Reflections: Paflyfish 25 Years Online (Part 1)

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I think the Grateful Dead said it best, “What a long, strange trip it's been.” While it’s only been 25 years, it has been a very strange trip.

December 1995 was when I first started up an old desktop Macintosh computer and turned it into a web server running a program called Webstar. The website was only capable of serving up a few pages of HTML code and GIF files for the 67 Pennsylvania county fishing maps that were on the site. The Netscape web browser was the latest thing for anyone that had dial-up access to the World Wide Web. At the time there was no Google, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) website or much of anything else for that matter.

I think the first month online in December of 1995 the site was overwhelmed with 200 hits. The fact anyone found the site and looked at a few pages was fascinating in itself.

The concept to create the site was more of a personal desire to share the locations online of many of the streams I had found across the state in my early days of fly fishing. There were many fine books written sharing great detail on the topic, but I wanted to experiment with my own effort of creating something more visual online. The early online maps were very crude with some limited information about roads and streams. Nothing anyone could print off and use as navigation, more of a high-level thing if you wanted to simply explore an area and then you had to get out your Delorme Atlas to plan your trip.

My early fly fishing experiences were spent running around the state with my friends Ron Kolman and Greg Sipos. The two of them took the time to show me where and how to fly fish. They helped me with casting, fly line setup, stream reading and most importantly relaxing after the day to reflect on what was and wasn’t working. Fortunately, we did a lot of reflecting at places like the Wharton Inn and Tannery in Potter County. It soon became pretty clear that while I didn’t know as much as others about fly fishing the website could be a way for me to give back to the sport and hopefully help others.

To my surprise what I thought I was helping others really helped me even more.

Each month I would spend time after work adding content and enhancing the site with my newly learned HTML proficiency. HTML isn’t that difficult and I wasn’t very proficient. I somehow found a way to get PFBC news releases and started posting them on the home page. I even starting writing personal fishing reports and stories. Kinda like an early blog thing.

I just continued to crank more content onto the site like PFBC license and regulation information. Somehow found some early stocking reports and posted them in the spring of 1997. Soon after I added hatch charts, including weather links and tips. There were a lot of late evenings spent working on the site, but I recall it being a lot of fun considering I was just winging it.

What I didn’t plan for was getting so many emails. People would send me their trout pictures and I would then post them on the new photos page. I started getting questions and I would do my best with the answers. Other people would share tips and add them all to the Question and Answers section.

Along the way, I still had the server under my desk at work and it would shut down quite often. I am embarrassed to say it was down for several days at a time on occasion. People would email and ask what was going on. I think Maurice would even call, "Hey man you know the server is down again." I would restart it and get back to work.

I’m not sure where it came from, but it seemed to me there could be great value for anglers to share details of their fly fishing trips and stream reports. This was the next part of the site that really started to changes things. I went to work creating a database that could interface the site for users to enter and search the new stream reports section. At the same time, I shortly released the earliest version of a forum called the Message Board. I knew there were a lot of smart people out there who were able to help answer the many questions I was getting in my emails.

With the creation of the Message Board and Stream Reports, it provides live interaction with people on the site. This also created many new surprises and activity that was never expected.

Up Next
Part 2 - The Stage is Set
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