Monday, November 12, 2012

20 Questions: Phil Monahan

Phil Monahan
I think you could probably count on one hand the number of people in the fly fishing industry who are honest-to-God wealthy ... who, if the urge hit them, could figure out a way to take a bath in hundred-dollar bills.

But I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who's worked a lifetime in the industry who isn't, in some fashion or another, rich. I think Phil Monahan is one of the latter (although I suppose he might have ridden the tech bubble for all it was worth in the late 90s--what do I know?). 

Forced into the publishing business years ago by the need to rub a couple of nickels together at the end of every month, Monahan started out at Outdoor Life after stints as a guide in Alaska and Montana, and then ended up editing American Angler for a decade. Now he's the chief cook and bottle washer at the Orvis fly fishing blog. Phil's life in the fly fishing business has been an enviable journey--I challenge you name one mover and shaker in the outdoor world with whom he hasn't enjoyed a beer. 

I know Phil only through his work, and it's great work. I was, for years, a subscriber to American Angler, and I eagerly consumed his work and the product of his editing when every issue landed on my desk (I subscribed at work--I can't count the quiet mornings in my office at the newspaper that I spent reading fly fishing magazines and sipping the first cup of coffee from the pot. And Phil's magazine was chief among them). 

In recent years, I've had the privilege of getting to know Phil through his work at the Orvis blog--one of the best online resources for all things fly fishing. We all know Orvis through the company's retail offerings, but since I started working closely with Orvis in recent years as a part of the day job over at Trout Unlimited, I've come to know Orvis for much more than just the headquarters store in Manchester, Vt., or the catalogs that make their way to my door a few times each year. I've come to know Orvis as a company with a very real conservation conscience--as Vice Chairman Dave Perkins noted on a conference call with bloggers a few weeks back, it makes good business sense to protect and restore the resources Orvis' customers use when fishing or hunting.

Phil and Tom Rosenbauer
And the company, thanks largely to guys like Phil and Tom Rosenbauer, is a real player in the online fly fishing editorial world--these guys don't just sit around thinking of new ways to plug Orvis products--they steer the ship at a genuine media outlet that, if you take the time to read the blog, can make you a better angler.

But, then, Phil's work has been making folks better anglers for years, and for that I'm grateful. If you don't know Phil, the following questions will give you a bit of a head start should you, say, wander into a bar in Manchester see him enjoying cold one. Buy him one for me--I'm good for it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 
Spending the last hours of summer daylight casting a dry fly on a mountain brook-trout stream. Luckily, I get to experience this pretty often here in Vermont.

What is your greatest fear? 
Bats. I hate those flying rats. One night a few years ago, a bat flew into me in a dark hallway in my house (sonar malfunction, I guess) and made me squeal like a little girl in front of my family. I haven’t lived that down yet.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? 
Ricky Gervais
Teddy Roosevelt.

Which living person do you most admire? 
Ricky Gervais.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? 

What is the trait you most deplore in others? 

What is your favorite journey? 
Fly fishing for a week in the Spanish Pyrenees and not running into a single other angler.

On what occasion do you lie? 
When I fill out questionnaires.

Which living person do you most despise? 
Rush Limbaugh.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? 
I have a fondness for profanity of any kind, in any language, often in inappropriate situations.

What is your greatest regret? 
That I didn’t heed Horace Greeley’s advice. I didn’t get to Montana until I was 28.

What or who is the greatest love of your life? 
My beautiful wife, Mary Beth. This is a trick question, right?

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 
I once missed 24 consecutive free throws during a JV basketball practice, a record that may live forever.

Where would you like to live? 
Missoula in summer, New Zealand in winter, with a pied-à-terre in New York City.

Who are your favorite writers? 
James Joyce, Djuna Barnes, Wallace Stegner, David Foster Wallace (nonfiction only), . . . I could go on and on.

Who are your heroes? 
Anyone who puts himself or herself in harm’s way for others—whether they be soldiers, doctors, aid workers, etc.

What's on your iPod?
Thousands of songs—from the Pixies to Willie Nelson—but the most recent addition is a live set by The Mountain Goats. Plus some awful crap my kids like.

What would your profession be if you couldn’t do what you do now? 
Chippendales (Chris Farley division)

If there is a Heaven, and you go to Heaven, what would God say to you upon your arrival? 
“What do you say now, smartass?” 

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure? 
Cheesy 70s pop. When I was a kid, I shared a bedroom with my two brothers. I was a terrible insomniac and my older brother always went to sleep with the radio on, so I got a good couple hours of top 40 every night (WRKO out of Boston). I know all the lyrics to everything from Firefall to the Jackson 5 to England Dan and John Ford Coley.

BONUS QUESTION: What’s the closest you’ve ever been to dying? 
I was ice fishing with some buddies on Lake Champlain just after dawn on a cold March day, when I went on a coffee run for the group. On my way back to the car, by myself and hundreds of yards from our tip-ups, I made a bad (probably sleep-deprivation-caused) decision and fell through the ice. I managed to haul myself out, but only just.


  1. Always wondered who the guy was behind the blog. Thanks Phil.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Howard... Phil's a great guy--glad I could help folks get to know him a bit better.

  2. Pretty safe to say I'd get along with this fella.

    Love these 20 question segments. Awesome stuff!

  3. Great(entertaining)answers Phil. I'll second Neil's comment ~

  4. Small stream guy. Brookies. A good man.

    I recently sought out "the good old days" by seeding a Pandora station with the Doobie Brothers. Turned out to be a gateway drug to Steely Dan, Firefall, England Dan, Eagles, Foreigner, Hall & Oates..... damn, I hated the 70s during the day, but now I'm old enough to be nostalgic.

    Great interview, Phil. Thanks for bringing this to us, Chris.

    1. Thanks Steve... I'm glad I had the chance to get to know Phil a little better... glad you enjoyed it!