Magic can happen on a lake. If that weren’t true, not nearly as many people would try their luck casting lines and hooks about trying to catch elusive fish that would prefer not to be caught.
The uncertainty is what allows for the magic.
“It’s called fishing, not catching,” many an elder has told an exasperated youngster fed up of a day of no bites, not even a nibble.
Mike “Grinch” Goodnight’s magic came on Pactola Lake, not from what he caught but from who he met there.
Goodnight was in the area from Buffalo Center, Iowa, which sits just 12 miles south of Interstate 90 more than 600 miles east of Gillette. He’d lived in Gillette for a spell back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and he remembered some of the better fishing spots.
He decided to look them up online and ended up in one of his favorite spots on the internet: YouTube. Gillette is home to more than a few personalities putting themselves out there on YouTube, from fishing channels to outdoor exploration to channels dedicated to chronicling the everyday life on a Wyoming ranch.
“I’m a YouTube nut,” Goodnight said.
The video-sharing website is a one-stop shop of content. Tutorials and how-tos are Goodnight’s favorite.
“It takes the learning curve away,” he said. “If you pay attention to what they’re doing. It really helps you out.”
The videos of all the lakes in the area seemed to be coming from one channel: On Fish TV! with Joey Kruse.
On that day in March out at Pactola Lake, Goodnight met a handful of other fishermen, but it was the last one he met who stood out. Goodnight made small talk and said where he’d been fishing on his trip to the area.
“He said, ‘Them are my lakes,’” Goodnight remembered the man saying to him. “He asked me, ‘Do you by any chance watch YouTube?’”
“I told him, ‘Man, I’ve been watching you for two months!’” Goodnight said.
It was Joey Kruse, in the flesh and on the lake, just like in his videos.
Reeling in the views
Never did Kruse think he’d be responsible for a viewer to pack up and drive more than 600 miles based on his recommendations.
Kruse, now about three years into producing fishing videos for YouTube, began the project to simply share what he knew.
“I constantly had people asking me questions,” Kruse said. “It got to the point, ‘You know what? I should just make videos.’”
But the roots of the channel go way back to Kruse’s childhood. He bought a video camera when he was 12 years old. He wanted to make videos and started out by trying his first at Keyhole State Park.
He quickly learned that making videos isn’t so easy.
“I spent, like, $250 on that camcorder, tried it once and never tried it again,” Kruse said.
But once he got serious about it a few years ago, he started to gain more confidence. He figured out what makes a compelling video. He used himself as a test subject, watching other videos of similar content and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
Multiple cameras are a big part of it, Kruse said.
“The multiple cameras makes it better for the viewer,” he said. “With the one camera angle, it gets slightly boring.”
And if the viewer gets bored, there’s absolutely no chance of sinking a hook into them. It’ll result in the YouTube equivalent of a nibble. Enough interest to get your potential audience to click on the video, sure, but then suddenly they realize the video isn’t for them. And that could be the last time they give a channel a chance, Kruse said.
Between his 1,880 subscribers and 130 videos posted, Kruse’s videos have generated more than 240,000 views.
He now shoots with multiple GoPro cameras, a primary DSLR camera and a drone. But with the increased production value comes added work.
“A lot of my day when I go make these videos isn’t spent fishing,” Kruse said. “I’ll fly my drone around for artistic footage. Then you got to record an intro. Sometimes, you’ll put a camera up and get a few casts. Then you have to move it.”
There’s a degree to which the content creation cuts into the hobby itself. If he didn’t enjoy making the videos as well, it would hardly seem worth it.
He’s been approached by other locals about starting their own channels, and he always warns against that.
“One of the biggest things is trying to stay passionate because there’s a lot of work that goes along with it,” Kruse said. “If you lose the passion, it’s not going to turn out the way you want it to.”
To get to that point requires persistence, he said.
“The first year of starting a channel was — I’m not going to say it was the funnest, but it was the most exciting,” Kruse said. “It felt like people got into it a lot more. I guess for me, it was an eye-opener because people were like, ‘Oh, this is cool; people really like this.’”
He doesn’t feel that same rush anymore, he said.
“It’s like when you get a new car or a new toy or whatever,” Kruse said. “Right after that, you’re all excited. You have this crazy feeling about this thing, but then you lose the newness feeling of it.”
That’s a big challenge for new creators, he said.
“You’re starting the locomotive effect,” Kruse said. “It’s going to start out very very slow ... then it picks up steam … this one person talked to two people … before you know it, you’re out there.”
He doesn’t make money from his channel. In fact, he said it costs him quite a bit to produce the content. But that’s not to say the channel hasn’t proven to have its rewards.
“It’s taken me to waters I never would have fished and pushed me to expand that zone of fishing,” Kruse said.
The channel has given him and others memorable experiences.
“Meeting him made my trip,” Goodnight said of running into Kruse.
Kruse invited him back out the next day, and Goodnight said he put him right on the spot where Kruse had caught a record-sized fish. Goodnight didn’t catch anything on that trip, but then again, neither did Kruse. It didn’t matter though.
It’s called fishing, not catching.
It’s still their Wyoming life
Kruse’s concept of the locomotive effect is true, but some ramp up to full-steam faster than others. A few years before he started On Fish! TV! another YouTube channel was getting its start showcasing the ins and outs of life on a northeastern Wyoming ranch.
Mike Galloway, his wife, Erin, and their kids produce the popular channel called Our Wyoming Life on their family ranch about 10 miles south of Gillette. They were inspired to start a channel to show the realities of life on a ranch, and they were aware of the powerful potential viral impact of simple videos like kids unboxing toys.
Their first video was roughly 4 minutes long, shot on an iPhone. That set them along the road to managing a brand and business much larger than simply their acreage south of town. The channel now has 196,000 subscribers, including one recently posted video with more than 10,000 views in just 19 hours. Their videos, more than 600 in total, have generated more than 31 million views.
They have fans.
Mike Galloway told a story similar to the one between Kruse and Goodnight. He was in Albertsons and a woman was following him through the store.
He said he asked her if he could help her.
“She said, ‘I just wanted to tell you that my family and I moved here, and your videos helped us do that,’” Galloway said.
Right there in front of the deli counter in Albertsons, they ask another customer walking by to take their picture.
“This lady takes our picture and she can tell something is going on,” Galloway said. “She hands me back my phone and says, ‘Who are you?’ And I was like, ‘I’m nobody, it’s fine.’”
Occurrences like that don’t seem all that strange to Galloway and his family these days.
They’re used to seeing people wearing their merchandise. They’re used to people trying to snap their picture when recognized in public. Galloway said his kids don’t think twice about the event they host on their ranch, where 150 people from all over the country come to visit.
His 10-year-old wants to be a YouTube star, he said. That’s hardly unique in this day and age. Tons of high-schoolers and college students want the same thing. But it’s unique in the sense that she’s come of age as a part of a successful YouTube channel.
It’s hard to say to the child, “That’s a long shot,” with the way their lives function nowadays. It’s also tricky trying to shield kids from the more unseemly parts of the internet, which don’t always spare the Galloways when it comes to hateful comments and things like that. The bad comes with the good, he said.
For Galloway, the main takeaway of YouTube success has been not squandering the opportunities provided by the channel’s popularity.
“I think it’s essential to build a business around it or else you’re just inflating your own ego,” Galloway said.
And so they have. They ship beef jerky all over the country. They hope to negotiate deals where they could cost-effectively ship beef to fans who feel a connection and want to help them out. They do speaking engagements. They have sponsorships.
Such is the power of social media. This is the new look of an otherwise small-time family ranch in Wyoming. The ranch and the YouTube channel coexist in a state of symbiosis. The daily workings of the ranch provide content for the channel. The channel, and its nearly 200,000 subscribers, provide opportunities and income that allows the ranch to continue on in ways that it couldn’t otherwise.
“Without us having us falling into the YouTube thing, the ranch wouldn’t be here,” Galloway said.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of Q&A reports leading up to the Aug. 17 special election for a new community college district around Gillette College. This week:
Q: Why is an independent community college district in Campbell County, separate from Northern Wyoming Community College District, necessary or unnecessary?
Fortner: Why is it necessary? It isn’t necessary. We’ve been with Sheridan College for over 50 years. We’ve been a member of that, we’ve gotten the best of both worlds. They pay the taxes, we get a grade-A school. There’s no benefit to breaking from that. Zero. None. This all started over sports. It’s well documented. They say it’s never been about sports. It is. It’s about sports.
Horning: One of the primary issues is local control. This community college district now has two very distinct communities, and a community college is supposed to be of and for its community. You’ve got two fully functional, mature colleges that, for lack of a better word, coexist and have irreconcilable differences in meeting the respective needs of their communities. It’s not a fault-based issue. Gillette College was, once upon a time, a smaller, adjunct facility and now you’ve got a fully functional, evolved college here in Gillette, same as the community. The colleges can’t coexist within the district anymore and still meet the respective needs of their communities.
Q: What would be the benefits of an independent district?
Fortner: None. There’s not one benefit that I can think of.
Horning: The benefit, the requirement, the need is local control. Gillette College needs to control everything from its offerings to its budget. This community built that college and needs to have control of it so it can continue to evolve but also so its survival can be assured and managed.
Whether times are good or bad, local control means a locally elected board of trustees can be responsive to anything from budgetary concerns to course offerings. Every facet will now be controlled by the people of the community who can be most responsive and, frankly, represent the people who in large part are paying for it and patronizing it.
Q: What might the downside be?
Fortner: It’s going to hit the companies the hardest, the small businesses, farming, ranching, industry, coal, oil, gas — all of that. It’s going to hit them tremendously hard.
It’s going to be a huge tax. Those in favor aren’t being truthful (about that). There’s no transparency to this tax whatsoever. You’ve got to vote it in, then the board, whoever happens to be on it, they’ll make all the decisions. You’re gonna strap everybody that’s in Gillette right now for generations to come, forever, into this new fee, this new tax that they won’t have an option to say yes or no to. It’s going to completely eliminate diversification from people coming here.
Horning: I don’t have cons to offer. The college is already intact and it needs to be its own and it needs to be separate. The natural evolution is local control of this college. It can’t be run from afar and still be a community college responsive to its community, students and the community at large.
Q: Could the college continue successfully if it were to remain as part of NWCCD?
Fortner: It would be just like it was. Sheridan College, they footed everything. They had the checkbook, they threw it open and paid for stuff. But the year when they quit doing the sports, in the COVID year, they said there ain’t going to be anymore sports, that was the right call because sports were shut down statewide.
Horning: It depends on how you define success. If it’s not independent, will it continue to exist? Well, necessarily, it will in some form or fashion. However, I believe a good chunk of the community would agree if it’s still part of that college district and it doesn’t have any say or control over its offerings, its budget. It would be a distinctly different college than it will be if we have local control and an independent district. But frankly, my concern is its ability to thrive and certainly its ability to be responsive to this community would not be there.
Q: What would the college look like 10, 20 or 30 years into the future without gaining independence from NWCCD?
Fortner: Personally, I don’t think colleges will exist in 10 to 20 years. I know numerous people who have gotten degrees online. I think college is going to be a thing of the past.
I think it’ll all be online, especially because this COVID isn’t over with for a long ways. When I was younger, you never heard of people going to school online, now there’s tons of them. In that case, we vote in another 4 mills, where’s that money going to go? Taxes don’t go away. I couldn’t tell you one tax that’s gone away in Wyoming. Not one.
Horning: My concern is that Gillette College would be treated or look like an adjunct or a branch of Sheridan College. I don’t think you can avoid the fact that the direction or the progress of this town is going to be influenced and shaped by people who aren’t here.
This college is run from afar by folks who aren’t elected here, by folks who don’t live here and who, just by virtue of the fact they aren’t here, don’t know this community the way that this community knows itself and what it needs, what it can support, what it can do. It’s going to look like a branch of another institution.
Q: For those in favor of splitting from NWCCD, what is there to be so aggrieved about? Why push for the vote now?
Fortner: Sports. It’s well documented. That’s what it’s all about. It’s the sports program. It’s not about them getting left out of the decision-making process. When we started all this, we set the foundation of what we wanted to be. It’s all about sports is what it’s about.
Horning: It’s that we have this outstanding college and these facilities that the county, city of Gillette and community have supported and attended for years and we don’t have control. We’ve got a college, now the natural evolution or maturation is a split. When the budget stuff hit, it was a very real or unfortunate wake-up call that we don’t have control of what we all considered to be our college.
This issue about athletics, that’s a red herring. Those athletics programs, as good as they are, that’s one facet of what’s a complete college and it’s not accurate or fair to say that it’s just about athletic programs. We have those programs either way, but the cuts were the wake-up call and served as a very unpleasant one for everybody, that we don’t have control.
This is a very can-do community, always has been. We have wonderful facilities, we have good local government and to be reminded that one of the preeminent facilities or institutions we have here really isn’t ours. We don’t have control of what it does or how it operates.
Q: What would the impact of taxing up to 4 mills be on local industry in Campbell County?
Fortner: These 4 mills will be taxed at 100% for extraction companies. They’ll be taxed 100%. So it’s going to be a direct hit on the extraction industry. Where we depend for jobs, the economy, money to come back to our local economy, it’s going to affect that dramatically. It’s going to affect small businesses next because it’s a tax on personal property taxes as well.
There’s nothing in statute that says this is how many mills you’re going to pay, this is what the CEO is going to get paid, this is what the board members are going to get paid — none of that’s in statute. It’s all the Nancy Pelosi deal as Obamacare unfolded. Vote for it then you can see what’s inside it. All that gets decided after the vote is taken, by the board members. We don’t know anything about this tax until the board members, whoever they pick, decide this is how we’re going to do it. It’s totally out of the taxpayers’ hands.
Horning: I think the best person to speak to the effects on industry is industry. There’s no business that’s looking for a way to pay more taxes. This is a tax. But industry is fully capable of speaking for itself and I don’t think you see, quote-un-quote, industry opposition coming out or being vocal against this.
I’m not being critical of industry, but industry knows full well how to speak for itself. Some of these organizations even lobby. They’re not unaware of what’s taking place, they’re not unaware of the pros or cons. I don’t see industry out there actively opposing this. What do we draw from that? I like to think industry sees that there’s value in Gillette College.
The bottom line is, I don’t see industry actively in opposition of this. If that were the case, they certainly know how to do that. And I’d like to think they see the benefits of the college.
Q: How would you explain the balance between the cost of independence and the potential benefits?
Fortner: There’s a ton of pressure for people to vote for the college. It’s like this: You’ve got a college, you vote 4 mills in, it puts the mines out of business 10 times faster because they’re scraping, they’re barely getting by. When these kids get out of welding school and we have local control, what are you going to do? Send them to Colorado to get a job?
I’ll put my place over here on the Hannum Road, I’ll put it up for sale. I’ll relocate in Montana or Crook County or somewhere. I’ve got a place in Recluse, I’ll set up there until my term is done, whether I set up there permanent or not. This is a huge tax and there’s not going to be no economic benefits to it whatsoever.
Horning: I don’t know that balance is the right word. Local control is everything. To get to local control, this is what it takes. I don’t think there’s a spectrum to operate on there. The tax increase is what it will take to have control of the college. You can flip that and look at what’s the deficit we have now in local control and how do we get out of that?
I think that local control requires that we go this route, that we be willing to pay an additional amount to have control of what is ours. I don’t know if balance is the right word. I think an increase is what it’s going to take for us to protect, preserve and let this college continue to grow and succeed.