The Relentless Pursuit of Fish, Reflection, and Creative Opportunity

Angling in the wilderness, waiting for the catch

I cherish moments where I need for nothing, my mind wanders, and I am able to reflect. It's the feeling when you do something you love. And it's almost impossible during the hustle and bustle of a typical workday in advertising.

For me, that love is fly fishing. 

After two years of planning, I finally had the chance to visit the wilderness of Kamchatka, Russia, in order to, well, fly fish, of course. But why there? Because it's fishable. I mean, really fishable. I mean, the greatest native residential rainbow trout fishery in the world, 30-plus-inch-wild-native-rainbows-on-a-mouse-fly fishable. 

I know, I know. "What the hell are you talking about? I'm a media planner." 

My friends and family understand my love for the sport, but what they don't get is how similar my love for fly fishing and my love for advertising are to each other. I would even say fly fishing has made me a better creative technologist in the field. 

To many, fly fishing is silly—you stand in a river, wave a stick, and fling chicken feathers at wary fish. But if you dig a little deeper, it takes persistence, patience, and a bunch of different variables coming together at the same time to succeed. 

Imagine a creature that has lived in the ocean for a few years and is finally ready to breed. In order to do this, the fish has to physiologically convert its body to breathe in freshwater rather than saltwater, travel more than 150 miles upstream, hang out for six months, not eat, and wait for the perfect partner and moment to create its offspring. All that, just to journey back to the ocean while navigating a multitude of predators and obstacles. This is the life of steelhead, a varietal of rainbow trout that lives in the ocean but breeds in freshwater. And, just to give you a sense of how patient you need to be for this sport, one year I fished for these beautiful creatures in a river from sunup to sundown for eight days and only caught two, one of which was a wild native fish. "More than expected," my friend told me. 

For us creative technologists working in advertising, fly fishing is like working with most brands; they're risk-averse, distracted by the many facets of their business, constantly being "sold" by anyone they meet, and probably tired. It takes a lot to get their attention, gain their trust, convince them you've got what it takes and, on top of that, you have to deliver with zero guarantees of getting another chance, regardless of the result. Maddening. But exciting.

Now, imagine a place where the fish don't retreat back to the ocean—they simply grow to be large apex freshwater predators and, for some reason unknown to me, do not go to the ocean. This is the Zhupanova, a river deep in the wilderness of Kamchatka, a magical place that's been on the bucket list for both me and my dad since forever. After 28 hours of flight time, several bumpy van rides, and a questionabe helicopter ride, we arrived in the middle of nowhere ... with no roads, no WiFi, and no cell service. 

The Zhupanova River is the client that is bold and has the budget to bring any crazy creative idea to life. Of course, it has to be the right idea, at the right time, and with all the right people surrounding it. Even then, you'd better have some luck on your side. 

For the few of us in the field of creative technology, you very rarely find yourself fishing on the Zhupanova, a place where everything aligns and leads you to that unicorn project. Every day, we craft ideas, we do the research to stay on top of new technologies and their creative applications. We wait for the right client to partner with our agency, the right brief, the right cultural moment, and we go to work pitching idea after idea that seem to meet the brief's conditions and the client's appetite and taste. Only to be turned down 99 out of 100 times. It can be infuriating. It can create huge waves of doubt and fear. But persistent and consistent effort will always prevail. 

In any activity, when you do something enough, the act transcends itself and you learn something greater. Sometimes about yourself, sometimes about others, sometimes about the world. I fly fish because of where it takes me and who I meet there, but most importantly, to feel a singular moment of connectedness and reflection. Silence and tranquility. It makes me better at my job. And in advertising, it's that same rare moment of clarity that makes it all worthwhile. It all makes sense. 

Just like in fly fishing for steelhead or ancient wild native rainbow trout in Russia: Keep casting, stay engaged. It'll happen. And when it does, be sure to cherish the moment. It'll be a while before the next. 

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Chris Allick
Chris Allick is creative technology director at Deutsch.