from Deanna Travis
Publisher & Owner
FLY ANGLERS ONLINE – THEN AND NOW
Early in the year of 1995 The Ladyfisher began to develop an idea for an online fly fishing resource. She laid out the idea on a series of note cards on the floor of her home outside of Poulsbo, Washington where she was living with her late husband Jim Birkholm, aka Castwell. She wanted to offer a service to fly fishers that would provide useful information for the beginner as well as the more advanced angler, it had to be available free to any user with Internet access and the material would be free from advertising content. She anticipated that if she could attract sufficient advertisers, called sponsors, she would be able to support the site and provide an income source for her family. Thus, on September 1, 1995 Fly Anglers Online became a reality with the first issue appearing on the world-wide web.
At the time the FAOL became a reality in 1995 the Internet was a very new idea to most of the general public. While computer geeks and other technical nerds had been playing with it for a few years it was a very foreign concept to many people. I don’t believe that the word Internet was even listed in the English Dictionary in 1995. This was the age when telephones were attached by a cord to the wall, you took photos with a camera that required film, letters were written on paper and placed in the mail and computers were not found in every home and they were mostly considered by most common folks as a glorified word processor. Access to the Internet was by a phone line connection and the process was very, very slow. Into this new and unexplored world FAOL was born.
Having been active in the fly fishing community for many years prior to the launching of FAOL the Ladyfisher and Castwell had many contacts with manufacturers and providers of fly fishing paraphernalia. Using these contacts the Ladyfisher was able to secure several sponsors that were willing to pay for sponsor pages. This was at a time when most advertising dollars were spent on print advertising in sporting magazines. Very few companies were maintaining a website on the Internet at that time. Fortunately a few major tackle manufacturers like Scientific Anglers, Cortland, Sage – just to name a few – were willing to become early sponsors of FAOL.
The Ladyfishers idea was to have a main page set out with the FAOL masthead, a listing of the most recent articles, and a sidebar containing the links to the other pages on the site. These included the sponsor pages, archived articles and the bulletin board. New material would be posted to the main page each Sunday evening. Writers, both amateur and professional, were urged to submit articles for publication but FAOL would not pay for content. The Ladyfisher was primarily interested in publishing material from writers without any professional experience but those writers that had practical experience and expertise that they were willing to share with other fly fishers. Soon the site hosted several writers that contributed new material each week. Columns on fly tying, casting, presentation and equipment filled the pages of FAOL and the readership grew.
In a few years FAOL had morphed into more than just an online publication. The Ladyfisher offered a “membership” of sorts and for ten dollars you could receive a patch with the FAOL logo and a pin to put on your fishing hat identifying you as a FAOL supporter. FAOL began to sponsor “Fish Ins,” a chance for readers of FAOL to gather together at a specific place, meet other FAOL readers, tie flies together, fish together and generally just have a good time. FAOL readers had become a family and many long term friendships became established through these experiences. On the bulletin board members could exchange ideas, hold fly tying contests and exchanges and keep in touch with other anglers. For several years there was an online chat room where real time exchanges could take place between the participants.
As FAOL moved into its second decade of publication other online fly fishing publications began to appear online. Some of those were funded by print magazines that were loosing subscribers to the online publications and others were funded by fly fishing equipment manufacturers and distributors. These publications could afford to hire full time editorial staffs, ad agencies and tech support. Mom and Pop operations like FAOL were finding it more and more difficult to compete in this market.
In the spring of 2009 The Ladyfisher and Castwell were on a trip for FAOL to the Bahama Islands. The Office of Tourism for the Bahamas had been a sponsor of FAOL for several years and this trip was for the purpose of gathering information for an article on fly fishing opportunities on the lesser known islands in the Bahamas. On that trip Castwell had a massive heart attack and died; leaving the Ladyfisher temporarily stranded in a foreign country. This serious personal loss for the Ladyfisher in conjunction with the gradual withdrawal of several major sponsors was a major blow to FAOL. This set in motion the numerous changes that have occurred since the date.
Today FAOL continues to carry out the Ladyfisher’s initial vision, but on a more limited basis. The content is still free to anyone with Internet access, the bulletin board is still active and new material that is relevant and free from commercial advertising is still added to the main page. However, as much as some things have remained the same many things have changed. The fly fishing industry has changed immensely since the inception of FAOL and finding sponsors has become highly competitive. Many of the larger fly fishing equipment manufacturers and distributors have their own websites with articles and videos featuring their equipment. The balance of their advertising dollars are directed at trade magazines and a few of the larger print publications. Against these industry giants small, self-funded operations like FAOL cannot compete.
Due to rotator cuff problems in both shoulders, severe arthritis and developing balance problems the Ladyfisher has not engaged in fly fishing for several years. Because of these problems her personal interest and involvement with the website has decreased and she rarely accesses the site. While some of the members still gather to fish together, formal Fish-Ins sponsored by FAOL have not occurred in several years and due to the lack of interest and hosts the Chat Room was discontinued several years ago. Many of the original readers and contributors of FAOL have died or are no longer active anglers due to the creeping effects of age. While the website still receives many hits people reading and interacting with the new material has declined. Many of the users of the site do not even visit the main page or read the new articles.
Over the years our readers have benefitted from several faithful writers. In recent years Rick Zieger, Ralph Long, Tom Travis and Satoshi Yamamoto have consistently provided excellent content. Charlaine Nordin still serves as our site administrator and Ron Tidd, our tireless IT professional, has kept the website running for over a decade without any form of compensation. Without his work and the faithful cadre of writers and administrators FAOL would have ceased to exist years ago.
Currently FAOL is self-funded and given the current industry climate that is not likely to change. Unless the costs of maintaining the server and our Internet connection escalates dramatically FAOL will continue to be available. We will continue to post new articles on the main page as they become available but we will no longer maintain a regular updating of the main page material. We will continue to accept new material from writers that wish to contribute to the advancing of knowledge and information relevant to fly anglers.
Thank you to all our faithful readers and supporters. May you continue to visit our site, interact with others on the bulletin board and enjoy good times fly fishing, fly tying and generally enjoying the great angling opportunities that we all appreciate.