Across the country, winter brings with it a unique set of ups and downs. For some it means early morning caravans and carpools to get fresh tracks on epic powder days. Others simply take solace in the fact that they can finally remove over-priced sheets of plywood from their windows because hurricane season has come to an end. However, once winter has set in, no matter where you live – if you fish – it’s damn near impossible to not salivate over the nearing of spring. In the midst of winter, and with spring in sight – there’s no better way to celebrate the seasons ahead than to gather amongst other likeminded, beer drinking fly fishing dirtbags and watch the freshest footage painstakingly stitched together into the year’s finest fishing films. Yes – the 2018 Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3T) has begun! We recently caught up with F3T staffer, Ryan Thompson to get an insider’s view on what attendees can expect from what promises to be the biggest and best Fly Fishing Film Tour to date.

Simms: Before we dip too far into this Q&A, how about giving us a little history on the F3T? What was the main reason for starting the tour?

Thompson: The Tour was started way back in 2007 by the AEG [Angling Exploration Group] crew, the guys that made the original Trout Bum Diaries films – Thad Robinson, Chris Owens, Brian Jill, Ryan Davey and eventually Jay Johnson.

The films they were making and their approach to fly fishing was different than anything that was in the sport’s “mainstream” media at the time. They knew that there were a lot of anglers out there like them, exploring new water and techniques, sleeping in their trucks and getting it done on a shoestring; the type of fishermen that weren’t being represented on Sunday afternoon TV. As a means to reach the people they knew would dig these stories the most, and as an excuse to fish and party their way across the country, they started to bring their films (and the work of some of the other early fly fishing film pioneers like RA Beattie, World Angling & Felt Soul Media) to fly shops and fishing guides’ living rooms. They’d buy a big screen TV from Best Buy, show the films on it that night and return it the next day. They’d decide where they wanted to fish next and then, figure out how they could put on a show there.

Those guys bootstrapped the tour until 2009 but ultimately, they wanted to focus on filming projects and growing their new production company, Motiv Fishing. It was at this point that Doug Powell, Chris Keig and Tom Bie, before he moved on to publish The Drake magazine fulltime, purchased the F3T and began applying some of the tour management skills they’d developed in the ski film industry.

Simms: Do you think anybody had an inkling how big that initial idea would eventually become?

Thompson: I don’t know. Maybe? I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the growth the tour has seen or the cultural shift that has happened across fly fishing in the years since the AEG crew hit the road. There are a lot of factors that have contributed to fly fishing becoming less your rich uncle’s pastime and more a sport that anyone can learn and enjoy, but the guys that started this thing deserve a ton of credit for doing something different, choosing to share it with people across the country, and inspiring a whole new wave of anglers along the way.

Simms: When did you join the crew, and in what capacity?

Thompson: I first hit the road in 2012. I was guiding during the summer and working on the Warren Miller ski film tour in the fall when Doug Powell and Chris Keig asked me to come help them with the F3T. That first tour I was just learning the ropes from Thad Robinson and Jay Johnson and doing whatever needed to be done on the road. I began managing the primary tour shows with Doug in 2013 and began working on the F3T fulltime in 2014.

Simms: The other day you and I were talking about the filmmakers you are working with today vs. the early days of the tour. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Thompson: Several filmmakers who have been around since the early days are still in the mix, folks like RA Beattie and Felt Soul media. They’ve always made great films, though their skills and the technology their using have certainly evolved over the years. Each year it seems the lineup is made up of about half veteran F3T filmmakers and half newcomers to the tour. Those newcomers used to primarily come from within the fly fishing space, but in the last couple years we’ve begun receiving more submissions from filmmakers who have cut their creative teeth in other areas like skiing, climbing or conservation.

Pre-Show Swag Shower

Sold Out F3T from 2017

Simms: Regarding these “non-endemic” filmmakers, what is it that’s attracting more and more creative types to the fly fishing space? Do you feel that the quality of the films has improved because of this influx?

Thompson: As fly fishing attracts new participants I think a growing number of filmmakers are becoming aware of the stories that exist throughout our sport. Combined with a variety of characters and beautiful settings, those stories provide an appealing challenge for new work. I think these new perspectives on fly fishing-related stories will continue to have a positive effect on film quality, largely via the inspiration that new, unique viewpoints can bring.

Simms: Specifically, what is it about the films that have gotten better? Is it a matter of filmmakers being more driven to get creative/dynamic, bad ass shots? Or does it have more to do with the stories/overarching messages behind the films? Is that by design?

Thompson: As fly fishing attracts new participants I think a growing number of filmmakers are becoming aware of the stories that exist throughout our sport. Combined with a variety of characters and beautiful settings, those stories provide an appealing challenge for new work. I think these new perspectives on fly fishing-related stories will continue to have a positive effect on film quality, largely via the inspiration that new, unique viewpoints can bring.

Simms: I would assume that the current quality of films has forced the “die-hard angler who’s good with a camera” to up their game in terms of storytelling and therefore as filmmakers. Do you agree?

Thompson: Yeah, probably. Which is a good thing. The best films we’ve ever had came from filmmakers who were anglers first and were inspired by their love of fishing to share this sport and its stories with others. So – though we may be seeing interest in fly fishing-related stories from filmmakers who started their professional work outside the fly fishing space, it’s still the films that are by anglers for anglers that are going to resonate the most with our audience.

Simms: Now that the tour is a living breathing platform, and it’s reaching so many more people than ever before, have the goals or missions of the tour changed at all?

Thompson: Not at all. The ultimate goal of the F3T, regardless of how many shows we do, is and will always be to bring communities of anglers together. We think of every show as a gathering of the fly fishing tribe, a chance to share fly fishing stories with your friends and get fired up to get on the water. Along the way, we also strive to support the local fly shops who are the backbone of this sport and the conservation groups who fight for access, clean water and healthy fish.

Simms: With so many tour stops, I think it’s safe to assume you are constantly up to your eyeballs dealing with theatres, concert halls, filmmakers, sponsors and so on. And I’m sure the task of making each year’s tour bigger and better than the last is daunting to say the least. As Tour Manager, what is the biggest compliment you can get? In other words, what is it that makes all the tireless work worth the effort?

Thompson: First off, I wouldn’t be doing what I do without Doug, Chris and our Road Crew. Every bit of this thing is a team effort. That said, the best reward I get out on the road is watching stoked audiences enjoy these films and a night out with friends. You can tell by the energy of the audience as they leave a theater that they’re already thinking about and planning their next days on the water.

We think of every show as a gathering of the fly fishing tribe, a chance to share fly fishing stories with your friends and get fired up to get on the water.

— Ryan Thompson

Simms: Let’s shift gears a bit. We all know that the tour does a great job of spreading the stoke of fishing for the upcoming season but can you talk a little more about what the tour has managed to contribute in terms of conservation? Personally, I was amazed to learn just how much F3T does for organizations dedicated to protecting our waterways. Don’t be shy. Nobody likes to boast, but I think when it comes to protecting our most beloved resources, more people need to brag a little and be a little more loud and proud about conservation wins.

Thompson: Helping to raise funds and awareness for conservation and fishing-related charities is a massively important priority for us, but it wouldn’t happen if not for the motivated organizations who are doing the heavy lifting on behalf of anglers and fisheries. What I mean is that the F3T creates a great fundraising opportunity and platform from which to spread information, but it’s the chapters and volunteers that table at our shows or the groups that put on independent Fly Fishing Film Tour premieres that deserve the credit for educating and engaging our audience.

Simms: How can attendees and the general public contribute to these causes?

Thompson: At just about every Fly Fishing Film Tour premiere you are going to see local conservation and charity groups tabling and sharing information. These are the Trout Unlimited volunteers doing stream restoration in your area or the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers chapters working to protect our public lands. They’re the Project Healing Waters groups helping veterans find solace on the water or the Casting for Recovery volunteers hosting retreats for breast cancer survivors. The best thing you can do at one of our shows is chat with these folks, learn more about the work they’re doing your area (and how you might be able to help), become a member and/or sign up for their mailing lists and support they’re fundraising efforts. Buy some raffle tickets, a shirt, hat, etc. whatever they have going on. These groups can’t do what they do without public support and, in many cases, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fishing we love without their efforts.

Simms: If you don’t mind me asking, how much did the F3T raise last year towards conservation? And with that number in mind, are there any financial goals for 2018? 

Thompson: In 2017 the Fly Fishing Film Tour premieres raised more than $500,000 for conservation and fishing-related charities. But really, we’re just the platform. It’s the organizations, chapters and volunteers that are doing the real work. We’re just glad the F3T can serve as a unique and viable opportunity for these groups to get closer to their goals. In 2018, we want to continue to assist these organizations in their efforts and help them raise even more funds than last year.

Simms: Back to the films, do you have any personal favorite films this year? Or is there anything unique about this year’s lineup that you are particularly excited about? 

Thompson: There’s some really fun and incredibly well-made films this year, so it’s hard to pick one favorite, but Beyond the Horizon by Cold Collaborative is certainly one of the top ones for me. The combination of a great story and phenomenal fishing sewn together by top quality cinematography, editing and soundtrack make that one a really special film. 

Simms: After having watched all of the films, is there any one film that you wish you could have been on set for and why?

Thompson: Oh man – that’s a tough one. I think 100 Miles would have been a really fun one to be a part of. The DIY nature of their adventure, the great fishing and the chance to see 100 miles of a remote Alaskan river with a fun crew would make for an incredible trip. 

Sponsor Gear Showcase

Ryan Thompson, Stokes the Crowd

Simms: What city do you think is going to attract the rowdiest audience this year? 

Thompson: Now you’re just trying to get me in trouble. The Bozeman kick off is going to be a rowdy one, no doubt. But Missoula, MT and Boulder, CO are generally neck and neck for the rowdy award. Fort Collins, CO has been coming on strong the last couple years and you can’t rule out the dark horse contenders like Nashville, Charleston or Minneapolis. I think any of those spots could take the title this year. 

Simms: With all the work that goes into the tour, is there a particular moment where you can take a sigh of relief? Or do you essentially feel like a stressed-out wedding planner from premiere night to the closer and all the stops in between? 

Thompson: Ha! Every stop has its unique challenges for sure, but this job is too much fun to get all that stressed out about. It is nice to get things kicked off and get a few shows under our belt. You start to see the work of the preceding months paying off and get to reunite with friends along the way. 

Simms: Once the tour ends this coming April, what are your plans? Any exciting fishing trips to look forward to? 

Thompson: There will definitely be some fishing in my future, but first I’m going to log some time with my wife and son. My days with them will be too few and far between over the next few months and I’ll be missing them something fierce by the time this thing is all said and done. 

Simms: Any other news or final words you’d like to share? 

Thompson: We’re also working on some other shows and events we want to try to do in the spring. For instance, we’re working on a set of Southern Florida shows in early May that’ll all be benefits for Hurricane Irma relief. Speaking of shows, we’re adding new ones to the schedule all the time so if folks don’t see their town up there yet they should check back in a few weeks as it’ll likely be up there soon. 

Thanks to the filmmakers, fly shops, sponsors, affiliate partners and, most importantly, the F3T fans who make this whole thing possible. There would be no Fly Fishing Film Tour without you and we can’t wait to see you out on the road!

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