This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

December 13th, 2004

Genesis One

An email from Jeremy Gubbins asked for a column on how we came to establish FAOL. It was a very nice, flattering email, but a fair question.

In the Beginning

My husband, JC or Castwell and I have been outdoor writers for many years. At one time we were both members of the Outdoor Writers of America, which at one time was considered a very prestigious group. We both wrote for the 'popular' magazines in our spare time, since we had a full-time job with our own business. I won't go into a lot about the company except to say it was manufacturing of a transferable thin film, a technology which JC invented and patented. It provided us with a decent living and we even got to fish.

In 1995 JC had a major heart attack. We were able to continue the business, but when a good offer to buy it came along from one of our customers, we decided to sell.

We retired. Or so we thought.

The payments stopped coming. We filed suit. It took 14 months to get the claim into court. To make a long story short, the judge told the people who bought the business to pay up, and the next day they filed bankruptcy.

JC had taken a job as manager of a local fly shop, so we did have some income. I continued to write and was offered a job writing a weekly column for Cox-Scripps/Howard's website, called GoWest. The money was good and I enjoyed writing for them.

Scripps sold their interest in GoWest to Ted Turner and Turner's people offered me a 40 page contract which tied me to them for 3 years plus first right of refusal for anything else I might write for a couple of years after that. I did not want to be tied down for that long, and could not get them to budge, so I quit.

A neighbor who we knew through the communities Board of Directors had been telling me for a year I should have my own website. He was web savvy and had a friend who was a webmaster. The neighbor worked full time writing technical manuals for a large equipment manufacturer and it seemed he and the webmaster had the technical expertise which JC and I were lacking.

After several months of almost daily discussions, we sat on our livingroom floor one night with a pack of file cards and laid out on the floor what I wanted to see in a fly fishing website.

The major problem was neither of the other two guys knew anything about fly fishing. JC and I began getting them up to speed, casting lessons, fishing lessons, speaking the language.

In return, the guys told us what a website HAD to have, which included banner advertising on every page. We said no. They said, "you can't do that." We said, sorry, but that's the way it is going to be.

They had some ideas on marketing, and what sponsors should be paying - which was absolutely outrageous. They had no idea of how small the fly fishing industry really is, and at the end of five months they had no advertising at all.

We had another major problem, FAOL when it first went online was 'living' on a partitioned hard drive, leased from an ISP in Salt Lake City, UT. If the site was down or there were problems we could only reach them by email, never by phone, and never on a weekend. Not good.

Another problem was the idea of putting up a new issue of FAOL each week was more than either of the other guys was willing to do. We felt it was absolutely necessary to have new content for our readers - to give readers a reason to keep coming here.

The other two guys resigned when we made the decision to move FAOL to a local ISP where we could physically go down and talk to the people hosting the website, so we rented space on the new ISP's server.

That left JC to do what he could, and since he had been doing all the graphic design for our old business, he proceeded to learn web graphics. One of the employees from our new ISP took me under her wing, another recommended a good book, and I learned how to write HTML4 code.

In the meantime, JC sold his patent, and we had enough money in the bank to keep FAOL afloat for a while. We picked up a few Sponsors and as soon as we felt stable, we bought our first server.

From the beginning I had a vision of what I thought a good fly fishing website should be and what it should offer. The key then, and now is good, honest information. JC also felt we needed a good bulletin board and a chat room. We 'rented' the bulletin board for a year, and then purchased it. It was about the best, and most secure one available. We also bought the Chat room. Chat rooms are a real problem in security for the whole website, and if they are not properly managed they can be very messy. In fact, a major Fortune 500 company used a internal chat room for communication within the company, and came to work one Monday morning to find they now had a porn site. It took several weeks to fix the problem.

The folks who volunteer to Host the Chat room, are not here to blow their own horn, they provide a welcoming atmosphere for the chatters and help out when they can. It is their good judgement which keeps the Chat room a pleasant, family-friendly place to visit.

As JC and I became more familiar with what it required on a weekly basis to produce FAOL we added new sections. The Fly of the Week, JC's Castwell column and my LadyFisher column were part of the original site. Nearly everything else has been developed as we went along. Many of the sections were from suggestions by readers, and in some cases sparked by a story or article sent in by readers.

For the inquiring minds who want to know, FAOL has as of December 1, 2004 over 29,000 html pages and over 18,000 graphics. We now operate from a 'vault' in Seattle, on our three state-of-the-art Lennox servers. Our equipment is fast, sort of like a Lamborguini on aviation fuel, in fact faster than we need, we average just a half million hits a day now. The 'vault' has two separate power supplies in case of power outage, plus a on-site generator which can run 36 hours without refueling.

Here at FAOL Central, we have three hot computers, a DSL line, routers, internal lan, a scanner and a generator. We do all of our own work. However we have a guru who keeps us out of trouble, he is the brains behind any of the changes and upgrades we do, via We've been through so many computer upgrades I can't even count them; or what they have cost us either.

I'm often asked if I had any idea FAOL would get this big. The answer is yes. What I envisioned is what we have, although it is not complete. There are other sections to be added. The major thing I wanted to do was to bring free information to anyone who wished to be a fly fisher. No elite stuff, just give folks good information and build a community of fly fishers who would share information and pass it on.

We've had some criticism that FAOL appears 'homespun' and not as 'slick' as it should be. The problem with 'slick' sites is the hard-edge impersonal impression they have. We are anything but impersonal. Which I believe is why so many of you make FAOL your 'home' page.

About half of our readers any given week are 'new' to fly fishing. Which means we have the first crack at giving them a good start on their fly fishing journey, plus being able to influence their attitudes and choices on catch and release and being a steward of their environment. Very important stuff.

Finally, through the friendships we have made with you and our brethren fly fishers, the articles and columns which appear on FAOL are by fishermen (and women) who fish and are willing to share their knowledge and experience with each other. Some are professional writers, some may be later and some will never write anything else. All are important because what they say/write is real. What comes through is their love for the sport and the way it influences us in our everyday lives.

On our front/main page it says it all: 'The Fraternity of Fly Fishers.' ~ DLB

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

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