‘Fly Rod Chronicles’ lands big fish, big names

Dec. 28, 2013


Curtis Fleming made a deal with his fellow Bridgeport native, former Miss West Virginia Kaitlin Gates, as they prepared to fish the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers for the show he hosts, “Fly Rod Chronicles.”
If he caught the biggest fish during their August outing, she would don fly fishing clothes for her first day back at class at West Virginia University.
And if she caught the biggest fish, Fleming would wear her sash and crown around The Angler’s Inn in Harpers Ferry, where the two were staying as they filmed for three days on the two rivers.
“So if you go to our photo account, you can see photos of me wearing her sash and crown,” laughed Fleming. “She caught the biggest fish.”
That show of the new season of “Fly Rod Chronicles” will air the week of March 9 on the Outdoor Channel. But the season starts off Monday with another very special guest star — NBA great Jerry West, a contact that Fleming made through a former and upcoming guest, coach Bob Huggins of the WVU men’s basketball team.
The Jerry West episode, filmed at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs and on the nearby Greenbrier River, will debut at 11 a.m. Monday on the Outdoor Channel and will repeat, as all the shows do, throughout the week at 7 a.m. and noon the following Friday and 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“You can see in the show just how competitive Jerry still is,” Fleming said. “It turned real competitive real quick. Coach Huggins is the same way.”
The episode with Gates came about because Fleming graduated from Bridgeport High School with Gates’ mother, Louisa, who called Fleming up and asked if her daughter could be on the show.
“I’m not an avid fisher, but I do enjoy it when I get the chance to go,” said Gates, who was Miss West Virginia from 2012 to 2013. “I’m always open to new and exciting experiences, and I only had been fishing here locally, so I thought it would be a good way to see another part of the state in a new light.”
Although Gates had been fishing before, she had never tried fly fishing, so the win against Fleming required some effort.
“My arms got tired, and I got blisters on my hands,” Gates said. “It was very exhausting. But I’m glad I stuck it out and caught the bigger fish.”
In 2006, when Fleming first got the idea for what would become “Fly Rod Chronicles,” he actually was not a big fly fisherman, either, but that was the show he decided to make.
He had grown up fishing Hinkle and Deegan lakes in Bridgeport and also hunting with his father, Sonny, a coal miner. During his fall vacation, Sonny Fleming would take his kids to the Upper Shavers Fork in Huttonsville to go hunting and fishing.
After graduating from Bridgeport High School in 1984, Fleming eventually enrolled in Fairmont State College and majored in industrial psychology, graduating in 1990. He had met his future wife, Michelle, or Shelly, and she got a job first that took them to Winchester, Va., where they both began careers in education.
Eventually, however, Fleming found himself in the oil and gas business, and he did well. He also continued trout fishing and would earn citations for the size of the fish he caught, which led the chief financial officer of his company to tell him, “You should do a TV show,” which Fleming took under consideration.
“This was the biggest decision,” Fleming added. “I thought, ‘I have got enough here to self-fund a show,’ or do I look at it as, ‘I keep doing this and try to do it down the road.'”
“Fly Rod Chronicles” won out.
“Most people work all their life and say they will travel the world when they have enough money. But I’ve seen people who had retired and then they say they don’t feel like it because they feel too old or they don’t have good health. I thought, ‘I will go ahead and retire now.’ That being said, I had no idea how much work it would be.”
In 2006, Fleming funded a pilot, choosing fly fishing in order to be different.
“If you asked me in 2006, I would have rather have done a hunting or (regular) fishing show,” he said. “Fly fishing was new to me. But I knew of no fly fishing shows out there.
“And with fly fishing, it just seemed mystical to me. It was an art. There’s history that goes with fly fishing as you see the line unraveling, and it’s an art form. I thought, ‘If we can turn this into TV, it will be better than hunting.'”
Pretty quickly, the Sportsman Channel liked what it saw and put in an order for more shows. So Fleming and a crew rented a vehicle and went west for 15 days, traveling through Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado, and shot six more shows.
“Fly Rod Chronicles” debuted on the Sportsman Channel in 2008 and switched to the Outdoor Channel in 2011.
In addition to differentiating his show through fly fishing, Fleming also followed his original vision of not keeping the action on the river or the stream or the ocean — making each episode as much as a travelogue as a lesson on how to catch a trout.
“Someone has coined us as ‘reality fly fishing’ because we show everything — the good, the bad and the ugly,” Fleming said. “We show the bugs and the snakes and the thunderstorms and the flat tires, but we also show the blue sky and fine dining and the good things that come with it.”
True to his original desire, Fleming also has had the opportunity to travel around, catching a peacock bass in the Rio Negro River in Brazil and a world-record sandbar shark with a fly rod in the Atlantic Ocean off Jupiter, Fla.
“Any fish that can be caught on a traditional fishing rod, we go after them on a fly rod,” Fleming said.
In a nod to his native state, he got West Virginia to become the show’s official sponsor two years ago in a move that hearkened back to his childhood.
“I remember watching ‘Wild Kingdom,’ and I remember Mutual of Omaha presented it. It was ‘brought to you by … .” And I remember that a lot of people thought the name of the show was Mutual of Omaha. I wanted our state, West Virginia, to be that, like Mutual of Omaha. I know that our state had so much to show off.
“I have said, ‘West Virginia is the largest outdoor playground in the world.’ It’s just got the richest natural resources of all the states we have visited.”
Fleming has become so popular that he now has celebrities contacting him asking to be on the show. One of those is golfer Nick Faldo, whom Fleming met at The Greenbrier Classic last summer. The episode where the two go fishing around Harman’s Luxury Log Cabins in Grant County will air in the fall.
The relationship with Huggins started when the coach’s daughter, Jacqui, told Fleming she loves to hunt and fish. So Jacqui and Bob Huggins went on a father/daughter trip with Fleming and his daughter, Laken, 18, a freshman at WVU.
“Ever since, it’s like I’ve known him all my life,” Fleming said. “We see each other on holidays, and we text regularly. We got to be good friends through the show.”
Huggins returned for another episode — filmed on the North Branch of the South Fork of the Potomac River near Seneca Rocks — that will air the week of Feb. 9.
Fleming also plans to film an episode soon with actor Michael Keaton — of “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” fame — who’s an avid fly fisherman.
And Fleming eventually hopes to film an episode with Glen Dale native Brad Paisley, a well-known fishing aficionado who had an early hit with “The Fishing Song (I’m Gonna Miss Her)” about a guy who chooses the pastime over his girl.
That connection took place not in West Virginia, but in Florida when Fleming was shark fishing. While attending a Paisley concert, Fleming was spotted by Paisley’s father, Doug; the two began chatting; and Fleming went backstage.
Fleming’s ties to his home state continue to grow stronger. His family, which also includes daughter, Autumn, 15, will be moving back home from Winchester in the near future to the Bridgeport-Clarksburg-Morgantown area.
“We miss home, and this has afforded us to come back home,” Fleming said. “We’re dying to come back.”
Another new tie to the state is that the show will be produced by Allegheny Image Factory, operated by brothers Jeffrey and Robert Tinnell, natives of Marion County, along with regular producer Jarod McClure.
Robert Tinnell, who lives in Morgantown, not only loves to fly fish, he actually shot an episode of a show called “Fly Fishing the World” several years ago.
“It’s been great,” Tinnell said of working with Fleming. “He’s a super smart guy and one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. He’s awesome, and it shows in his passion for trout fishing. He’s really obsessed with making the show not only entertaining, but also educating the viewer.”
Fleming also wants to make viewers at home feel like they are in that boat on a river or in the ocean, the host noted.
He also wants to surprise them.
“When you tune in to ‘Fly Rod Chronicles,’ you don’t know if we’re going to be in the great state of West Virginia in the Alleghenies or the Appalachians or the Blue Ridge Mountains or in Mexico, where we’ve gone to catch bonefish, hermit and tarpon, or if we’ll be in Alaska or the Rocky Mountains.
“We want people to tune in each week and be, ‘Are they camping along the river in a tent or are they at a five-star lodge?’ And we want for people to say, ‘Wow, that’s cool. I want to try that.'”