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Fly-fishing program with new hosts replaces Columbia Country

Sun., Jan. 30, 2011

The “Columbia Country: Sport Fishing the West” TV show will drift downstream and out of sight this afternoon like the big one that got away.

After a 10-year run syndicated on more than 40 broadcast stations through the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains, the weekly show produced by Bob Asbury of Liberty Lake will bow to a new regional fly-fishing show.

The new show will feature two Montana angler hosts, but Asbury, 59, will still be in his familiar positions behind the camera, in the editing room and producing the program.

Columbia Country’s final episode – Steelheading on the Grande Ronde River – will air today at 4 p.m. on Fox 28.

Next Saturday, Trout TV will debut at 1 p.m. with a half-hour show on casting flies on the Yakima River. Trout TV brings new faces and dynamics, with Kalispell outfitter Rich Birdsell, 48, alternating episodes with Columbia Falls angler Hilary Hutcheson, 33.

“Rich and Hillary are talented anglers and good on camera,” Asbury said. “Rich is an outfitter and a tremendous talent with a fly. Hilary has been a whitewater rafting guide, fly-fishing guide and a TV news reporter and anchor in Portland before moving back to Montana and her hometown in Columbia Falls.

“Rich leans toward casting the heavier streamers while Hillary really likes the dry-fly action.

“With Hilary on board, there’s the potential to appeal to younger group and women without forsaking our core audience of sportsmen.”

Asbury clearly has an eye for what makes a regional fishing show work, having survived in the notoriously cruel sponsor-driven market to produce nearly 200 episodes of Columbia Country.

The secret is keeping his costs down and doing virtually all of the field camera work and then the editing and promotion work in his Liberty Lake home. He needs about five days to edit a two-day filming trip.

He avoids the overhead of boats and other gear by relying on outfitters and expert anglers who have the equipment that works for the given situation.

“The key is working with good people in the field,” he said.

The downside: “I don’t think I’ve fished more than a couple times in 10 years,” he said. “I try to make the most of every minute on the water, and that’s usually with the camera.”

Having started in the era of 16mm film, when Gordon Eastman was touring with outdoor films shown in school auditoriums, it’s been a full-time job to keep up with technology in recent years, he said.

“It’s a constant battle for somebody who didn’t grow up in the computer generation.”

But the show must go on, and there’s no shortage of fishing time for Birdsell and Hutcheson.

“Even though the name is Trout TV, we know that steelhead and salmon are huge in the Pacific Northwest, so we’ll be doing shows from Alaska, B.C., Washington and down to Colorado,” Asbury said. “Fly fishers also like others species, so expect episodes on smallmouth bass, carp and pike for variety.”

He said 16 episodes of Trout TV are already in the can, some shot as late as last fall on Montana’s Missouri River. He plans to film about 18-20 episodes a year. They repeat to fill all 52 weeks.

With only two days to film most episodes, the pressure is almost always on.

“We try to be flexible in our timing and avoid going out and wasting everybody’s time if the conditions aren’t good,” he said. “But sometimes you get out there and the fish just aren’t biting. You have to work with it.”

One notable situation Asbury couldn’t work out was on a Columbia Country trip to film fishing on the Kettle River of British Columbia.

“It was 9/11/2001,” he said. “Canadian Customs turned us around at the border and then when we got back to U.S. Customs they were in black jackets and not sure they’d let us back in,” he said. “When I reached down for my cell phone, I thought they were going to pull their handguns.”

Sometimes the action is so fantastic on a two-day outing Asbury will cut the program into two episodes.

“That happened on the Missouri River and also with Hilary on the North Platte River last year,” he said. “They caught unbelievable numbers of big trout.”

The fishing at some private pay-to-fish lakes also is extraordinary, he said.

Other Trout TV episodes coming up include fishing for Dolly Varden in Alaska and float-fishing the Elk River in British Columbia. They head to the South Fork Shoshone in Wyoming, the St. Joe and Coeur d’Alene rivers in Idaho, the Gallatin, Middle Fork Flathead, Smith and Yellowstone in Montana.

One of the most pleasant surprises was the fly fishing action on Montana’s Marias River, he said.

“It’s interesting because it’s in the open breaks heading toward the Missouri,”Asbury said, acknowledging that some locals worry about a TV program attracting too much attention to the stream.

“The fish count per mile is not high, but it holds some very nice rainbows and browns.”

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