Hardy Fin & Fly

An Interview with Hardy Pro, Andy Mill

Andy Mill's prolific career has had deep traction as an athlete, broadcaster, angler and author. Mill was a world class downhill ski racer representing the United States in two World Championships and two Olympic Games. For his 1976 Olympic heroics, where Mill placed 6th while skiing on a severely injured ankle, he was awarded the Olympic Spirit Award.

In 1993 he was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. Mill enjoyed a 20 year broadcasting career, covering two Olympics and hundreds of skiing specials, including 81 fishing shows from around the world.

Personally, Mill holds his fishing accomplishments close to his heart. His success is profound, winning more invitational fly rod tarpon tournaments than anyone and is the only angler to have won a Tarpon, Bonefish and Permit tournament on fly. In conjunction with his award winning book, A Passion for Tarpon, he has found himself as one of our sports leading authorities.

1. What is your biggest achievement professionally?

I have really been fortunate taking two childhood passions and making a life and career out of both. Growing up in Aspen, Colorado I had the greatest mountains in the world as my playground. My young life was skiing as fast as I could with Olympic medals in my dreams at night. I was named to the U.S. ski team development squad when I was 16. I was the number one internationally ranked American for a number of years and skied in two World Championships and two Olympics. I was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1993 so I'd say that induction probably stands out as my greatest ski achievement representing my ski life.

Once the snow melted, I spent my entire summers on the Roaring Fork River chasing fish till dark. The roots of my youth were as much fishing as they were skiing. Close to thirty years ago, I fished Belize for tarpon. There, I was introduced to a fish, Megalops Atlanticus - the biologist name for tarpon, That injected itself into my bloodstream and changed my road map forever. For those who don't know, a tarpon is a 100 million year old dinosaur with fins - a fish that grows to 300 pounds, swims in shallow water, jumps like a trout that puts holes in the ocean the size of cars. It LOVES to eat flies with possibly the greatest, most ferocious bite in the game! How much of this do you want to bite off? That introduction was like getting hit by lightning… I returned to Florida a very disturbed person!

I spent the next two decades fishing with the best mentors and guides possible. I fished 40 days a year chasing the 'poon' as we called him, or the big ones her. Eventually, with competition in my DNA I gravitated to tournament fishing. The second year I fished the Gold Cup, which is the biggest fly rod tarpon tournament in the world. We lost a real big fish at the boat and lost the 5 day tournament by 8 ounces! I didn't sleep for two years, until we won it. We (my guide and I, Tim Hoover) ended up winning it 5 times. I was possessed with this world and winning tournaments.

In 2010 I authored a book, A Passion for Tarpon which is a story of this great fish, how to successfully catch them, and the anglers and guides who helped innovate the sport. So, for the second half of my adult professional life I'd say this book, representing my exposure and love of tarpon fishing would have to be the second most profound achievement of my life.

This was the long winded version of the answer. The short version is a Hall of Fame induction and a book I wrote.

2. Greatest Personal Achievement?

My greatest personal achievement would have to be my marriage to Chris Evert and the three great boys we raised together. For twenty one years we travelled the globe together living quite large on a pretty big stage. We chased our kids around tennis courts, motocross tracks and ski slopes. We spent nights at the White House, Camp David and 10 Downing Street in London. It obviously too, was fun having friends in high places. There's definitely a book here, which I'll never write, but will say it was a real barn burner in many ways.

3. Likes?

That is a hugely open ended question, but keeping it on the fishing theme, I like it when the elements do what they are supposed to do, the fish too! When you've traveled halfway around the world and spent a good pile of money getting there it's a big commitment to fish, even on your home water. Often, my son and I get our boat, tackle and food together the night before, we rise at 4am and head down the road. We may head to the Keys for the day or across the state on a two and a half hour drive. Once there we'll run for another hour and a half or two hours, fish all day and then head home. It may have been 8 hours of driving and boat running, another 7 or 8 hours of fishing and on a bad day you won't even make a cast! Come on now, really!!

There is a lot of hope with fishing. I hope it's sunny, I hope they're there, I hope they bite… on and on I say. And then there's tournament fishing! Sometimes I can't help but think I sustained some brain damage along the way somewhere. But then again when it happens it's overwhelming. When the poon is swimming and they are chewing there's NOTHING quite like it.

I guess what I do like the most about fishing is the adventure and the unknown of this wonderful game we play with fish. It all resonates deeply in our cores. Fishing is fishing, regardless of the quarry. And that's why across the world people of all walks of life have known about a hook and a piece of string. Many are there at the water's edge for survival, but I'm there because of hope, and what may happen.

The adventure and the unknown are huge though. If someone were to tell you at the beginning of the day what you'd see and catch, you might not go. It's like someone telling you the end of a movie or book you want to read… it's over.

4. Dislikes?

I dislike being aggravated by stupid stuff that could end up being big stuff. You work so hard to be successful or to just enjoy the day on the water. Sometimes it may just be falling in a clod river at the beginning of a day, soaking all your flies. I hate losing a big fish at the boat that could be a tournament winning fish. Tying a bad knot, but going with it anyway and then having it break on a fish.

My biggest dislike would probably be going with something that my instincts know isn't going to work and it doesn't, and never does, but I try it anyway. I don't do that much anymore.

5. First fishing memory?

My first memory has to be when I was about nine years old. I was walking near Wagner Park in downtown Aspen and I saw this string going back and forth in the air attached to this long pole. There was no fishing involved, just this string. The great Ernie Sweibert was giving a casting clinic for the Country Store fly shop located across the street from the park. That string and its movement sucked me right over. Ernie helped me with my first attempt at casting. Soon after I was in the river and doing this fly thing. What really grabbed me though was the first time a trout smashed a renegade that I tied. From that point until this day I have been a fly guy, but that doesn't mean I'm just a fly guy. Trust me, I love the entire world of fishing and all its applications. As an example, tomorrow I'm going offshore to catch a sailfish with a goggle eye hanging below a kite flying a hundred feet above the kicking bait. It's ALL good!

6. What do you love the most about fishing?

Originally, what I loved the most about fishing was the inner connection it's gave me to myself. Sounds heavy, but it's true. I still love being on my home waters of Aspen. Alone, watching the water running at my feet and its trance like sounds of its tumbling waters soothing my core. Often, I'm lost within that peaceful place it takes me. Fish have awesome houses.

Here too though, the truth serum runs rich. As soft and serene as it can be, it can be incredibly intense! When I was younger, and it still does, it allows me to ask the most important questions I have to ask without interruption. Besides great fishing, I have found a lot of clarity and personal direction standing still in two feet of water without even fishing.

When I fish elsewhere, such as on the ocean, I'm usually with someone and there are a lot of moving parts. Concentration and focus are imperative and distractions can be dangerous. That world is pretty big with big stuff and big fish. Sometimes it's wonderful to go back to your first steps and just take a breath.

7. What profession did you want to be in when you were young?

I never thought very far ahead when I was young, as far as growing up, big people stuff. I woke up and just did what I was doing at the time. Sure, my aspirations were large but not like doctors and lawyers - the type of things parents want their kids to aspire to. I wanted to be the best skier in the world. I would just figure out how to make things work along the way. In 1981 at the Laubrahorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland I caught and edge, and my momentum pulled me into a frozen barrier head first. I compressed seven vertebrae in my back and tore the ligaments and ACL in my right knee. I already had 11 knee operations, 2 broken legs, an ankle and two arms. This was it. I finally had run out of body, the dream was over, just when I had found my way as a skier and was on the cusp of where I had always wanted to be as a skier - winning World Cup downhill's.

Now what was I going to do? I knew I couldn't work for anyone. I was too much of a free spirit, maverick maybe, whatever that truly means… I felt that my best money to be made was through exposure and the sponsors I already had in place as a skier. But now that my racing days were over how would I keep the audience alive? There were a lot of small TV stations starting up all over the country in the ski areas. I thought if I could produce a five minute TV show, profiling all the different progressions of learning how to ski from the first day on skis to being able to master the most difficult terrain, including moguls, powder etc, sell some commercials that would pay for my cost, and give the show free of charge to the stations my audience would be alive and well again. I'd sell the commercials to companies that needed a ski demographic, which was what the ski areas had. I'd kill it and I did!

I barter syndicated a TV show called Ski with Andy Mill for 20 years. It took me a week to shoot it, a week to edit it and a few days to get it out the door, and had the rest of the year to do whatever I wanted. The exposure was unreal. I had a pile of sponsors who paid me handsomely. I was hired by CBS to cover the Olympics and many other networks to cover world cup skiing and a variety of outdoors specials over the next twenty years. I eventually got pretty burned out of the ski world. About that time I was approached by the Outdoor Life Network (which became Versus and then NBC Sports Channel) to host fishing shows. I was ready for a move from skiing. I hosted and produced 81 fishing shows from around the world for the next 7 years. By the end of those shows I'd been on the road for 35 years, my kids were really active, I'd saved some money and it was time to get off the road.

So this professional thing just kind of worked out for me in a fantastic way without any planning.

8. What would you change if you could?

Even if I could change something in my life I don't think I'd change anything. Sure I wish all those dreams could've materialized and I had a more perfect life than I've had, and the list is long, but if that would've happened I wouldn't be the person I am today. I've worked hard for my successes and am proud of them, but I've probably worked harder to recover from the bad. And I think the growing pains make us who we ultimately become as athletes and people. There's no free lunch. Those conversations we all have to have periodically with that person in the mirror are road maps for the work ahead, personally and professionally.

9. Any funny fishing tales?

I went on a fishing trip once where there was only one fish caught, and I was glad as hell I didn't catch that fish. I fished with former President Bush 41 on a number of occasions over fifteen years. He called asking if I wanted to go Rooster fishing with him in Panama. He was out of the office at the time, but his world was still a big world of secret service, armoured cars, helicopters and private planes. He sent a friend's jet to pick me up in Boca where I flew to Houston and spent the night with he and Barbara, or Bar as we all call her, in their home. The next day we flew to Panama and were greeted by their President. We then boarded three military helicopters and flew to the Island of Coiba for three days of rooster fishing. It was like out of a movie! We stayed on a mother ship owned by a billionaire from Mexico. They had three fishing boats for us with the best captains and crew from all of Panama. We drank the best Rothschild's and ate the best caviar and foie gras on the planet!

You can only imagine the cost of this little three day fishing trip. Thank the Lord it was not I, but President Bush that caught the only fish!

10. Is there any piece of your fishing kit you can't live without?

  • My Maui Jim polarized glasses (you can't catch what you can't see)
  • My magnifiers while trout fishing (I'd never be able to tie a fly on)
  • My Vann Staal pliers while fishing the salt (have got to be able to cut mono and get hooks out of toothy critters)
  • Holding me to one thing… yea, MONEY, to pay for the gazillion things needed to fish the world

11. Anything left on your bucket list?

My bucket list has been quite depleted over the years. With my TV show we literally travel the world catching many dream fish, mostly on fly rods, but with conventional tackle as well. I caught an 800 pound blue marlin in St Thomas, a 200 pounder on fly, sailfish, giant trevally in the Indian ocean, Australia, Arctic Circle, Alaska, British Columbia, Guatemala, Costa Rica etc,etc.

I can honestly say that at this point of my life I really enjoy the fish that's in front of me now. Sure, the bonefish of New Caledonia sound great, but all I really care about is being with my son and going where ever he wants me to go!

12. What inspires you?

I'm inspired daily to not only do my absolute best at what I'm doing, but to be truthful and nice. I hope people think that I'm a good guy. This is really important to me and I hope, and I think it has, that it's rubbed off on my kids.

13. Any advice or useful tips?

The best two pieces of advice I have is to listen to your inner voice, and remember the adage, "Those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail!" Every time my head and inner voice go to war my head loses. Every time! When you're younger you don't have much wisdom and experience, so listening, trusting and having good mentors are invaluable. Then later when you have some mileage under your belt and you become your own person and you have high expectations, you better have great work ethics or you'll find yourself in the world of average with no one to blame but yourself. If you want to win, and win at a high level you have to not only be talented but driven.

14. From all the things you've done from the Olympics, winning tarpon tournaments to killing bull elk with your bow, what's the ultimate?

Skiing on the edge at 80 miles per hour for a living for twelve years was something you only read about, similar to hooking a 500 pound blue marlin on a fly rod or traveling with the President of the United Sates. It's been an incredible run to say the least, all wonderful stuff that's been invaluable to me at the time I was chasing / living that life, but I must say, talking to and calling in an 800 pound elk to 10 yards and killing it with a sharp stick is something else. At 62 I sometimes wonder how my heart has been able to handle all those blood surges!