Cocky, abrasive, overly confident and not-so-smart fly-fishing guide Hank Patterson came into the world when local actor-filmmaker Travis Swartz and his friend Reese Ferguison decided to enter the Drake Magazine fly-fishing film contest in the summer of 2012.
The prize for a winning video: $1,000. Swartz and Ferguison wanted to win the money and use it to make a documentary about Reel Recovery, a nonprofit that takes men living with cancer on free fly-fishing retreats.
Ferguison noticed one of the film categories was comedy. Both of them are avid fly-fishermen and neither had ever seen a funny fly-fishing video before.
"Perfect. So, the bar is low, right where we want it," Swartz told Boise Weekly.
The final result was a five-minute video titled The Reel Adventures of Hank Patterson, Your Fly Fishing Guide. Swartz plays Hank, a guy with a perpetual five-o'clock shadow who looks more like someone you would see in a bait and tackle shop than in a fly-fishing magazine. Reese is Hank's faithful but silent client. The video opens with the two men clad in waders and fishing gear, a river roaring in the background. Hank tells the camera he has been fly-fishing for around three years.
"I've got A River Runs Through It on Blu-ray so, yeah, I guess you could say I know a thing or two about fly-fishing," Hank says. Then he holds his fly rod in front of his face and says, "Think we could get this [on camera], so we could maybe get a sponsorship deal out of it? So if I could just sort of naturally have that in the shot..."
The video continues with Hank giving advice even someone who has never picked up a fly rod will know is terrible.
Within hours of submitting the video, Swartz learned they won in the comedy category—good for a GoPro camera and a trophy, not the $1,000 grand prize. They kept shooting shorts anyway, and with eight more episodes of Hank Patterson and a lot of extra little videos that have been viewed more than a million times, that first video became the feature-length mockumentary, Hank Patterson's Reel Montana Adventure, which follows the goofy fly-fishing guide through his quest to walk in the footsteps of his hero: Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It.
Swartz is known around Boise as the guy in the Potato Bowl commercials, but in the fly-fishing world, he's a rockstar. He has toured around the United States, showing his film in Boise; Chicago; Missoula, Mont.; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; and Seattle. Meanwhile, cities in Texas and North Carolina have signed up to screen Hank Patterson's Reel Montana Adventure.
Ferguison used to travel with Swartz but doesn't anymore—he doesn't even appear in the movie. Ferguison always played Hank's faithful fishing client—never saying a word but often lifting an eyebrow—but he is battling brain cancer now and it limits his involvement with the series. That's why Swartz works to make sure proceeds from the film go to organizations like Reel Recovery. Ferguison took a retreat with the organization and told Swartz it was profound.
"People do ask why he's not in the videos anymore," Swartz said. "Well, he's not physically in the videos anymore, but ... none of it would exist if it weren't for him. I put in the film that it was created by him and me."
Hank plays another role, too. He helps attract younger people to join conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited, which sponsored the film. Swartz said the screenings are consistently filled with young adults and high-school-age kids. Not all of them are fly-fishers.
"If you're gonna drag your friend or spouse to a fly-fishing film and they don't fly-fish, this is the one to take them to, because they'll enjoy it," Swartz said. "There are things that he's doing that are just ridiculous. I don't think you have to fly-fish at all to get that."