BOISE, Idaho — Hank Patterson is the funniest man in fly fishing. OK, maybe that's setting the bar a little low, but a low bar is how "Hank Patterson" came to be.
Hank is the alter ego of Travis Swartz of Boise. Hank's sidekick "Crazy Reese" is played in mute splendor by his real-life high school pal, Reese Ferguison.
The two Borah High School grads are now in their early 40s and have done a series of Web videos that have attracted around 170,000 YouTube hits and gained fans from as far away as England, South Africa and Tasmania.
The inspiration for Hank Patterson came when Swartz saw The Drake fly fishing magazine had a video contest with a humor category, and the prize was a Go Pro video camera that Swartz wanted.
Fly fishing and humor are often opposing forces, so Swartz figured it would be an easy way to land a free video camera.
He was right, but he landed more than swag.
The videos have become a sensation on the Internet, or as Hank says, have "gone virus."
The original video introduced the world to Hank Patterson, fly fishing expert, whose expertise is derived mainly from owning "A River Runs Through It" on Blu-ray.
In the video, Hank teaches fly anglers to "SNAP it" when they fly cast so they can catch rainbows, cutts, cuttbows, cuttbrowns, brownbows and cuttyrainbrowns.
His self-confident buffoonery is a loving jab at both tweedy, old-school fly anglers and younger anglers in trucker hats who try to make fly fishing an action sport.
"They were both ripe for parody," Swartz said.
Anglers relate to the Hank character, Swartz said because "We all have that secret feeling that we know better."
Whereas Ferguison said people relate to the silent character because most anglers have experienced a loudmouthed and clueless know-it-all.
But what lies beneath a well-crafted gag is more effort than meets the eye.
Aside from being a long-time fly fisherman, Swartz is an actor, comedian and freelance video producer. Ferguison works as a manufacturer for Boise-based Loon Outdoors, which produces and markets fly fishing gear.
They write a loose script for each video, and then spend many hours shooting and editing.
"The comedy should come first," Swartz said. "It has to be funny, but with the backdrop of fly fishing."
They admit the script often gets ignored, and they go rogue.
"You always have a plan, but the funniest stuff is just what comes out when the camera is rolling," Swartz said.
On camera, we see the motormouthed funny guy and the silent straight guy, but off camera they trade quips like sparring partners trading blows.
Both contribute jokes to the script, even though Ferguison only speaks once on screen to tell Hank his name, which Hank immediately forgets.
"It's hard to get other people's names right when you're concentrating so hard on yourself," Swartz said.
Explaining why Reese keeps hiring Hank as his guide, Ferguison says "it's more of a sympathetic thing. It's my duty as a public servant to be a buffer between Hank and the public."
To which Hank/Schwartz replies, "I'm having to unlearn him from years of doing it wrong. If Reese does it wrong, his children are going to do it wrong. The future of fly fishing is much brighter because of what I'm doing for Reese."
Their latest video is a Christmas edition where (spoiler alert) Hank tries to guess the contents of a gift-wrapped package from Reese that's "9-feet long and really light."
The duo has more Hank videos in the works.
They might put Hank in a bar with a walkie talkie and have him guide Reese on a distant river "because Hank knows what to listen for."
Or a fly-tying video could be next.
"Hank's never tied a fly in his life, but don't worry, he knows how," Swartz said.
Their humor spills onto everything like a tipped pitcher of beer on a bar table.
"We have notebooks full of stuff," Swartz said. "Some of it's not funny. That's why it's in a notebook."
And their work really has "gone virus."
Their interplay has earned fans literally around the world and garnered numerous invitations to go fishing.
"In the spring, we're going to start hitting people up and see how serious they are," Swartz said. "They probably think Hank is that funny all the time, but he's not, so they might be disappointed. They might even try to charge us at the end of the trip."
Orvis, a Vermont-based fly fishing company known for its tweediness, put their videos on its website, which have gotten thousands of YouTube hits. Orvis recently added the duo's Christmas video.
They've been sent beer by Blue Sky Brewing Company in Montana despite not having their address in any of the videos.
They got a free set of waders from Redington after Hank lamented about peeing in his waders.
They're working on a fly rod sponsorship for an upcoming video, assuming the rod has enough "SNAP."
One of their videos is part of this year's national Fly Fishing Film Tour, which is coming to Boise in February.
They don't expect to get rich off their efforts. So far, their work has garnered that merchandise and a lot of laughs from fly anglers who obviously get the jokes.
And where do they see Hank in five years?
"Probably running his own private fishing ranch with a river, a stream, a lake, a high-mountain lake, a pond, and one of those machines where you put in a coin and get a dough ball," Swartz said. "I think that's the trajectory we're on."
The original story can be found on the Idaho Statesman's website: http://bit.ly/TmJF8O