AMP founder Chad Alderson is serious about fly fishing. He was surprised that there wasn’t a great mobile app out there that could help him plan fly fishing trips and continue to learn more about his sport, so he decided to build one.CHAD ALDERSON, FOUNDER
“Fly fishing is one of the only hobbies I have other than annoying my wife,” Chad jokes. As a child, Chad loved fishing with his father, and his grandpa even made a rod for him. But he put the sport behind him as his career took him to the Bay Area and Los Angeles. He married, moved back to his hometown, Chico, California, and decided to return to angling once again.
“Getting back into the sport was like opening Pandora’s box,” he says.
Chad bought a ton of books to research the angling tactics that either make or break a fly angler. He picked the brains of local fishing guides and area fly shop owners. But he could find no easy way to access and easily recall all the information he needed into one place.
As the owner of AMP.build and lead product strategist, Chad dreams up apps for everything. So, he was surprised there wasn’t a mobile app out there to help him methodically plan fly fishing trips and learn watershed-specific tactics. Chad found tracking the fish food chain daunting - the various fishing rigs, techniques and environment conditions that maximize your chances of “sticking a fish”, fisherman-speak for catching your target species.
There had to be an easier way to plan, log water features, insect hatches and catches!
Often times, what works to catch trout and steelhead one month may not work the next on the same stretch of water. And most anglers don’t fish every week. That’s why, going back generations, they’ve often used handwritten journals to painstakingly track water, weather and hatch conditions and how and when they catch fish. Having this information on hand is critical for planning the following year’s fishing. Anglers sometimes share this information with a few of their most trusted friends.
As an intermediate angler, Chad had to use three different apps along with his field notes to plan fishing trips. He had one app to measure a waterway’s conditions such as Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) and temperature, another to check weather conditions, and another to map locations in order to navigate.
What if someone created a map that helped fly anglers of all skill levels? As Chad pondered possibilities, he realized how much his new app could work like Waze, but for the watersheds. As Chad puts it, “Think of our state’s watersheds as a network of roads, and the fish in them as the cars.” Like with Waze, his app’s users would map and anonymously report data about various species behavior, what they seem to be eating, environment and fluctuations in these elements over time.
Chad conceived Barbless as a “fishing guide in your pocket” - a system of plotting environmental conditions, fish caught or seen, insect’s hatch activity, and more. Anglers also use field notes to document water hazards such as snags in particular boat drift, put-ins and take-outs, deep runs or pools, riffles, undercut banks, seams and various other type of “holding water” that fish love to sit in. Barbless would make this manual process very easy.
Barbless could also be used to share locations and data with a select group of friends, or review prior fishing expeditions to ‘see’ what German browns or steelheads had been munching on in the area. You’d be able to glean “at-a-glance” data that currently requires looking at Yahoo weather for wind and weather conditions, the USGS for water flow conditions, fishing reports for bite and hatch information, etc. And instead of describing a catch in writing, Barbless users could quickly tap an icon on their screen of the fish they’d caught and get back to fishing.
Barbless could also replace paper maps and the tedious plotting anglers now require to plan fishing trips. Chad envisioned users selecting locations they wanted to fish and downloading map data from the Cloud onto their mobile devices. With Barbless, maps would continue to work even in remote locations such as a steep canyon.
Once he’d envisioned the apps uses and architecture and created some wireframes, Chad looped in the rest of the Amp.build team - Silas for Art Direction and Roger for Illustration. Silas recalls Chad’s initial brief:
“Barbless immediately resonated with me because I’d had a similar idea for a photography app that would let me pin great locations for shoots so I could get back to them easily. My hobby is photography, not fishing, but I’m always up for new challenges. Researching would be awesome and not too hard. As it turned out, the project was really robust and I wondered what I’d gotten myself into!”
Roger recalls Chad mentioning his idea for Barbless the previous year and how that had piqued the illustrator’s interest.
“I’m an outdoors guy,” he says, “but my graphic designs in the past had mainly been tech oriented. Here’s this opportunity to draw bugs and stuff. That will be fun!”
Silas has been responsible for Barbless’ visual design. As the Art Director, he designed the app’s look and feel. In the app industry, many roles cross, so Silas also helped Chad with some of the User Experience (UX) design before he began on his own part of the project.
“I’m not a fisherman,” he laughs, “but I went out with Chad to understand the space more. I read countless articles and really dug deep not just on fly fishing but water temperature, turbidity - how everything affects it and how it’s all measured. A lot of people don’t understand how much research is involved. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Fish don’t bite on just anything – only critters that are specific to their area. That’s why fly fishing uses hand-tied flies meant to often mimic very specific bugs. As the illustrator, the first thing Roger had to catalog was entomology. So, he and Chad researched various stages of insect development and designed Barbless icons for them.
Next, Roger tackled water features, something he had no idea about. He researched things fly anglers pay attention to – water flows, temperature, CFS and depth, overhangs, fallen trees and other places fish like to hide. “These were even tougher than the bugs!” he recalls. Roger took a modernist approach, boiling organic forms down to essential geometric silhouettes. “This helps to give Barbless users a quick lead,” he explains.
It would have been easiest to create a text menu that users could select from, but adding visual elements really makes the app special. Finally, Roger moved on to the icing on the cake – fish. You can see his work on Barbless’ main entry page, where you’d log essential information and take notes.
What excites the Amp.build team is the app’s potential not just for anglers but for policy makers such as the Department of Fish and Game (DFG). The DFG uses data collected from angler mail-ins, on stream interviews and various field studies to monitor and track the health of our fisheries all across the US. The problem right now is that it takes a tremendous amount of government staff to make that all work. The Amp.build team envisions a day when the DFG and other government agencies can access Barbless’ anonymized data in real-time.
Other jobs the DFG must handle include hatching and monitoring numbers of hatchery fish.
“When you catch a steelhead, you’re supposed to write that down on your Steelhead Report Card, mail it in, call a DFG number, or report it on their website at the end of the season. How many anglers do you think are going to remember to do that? Why not just give the DFG access to our anonymized data in the cloud?”
With Barbless data going up to the Cloud, the DFG could query the database and make decisions based on real time information.
As Silas explains, “The app could open a whole new world to the DFG. They could see locations that fish cluster in. They’ll get to see, track and predict important trends as well. With real-time angler data, they could tag fish, water features and locations, and use it to inform their management policies appropriately.”
Silas continues, “Fly anglers are very conscious. They catch fish and then, quick! get them off the hook, snap a quick photo, and get them back in the water because they don’t want to kill them. They don’t want to litter the rivers, and they really care about the ecosystem so instrumental to their sport. They document everything. It would be amazing if their data could also help the DFG.”
Barbless has generated both rewards and headaches for the Amp.build team. The main obstacles have come from their newness to the sport itself. Chad has worked hard to ensure that Barbless features don’t emphasize areas that most anglers wouldn’t care about. He put assumptions aside and made course corrections after interviewing several industry experts. Most recently he has added a former guide and elite angler to the project. The two are partnering together to launch a new brand around this concept.
The group’s other chief challenge is funding the engineering piece of the app, which is about to start. But they are convinced of Barbless’ value to both users and the DFG. Right now, they’d welcome government grants or private investors who are passionate about the sport.
As Chad puts it,
“We are currently considering investment from individuals who are passionate as we are about the sport. The right investment partner would bring broad expertise and valuable industry connections - helping us expand on the Barbless brand.”
What gives them the most pride is sharing Barbless with others who feel passionate about the sport and watching their eyes light up. Chad sees Barbless as foundational to an angler’s lifestyle. Eventually, he’d like them to view Barbless as a key tool in their tackle box, as essential as a rod, reel, or waders.
“We are looking for the right investment partner who shares our passion for this sport,” says Chad. “If you are interested, please feel free to reach out.”
Barbless Co. is a nascent brand based in Chico, Ca. Its founders are avid fly anglers who want to apply their technology and fly fishing backgrounds to the sport and help fellow anglers have even more success on the water. Barbless Co’s first project is The Barbless App.www.barbless.co
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