When Travis Swartz, also known as Hank Patterson, agreed to come to Rapid City to speak at the Elks Theatre last February on behalf of the Black Hills Fly Fishers, he didn’t know what to expect.
Swartz is a comedian whose videos of the character he plays, Hank Patterson, have been viewed more than 40 million times on YouTube. He also has a TV series available on Amazon Prime, all documenting the adventures of Hank, an angler. He also has a full length film and a podcast.
“I will readily admit that leading up to the trip to go South Dakota, I was like ‘I do not want to go to South Dakota,’ it just sounded miserable,” he said. “Then I went to South Dakota and got to Rapid City and the guys started to show me around, and I loved Rapid City. I thought it was a super cool town … I was really impressed with the people and the place.”
He was also impressed when he saw some of the fish caught in the Black Hills. He soon realized that South Dakota didn’t just have nice people, it had some pretty nice fishing, too.
Swartz speaks all over the country and said that the Black Hills was one of his favorite spots. Now he wants to showcase this spot to the rest of the country.
The Fly Fishing Film Tour is a travelling film festival that visits 175 cities in eight different countries, and Swartz will have a film in the 2019 festival about the Black Hills where he plays his character, Hank Patterson.
Swartz will be in the Black Hills filming over the weekend, and will be at Crow Peak Brewing in Spearfish Saturday at 6 p.m. for a meet-and-greet. Event participants may have a chance to be in the film as well.
The working title of the film is, ‘Hank Patterson’s Fishing Around the World, Globe’, and the premise of the film will be similar to Swartz’s own experience coming to South Dakota. Hank will show up, not sure what to do, and find that the area has a lot of lesser-known trout fishing opportunities on par with anywhere in the country.
“What interested me was that anyone can chose to go to Belize, or Montana or Alaska, there’s such obvious places to go that are beautiful places to go. South Dakota and the Black Hills were less obvious places,” he said. “I thought someone should go there and show that there are places other than you know that are good places with good people and good fishing.
Black Hills Fly Fishing board member Brady Gabel said he hopes the film will help bring more awareness to conservation projects the group does in the Hills, as well boost a membership base that is already 200 strong. He said when Swartz visited Rapid City in February, his talk brought in 25 new members alone.
“In that process he was really impressed with the Black Hills, he didn’t know there was a trout population out here,” Gabel said. “That’s part of the struggle, it’s unique in this area being an unknown, but in terms of resources, it’s hard to get because it’s not Montana or Idaho.”
Pitching the film to the Fly Fishing Film Tour wasn’t difficult, according to Swartz. Many of the films face exotic locations such as New Zealand or Belize, so the pitch was all about the Black Hills being more accessible than other locations.
“Something they feel the tour has lacked are things that are a little more accessible. They get a lot of entries that are saltwater, sort of things that your typical angler that goes to the tour maybe can’t go to,” he said. “Basically when I pitched that to them what they loved about it is now we’re going to show something that anybody that’s watching this tour across the country can say, ‘hey let’s go to South Dakota, let’s check that out.’”
Swartz said the story of the character isn’t anything flashy. It started when he was working on a documentary with an organization called Reel Recover, which takes men with cancer on fly fishing retreats.
When raising money for the project, one of his friends called him and mentioned a film making competition with humor as a category, with the prize being $1,000. He and two friends decided to enter, and Hank Patterson was born.
The requests kept coming for more videos, and Swartz kept obliging. Companies started calling and offering free fly rods or waders, and the videos kept coming because as he said: “I need waders.”
“It’s super fun, people relate to it, it’s got a great audience,” he said. “We meant it as a one-off to win some money, but the thing that happened was we got calls from people who wanted to send us free gear. Eventually that turned into ‘will you come speak at our event?’ And I thought, ‘sure, I could do that.’ So I started doing that and eventually sponsorships came on, and things like the film tour and the audience grew.”
He said it isn’t the primary way he makes his living, and while the character pays for the trips and he makes a little bit of money off the videos, the real reason he does it can’t be measured in dollars.
“I get asked a lot if I make my entire living doing Hank Patterson videos. Absolutely not,” he said. “There’s not a lot of money in it, but this film is a great example of Hank Patterson affording me the ability to go to a beautiful place, hang out with cool people and have a experience that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. That’s really what I get out of it.”
Although his character won’t be excited about South Dakota, Swartz said he couldn’t be more excited about being in the Black Hills.
Even if it won’t come off in the film, at first.
“If you want to quote Hank Patterson, Hank Patterson’s quote about this film is: ‘You’re welcome South Dakota, congratulations on having me there,” Swartz said jokingly. “Travis would say: ‘Thanks for putting up with me.’”