When I discovered that guiding anglers was actually a way to make a living, I dove in head first. My career started in Jackson, WY at Bressler Outfitters. Starting at the bottom of the totem pole, and known as “The Swamper”, I was the guy who did everything from changing bearings on trailers, to taking firewood to camp. When the other guiding trips were full, I was able to do some guiding of my own and able to teach fly casting at local guest ranches as a recruiter.
I really enjoyed benefitting from being placed in a guiding and teaching position. I realized that the more people I helped, the better of a chance I had to continue to do what I loved so much.
This realization continued as I went to Florida and set up shop in Key West. I really liked to teach people what I was doing and show them an incredible experience fishing on the shallow, clear flats of the Florida Keys. I was fishing out of a 16-foot boat and I could take a maximum of two people at a time, but often it was just one person. I wanted to show more people how incredible this fishing world was, so I tried my hand at taking photographs and writing articles. I became published soon afterwards, but knew I wanted to reach a larger audience.
The next step was to challenge myself with tournaments at the Florida Keys, like the Redbone Series which eventually leads to the National Redfish Tournaments. The format of these tournaments consists of a two-man team and so I reached out to my #1 competition, Rich. To see if we were compatible with working together, Rich and I fished with each other for a few days, and turned out we got along well. We seemed to have the same aspirations for success, and soon we committed to the IFA Redfish Tournaments and became Pro Redfish Anglers. We traveled from South Carolina to The Florida Keys and back through Louisiana and over to Texas. This became challenging for me as I was happy to be learning at such a fast pace, but it was taking me away from the things I loved to do and my family.
We had two babies at home (Turner and Hayden) and the birth of Saltwater Experience happened when Hurricane Charlie hit Key West while I was in Venice, LA competing at a tournament. As the storm passed over my wife and children in the Florida Keys, I could not leave Louisiana and they could not leave Key West. Feeling helpless, this was the moment I decided that I could no longer be away from my family. I would go back to Key West where I would resume my guiding business and stay with my family.
On the way home, Rich asked a valuable question: “How can we keep doing something like this that keeps us with our families and why we do this to begin with?”
That’s when it hit me: we could do a TV show.
After competing in the 2000 Great Outdoor Games and winning, I was the guest on over 30 television shows and it was immediately clear that television was the medium reach to a ton of people. I had enough experience to naively think that producing a TV show didn’t look so hard but enough to know that we could do it.
Once we got the show started, we continued to share what we loved so much: teaching others. The difference was that we could now teach 250,000 people at the same time! The show was rough in the beginning as it started to take shape. We tried some things that didn’t work and struggled to make our show unique. At the time, all fishing shows including fresh and saltwater were a single host format. Therefore, our biggest challenge was creating a show to have two hosts.
Surrounded by a great team, we all put our heads together and our producer, Hop, came up with an interview format that stuck. The show gained popularity and we started to refine our concepts. Luckily, we created partnerships with sponsors that have been with us for the past 14 years on the air. Each year we are able to educate, inspire and motivate people to get outside and go fishing.
Saltwater Experience is anything but on cruise control. We are continually working to improve the quality and storylines of the show. Additionally, we have embraced social media to extend a farther reach and continue to connect with more people.
Thank you for being part of the Saltwater Experience family.
Tom Rowland & Rich Tudor