Other than a passion for college basketball and a penchant for too much pizza, my partner and I don't share a lot of interests. But we do both love to read -- so when he came to me with a series of books he thought I'd like, I was intrigued. He searches Kindle Unlimited for mysteries that involve fly fishing -- a lifelong hobby of his -- and he knows I am fascinated by anything that might be considered paranormal. So stories told by a fly fishing guide about encounters with Bigfoot? Yes, please!
Author Rusty Wilson lives in the mountains of Colorado -- a perfect habitat for a big, secretive, hairy creature -- but he certainly didn't set out to write books about Bigfoot. He just likes to feed his fly fishing clients a good Dutch oven meal cooked over a campfire and then settle in to tell stories by firelight. He's heard so many Bigfoot stories over the years that he's written at least a dozen collections of them.
And by the way, he says this is the first interview he's ever done. He'd simply rather tell the story than be it. But I fan-girled him into submission. Whether you believe in Bigfoot or not, Wilson's books make a great read on a winter evening with the fireplace flickering and hot cocoa at hand.
Here's what he had to say in an email conversation.
Q. I know fly fishing came first before Bigfoot. Talk about the area where you grew up and the zen of fly fishing and how you fell in love with it and how it came to be a career, please.
A. I grew up in western Colorado, and though we camped a lot ... I actually didn't learn to fly-fish until I was an adult, and a good friend from Montana got me hooked (sorry). I learned to fly fish in the Yellowstone River, just out of Livingston, as well as some of the famous spring creeks around there.
I think what I like about it most is being outdoors and feeling like you're doing something, even though it's all catch and release. I try to share that love of the outdoors with others who are interested in learning the sport. I enjoy meeting people and learning about their lives, so it just came naturally to me.
Q. I read in one of your introductions that the social aspect of sitting around the fire and having dinner and telling tales is as much a part of a fishing expedition as the fishing. How did your tradition of campfire dinners and storytelling come to be?
A. Like I mentioned earlier, I grew up camping, and part of that was Dutch oven cooking. Both my parents liked to cook, so I learned from them both, and I've always been a decent campfire cook. I found that when I was guiding, people didn't really want to go home afterwards, they enjoyed being out so much, so I started offering multi-day overnight trips. ... It was only natural to offer dinner and a nice campfire afterwards, and I found out that almost everyone has a good story to tell.
There's something about being around a campfire deep in the woods that brings people together, and they'll share things that they might not otherwise. I've heard some pretty good stories. A lot of them aren't about Bigfoot, but once someone got going on that topic, it was inevitable that others would contribute.
Q. Do you remember the first Bigfoot story someone told at the campfire? Did you scoff? Do you scoff now?
A. I actually don't recall the first Bigfoot story I heard, but I never scoffed at any, mostly because I myself have had some strange experiences, though mostly just sounds or glimpses. Have I ever actually seen one? No, but I think they've seen me. I wrote a book about searching for them called, appropriately enough, "Chasing After Bigfoot," that kind of tells my story in that regard. I will say that ... after hearing so many stories, I'm more of a believer these days, though I sure wish someone would find a body or definitive evidence.
Q. Have you ever heard/seen/felt anything in the woods that makes you personally believe that Bigfoot might be real?
A. I'll just refer you to my book mentioned above. Yes, I've heard and seen mysterious things, but not face to face. Nothing that would hold up in a court of law, but plenty that makes me wonder. I will say that a lot of Bigfootery is hoaxing, so be careful about believing anything you see on the internet or from people with an agenda, which usually involves money. At this point, I will add that the small amount I make from my books goes to a half-dozen animal shelters in areas where I guided. We currently have three rescue dogs and two rescue cats. My wife and I both agree donating is a good thing to do, especially since she has a good job. I've been asked to host or be on numerous shows and podcasts and such, but I always refuse, as I'm not in it for self-aggrandizement. This is the first interview I've actually ever done. I don't know what came over me! LOL!
Q. What do you love about the Bigfoot stories that made you want to collect and share them?
A. A lot of folks ask me if these stories really happened, and I have to be honest and say I don't know. But I do enjoy collecting them, and almost all of them are first-person, so I have direct experience with the person who told the story, and I feel like I can tell if they're being honest or not. Not everyone's honest, and I've heard some doozies that I don't put in my books because I know they're fictional. But the main reason I decided to start recording these stories was because most of the people who told them were shocked that anyone would be interested or even believe them. A lot of people were ashamed of what they'd experienced, like people would think they were liars or just plain nuts.
Collecting their stories has given some a sense of peace about the whole thing, a form of closure, and I know it's also provided a feeling that they're not the only ones out there with such experiences. Actually, I'm amazed at how many people have had strange experiences like this, though I do admittedly have a biased sample, as all the people I deal with are outdoorsy. I try to be true to their stories, and I gather a lot of detail about the people telling them so I can try to retell their stories factually and with a sense of who they are as a person, though I usually change the names and places.
I always record them so I can listen over and over and not put stuff in that's not true to the story. And a lot of these stories are actually more about people than Bigfoot; the Bigfoot is just what brings out their character and triggers them to come to a resolution with their issues. There's something about thinking you're going to die or seeing you're not the apex of the animal world that makes people realize we're not as important as we'd like to think. I had a large company in California (who I won't name, but you'd know them) use my books for employee bonding during camping retreats, which I found kind of ironic, since there's something basically oxymoronic about Bigfoot appealing to a high-tech software company.
Q. Does it matter if the stories are true as far as the fun of reading/hearing/telling them?
A. I've never maintained that these stories are true -- as I mentioned before, I have no way of knowing. But I do know that they're generally great stories from an entertainment standpoint, and I have a lot of good feedback from all kinds of people -- Bigfoot believers and skeptics alike. I've had a number of letters from teachers telling me about kids who didn't like to read until they got hold of my books and now they're avid readers. None of my stories have anything in them that I wouldn't want a kid to read, and if the original story does have something bad, I usually won't retell it. I think the stories hold their own without gore or violence or any of that.
Q. If they are true, if Bigfoot is real, do you want to see a Bigfoot or have the 50% that are scary convinced you that you don't? (I have not yet read "The Bigfoot Runes," so forgive me, please, if some of these questions are answered there.)
A. In all honesty, "The Bigfoot Runes" is my favorite of all my books and also the one I suspect is least true. I absolutely love that book, which sounds like I'm patting myself on the back, but I'm not the actual storyteller, which you'll see when you read it. I was more of a recorder and editor. That book has a message about life that I really respect. If I could meet the Bigfoot star of that book, Hap, I would say yes, I can't wait to meet a Bigfoot. Otherwise, I'd probably be as scared as anyone.
Q. How many Bigfoot Campfire Stories collections are there? Are there more to come?
A. I actually don't know how many books are out there, but they're all on Amazon. I've kind of lost track, but there's probably around a dozen or so. The latest one is called Rusty Wilson's "Rocky Mountain Bigfoot Campfire Stories," and I have some for specific regions, such as Alaska, Glacier and Yellowstone. You can get them in e-book or print format, and they're also all available on Audible.com, where the narrator is fantastic.
As for coming out with a new one, I'm not sure, as I'm not currently guiding, and I've pretty much told all the ones I've collected over the years that are worth telling. My wife Sarah is a geologist, and since we have a toddler, I'm currently more of a house-husband, as she works full time. When she needs a break, I'll go back to guiding, but right now I'm having a blast with our daughter, and Sarah loves her job, so who knows when I'll guide again? I still fish, though.