The History of Swing the Fly

One of our favorite shots, by Marty Sheppard

As social media platforms and blogs gained more and more traction from 2010 and 2012, a wealth of awe inspiring content flooded the interweb from stunning photography to poetic writing. Much of this content showed up on a blog or Facebook for a day or so and was then lost. The quality of it deserved so much more.

In early 2013, a small group of anglers gathered over coffee to discuss all this great content and doing something to give it a longer lasting home. Swing the Fly was born with the idea of providing a lasting medium for the photography and writing that would document the history of the rapidly growing Spey casting and swung fly niche of fly fishing.

Following the philosophy of “lean on the shoulders of giants,” Swing the Fly’s very existence is due largely to the tremendous giving attitude of many of the icons of the fly fishing world. Our early issues leaned heavily on the shoulders and just plain generosity of regular content from Marty & Mia Sheppard, Jonathan Barlow, Rick Kustich, Joe Willauer and Tarquin Millington-Drake. The iconic Mike Kinney sat down with us for a personal interview for the first issue, published in the summer of 2013. Without these people, Swing the Fly never would have got off the ground.

The first three years of Swing the Fly flew by. We tried to refine our layout with every issue. A lack lack of formal training in journalism, graphic design and everything else for that matter didn’t stop us from diving in to learning a new task. Needless to say, there was a lot to learn. The great content coming from our writers and photographers was a constant, it was the other stuff that needed refining. Our goal was simple, to improve with every issue.

Those early issues were available online only. Early in 2015, we paid over $100 to on-demand print one of those issues. That copy was brought to our small booth at the Sandy Spey Clave just to share a little more of what Swing the Fly was all about and give our booth a little more substance. Nothing more was planned for it. The format was geared towards an online platform, so it came out on paper completely unrefined. The text was enormous and even cropped off the page edges in many spots. Photo resolution was terrible. We were shocked, when person after person wanted to buy it. When told the print cost, several folks still ordered it and asked for more. We didn’t think it was possible but half-heartedly promised to look into it.

Greg Pearson photo from the Gaspe Peninsula featured in STF 9
Greg Pearson photo of Swing the Fly Atlantic Salmon Editor Topher Browne on the Gaspe Peninsula

After the clave, we did just that. Researching printing costs and options. We knew nothing and needed to learn everything. The more we looked into it, the more enthusiastic we became. It seemed difficult but more possible than previously thought. Maybe Swing the Fly could become a print magazine after all? Two obstacles stood in the way : financing, and environmental impact.

The cover of our rough print test, an incredible image by Mike Kinney
Mike Kinney cover photo: Skagit River, WA

We refused to do anything that might harm the fish we love in putting Swing the Fly on paper. This was a huge challenge as logging for paper productions threatens the very existence of wild steelhead everywhere. Recycled paper was the only option we would consider. Through a lot of research and paper samples, we were able to identify a 100% recycled paper that had a look and feel we felt was appropriate. We connected with a printer that used vegetable and soy based inks that were low impact on the environment. Things were taking shape.

The last and biggest hurdle was finding a way to finance the printing. In the fall of 2015, we launched headfirst into a Kickstarter campaign and were able to raise the necessary funds to secure the jump to a full on print magazine. This funding and the existence of Swing the Fly in print is entirely due to the tremendous support of our contributors, guides, fly shops and the companies in the Spey casting world who donated to our Kickstarter; and to all of our loyal readers who have been with us since the start. We can’t thank you enough.

Cover of Print Issue 1 by Marty Sheppard
Our first print issue, cover by Marty Sheppard

Swing the Fly magazine was published quarterly on 100% recycled paper from 2016 through 2020. Twenty issues in all covered all aspects of the Spey casting and swung fly world of fly fishing from feature articles, photo essays and artwork, to fly tying tutorials and poetry.

The never-ending evolution of Swing the Fly continues in 2021, where we will again adapt to the ever-changing world. A new member-only website will combine with a large hardcover coffee table book, the Swing the Fly Anthology, for 2021 and beyond.

Our readers and contributors come from all over the world, wherever fish are pursued with two-hand rods and the swung fly. Swing the Fly continues its aim to document the new and old history of the sport while keeping original and exciting and hoping to give back to the sport we all love and continue its growth well into the future.

Thanks to all our readers, contributors, and sponsors for your support. We are all looking forward to another exciting year of Swing the Fly.