Not many TV shows make it one decade, much less two. Sport Fishing Television holds that distinction. The Telly Award-winning fishing-travel-adventure series kicks off its 20th season April 3 on Discovery, kicking off an 11-episode trek that takes viewers to Alaska, Louisiana, Panama, the Florida Keys, Cape Cod, San Diego, North Carolina and Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. Rapala® is the official lure sponsor of SFTV, and VMC® the official hook sponsor. Here, executive producer Drew Townes, who created the show in 2001, and writer-director Shawn Bean share their thoughts on the new season and its nostalgic theme, and offer a look back at 20 years of incredible fishing, international travel, record-breaking catches, seasickness, and the show’s evolution.
Sport Fishing Television is entering its 20th season. Tell us the origin story – why did you first create SFTV?
DT: At the time, I had clients who were advertising in Salt Water Sportsman, Sport Fishing and Marlin who were looking for something different, so I basically pitched the concept: what if we could use our editors to tell the stories they’re writing in the magazines on TV? Sponsors started to sign on and it quickly became very real. I remember that our first SFTV meeting took place on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Drew, as executive producer for two decades, you’re the one person who has been with the show for its entire run. How have you seen SFTV change?
DT: The cinematography has improved dramatically. First we had one camera. Then two cameras. Then an underwater camera. Then drones. Now when viewers see our show and the incredible visuals, I hope it makes them say, “I gotta go there someday.”
This season’s theme is “evolution.” What was the inspiration for that?
SB: The show’s 20th anniversary definitely inspired thoughts of nostalgia and looking back. One day we were kicking around ideas and our cinematographer Jon Whittle said, “What about evolution?” It snowballed from there. Instantly, we’re brainstorming about finding archival film and photography and shooting historic tackle at the IGFA. The species are the same now as they were then, but the destinations, the tactics, the people, have all changed. That’s the story we set out to tell, and it came together beautifully.
What species can we expect to see this season?
SB: Sailfish, swordfish, bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, salmon, halibut, mako shark, red grouper, mutton snapper, mangrove snapper, dolphin, snook, striped bass, king mackerel, permit and tarpon. We also set a new show record this season for biggest catch ever: an 800-plus pound bluefin in Morehead City, North Carolina.
For those who are new to SFTV, what are some of your favorite destinations?
DT: The Florida Keys has so much variety. You can pretty much target anything inshore, nearshore and offshore. Alaska has incredible, cinematic beauty – and the best salmon fishing in the world. Sebastian Inlet has the annual spectacle known as the “mullet run” where aggressive feeding fish like snook and redfish bust the water in a frenzy to get at the bait. All our past episodes are on Prime Video and YouTube for those who want to check them out.
SB: I love our exotic locations, specifically fly fishing for giant trevally in the Seychelles, salmon fishing in Alaska, and chasing marlin at Tropic Star Lodge in Panama.
What moments and memories – good, bad and ugly – stand out to you from the show’s history?
DT: The first time I got behind a camera in rough water. I got so sick I swore I wouldn’t do it again, and I haven’t.
SB: Nothing can prepare you for the prop plane-to-panga commute that gets you to Tropic Star Lodge. It’s a fishing resort in the middle of Panama’s Darien rainforest that’s all about trophy billfish. It’s Jurassic Park with dorsal fins.
What can you tell us about the 2021 season?
DT: Hang on to your seats and stay tuned my friends. When it comes to fishing, I can tell you we were in the right place at the right time. It’s the most incredible fishing footage we’ve ever captured, and the stories will keep you entranced in your favorite pastime.