Interview: How Tight Loops Fly Uses Custom Merch to Pursue Their Passions

Chase and Aimee Bartee are the ridiculously talented husband-and-wife duo behind Tight Loops Fly. They travel around the country in their ’85 Westy named Bullwinkle, filming and photographing their experiences as they fish some of the most pristine streams and rivers in North America.

They’ve used Bonfire to create their line of custom merchandise, which helps fund their ventures and spread the word about the work they do. We caught up with Aimee and Chase to hear a little more about their projects, and how they’ve used Bonfire to grow their community and foster engagement.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves! Who are you, what do you do day-to-day, where are you currently living?

Chase: Well, I guess first and foremost we are creatives, doing our best to navigate our way through a world of constant change. More specifically we are filmmakers, photographers, and fine artists, creating work focused on outdoor adventure, fly fishing, and the conservation and preservation of native species.

Aimee: Right now we are super focused on finishing our latest film, “Big Land” so our day to day is a lot of editing, emails, and phone calls helping to bring it all together. We’re living in the town I grew up in, North Attleboro, MA, but should be resuming a more nomadic lifestyle this spring.

image: Chase Bartee

What got you guys started down this road of wilderness/fly-fishing filming and photography?

Chase: When I met Aimee, I’d taken a long break from creative pursuits. I was working a 9-5 construction job as a brick mason, but most of my free time was spent in the outdoors chasing after fish. Aimee’s drive and spark as a photographer got me re-energized on my creative practice, and my enthusiasm for angling was simultaneously getting her hooked on fishing. It was just sort of a perfect storm of creativity and time in the woods feeding into each other and it just sort of made sense that we’d start documenting it.

Aimee: The one unique ability we all have as artists is to be able to show an audience the world through your eyes, your perspective. And for the last 5 years, our eyes have been transfixed on wilderness rivers and wild fish.

image: Aimee Bartee

You create beautiful documentaries of your fishing adventures. Why do you feel it’s important to create these videos?  What do you hope to share with your audience through these films?

Chase: If I’m being honest we create them because we are compelled to, it hardly feels like a choice. It sort of an itch that needs to be scratched. I think a lot of the language that artists use to describe their works intention is reverse-engineered to fit after the fact. But I will say this, film has an incredible power to inspire and transform, and it’s a relatively straightforward form of narrative storytelling, which I think cuts to the very core of our social and cultural evolution and inheritance. In other words, telling stories is what makes us human, in a way, and that means it can have profound effects on us. Aimee and I have a deep love and reverence for the natural world, and we want to give people a taste of that, however brief it may be. Outdoor films and nature documentaries played a pivotal role in shaping me into the person I am today, and if I can pass a little of that down to the next generation of aspiring outdoor writers, filmmakers, and conservationists then it will have all been worth it.

image: Chase Bartee

Montana, the Northeast, Labrador. You’ve chosen a unique set of locations to fish and film in over the years. How do you choose the locations you fish and film in?

Chase: Certain places just grab you. I wish I could say we’ve had some sort of master plan, but the truth is certain areas, or fish species, have just gotten under our skin in a way that we couldn’t shake. It doesn’t even feel like we had a choice. We are very driven people, and once we’ve made our minds up about something we are going to get it done.

Aimee: I will say that there’s a general trend towards the more and more remote and untamed wilderness, though. Our most recent trip to Labrador being the most extreme. As soon as we got back we were immediately asking how we could get even farther out there and stay even longer.

image: Aimee Bartee

You’ve likely gotten to see the need for water conservation and fishing waters rehabilitation up close. What’s a striking example of the need for advocacy around these issues that you’ve seen?

Chase: Fisheries and fish are inherently delicate environments, and for that reason, clean water and healthy fish are often used as indicators for healthy ecosystems. In other words, rivers and fish are often the first ones effected in a cascade of environmental degradation, so naturally yes, we see a ton of that stuff up close. What makes advocating for fish and rivers so tough is frustratingly simple; people can’t see what’s going on under there. There’s a very literal barrier between water and air, and people as a whole have a hard time relating to, or understanding whats going on in what is often perceived as an alien world. Out of sight, out of mind. Aside from that, the factors at play are often quite hard to represent in a way that average folks can understand. Rivers that may look wild, cold and clear may actually be in really rough shape. It doesn’t take a bunch of trash and toxic sludge to kill a river.

Aimee: For centuries human beings have been implementing man-made alterations to rivers by diverting flow, changing course, and damming them in hopes of exploiting their utility. It’s only recently that we’ve begun to understand the lasting effects it’s had on the health of those ecosystems. Combine those factors with a rapidly changing climate, and there’s a whole lot of work to be done if we want the future generation to be able to experience what little we still have left.

Have you ever done anything to specifically support these causes in your adventures?

Chase: Sure, we’ve worked directly with non profits and conservation groups as well as with brands that make significant contributions in those areas, but more importantly is that as influencers and content creators we have a responsibility to express the idea of conservation and stewardship in our work, which I think we do a pretty good job of. Leading by example is often the most powerful tool we have.

image: Aimee Bartee

What has selling shirts on Bonfire helped you achieve?

Chase: It’s helped us survive! (laughs)

Aimee: We’ve made a choice to live an intentional life, and pursue the things we feel are valuable. Unfortunately living your truth and making a living isn’t the same thing, and it’s often a struggle to support ourselves while still remaining uncompromising in our vision. Bonfire has allowed us to do both.

How have the Bonfire tees you’ve sold helped you connect with your community?

Aimee: We are total sticklers for quality when it comes to the things we sell, and Bonfire is actually the first time we’ve entrusted that task to anyone else. But the quality of the product is so high, it’s allowed for a seamless integration into the rest of our merch. Clothing is so universal, and people just love the shirts. Nothing feels better than seeing people posting photos or writing us, proudly displaying a Tight Loops tee. And it all sort of cascades like dominos; the more people wearing our shirts the more people see and ask about them. It’s a really fun and organic way to help build a community.

Do you have a favorite fly?

Chase: Parachute Adams, hands down.

Aimee: Yup. Can’t go wrong with the classics.

image: Aimee Bartee

What’s next for you?

Chase: Finishing up and then touring our latest film “Big Land” about our expedition in Labrador. Then shifting focus back to our van.

Aimee: Yeah, we’re moving back into the van full time and heading West for a while. It’s time for a change of scenery, I think.

Want to learn more about Aimee and Chase? You can check out Tight Loops’ t-shirt on Bonfire, or follow along on their adventures via Instagram or Vimeo.

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