As anglers, we have the privilege of tapping into the beauty of the universe, one fish at a time. Every hookset and cast is an opportunity to see something that’s never been seen before, whether we make the most of that opportunity or not. Author John Gierach once said, “Trout are among those creatures who are one hell of a lot prettier than they need to be. They can get you to wondering about the hidden workings of reality.” And it’s true. There’s beauty everywhere, if we’re willing to look for it.
Mark Kenyon is someone who’s set his mind to looking. As an author, podcast host, and content creator with Wired to Hunt and MeatEater, he’s been immersed in the outdoors more than most, but found himself burned out by it in 2021. He’d spent more time in the woods and waters of North America than ever, but still felt jaded. So, he set out in 2022 to fix the problem.
“Eventually, I realized I can still make a career within this world by just being true to who I am and what I do, and by telling my own unique story and not trying to be some other person within this space,” Mark told us. “But, more importantly, I realized none of that stuff works. Nothing’s going to work if I don't just focus on the love of this thing and the fun of it and start getting back to doing the things that got me into this.”
We had the chance to talk to Mark about this refocusing effort. And, as we kick off yet another year full of goals and expectations and opportunities, it’s a great reminder to stop and take a look around us. Whether you’re an angler or not, it’s a reminder worth hearing. So, without further ado, here’s MeatEater’s Mark Kenyon as he shares how he had his best year in the outdoors by not worrying about having his best year in the outdoors.
Moonshine: Do you see a lot of similarities between bowhunting and fly fishing?
Mark Kenyon: There's a lot. I think fly fishing and bowhunting have really tight parallels. With bowhunting, you have to be detail oriented. As a gun hunter, there's a lot more room for error. If you're in the right general region doing the right general thing, you can have some success. But as a bowhunter, you've got to be dialed in. You need to understand what the animal's doing, why it's doing it, and know the places it wants to do it. You need to understand the landscape very well and have a careful plan in place to approach that area. You need a careful plan in place for how you are going to try to manipulate it or set up and your gear needs to be dialed as well.
You need to be planning ahead to make sure everything is appropriate for the task at hand. You need to make sure you know the region, how the forecast that day might impact the animal you're pursuing. All of those little things. Bowhunting is a game of inches and it's a game of stacking up every tiny little thing until eventually you get something that might lead to success.
I think fly fishing is very similar. If you want to have consistent success, you need to go out there and know the river. You need to know the water. You need to know what the fish are doing at that time of year, at that time of day, why they're doing it, and how they're doing it. You need to be very careful with how you approach the water, with how you lay out your cast, with how you present it, and how you mend the line. Ultimately, you need to know how to adjust to different factors and changes in the situation. It's all the exact same stuff. It's just that one of them takes place on land with a bow, and one of them takes place on the water with a rod.
"I think there are people whose brains are tuned to be into bowhunting. I think those same types of brains are also tuned to be into fly fishing, if they're introduced to it. There are just so many parallels."
It’s probably not a coincidence that many people do both.
I think there are people whose brains are tuned to be into bowhunting. I think those same types of brains are also tuned to be into fly fishing, if they're introduced to it. There are just so many parallels. The intimacy of it, I think, is another thing. And by that I mean, as a bowhunter, you are forced to get close to the prey that you're after, your quarry. You have to get in that place in close quarters. Every movement you make has gravity behind it. If you make one wrong move, you're out.
The same thing is true with fly fishing, in most cases. It's an intimate form of fishing. You're close to the fish, you're in the water with it. This isn't something that's happening 200 yards behind the boat where you can't see it and you can't influence it. You just chuck something out there and hope that you're at the right depth. When you're fly fishing, you're right there. Every movement matters. Every decision matters. Every six-inch step might matter. I think all of those things both translate from fly fishing to bowhunting, from bowhunting to fly fishing, and those types of things appeal to the same types of people.
If you have experience with one or the other, I think you'll be predisposed to be more successful picking up the other because you'll have a general sense of the magnitude of the little things, I think. Both of these things are tough to figure out. It's hard. But, when you do finally connect all these dots, it’s a feeling unlike anything else in the world.
So, how did 2022 stack up for you, both in hunting and fishing?
It was a banner year for me. Coming off of 2021, I kind of had a weird hunting season—a really, really, really busy hunting season. I hunted in like nine different states and filmed two different shows. Coming out of that, I was kind of burned out, the most burned out I've been within my hunting journey. So, in the beginning of the year, I just told myself I wanted to recenter on why I was doing this stuff and just get back to having fun with it, without all the other stuff that comes when hunting is your career.
Because of that, I did two things. One, I took a little time away from hunting and just doubled down on spending extra time with the family and the outdoors and extra time fishing, actually.
I took the first half of the year, give or take, and spent a ton of time in the water. I've got two boys—a two-year-old and a four-year-old—and my wife and I spent about three and a half months at our cabin in Idaho with them. So we fished like crazy people and camped, hiked and boated and played on rocks and in creeks. We did everything that a two-year-old and four-year-old dreams of.
That really refilled my cup, and I got to fish a whole lot of remote rivers and had my best year of fly fishing ever. I got to fish saltwater for the first time, went smallie fishing for the first time, and caught my personal best trout three times over. All those things were really pretty sweet.
Then, hunting season came around and I was riding high on an amazing year of fishing and really, really, really excited to get back to my first love. I refocused on keeping it fun and letting the chips fall where they may. And that led to a really great hunting season. I had hunts in Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, and Nebraska so far, and they've all been a lot of fun. I've had some success. I've killed three good mature bucks, which are incredible, and two of them got to be close to home. I got to share those experiences with my family. My boys have come out with me more than ever. We've got to take them hunting, got to take them tracking deer, recovering deer, doing all that kind of stuff. So it's been a really blessed year.
Earlier you mentioned that you wanted to refocus on “why you do what you do.” What’s the answer to that question?
I do this because it satisfies something deep down in my soul. Both hunting and fishing. They make me feel more alive than anything else. They make me feel more whole. But, when you start layering different things on top of hunting and fishing, like what other people think about your success, or make it your job, it adds pressure. When you're trying to create content, post on social media, worry about what your boss thinks, worry about all these different things, it becomes something different. If you can't keep your priorities straight, you can very quickly have it become something different than what it was in the beginning. That had happened for me.
I had let all those outside pressures, outside voices, and outside opinions impact the fun I was having and the decisions I made about my time outdoors. For example, in 2021, I felt like I had to go do all the different hunts and try to produce these different kinds of content because that's what I should be doing for my career. There were certain expectations I'd put on myself about what I should be doing. And if I couldn't do that, I was getting down on myself.
Eventually, I realized I can still make a career within this world by just being true to who I am and what I do, and by telling my own unique story and not trying to be some other person within this space. But, more importantly, I realized none of that stuff works. Nothing’s going to work if I don't just focus on the love of this thing and the fun of it and start getting back to doing the things that got me into this. One of the things that I absolutely loved was spending time outdoors with my dad and my grandpa and those times up at our family deer camp. It’s what initiated me into this culture and this lifestyle, but I was so busy that I never had time to go hunting with my dad anymore.
I realized I was losing sight of what's really important here. So this year, I tried to make more time to get back out to our family deer camp with my dad, take my son up there for his first real extended trip to deer camp. It led to me just enjoying it again. If I'm enjoying myself and if I'm just getting outside for the right reasons and immersing myself in these amazing places and these great activities, the other stuff will come more naturally. I’ve been having a lot of fun and, lo and behold, I’m having my best year of hunting and fishing ever. I don't know if that's connected or just coincidence, but I'll take it.
"Fly fishing is the ying to the yang of my hunting obsession because it presses a lot of the same buttons. It taps into the same energies and obsessions that make me love bow hunting and hunting so much, except it does it without the burden of the career and the goals and the pressures associated with hunting as my career."
What is it about fly fishing that helped hit the reset button?
Fly fishing is the ying to the yang of my hunting obsession because it presses a lot of the same buttons. It taps into the same energies and obsessions that make me love bow hunting and hunting so much, except it does it without the burden of the career and the goals and the pressures associated with hunting as my career. I can dive into this thing where you have to become intimately familiar with your surroundings, with your quarry, with the landscape. You need to fine tune your approach. You need to be detail oriented. You become immersed in the natural world and you can lose sight of yourself for hours or days on end. All those things that I love about bow hunting are true about fly fishing, just in a different kind of landscape with a different type of core and a different tool.
I've said a number of times now that if I had dove deep into fly fishing a few years earlier, I would've been a fly fishing podcaster, writer, and content creator, because I love it just as much as anything I do on the hunting side. I just happened to dive into the hunting side a little bit earlier and that's where the career took me. Fly fishing is fully rejuvenating for me. I'm an obsessive personality. I'm a hard driving, type A, goal-oriented kind of guy. I've been able to dive hard into fly fishing just for fun, just because I'm obsessed with it. There's nothing else on top of it. I don't need to create any content. I don't need to feel obligated to have anything to share with anyone. It refills my cup. It just soothes my soul and I can go crazy out there.
You’ve mentioned your boys a few times. How has having kids changed your perspective on your time outdoors?
It resets your priorities in a lot of ways. There are two things that come to mind. One, I would find myself hunting or whatever and something would go wrong, and it'd be the end of the world. Let's say I've been hunting for three months and I finally get a shot on the deer I'm after and then I miss. It would be the end of the world, back in the day. But since having kids—it sounds cliché, but it’s true—it puts everything into perspective.
Yeah, I missed a buck, but who cares? I get to go home and see my kids and they're healthy and I know what an amazing thing that is. I can bounce back from some kind of previous “devastation” that I now realize is so minimal in the grand scheme of things when you have these lives that are dependent on you, that bring you so much joy.
The second thing is the more time we get to spend outside together, me and the boys, the more I just realize that they find joy in everything. Every little thing. They find a cool looking rock and they could spend 15 minutes staring at it and putting it under the water and seeing how it glitters. Nature's so amazing and fun and joyful for a two-year-old and a four-year-old. It's easy as an adult to be wrapped up in whatever mission you're on or whatever your journey is, or your goal or your big epic trip, whether you're trying to catch your 24-inch brown trout or kill a buck. You're so obsessed with this thing that you forget to look at that shiny rock. You forget to see that eagle on top of the branch, or you lose sight of the little things that make this thing so special.
The kids are a constant reminder for me to look at the world all around me and to enjoy those little things, too. They live it by example. And I'm learning from them by their example. It's helping me get back to what I talked about at the beginning, which is enjoying this thing in its entirety, not because I can check something off my list or put a picture on Instagram, but because these places and animals and creatures and opportunities are just the best thing in the world. I just get to soak it up.