BY: Celene Carillo
The idea to start a literary fly-fishing magazine came to Tom Bie (journalism, ’91) when he was living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the ‘90s. Bie, like most of his friends there, gravitated to Jackson because of the town’s seemingly endless outdoor possibilities. They skied in the winter, climbed, biked, and were fishing guides in the summer.
Bie moved there to guide and to write after graduating from Oregon State with a journalism degree. He was a reader, too. He loved how magazines like Climbing, and Powder, which focused on skiing, illustrated the outdoor lifestyle and ethos he identified with. They used stunning photography and quality writing aimed at readers who were already proficient in their sports.
Fly fishing, he noticed, had no such counterpart.
“I’d been thinking about it for awhile. I loved Powder magazine. When it showed up in your mailbox it was an event. You couldn’t wait to see what was inside it,” he says. “The fly fishing magazines at the time didn’t represent what we did. They mostly ran instructional pieces. We were going into the Wind River Range and hiking long distances to fish. What we did wasn’t being covered. The culture wasn’t being covered.”
Bie saw the need, and in 1998 The Drake was born.
After nearly 20 years, The Drake is considered one of the premier fishing magazines in the country, at a time when it’s dicey to bet on the life span of a print publication. It has evolved from a 32-page newspaper publication to a 140-page glossy. The magazine sports a circulation of 30,000 and hosts an online community that is at once passionate, devoted, and a little rough on newcomers.
“These guys look at our message board like it’s a campfire after fishing,” Bie says. “I’m blown away by the friendships and connections they’ve made. They get together. They organize ‘Drake Bakes’ all over the country. You can’t go out to try and make that. It has to be authentic.”
The Drake’s spirit, too, is true to its roots. It’s now based in Denver, Colorado, where according to Bie 9 out of 10 people who fish are fly fishers. Bie’s writers (and Bie himself), venture into wildernesses around the world to places as far flung as Christmas Island, Iceland and Belize to report on fishing.
Many of Bie’s literary heroes, like David James Duncan, Tom McGuane, Ian Frazier and former Oregon State emeritus faculty Ted Leeson have contributed to The Drake. And the magazine and website, www.drakemag.com, devote themselves to environmental concerns, like wilderness preservation and climate change.
“No one in 30 years has done more to unite anglers than Tom Bie,” says John Larison, a writing instructor at Oregon State, and an essayist, novelist, editor and contributor to The Drake. “His Drake Magazine has boomed in a time of diminishing magazine sales precisely because of his commitment to building community around fine art, photography, and words. His community has practical purpose too. When fish and rivers are threatened, Bie rallies his readers to join the good fight.”