Interview Series: The Life of a YouTube Fisherman
I first met Chris McIntee on the tip of a slick, rocky jetty in northern New Jersey. We were both doing what serious saltwater anglers do in the fall - burning the candle at both ends chasing false albacore and striped bass. Chris is the face behind 'Sea-Money Fishing' on YouTube. His channel, which currently has approximately 120,000 subscribers, focuses mostly on saltwater fishing in the Mid-Atlantic region. However, you can also find Chris fishing for trout, bass, walleye, musky, snakehead, and many other local species. Recently, Chris and I caught up to discuss his YouTube business, the health of our region's fisheries, and the impacts of the internet and social media on fishing.
Surf to Stream (S2S): My first question is one you probably get a lot: How did you get into YouTube fishing?
Chris McIntee (CM): I've always loved fishing, and was looking for ways to get paid to fish. I had heard about another YouTuber who was making good money from uploading bass videos, which made me think I could also make good money by doing more diverse fishing videos. I figured I could gain an audience and make money from targeting many different fish in a variety of settings. It was in 2015 when I really started putting out videos consistently in an attempt to earn revenue, but my first video was in 2011.
S2S: How long did it take before you saw some growth on your channel?
CM: It was probably about a year after putting out consistent uploads that I started making money. After about my 100th video, I saw a lot of growth and it continued from there.
S2S: My understanding is there is quite a time commitment that comes with making fishing videos. What goes into making a 15-20 minute video for your channel?
CM: I do pretty simple filming while on the water, in that all I do is wear a GoPro on my head. That is pretty elementary for today's YouTube videos. You know, most YouTubers have fancy handheld cameras and multiple GoPros - not me. Editing the videos takes some time, though. I'd say it usually takes 3-5 hours of editing to finish a 15+ minute video. The storage of the videos is also a pain. I have 2 terabytes (TB) of footage on my computer and another couple TB on external hard drives, yet I still end up deleting the majority of the stuff that I film. Often times, I'll go fishing, film the day, and end up deleting the footage because the fishing was slow and the video wouldn’t be interesting for my audience. I'll only end up with solid footage maybe 1 out of 5 or 10 times I fish.
S2S: Based on the saturation of the YouTube market, it sounds like making a living on YouTube is harder now than ever. Do you agree?
CM: It is definitely harder than ever. Advertising revenue is lower than it has ever been and continues to dip lower each year. There is also more saturation in YouTube fishing than there has ever been. For someone just starting out, they have their work cut out for them. They will really need a lot of unique content to get to a point where they can get paid. While YouTube is my primary source of income, I've been making less this year than in the past two years.
S2S: Let's jump into another topic I know you feel passionately about. The idea of spot burning has been talked about a lot, with some blogs and forums actually banning the sharing of specific spots on their pages. I know you have done a video on spot burning and share some frustrations about it there. How do you think social media - Instagram, YouTube - has directly impacted our local fisheries, not just our fishing spots?
CM: I am like any other dedicated angler in that I hate fishing a crowded spot. I have fished since the dawn of the internet and have seen the evolution of online reports. I have seen the rise and fall of fishing forums where spot burning first became a thing, and I have seen the effects of social media posts burning spots for close to a decade. I understand the effects as well as anyone. I would say that not just social media, but the internet in general, has absolutely effected our fisheries for the worse. On the flip-side, you could argue that the internet has effected fisherman for the better, as we can go online and research anything we want, allowing us access to information on any species we seek and making us better fishermen. That said, our fisheries are more pressured now than ever, and our saltwater fish stocks are generally all lower now than ever before.
Fishing used to be secretive. In the times before the internet, there were robust fish populations and less anglers (with a few exceptions). People couldn't go out and successfully catch any species they wanted, because they didn’t know how, where, or when to target them. To clarify, I'm not talking about largemouth bass or stocked trout, but the more elusive species like muskies, big striped bass, and any other trophy size fish. Nowadays, you can go on YouTube and look up “how to catch big striped bass” and spend a whole week watching videos on catching them. So now we have a ton of informed anglers and a dwindling, more pressured, stock of fish. And it's not just YouTube that has been changing the fishing landscape. FishBrain - man I hate FishBrain! FishBrain is an app that lets people share exactly where, when, and how they caught a fish. FishBrain is as bad as anything else when it comes to spot burning and damaging our fisheries.
S2S: I've been noticing the same things you have over the years. We actually wrote an article on spot burning a few months back. So, what do you do as a YouTuber to limit your impact on fisheries?
CM: For me, I'm super limited in what I post on YouTube. I'm more cautious than ever and I upload a fraction of what I actually film. Sometimes, I'll go to a bad spot and try to get lucky rather than going to a good spot where I know I can catch fish. That cuts back on what I actually catch as a whole, and often times bites me in the ass because I spend a day getting skunked with no video to upload. Unfortunately, I have also slipped up over the years and posted some stuff I shouldn’t have. The consequences were clear as day - epic crowds. These days, I try my best to upload videos that will have minimal impacts on fisheries and specific spots. Also, I have since deleted dozens of videos that I felt were damaging or too revealing, and I felt the cut in revenue from doing that.
S2S: As you mentioned earlier, the majority of our Mid-Atlantic fisheries are in decline. In your mind, is there a species/fishery that you feel is most in danger of collapse due to over-fishing? Conversely, do you think there are any fisheries that are thriving or underrated?
CM: As far as my local species go, weakfish are in the worst shape. I'm not sure why they are in such bad shape; I suspect it is the commercial fishermen wiping them out, because it is certainly not the recreational fisherman. The weakfish is a fish that can grow to 15+ pounds, and nowadays you hardly ever hear of a single 10lb fish caught anywhere all season. Sadly, it seems as though they all end up in gill-nets once they reach a certain size. I miss those bigger weakfish. I used to spend countless hours pursuing 30” class weakies, and it was greatly rewarding when you’d finally hook one. Nowadays, I know its not going to happen so I don’t waste my time. Speckled trout, striped bass, tog, and fluke are all clearly in decline as well. There used to be so many tog stacked on any rock pile or bridge that it wasn’t fun fishing for them. In my opinion, there is one sole reason the tog have been so depleted, and that is the Asian live fish markets. They put a high price tag on one of the slowest growing fish out there, and what used to be an abundant species is now hard to catch. Conversely, the inshore Pelagic species such as the mackerel, cobia, mahi, bonito, and false albacore all seem to be doing as well as they ever have. This year has been really good for those species and they're showing in places they never did and in numbers we’ve never seen.
Freshwater wise, we have better stocking programs and, because of them, many species are thriving. The Great Lakes, for example, are fishing about as good as they ever have been. Record numbers of salmon, giant muskies, bass, and walleye are being seen in the Great Lakes. Locally, here in the Mid-Atlantic, we have an improving musky fishery thanks in part to states and organizations stocking advanced fingerlings in places musky never used to exist, or existed in low density populations. And to add to the list of thriving fisheries, some of the invasive species are adding to our sport fishing opportunities as well. Currently, in my area, the most popular freshwater species are flatheads and snakeheads, both invasive.
S2S: One last question. What is your most memorable video from the last couple of years?
CM: Tough to pick any one video that I find the most memorable. However, one time I had a shark blow up on a topwater spook behind Atlantic City. That was a super slow day of fishing, and that was the last thing I was expecting to hook. I've also captured some pretty crazy experiences on camera including blitzing flounder, schools of brook trout under the ice, and epic striper, bluefish, and albie blitzes. However, a lot of the craziest stuff I've filmed never makes it to uploaded, just because I fear the consequences.
YouTube has been good to me though, and I have fished many more places than I would have if it weren’t for YouTube. I have grown a lot as a fisherman and learned about our fisheries. I just hope that people don’t continue to abuse our resources, and that we can have good fishing for decades to come.
Thanks again to Chris for offering his time to talk with us. Be sure to go check him out on YouTube at Sea Money Fishing!