GILLETTE — 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.
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.
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.