Life’s a fish and then you catch one
October 31, 2008
The Eskimos have a hundred words for snow. Matt Eastman has at least as many words for catching fish, or angling, as the term may be.
His vocabulary describes the subtle differences among rods, knots, insects and ways to cast a line that are lost on most weekend warriors. Dry-fly bait floats on the water’s surface; the lure in nymph fishing bubbles under it.
A fish is never just a fish. The names ascribed to game are as colorful as the oceans in which they swim. Giant black marlins, steelhead trout, bonefish and yellow-finned tuna swim into fishermen’s imaginations and leave them thirsty.
"I’ve been fishing since I was five," Eastman said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "And I’m still learning."
Now, Eastman can add the word Emmy to his repertoire. The Park City High School alumnus won one of television’s most prestigious regional prizes two weeks ago for his role as host of ESPN 2’s reality program "Wanna Go Fishing."
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Producers also took home the Rocky Mountain Emmy for best weekly sports program.
"It’s awesome," Eastman said. "It’s an honor."
The show has a far-out premise. Eastman travels around the country to college football games, outdoor expos and street fairs to pop the question, in front of a camera crew, to strangers: Want to go fishing?
He gives contestants five minutes and two phone calls to decide whether or not to accept his offer. If they say yes, Eastman whisks them away to fishing hot spots in Costa Rica, British Columbia, Panama, French New Guinea, Alaska, Texas and elsewhere for two days of off-shore fishing.
The appeal of the show, Eastman said, is that it isn’t just about catching fish. "It’s a feel-good show," he said. "It’s about people. We’re taking random people and giving them the trip of a lifetime."
Contestants come from diverse backgrounds. Eastman has selected men and women with varying degrees of experience in fishing. He recently took a veteran of the Iraq war on a trip to Texas.
"Matt does try to identify people who couldn’t do this on their own," producer Jeff Lubsen said. An excursion to the azure waters of Belize, for example, would cost as much as $7,000 for plane tickets, fishing permits, equipment rentals and lodging.
The show, now in its fourth season, has aired 44 episodes. "That’s 44 guests," Lubsen said, "and Matt has never gotten a dud. He’s got a sixth sense about picking people for the show."
Kim Deimling, Eastman’s sister, said it is her brother’s personality that has made the show a hit. "We knew he would be a success on the show," she said. "He’s an avid outdoorsman with a great sense for people."
Eastman grew up fly fishing in Evanston, Wyo., with his dad and grandpa. He graduated from Park City High School in 1991.
The fishing expert was working as a guide at the Victory Ranch in Woodland when the owner of the Park-City based Fischer Productions approached him about doing a show.
Today, Eastman spends from mid-September to June taking people where they have never been before. "He’s on the road so much that he really has to juggle his time," Lubsen said. "He has a very solid work ethic."
Bronson Calder of Park Meadows had no idea Eastman, one of his best friends, would sweep him away to British Columbia one Saturday morning. "I had no idea," Calder said of the proposal. "He said he was putting together a party for Victory Ranch, which is why the film crew was there. Then everyone gathered around me and Matt said, ‘Guess what?’"
Calder woke at five the next morning to catch a plane to Smithers, British Columbia, where he fished for steelhead trout with his buddy. The two waded chest-deep into chilly water to cast their rods. Temperatures dipped to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and rose to the mid-30s. They wore two pairs of socks with warmers, waders, boots, fleece and long underwear. "Your hands go numb after about 20 minutes and you just kind of get into the rhythm of things," he said.
A steadfast rhythm paid off. On the first day of the trip, the pair caught 10 fish. Calder said his friend’s enthusiasm for the sport made him a fish magnet. "He’s so passionate," Calder gushed. "He knows so much about the whole fishing world. He’ll energize you and get you so excited."
Eastman remains enthralled with fishing years after he began. "Every single trip is fun," he said. I just love being on the water, and it’s also giving someone the chance to do something they might not otherwise do."
Recently, one of Eastman’s guests caught a 350-pound yellow-finned tuna, nearly the largest ever caught. "He couldn’t believe it," Eastman said with excitement. It was proof for fishermen that although life can’t be spent on vacation, honeymoons are a different story.