Interview with Nick Cobler
The Tenkara Angler logo at the top of each magazine (and this website) has a bit of a backstory. That wordmark design, (complete with hidden tenkara rod between the N & K), was the work of Nick Cobler, a Pittsburgh-area creative director, designer and fly fisherman. Originally befriended through an admiration for his work on Instagram, as I spoke more with Nick during the logo design process, I couldn’t help but want to learn a bit more about his fishing and creative background. The result is this interview, one I know you will enjoy.
Michael Agneta: Nick, thanks for taking the time to give the readers of Tenkara Angler a little bit of insight into who you are. I am really looking forward to this interview.
I first met you through Instagram as someone who was creating some really rad fly fishing designs and came to learn you have quite an extensive background in art & design. How did you get into that field of work, was it a passion you developed from a young age?
Nick Cobler: Thank you. Yes, I’ve always been interested in art and design. The first art-related book I remember picking up as a child was by David Douglas Duncan. It was a photo-journalistic account of the time he spent with Pablo Picasso. I still have it, and I can say Picasso is one of my favorite artists to this day. I grew up sketching as well.
Eventually, I realized graphic design was the route I wanted to take. I graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a degree in visual communication. I’ve been in the advertising industry ever since. I spent ten years working as a creative director for Mullen / Lowe, then moved on to other agencies large and small. So, I’ve done everything from production art to art direction to full blown creative direction.
MA: Speaking of those fly fishing designs, there are quite a few centered around the phrase “Drifters,” what does that mean?
NC: Funny story. I, like most fishermen, have a group of friends that travel and fish together here in Pennsylvania. One summer trip a bunch of us where sitting around a fire after a great day on the waters of central PA. As we sipped a few adult beverages, I brought up the idea of having a name for our group. My good friend, Todd Lepley—proprietor of Toddopolis and a fantastic writer, coined the term ‘D.R.I.F.T.’ which evolved into ‘Dudes Really Into Flyfishing for Trout’. We laughed and the name stuck. We became Drifters.
MA: How and when did you come across tenkara? I “found” tenkara back in 2009 through the original Tenkara USA videos, not even a year after I first started fly fishing. I know some people are drawn to tenkara because of the perceived simplicity, some are just looking for something “different,” others simply admire the Japanese aesthetic. What was/is appealing about tenkara to you?
NC: Well, I started fly fishing with my Dad over 30 years ago in small mountain streams. I loved catching the wild trout and going to places where it wasn’t shoulder to shoulder. So, I also did a lot of backpacking and got interested in the ultra-light style. I don’t count pounds and ounces, but I liked the theory behind traveling as light as you can.
When I heard about tenkara in around 2010— and more specifically Tenkara USA, I looked into it. It seemed to fit the bill for minimalist backpacking, and I ordered a rod. Once I hooked my first fish, this new style of fishing hooked me. I’ve been doing it ever since, although I still use my other rods too. All depends on how I’ve planned for the day. Sometimes I’ll take both and mix it up. The fish can’t tell.
MA: Although gear isn’t really the heart & soul of tenkara, let’s explore your tenkara outfit. I like the versatility of zoom rods such as the Tenkara USA Sato, paired with a light level line, and Takayama sakasa kebari. But I’m not opposed to tying onto a light floating line with a foam hopper, especially in the summer months. What do you use, do you have any favorites?
NC: I don’t have a favorite set up really. I’m constantly learning so I like experimentation. Right now I bounce between a 12’ Tenkara USA Iwana and a 9’ Streamside Signature Series. I’ll also mix it up with line, but I do really like the Streamside furled lines. Give me lots of different options for the conditions. And I like to throw classic dry fly patterns with my tenkara rods. Give me a Royal Wulff and rising brook trout in a cool, mountain stream and I’m as happy as can be. Even when they aren’t much bigger than my hand. I think catching those guys takes me back to my youth fishing with my Dad.
MA: Being a creative person, are you into tying your own flies? If so, what patterns regularly come off of your vise?
NC: Yea, Dad got me into that as well, although I didn’t really get serious about it until around 5 or 6 years ago. We got rained out one day on the water, so Dad and I sat down in his camper, pulled out the vises—and I grilled him on his techniques. In a few hours I had learned so much, saw some progress in myself and felt some more confidence. That’s all it took.
I like to spend the winter tying lots of nymphs and streamers. I would say I tend to tie the flies that are my favorites to use. My top five patterns that you can usually find on my vise are Royal Wulffs, Parachute Adams, Woolly Buggers, Caddis and Midges.
MA: You live in Pittsburgh; there’s a lot of great fishing in Western Pennsylvania, what type of water to you prefer? Without giving away any secrets, are there any general locations or bodies of water you’d like to share? I’m certain you have a few favorites.
NC: I’m a small stream guy through and through. And in Pennsylvania—there are a lot of places that fit that bill. I don’t tend to stay much in the western part, hence the Drifter in me. North Central PA does hold a special place in my heart though. That area is where I picked up the sport and try to get back there whenever I can.
MA: Have you traveled to fish before? I find the landscape of the American West stunning. Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, all breathtaking in their own way. The scale of everything is gigantic, big sky, big mountains, incredible.
NC: For sure. I’ve been spending a few weeks in the Montana / Wyoming / Idaho area for around 8 years now. I’ve hit all the legendary spots—The Firehole, Madison, Gallatin, The Ruby Valley, Henry’s Fork. Prior to that, I had a stint of about five or six years fishing all over Colorado. The Dream Stream was a favorite for sure. The Frying Pan is fantastic. We stopped in Colorado last summer on our way to Montana, but due to all the run-off at the time, it was hard for walk/wade fishing. Pretty gnarly. But it gave us a few more days chasing trout in Montana though, so it was a win-win.
MA: What else do you like to do besides fishing? Outdoors, indoors, music, you name it…
NC: I like biking. I bought a sweet Burly Long Haul Trucker at the end of summer last year and can’t wait to break that thing in this summer. I want to do a few more self-supported bike camping trips this year. Might even take the tenkara rod.
MA: I’ll apologize in advance, but I ask this of everyone. Bigfoot. Do you believe?
NC: I believe. And he’s pretty tech savvy. He even has an Instagram account. Check it out: http://www.instagram.com/pabigfoot.
MA: Circling back to Instagram, what’s your thoughts on it as a social media platform in comparison to others such as Twitter or Facebook? Is that your primary form of marketing, and what do you think of Instagram as a marketing tool?
NC: Instagram is so immediate. That’s good for getting something up pretty quick to the masses. It’s not much of a conversation though, and I think things get lost in the feed. It is very inspiring however, and I use it as such. It’s also a good way to make new contacts for future work, like in the case of Tenkara Angler.
Seems to me that other forms, but mainly Facebook have more conversations occurring. I use them all to promote myself though. They each have their own strengths (and downfalls) but if you have the right marketing mix, you can make it all work together.
MA: On your website (nickcobler.com) you call yourself a “creative director + art director + designer hybrid.” What sort of services does a three-headed monster of a title like that provide, and who is your typical customer?
NC: Well since I’ve worked with companies large and small, in just about every industry, I’d say my clients are all over the place. And since I’ve been in the business for a while, I’ve done a lot of different projects and provided a multitude of services. I’d say my focus these days is on graphic design and branding, with art direction and illustration sprinkled in.
MA: Have you taken on clients in the outdoor industry?
NC: Yes, and I enjoy them more than any others. Currently, I’m working with Lance Wilt’s Outcast Anglers on some new branding assignments. He’s a great guide and friend of mine. I highly recommend his outfit if you are in the State College (PA) area. I’m also teamed up with fellow Drifter—Todd Lepley of Toddopolis and working on branding and campaigns for Upper Canyon Outfitters, located in the Ruby Valley of Montana.
MA: My day job is in sports industry. Are you a sports fan, Steelers, Pirates, Penguins? I’m originally from the Philadelphia-area, and although we’d never admit it, it’s tough to see all the Keystone State sports success stick to the West. I hate Sidney Crosby. Just had to get that off my chest.
NC: Black and Gold through and through. I’ll leave it at that.
MA: Oh, and what’s with Primanti Bros.? In Philly, we have the “famous” cheesesteak establishments, which are half tourist trap, half a place to go after the bars close and you need something to absorb the night’s alcohol consumption. But French fries inside a sandwich; explain…
NC: ‘Burghers put French fries on everything. How do you think we get through PA winters? Primanti Brothers was started in the ‘30s, and the story goes that Joe Primanti had a guy stop in with some potatoes that he thought might be frozen. Joe cooked them up, some folks asked for them on their sammiches, and he obliged. Voila. Man, I’m hungry now.
MA: If the world were ending and you had time to squeeze in one last dinner & movie, what would you eat (and drink) and watch?
NC: Hmm. Good question. I’m not really a movie guy…but if I had to choose it would sipping Oban Scotch or Iron City Light Beer, while watching The Lost World of Mr. Hardy, after tacos, chips, salsa and guacamole.
MA: Great stuff! In closing, is there anything else you’d like to say about fly fishing, tenkara, or even your design services? Feel free to say whatever comes to mind.
NC: I think fly fishing, tenkara, being outdoors in nature—really are great for the soul. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning about tenkara or fly fishing, just ask someone. Try it. Don’t feel intimidated at all. It is impossible to know everything, but if you try, you’ll learn more about yourself, nature and these great activities.
As for my services—I don’t really toot my own horn very much, but if you are interested in my services, check out my website at www.nickcobler.com. Tight lines!
Nick Cobler #drifter07 is a creative director + art director + designer hybrid living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lover of antiques, typography, layout + design, letterpress and fly fishing. In addition to his professional site, Nick authors the fly fishing blog, Brushes with Brookies & Beer, and sells some of his original designs featured on apparel via Threadless.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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