Very few fishing forums are ever successful at getting started, even fewer make it 10 years. Paflyfish has been around over 20 years. Our interview with founder Dave Kile reveals some of the secrets as to why.
Why did you start Paflyfish back in 1995?
While in college, a couple of friends got me interested in fly fishing. The patience and encouragement they showed me with the sport was something that stuck with me. In return, I wanted to share and educate as well, that is the primary reason I created Paflyfish. It was my way of giving back.
The Internet was just getting started back in 1995 and I was anxious to try my hand at creating web pages. I took my knowledge of fly fishing locations around Pennsylvania and created some online maps so anglers could easily find new angling opportunities.
How has Paflyfish evolved over the last 20 years?
Many things have changed since those first online maps. I quickly started posting a few news articles, mostly from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and then some of my own fly fishing stories. I then started getting a lot of emails asking me questions on a range of fly fishing topics and I didn’t feel I was really an authority on some of the topics being asked. So I came up with a rudimentary early forum that people could share questions and get answers from other online users.
It then became apparent people could not only ask questions of me and the site, I could ask for something back from them. I set up a section for anglers to post stream reports about hatches and fly fishing conditions across the region. It was an early crowd sourcing idea. Still my favorite part of the site. There is an incredible amount of historical information about streams and hatches that are being amassed in the new Stream Reports Forum.
The site started getting popular and I had several vocal users encouraging me to upgrade the site to a more modern content management system around in 2003. This allowed users to login and provide a moderation system to manage issues and posts. The site really took off after that upgrade.
What is the biggest surprise about how the site has evolved over the years?
My original view of Paflyfish came from a technical focus with maps and html code to support data on the Internet. It was just going to be a dynamic online book of sorts. With features like forums and private messaging, the site evolved into an online regional fly fishing community. People have become friends and met up to go fly fishing from all over the country. Anglers would ask questions about a certain stream and others would reply with, “I fish that stream all the time. Let’s meet up there and I’ll take you out.” There is now wide range of activities originating from the site including meetups for fly tying groups, beginner’s classes, fly fishing trips and all sorts of fly fishing activities.
The amount of sharing and giving back to the fly fishing community is what I am proudest of. Certainly the biggest surprise is how lucky I am to meet so many great people from all over the country.
I have witnessed many forums shut down due to issues with moderators and the approach to moderating the discussion. What has been your overall approach to moderating your forum in a way that allows different ideas and debate without those debates getting carried away and driving other forum users away?
I could write a book just on this very question. Since there was no playbook for running a forum back in the early days of the Internet we had to write our own along the way.
Firstly, Maurice, Dave, Tom and Jack as moderators are just awesome on the site. We work together solving situations and I couldn’t do it without them. I am very thankful to have their help. We actually don’t always share the same views and I think that is helpful.
Paflyfish has a clear set of guidelines about language, personal attacks and advertising. When someone goes off the rails we address it with them privately, explain to them the issue and give them a warning. If the issues persist we ask them not to come back. We say what we mean and mean what we say.
My idea was that Paflyfish could be a place my teenage son could hang out online and I wouldn’t have to worry about what was being written in the forums. That said, I would encourage anyone first getting started into Paflyfish or any forum to wade in a little before you jump into the deep end.
I have heard complaints that our moderating is pretty strict at times and also heard the forum can be unruly. So hearing those two ends of the spectrum I think we have found the middle ground and feel we have a good handle on things. I know for sure, we will never keep everyone happy. Some people want a place they can get pretty edgy, but we’re not that site.
I always tell the moderators, Sigmund Freud would have had a field day enjoying all the online personalities and situations we have encountered over the years. The stories and situations that have we have encountered moderating the site have been pretty wild.
What are the future plans for Paflyfish? What will it look like in another 20 years?
I hope to update the site and forums to be more mobile friendly in the short term. Online communities will still be popular as a way for people share ideas and become better informed about topics that interest them in the future. Information sharing platforms, like forums, will still be around in the future and I hope to evolve the site as those new technical trends become available.
When did your love of fly fishing start?
It was probably about my 4th or 5th year of fly fishing when the sport really captured me. My passion started extending beyond just wanting to find a stream and throwing out a fly. I starting realizing the depth and sophistication of the sport. I began reading a lot more about topography, weather, geology, entomology and how they all influenced my trout fly fishing opportunities. You take all that science and balance with all the really beautiful streams in Pennsylvania and what’s not to love.
What are your favorite fly fishing home waters?
Probably not obvious, I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, but I moved out of the state many years ago. So I enjoy all the streams that Pennsylvania has to offer when I return to my home state. I don’t get out fly fishing as much as I would like, so whatever stream I’m standing in that’s my home waters for the day!
The diversity of streams is the part I like enjoy the most about Pennsylvania. It doesn’t matter if I’m casting ants on the Yellow Breeches on a quite fall afternoon, or standing in the rain on Spring Creek with a kickass Sulphur hatch that won’t stop in the middle of the May. The opportunities in Pennsylvania are what makes it all so special. I have fished in every corner of that state and no two streams are alike.
Where is your favorite fly fishing travel destination?
I first learned to fly fish on the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning and there is nothing more fun for me than hitting that water in late spring. It is a mid-size stream, with a wonderful diversity of hatches in one of the most magnificent settings in the state. To compliment the wonderful fishing in that area you often see elk, eagles, turkeys and all sorts of wildlife. I’m always up there with a great bunch of friends and that is the best part of the experience as much as the fly fishing.
I love this interview. Great stuff that captures how anglers are so dedicated to helping other anglers. Thank you Dave and your collaborators for putting together such a great resource for fly fishermen everywhere.
You can keep track of Dave and Paflyfish on Instagram and Twitter.