The whole thing started with four fishermen and a long email chain. That quickly became unwieldy, so Sloop and I set up a private message board for our small group of Pennsylvania anglers and titled it, Troutbitten. Each of us invited close friends — trusted fishermen — the kind of guys who could keep a secret, even after a few beers. And for a short while, a small, core group of guys called Troutbitten fished hard and shared their discoveries with one another.
From the beginning, my posts to our private forum were . . . more elaborate than most. For better or worse, I went on and on about trout fishing, about the way a sunset hit the water and how the wind whispering at the top of the pines blended with the riffling current to sound a lot like the flanger on Hendrix’s Axis Bold As Love. It was a creative outlet for me, a chance to stretch my writing wings. But I also teased out many tactical discussions from our group of experimental anglers. This is where the Mono Rig was born — or more accurately, all that is really possible with a tight line system.
The rivers tied us together. We fished the same waters. And even when I fished in solitude, it felt . . . familiar . . . knowing that my friends had fished the same undercut just last weekend — and understanding what tactics had taken trout. These ten guys were the fishiest people I’d ever met. And looking back, I realize what exceptional anglers Pat, Matt, Sloop, Steve, Bill, Troy, other Steve, Young Love, Chase and Rocketship really were.
I think when the madness of trout fishing threatens to take over part of your life, you look around for others who feel the same about wild trout and moving waters. You want to believe that a life spent chasing a fish is legitimate — that it’s worthwhile, somehow. And finding others who share that same wonder lends validity to the whole thing. It makes the discussion with your wife easier, by telling her that you’re leaving for another three-day trip but you aren’t truck-camping all by yourself. “No, honey, Sawyer’s wife said she thought is was a good idea too. Hey, maybe you two should hang out while we’re gone.” Troutbitten was like a support group for the afflicted. It gave each of us a license to fish even harder. All my life, I had never met anyone else who thought about trout fishing like I did. And then I came to know the guys who would call themselves Troutbitten.
Now, so many years later, much of the knitting that wove together our original group has fallen apart. Some guys moved to different parts of the country, others had kids and lost their free time. Some grew tired of traveling for trout fishing, and others moved on to different species. The forum eventually stalled out too. But five or six years was a good run.
In truth, once I started the Troutbitten blog, most of my writing energies and creativity went in that direction. I had graduated with an English degree in 2003, with a minor in philosophy. And now, I quickly discovered how rewarding writing for a like-minded audience could be. In 2014, I started the blog and wrote the first articles for what would become the heart of my career. With no intentions other than enjoying the process of writing, I never imagined that Troutbitten would have an LLC and a trademark associated with it. I just enjoyed the process of building and publishing articles.
Pat wrote for a year too, until he eventually told me that writing took too much time away from fishing. I love that about him. He’s right. I’ve spent untold hours writing when I could have been casting. But for me, all of these are equal loves. The creativity of writing, of sharing stories and tactics, of photography and web design, and presenting all of this for a Troutbitten audience far wider than I ever imagined is just as rewarding as a good day on the water. In fact, it’s this creative process that keeps me in the game so much. Learning, guiding others and meeting more obsessed anglers keeps my ideas fresh and flowing. The chance to capture a great photograph drags me out before dawn. And writing the Night Fishing for Trout series has me continuing to search for answers out there in the darkness.
In truth, it’s you, the readers and supporters of Troutbitten that keep all of this going. It’s your search for knowledge and the pure enjoyment of everything on the river that makes you Troutbitten.
Growing up, I read all the fishing magazines I could get my eyes on. I bought books and videos too. But I felt like most of the authors weren’t writing for me. (They probably weren’t.) Much of the writing in fly fishing is for the casual angler, for the guy who fishes more destination waters than he fishes the river that flows through his backyard, even if it is full of trout. Many writers and anglers I encountered were far too proud about emphasizing the word fly in front of “fishing.” Who cares? In short, most of the writing about fishing that I read didn’t dig deep enough. These guys didn’t fish hard enough. They weren’t dirty enough. So when I started writing, I tried to capture not only the beauty that calls us to the river in the first place, but also the tactical mystery that keeps us coming back. Because good trout fishing is like solving a puzzle that divides into more pieces — just when you think you’re close to the end.
I believe that much of the fly fishing industry underestimates you. They think you’re here for a year or two and then you’ll be off to another hobby. They don’t believe that this is your way of life. And that’s why so much of your fishing gear falls apart. Because your wading boots weren’t built for a Troutbitten angler who fishes every day after work and twice on the weekends. You aren’t expected to walk very far away from the gravel lot, to put so many river miles on your waders or turn that many revolutions on your large arbor trout reel.
But we do. Don’t we?
In 2017, the opportunities that Troubitten presented became my life. I began a transition away from the seventeen years I’d spent as a professional musician. The traffic on the site reached a point where advertisers were eager to present to a dedicated group of die hard anglers — you. That ad revenue changed my future. It changed what was possible. Next, I started guiding because I had so many requests — enough to believe that I could make a living by guiding the kind of clients that every fishing guide wants to fish with — you. And now guiding is a large part of my career.
Last week, I finally finished the Troutbitten Shop. And after a full year of intricate work, I learned more about web development than I ever knew was possible. What started as a small project to make a couple of Troutbitten t-shirts turned into a full-blown shop with nearly forty tees, hoodies, hats, stickers and canvas prints. Why? Mostly because my Troutbitten friends asked for it. And because the added revenue from the shop allowed me to play my final music gig last Saturday. (Bittersweet? Yes, because I loved the musicians I played with. But it was also time to move on.)
Five hundred and fifty-thousand. That’s how many words fill the pages of Troutbitten. It’s enough for six long books (or one very heavy twenty-two-hundred page hardback). And among these chapters — these stories, thoughts, philosophies and fishing tactics — a handful of ideas stand out. These recurring themes are the building blocks. This is the foundation of Troutbitten.
As a writer, I’m proud that these self-published words are the roots of my company. It’s the writing that connects everything else: the guiding, the speaking and the shop. None of it means anything without the support of those five hundred and fifty-thousand words.
So I owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your support through the years. Sincerely, thank you.
And I’ll continue to write, adding to the words, themes and ideas here. I’ll guide a hundred days a year. I just finished the last guide trip of my fall season, and now I’ll spend the winter working on a full rebuild of the Troutbitten site. I want to make it easier to find what you’re looking for, to make the categories more like chapters in a book.
Josh Darling (Wilds Media) and I will start shooting videos after the New Year, and watching those projects come to fruition will be a different kind of reward. Some things can be communicated only through images. For the shop, I have more designs on the way that I really love, along with a few custom items like hand-tied leaders and maybe a full Mono Rig kit. Who knows what the future holds?
All of this is on the horizon, because Troutbitten has become my career. So, cheers to you for making it possible. And one more time, thanks for everything. You are Troutbitten.
Fish hard, friends.
T R O U T B I T T E N