “If I can do a video, and do it right,” he says, “it could get enough people, even just around here, to make a difference.”