New Owners Ensure a Future for the Flyfishing Film Tour

A mass e-mail went out on December 31st from the four “Fish Bum” members of AEG—Thad Robison, Justin Crump, Chris Owens, and Brian Jill —to all of the 2009 sponsors of the Flyfishing Film Tour. The message contained three short sentences, with the important one right up top:

“Effective today 12/31/08, I have resigned from AEG Media. It has been a pleasure working with you.”

The announcement sent off a landslide of speculation in the flyfishing blogopshere as to what caused the foursome to resign and what the future might hold for the Flyfishing Film Tour.

Only Thad, Justin, Owens, and Brian can answer the first question, but I can answer the second. As of this week, two partners and I bought the Flyfishing Film Tour from owners Terry Wolvert and Jim Crystal, ensuring that the tour will go on, with only a slightly delayed front-end schedule.

The tour will be called The Drake Flyfishing Film Tour, as my partners and I did not acquire the name AEG. Other than that, the most substantial change to the tour is that the filmmakers will take a share of the profits, based on a model that the Banff Film Tour has been using for years.

My two partners are Doug Powell and Chris Keig, who are both avid flyfishermen, and who both have substantial experience with film tours through their work with Warren Miller Entertainment. (Keig was the former Head of Production at Warren Miller, and has been working with AEG the past two years as an editor—the connection that ultimately led to the sale.)

As to the future of AEG? I can’t answer that question. What I can do is give credit where credit is due: The boys of AEG created this tour. And frankly, they took an awful lot of shit for doing it. Some of it was deserved—I’ve been critical of them myself. But most of it wasn’t, and at the end of the day they should feel proud of the road they paved for the rest of us. For you history buffs out there, the chronology of the flyfishing tour, as I recall it, goes something like this:

The first AEG story, which ran in the spring, 2005 issue of The Drake:

Drake 2005In September of 2006, The Drake hosted the inaugural Flyfishing Video Awards at the Flyfishing Retailer show in Denver. AEG won best fishing with their Patagonia segment from TBD 1, RA Beattie won best story, and Travis Rummel and Ben Knight won the first of three straight Movie of the Year awards with Running Down the Man.

The morning after the show, I was approached by a man named John Viehman—currently the group publisher for Down East Enterprises— which owns Fly Rod and Reel Magazine. John asked if I’d be interested in “teaming up” to take the Drake Video awards out on the road. What I thought of the idea was a moot point, because I had a full-time job as editor of Powder, with no time to take films on any sort of winter tour. But AEG did.

So Viehman approached Ryan Davey, Chris Owens, and Brian Jill—the original members of AEG. And by January, the first Flyfishing Film tour was rolling. (To his credit, Ryan Davey called me on behalf of AEG to talk with me about the FRR deal. A move I’ve always respected.)

At the end of that first tour—which consisted primarily if shorts from the video awards, plus a truly bottom-of-the barrel offering from Feeding Time—was all the buzz during the winter of 2007. Flyfish America did a show on AEG, sponsors were scrambling to get involved, and some of the turnout numbers were really impressive.

Drake 2007

But while the boys and the tour put forth a rosy public image, not all was well on the road. Everyone, especially sponsors, saw the 700-person turnout in Spokane, highlighted on TV and on the web. But fewer people were made aware of the dozen or so who braved frigid temps to take in shows in Steamboat or Fort Collins, towns where the tour was drastically under-promoted and perhaps taken for granted based on the Spokane success just a week or two earlier.

Something needed to change if the tour was going to be a success in 2008. And one of those changes involved investors. Two successful Portland, Oregon, businessmen—Terry Wolvert and Jim Crystal—injected some much-needed capital into the AEG machine. Crystal had a family connection to Chris Owens, and things were started looking up for the future of the tour. Ryan Davey was dismissed. Thad Robison and Justin Crump were brought in, and a new AEG was born.

Drake 2008

The Flyfishing Film Tour grew last year with new sponsorships and new tour stops, but there were still a few underlying problems with the business model. I’m not enough of a businessman to point out exactly what those problems were, but Wolvert and Crystal felt like they had a pretty good idea, so they brought in a man named Chris Mike (Mike, Wolvert, and Crystal were college roommates at Oregon State—home of the Mighty Beavs, if you were wondering). Mike’s duties, as far as I could tell, included the task of trying to make the “Fish Bums” live up a little less to their moniker.

And four months later, the Fish Bums resigned.

What exactly transpired between the fish bum members of AEG and the cash-infusion members of AEG is pretty much a mystery to me. And I’m not going to speculate about it here, except to say that a difference in opinion between company founders and company investors is certainly nothing new.

So. Moving forward. Doug, Chris, and I will make mistakes as well. Guaranteed. But we hope to take the model that AEG used and improve upon it where we can. The first step was to give filmmakers a vested interest, which we’ve done. If there’s one thing I can be sure of at this point, it’s that the Flyfishing Film tour will bring a strong product on the road.

And that is really the most important thing. Because the average flyfishing film tour attendee doesn’t give a damn who owns the tour, he’s just looking for an excuse to get out of the house on a cold weeknight in March. And we aim to give it to him. —Tom Bie

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Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.

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