If you’ve seen the photo, you probably haven’t forgotten it—somewhere over a remote lake, a bass boat dangles from a helicopter. The image is so striking that it looks fake. And yet, it is real. For the past few weeks, the scene has been plastered on the walls of the Bassmaster Classic Expo, pasted onto social media platforms across the internet, and generally caused anglers to stop and wonder, “What the heck is going on?”
The photo is part of Humminbird/Minn Kota’s One-Boat Network Challenge, a recently launched YouTube series that challenges anglers from diverse backgrounds and regions to square off for charity in a bass fishing competition on Mexico’s Lake El Salto. But what’s with the helicopter? And what happened behind the scenes to put this shot together?
Ashley Nichole Lewis is a competitor on the show. The lifelong angler from the Pacific Northwest can usually be found wandering the lush rainforests of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula as a fishing guide and content creator; but when Humminbird/Minn Kota tapped her to participate in the YouTube series, she was quickly whisked away to the bewildering scene at El Salto.
“From my perspective, the helicopter was expected but not anticipated,” Lewis tells. “I knew this would be a bigger production than anything else we have seen in the fishing industry so far. When I saw and heard the helicopter, I thought ‘Okay. Why wouldn’t we have a helicopter?’ It seemed fitting that there was a boat under it.”
The boat was a fully rigged Vexus bass boat—probably not something that would usually fly in American airspace.
Swanson Russell account executive Patrick Finnegan helped coordinate the shoot between the two companies, and he describes the scale of the photoshoot in the skies above Sinaloa. “The production company we were working with had four to six cameras, plus drones in the air There were a lot of cameras, but the aerial shot you see was from a drone.”
Finnegan says the shoot couldn’t have been coordinated without a gamble from both Johnson Outdoors and Vexus. “It was a huge leap of faith for [Vexus], because there’s a lot of risk in doing this. We drove four boats down from Flippin, Arkansas and there could have been customs issues. We could have ended up at El Salto without boats our without production equipment.”
Fortunately, thanks to coordination on the ground, the boats and the film crew arrived at Billy Chapman’s Anglers Inn, on the shores of the lake, with no major problems.
For the marketing team at Johnson Outdoors, the mission was simple—show anglers how a completely connected boat could help people with limited bass fishing experience boat fish on a completely new waterway. “We saw this opportunity to do something really radically different than the industry typically does,” adds Finnegan. “We went with it to see if we could do this, if we could be disruptive.”
For Lewis that disruption meant a trial-by-fire into bass fishing on one of the world’s most famous bass lakes. “I work as a salmon and steelhead guide in a really interesting environment,” she tells. “The area I guide in is the only rainforest in the Lower 48. It is really intense. It rains hard and the weather patterns are ridiculous because we have an atmospheric river pouring over us all of the time. My typical fishing expectation has been to fish all day and catch a handful of fish. For me, six steelhead is a fantastic day, so to go out on El Salto and be in double digits almost anytime you have an experience on the water probably ruined my expectations of bass fishing going forward.”
The end result of the efforts? A photo that might be worthy of a fishing hall of fame. And the end results of Lewis’s adventure? You’ll have to watch the series to find out.