BUNKER HILL, W.Va. – All it took was one simple video posted to YouTube for Tyler Brill to find a way to share his love for fishing with millions.
Brill, a 29-year-old native of Wardensville, is someone whose hobby paid off – literally. A lifelong fisherman, Brill picked up the art of making YouTube videos in August 2016 after his dad mentioned his coworker’s nephew was making millions on the platform. He didn’t wait long to get into it, and now almost four years later and entirely self-taught, he’s bringing in cash from the user-submitted media giant under the handle “FishHawk”.
“I had a GoPro but I never really used it,” Brill said. “I said, ‘You know what, maybe I should try that. That’d be awesome to make some money and fish.’ So that’s basically it. I decided to start the channel and see what happens.”
A majority of Brill’s videos are filmed around the Eastern Panhandle – he now lives in Bunker Hill – which has some of the most beautiful water in the Mountain State, but he also frequents Maryland and Pennsylvania. Situated in the middle of the Potomac River Watershed, the panhandle’s exposed bedrock is made up of limestone deposits dating back to the Cambrian and Ordovician periods up to the Devonian. While karst limestone formations can be found throughout the eastern part of West Virginia, synonymous with sinking streams, sinkholes and caves – such as the Lost River near Brill’s hometown which spills into the Cacapon River – other areas of the panhandle have beautiful, crisp waterways. The limestone deposits help maintain the health of most of the streams, which in turn provides Brill with wonderful fishing opportunities.
That weighs more than you’d think, as he found that his channel resonates best with trout fishermen. That’s OK with him, considering it’s his passion.
Trout videos are also what pushed his channel into the popular light. After 16 months of being on the platform, his channel began to pick up traction – now, he’s resting at just over 69,000 subscribers. Still, his trout fishing may come off as uncouth to some, but he doesn’t mind.
“Most people know me as the trout fisherman with spinning gear,” he said. “There’s a lot of YouTubers out there that trout fish with fly fishing gear. But you know, there’s still a lot of people that just like trout fishing and aren’t into fly fishing because [it] is a whole different world. It’s more difficult, technical and expensive.
“It feels pretty cool to have a following. You get messages and comments, ‘Hey, you helped me out so much, I caught my first fish,’ and that part makes you feel good. It’s a lot of hard work but I’ve enjoyed it.”
Only fishing on the weekends, outside of his full-time job in Winchester, Va., Brill spends his time editing videos and typically publishes one per week. While his time on the water is limited, he isn’t letting that slow him down or keep him from reaching milestones.
“I’m always going to want more and shoot for the stars,” he said. “I want a million subscribers and every milestone you reach you want to do better and better. I’m happy and I’m excited about where my channel has gone. [Some people] have been doing this a lot longer than I have that doesn’t have near as many subscribers, but everyone grows different – everyone’s channel is different. Overall, I’m happy and excited. It keeps me going.”
So what’s his trick?
“I’ve tried to keep it somewhat simple and do the type of fishing I enjoy the most,” he said.
Rising above clickbait videos and overhyping things, Brill notes he likes the type of fishing that anyone can do. That comes from his roots, and he doesn’t plan on veering from that.
“You don’t need anything fancy or a $50,000 bass boat,” he said. “You can go down to Walmart and buy a $20 rod and go to the creek. That’s what I started doing, going to the creeks and farm ponds in Wardensville.”
He also finds that tips and tricks resonate with this audience. Further, he captures angles not many others do, like underwater releases.
“There are people who watch your videos that are expert fishermen, but there are people that watch your videos who have never fished before,” he said. “I try not to talk down to people. You have to give some tips, but I try to say, ‘I know some of you guys know what this is and how to fish, but some of you guys that are watching have never fished before and I’m trying to help you out.’ “
While he’s certainly not underestimating the work he does, Brill does see the strange side of YouTube and how one video can lead to exponential channel growth.
“July 24, 2018, I gained 437 subscribers in a day which is still the most I’ve ever got in a single day,” he said, noting he didn’t do anything special to get them.
It all came down to a video he had already posted. It started getting the normal amount of views each week, then all of a sudden, it exploded. Brill recollected that he went to a small creek in Wardensville with a trout magnet tied onto his line. He didn’t hook any trout that day, just some largemouth bass and bluegill.
“It’s weird. YouTube is crazy. You can be editing your best video and can think, ‘Man, this is the best video I’ve ever made,’ and it gets 5,000 views. And then you post a video that, ‘I didn’t do well today, I caught a few fish,” and it gets 500,000 views. It’s hard to explain and learn the tricks on how to get a lot of views.”
While Brill cares deeply about his passion and the community he’s built since 2016, he still holds onto his love for the outdoors – it’s the foundation from what he’s built his channel off of.
“It’s therapy for me. It clears your mind and you’re just focused on fishing, having fun and being outside. You work a 40-hour week job and then on the weekends, get to go outside, and even if you’re not catching fish you’re just enjoying being outside – feeling the sun, standing in the water, seeing wildlife, I love all that stuff.
“For others, just take a load off. Destress a little bit. Go outside and get some fresh air and Vitamin-D from the sun. Let your mind rest from the everyday stresses, especially with what’s going on now. I think people understand what it’s like not to go outside and do stuff. There’s something to it.”