TOM BIE TURNS 50! - HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Tom Bie at 50 (gasp!) remains the enthusiastic and dedicated scribe-technician whose outdoorsy dream, The Drake, materialized nearly 18 years ago. Behind that happy grin and lively movement, Tom’s twinkling personality resonates like a human version of Jiminy Cricket.
With print fly-fishing publications sinking faster than tungsten-weighted rubber leg nymphs below gaudy indicators, new readers and advertisers covet The Drake like millennials demand iPhones. As magazine editor-ad salesman-writer-copy editor- director of content and creator of marketing and promotions, Bie gained editorial experience from newspaper sports writing and editing sporty slicks (Paddler, Skiing and Powder) that quietly surpassed a J- school Ph.D.
Tom Bie, editor of The Drake, an avowed steelheader at heart, takes exception when forced to report about Pacific atolls like Christmas Island, where this golden trevally can tail with bonefish on the flats.
A 2012 online and survey card investigation indicated a majority of readers averaged between ages 30 and 34. My observation is that even opinionated older guys like myself will become Drake-o-philes. In the modern snuggly niche of fly-fishing, Tom Bie is the king.
It starts with caring Underneath his energetic exterior this Denver globetrotter packs layers of substance that provide comfort, something I say as a Bie contact and occasional contributor to The Drake. Admittedly, having been ringside for this product’s evolution, from initial concept through startup, seeing The Drake’s success is a feel-good experience.
In order of importance, Bie’s first asset is deeply caring about the environment, endangered locations, fisheries and people. At the drop of a tippet spool The Drake educates its formidable reader base about such environmental and political travesties as Alaska’s proposed Pebble Mine at Bristol Bay, Utah’s
Last year Bie journeyed to Iceland, not just to say he was swinging flies before the King of Fish, but to interview Orri Vigfusson, whose North Atlantic Salmon Fund has raised over $50 million to buy out commercial net fishermen and brighten the future of Atlantic salmon. These are just a few recent Bie targets as The Drake patrols all of our waters in print, online (Daily Drake) and in films. For many years tackle, wader and clothing companies have struggled to become relevant by encouraging women to the forefront of fly-fishing.
During an outdoor writer conference I first heard Bie explain how many more younger-generation women have embraced fly-fishing. “Look at every mountain town and there are lots of female anglers. It’s just that the industry doesn’t know how to talk to them. These women don’t like being over-marketed with pink rods and waders,” he said.
“They want skis the guys use and rods and fishing outfits that the guys use, too.” This editor eagerly seeks grinning female hero shots for his Chix Page 6 feature but is even more enthusiastic for stories about women by women. “Women are part of this activity and should write in their own language. It’s also good for guys to read the stuff written by women.” Including women is only one of Bie’s practical business approaches.
He emphasizes that with The Drake he’s building a brand. “Right now The Drake is Tom Bie, but it’s much less me than it used to be,” he said. “I’m trying to create a business and may eventually hire somebody to operate it. I’m fortunate to have developed many great contributors around the country. It’s taken a long time to sort it out. I consider my strength as knowing how little I really know.” This is rare honesty from editors generally inclined to acknowledge “knowing it all!”
As often as possible the editor slips into Jackson, where he has deep roots. Last week it was to float with pals, fool some Teton park trout and catch a favorite band concert in Victor, Idaho. Before returning to his Denver desk Tom and I visited over breakfast. I was curious if he ever has difficulty devising new story ideas. “This is such a varied sport that if I had the time I could pump out eight issues a year instead of just four.
I read a lot and not just about fly-fishing. So that, along with my constant travel, generates plenty of ideas. This is a lifestyle magazine and we seek a composite reader. I guess I am my target audience and I don’t want ‘trivial and boring.’ I could go steelheading every day and be very happy, but that’s not the way to run a magazine. It’s about seeing new things that make us keep on learning.” An example is scarred legs owing to discovering Florida’s stinging fire ants at the ICAST show. The steelhead mention above gently uncovers other important inner workings that truly define Bie.
Growing up in the Willamette Valley of Oregon instilled his steelhead addiction. Such passion generates continued and careful focus on summer and winter fish runs. “Steelhead fishing is like powder skiing. You have to be there at the exact moment when the precipitation starts to enjoy the benefits,” he said. That’s why he’s purchased a little place on the Oregon coast near the favorite rivers of his youth, the Nestucca and Siletz.
And then a lot of work On the saltwater side, Tom truly loves the people and remote portions of Belize’s tiny Third World towns, jungle rivers and wade fishing. Allegiance to his Oregon State Fighting Beavers alma mater is more fundamental Bie.
Unbridled Benny Beaver loyalty means impressive fishing invitations have been politely refused to ensure that Tom and fellow fishing magazine editor pal Kirk Deeter fete each other during back-to-back home-field appearances of OSU versus the University of Michigan in 2015 and 2016.
This year Tom is Deeter’s guest at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Next year the pair will be steelheading in Oregon after the game in Corvallis. Football bragging rights obviously achieve lifestyle definition to some editors.
The Drake magazine concept was born and nurtured in Jackson, where Tom Bie began as a Grand Teton Lodge Company summer raft guide from 1993 to 1999. In 1994 he divided rafting with float fishing guiding for WestBank Anglers from July to October. He lived in Wilson and worked construction and drove cabs in the winters.
Tom also wrote the Outdoors column for the Jackson Hole Guide and became Guide sports editor from 1995 to 1997. Thanks to a clever title that embraced both activities, originally The Drake was conceived to serve dual fly-fishing and bird hunting markets.
Not long after its $4,000 shoestring launch in 1998, Tom realized fly-fishing was the mainstay. There’s always some wingshooting when appropriate. Between 1999 to 2007 Bie operated in Steamboat and Boulder to edit Paddler and then became Skiing Magazine’s senior editor before heading west to Dana Point to pilot Powder magazine.
Throughout that time The Drake remained a challenging sidelight job but helped by quality computer editing programs and electronic aids. By 2007 Tom decided he and his personal publication were ready to stand alone. Innovative events, prizes and helping develop the Fly Fishing Film Tour vaulted The Drake into the reading and promotion agendas for old and new fly-fishing enthusiasts alike.
Abiding concern for our natural resources, stimulating reader content and personal attention to advertisers’ needs without the distraction of inept editors leering over his shoulder have propelled Tom Bie’s original vision into a successful reality.
I love it when a plan comes together.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TOM!