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Break Out The Bubbly: The Trout Underground Turns Five, 2,500, and 4.15 Million

Posted by Tom Chandler 11/17/2010

Just over a month ago, we celebrated our first year with Little M in the family, and two days later, The Trout Underground blew right through the 2,500 post barrier.

Today we find ourselves standing squarely atop the Trout Underground's Five Year Anniversary (to the day).

Which is why - when I stumbled across a WordPress word-counting utility - I foolishly used it.

The number of words published on the Trout Underground? 690,000+ (and still counting).

That's about 4.15 million keystrokes - not counting my comments, the stuff I never finished, didn't publish, or backspaced into the aether.

Suddenly, it's not just my butt that hurts.

Trout Underground's Fifth Anniversary

For those who still read books, that's between five and ten full-length novels. (I was tempted to put "five and ten full-length novels" in italics, but realized them emphasis wasn't really necessary).

With all the above churning in my head - and with today being the Trout Underground's Five Year Anniversary - this is as good a time as any to invest fifteen minutes leaning back in a chair, sucking on a beer and pondering the following:

What The Hell Do I Think I'm Doing?

While the Underground has changed its hair color a few times, the constant over the last five years has been a desire to write about the odd bits of the fly fishing life you won't find in a magazine.

The personal moments, the beautiful moments, the frustrating moments, the new dad moments (like standing over a stinky changing table instead of a small stream) - you get the picture.

In that sense, I'm still batting a thousand.

I keep writing about my tiny, unglamorous corner of the fly fishing world (and my trips to other tiny, unglamorous corners of the fly fishing world), and a surprising number of you keep coming along for the ride.

Which astonishes me.

The Upper Sacramento River - and the small streams and alpine lakes I photograph and write about - lie far from the exotic destinations currently occupying the center of fly fishing's media universe.

It's rare to find an issue of anything lacking a story about Patagonia or a distant part of the former Soviet Union, and if you don't have a hero shot or confrontation with some marginally frightening foreign bandit, you don't really have a story.

Whether this represents the ongoing "extremification" of the sport depends on your perspective, though it's pretty clearly the result of (to steal from Vonnegut) certain economic realities.

In simple terms, if you want to make money, you go where money's being spent.

In fly fishing, the trail of dollar bills leads squarely to How-to/Where-to articles (which appeal to new anglers, who are buying gear); gear reviews (which sell more gear than ads); and "adventure destination" articles (which sell trips for travel agents and lodges, who buy ads).

And while it's easy to read the above as condemnation, I'm just recognizing reality.

Fly fishing's a hobby for most, but for a few it's a business, and it's clear fly fishing's online world is increasingly occupied with the business of business.

It's normal and expected, though I still get fired up after some fool pitches me an "opportunity" that mostly allows them to profit from my work (for the last time, "exposure" doesn't feed my kid).

Despite steadfastly ignoring every major fly fishing trend (at least as it relates to gear, travel and fermented beverages), the Underground continues to draw approximately 22,000 unique visitors every month - the equivalent of a small magazine.

That suggests one of two things. Either fly fishermen are still plenty interested in essays about everyday fly fishing, or Wally the Wonderdog is way more popular than I guessed.

Frankly, I'm willing to go either way on that one.

What's Next?

When I launched the Underground, fly fishing's online universe was a shiny new place; a big experiment run by people wearing waders instead of lab coats, and for a while, most of us were happy enough dabbling in the science instead of focusing on the results.

Like any movement, it couldn't last forever.

Almost overnight, bloggers seemingly stopped linking to other blogs, cliques formed, commercial interests crept into the equation, and one day, someone suggested an advertiser wouldn't receive coverage on their site as long as the advertiser was paying for space on mine.

Which is when I realized things had fundamentally changed.

Today, blogs aren't the hot media channel they used to be, and the herds are leaving "long form" content behind for "hot" technologies like Facebook and Twitter (you don't need a Mensa card to know 140 character-long tweets are a lot easier to create than 1000-word posts).

Flipbook-based ezines are also hot properties, yet I can't help but think they're something of a throwback; no conversations take place between their virtual covers, and in fact, they exist largely apart from the "social" web.

Given the low rates paid for online advertising (which reflects its often abysmal clickthrough rates), it's hard to see more than one or two ezines achieving profitability (needed to pay those providing the content).

In other words, I believe we're just at the start of the new media revolution. There's plenty more to come.

What is clear is this: given the public's reluctance to pay for anything appearing in a web browser (that's why traditional media outlets are embracing the iPad and its easy-to-monetize apps), blogs only make commercial sense when you've got something to sell.

You'll want to keep that in mind for the future.

Five Years Later

Today, I'm a fly fishing dad of a two year-old daughter who fishes less than he used to, and while I miss yesterday's largely obligation-free existence, I'm unable to stop staring into the light generated by my bright, shiny little girl.

Sadly, it turns out that money still matters, and lacking a trust fund (wealthy couples looking to adopt an older child should contact me immediately), I'm transforming my 25 year copywriting business into a marketing consultancy - a time-consuming affair.

I still fish more than some, though even when I do, I don't always find the time to write about it. The last year has been wildly hectic, and the last three months have been off the charts.

At times, the Underground's felt like a bit of burden, and when I'm feeling that pressure, the trolls, nasty emails, alpha-dog wannabees and wholly clueless commenters seem a little bigger than they are.

It's hard to imagine life without the Underground, but it's equally hard to ignore the imminent signing of a time-consuming-but-very-interesting new client and the half-dozen (sizable) online projects featuring February deadlines.

In other words, the last three months are about to repeat themselves, and while I'm not making any decisions on the Trout Underground's Fifth Anniversary, I'm also not ruling out changes.

They might include everything from turning TU into a multi-author blog (this lightens the load) to simply burning it down and walking away.

Wherever the journey leads, it's safe to say the last five years wouldn't have been half as much fun if the Undergrounders hadn't shared the ride. For the most part, you played along when I was having fun, but Threw Down Big when our fishing access was threatened, my father died, Little M arrived, and the dozens of other times it was needed.

See you on the river, Tom Chandler.

AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

46 comments
I'm not sure whether congratulations or condolences (for having to put up with the collection of muppets that is your readership) are in order. Either way, it's quite an achievement.
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Ahh, the kid. Change, neatly clothed in pajamas. I may get one more season fishing with her in the backpack... Your friend Tom (a guy who does that tacky how-to stuff part-time and is a tackle hustler full-time) Keep up the good work, and maybe some day you'll be making as much as I am here in the fly fishing industry.
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Thanks. Here's to change (it's inevitable).
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The "pay to play" sites haven't exactly prospered. Better to find a couple people to prop up the stream of goodies while I focus on something I can sell.
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Thanks for the really kind words. It's still fun, but there's less time for that these days. ps - didn't Hinton get that from Frost (or some other poet)? It's in the back of my head.
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After the Wonderdog's eaten roadkill - and I'm up all night letting him in and out - the latter half of your statement isn't necessarily true...
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I have WAY more spicy food recipes on my site. So when am I getting that 55 gallon drum of chile verde you promised? (If I'd only spent half that on fiction, I'd be famous by now.) Blogging is fun, but yeah - you look at the numbers and realize what could have happened. Oy.
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Ha! That is true...but I understand the value of a blog to a copywriter (I'm a copywriter as well... weighing the move from agency to freelance). It takes a hell of a commitment to maintain that balance and energy for five years. So it's a relatively easy statement to make in that respect as well. Thanks for subscribing! Have a great weekend. Matt
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You're a breath of fresh air and a fun guy to banter with. Here's to 5 more years and many pithy comments in the future--and a world of fun with your daughter. Your friend Tom (a guy who does that tacky how-to stuff part-time and is a tackle hustler full-time)
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Always love reading your work. Understand that things change, but here's to hoping you keep it going in some form or other. Congrats on 5 years.
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Tom, congratulations! The rest of the fly fishing blog stuff seems to have hit the wall, but here you are, original content, well thought-out articles, and, YOU have the big boys in Fly Fishing Land mentioning YOU to boost their GOOGLE JUICE! I can't help but think that I WOULD PAY GOOD MONEY to subscribe to your blog. If you start to charge, I'll be there for you buddy. Buster gotta pay! Yea. Start ... more charging, save your money, and then you buy Orvis. Yea. Good job, Chris Congrats, Chris
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"The personal moments, the beautiful moments, the frustrating moments, the new dad moments (like standing over a stinky changing table instead of a small stream) – you get the picture." You've picked out why I keep coming back. Thank you for the time and effort you put into TU. It shows. I'd hate to no longer have this corner of the Internet to visit -- I've become quite comfortable here -- but, as ... more SE Hinton wrote, nothing gold can stay.
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Well, since you're directly responsible for getting me into this mess, I went ahead and took your challenge; I got the numbers. I have to admit, though, you've got me beat on a couple things... I only have about 700 posts since firing up three years ago (this week; odd how the dates align). I have over a quarter million words, which is a LOT more than I suspected. (If I'd only spent half that on fiction, ... more I'd be famous by now.) I've had nearly 16,000 comments. Blocked by spam blockers, I mean. Actual approved comments? I'm a teensie weensie bit behind at not quite 200. (As always, I appear to be more selective than you, Tom.) The one place I've got you beat? I have WAY more spicy food recipes on my site. WAY way more. I almost said I had more class too, but I didn't want to get anything started in the flamethrower arena; besides, you know where I live (roughly)...
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You are a good man. A lot easier to say that if you've never met me, but in any case, I hadn't read your blog before, but you're in my RSS Reader now. Good luck!
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you like bamboo and dogs, enough for me.
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You and I have bemoaned the painful economics that real writers, like you, have to deal with every day. Ted Leeson pointed out that fly fishing editors are actually paying lower rates today than they did in the 1970s, and that trend isn't limited to fly fishing. We'd both do a lot better setting up cheesy SEO blogs for affiliate money.
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TU always is a nice break in the day when I am at my office. Now I'm getting blamed for low productivity levels...
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I think the essence underlying our motives are very much in that parallel universe. Agreed. And it usually has little to do with stickers or hero pics.
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Give Wally a raise! He's already got his own dressing room and fresh roadkill brought in daily. The well's dry.
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700k words and very few (if any) klunkers! If only. But thanks for the kind words.
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I enjoy the blog as much as every and it now has more relevance as I try my own hand at not making money on the internet. A lot of people are excelling at that particular skill (me almost included).
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Given how thin she still is, the Trophy Wife doesn't eat a lot...
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An essay book is high on the list, though interestingly, the blog posts don't necessarily translate all that well due to their immediacy. Thanks for the kind words!
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Tom. You are a good man. Thanks for what you have given of yourself, your time and experiences. I too hope there's no fire on TU's horizon. Congrats and all the best! Matt
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Tom, Hearty congratulations on five years! TU always is a nice break in the day when I am at my office. I'm looking forward to some day bumping into you on one of the small unnamed streams that you frequent. I'll be looking for Wally the Wonderdog and will know it is you. Tom
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As a manly, man, my first response to this post was to get out the tape measure and compare "sizes." You have two years on me, and if I am to "catch up" I will need over two thousand more posts and 16,000 more comments during that time. Oh yeah, and I will need to learn how to write more gooder. I am one, of who knows how many, of your minions who isn't really even into fly-fishing all that much. ... more It is your stories in fantastic prose and pictures, your compassion, your conservation, your family values (and not in the misguided, politically-based, fundamentalist way), and your support of good, local microbrew beers, that brings me back day after day. Especially, the beer. Since I write for self-gratification (you really DON'T want to know what I am doing on my side of the screen), I don't deal with click-through ads or SEO. You and I have bemoaned the painful economics that real writers, like you, have to deal with every day. Thanks for taking your limited and valuable time to acknowledge my lowly writing with an occasional comment and responding to emailed stupid questions. You are an island of comfort, clarity and cleverness in a sea of wannabe writers and lazy, money-grubbing sharks.
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Tom, I've been doing the drive-by of your blog for at least 3 years and while the stream wading (fishing) I do down here in Mississippi ain't quite the same as in the Sierras, I think the essence underlying our motives are very much in that parallel universe. It's always worth a visit to the TU and heres hoping there's always something to stop by for.
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700k words and very few (if any) klunkers! Thank you Tom. If you posted more Wonderdog pics you wouldn't have to use so many words.
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Give Wally a raise! Obviously there's a bunch of us that that don't give a rats ass about the corporate fly fishing busines of marketing expensive stuff we don't have the time to use and love to read about those who actually get out and fish. Seriously, you have a great site and have created an addiction we can look forward to. My name is fins and I'm a TU aholic. Where's that damn dog!
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Well, I vote for any option that isn't burning it down and walking away... although my Absentee Ballot on this particular question has yet to arrive in the mail. I enjoy the blog as much as every and it now has more relevance as I try my own hand at not making money on the internet. The Upper Sac is my home river. I love it. I miss it. I enjoy every little glimpse of it that the Underground provides. ... more I hope you keep after it.
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Congrats on 5 years. My how the world has changed since fly fishing hit the blogosphere. The Editorial Trophy Wife likes to eat or I would do a lot more blogging and fishing. Mostly fishing though. Lee
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I think I have been following your blog since just shortly after it's beginning and it is still the first one I check daily. I think the wordsmithing is what caught my attention also. Good stories, well told, with humor and never taking yourself too seriously all goes to making your blog a favorite. Would hate to see TU go, but I can certainly understand the time it takes to keep it up to your standards ... more will become more of an issue. (wait till Miss M gets to be a teenager!) If you do make that decision I still think you should take some of your posts and publish as a book of essays. Here's to another 5 years of TU!
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Some things you just don't want to know...
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WP Word Count is the name. I'd warn you not to use it, but it's futile. Futile? You sweet-talkin' devil you, you know me too well...
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Whatever path you chose, I hope you keep that going Thanks for the kind words. And sadly, you can usually spot the posts that were rushed and those that were not. When I started TU, a book was a possibility, though the blog ultimately became the book. I like the immediacy and feedback. Still, "keep that going" could take many forms...
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I'd be surprised if five years down the road finds TU running anything like the current incarnation, but stranger things have happened.
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WP Word Count is the name. I'd warn you not to use it, but it's futile.
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A giveaway? Hadn't thought about it, but I will...
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Thanks for pointing out the "conservation" angle. Some of those battles have involved a fair amount of time. And as soon as you beat back one yahoo, another pops up. I think there's an endless supply of them.
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Thanks Marty. I find so little stuff written that appeals to the things I like about fly fishing I think that's why I haven't soured on the fly fishing blogs still in my RSS reader; they're not always eloquent, but those that stick around aren't typically doing it to impress - a very real danger when reading some of the other newer media.
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"I'm unable to stop staring into the light generated by my bright, shiny little girl." Wonderfully crafted phrases as the above are what keep me coming back here. While I am piqued by the US and area, your small stream adventures and the antics of Wally, it's the wordsmithing (?) that set the hook. Whatever path you chose, I hope you keep that going.
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Can't wait to see how this site evolves over the next 5 years.... Thanks for the all the effort.
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I like the giveaway idea! (Just so's it's not a slaw dawg for first place.) Which plug-in or utility did you use, Tom? Just wondering. Since you are directly responsible for my incipient insanity, er, blogging activities, I was thinking maybe I should take a peek at how much time, energy and such-like I've wasted (not to mention the marital strife. Not to mention.) Congrats!
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Your dedication to TU is amazing, I hope you still love what your doing, that's key. Thank you for a great fun and educational read. I just hope some jerk doesn't come along and spoil the party by asking if it is time to celebrate the "Big 5" with a giveaway from the TU. Rich PS Are you going to have a giveaway in conjunction with the "Big 5"?
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Tom, Your five years of dedication to us fly fishermen (and dads, and sons, and dog lovers, and conservationists - the list goes on) has been truly appreciated. It would be sad to see TU go, but we all know the pressures that surround us. I'm certain that I speak for many when I say THANKS and that we support you in whatever decision you make. That's what friends are for. Mike
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Thanks for taking us along.... I find so little stuff written that appeals to the things I like about fly fishing.....I for one hope the option isn't burn it down....
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