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From Stage, to Stream, to Mainstream Media: An Interview with Ken Baldwin of Men’s Journal

For Ken Baldwin — formerly a fishing guide, actor, professional salsa dancer; and now the contributing editor and writer for Men’s Journal’s fly fishing channel — life has evolved around nature and capturing its perfection. Ken guided and photographed in Alaska for 20 years, bringing his camera everywhere to eternalize this wild, free world of the North. Now, as Ken helps cover the outdoor world for a main-stream audience, we explore his approach to chronicling the fly fishing lifestyle.

This article covers:

  • The beginning of an endless season
  • Plays, call sheets, and the call of the wild
  • Guiding in Alaska
  • Life after Alaska
  • TV and writing
  • Ken Baldwin FAQ

The beginning of an endless season

Ken Baldwin toddled his way into the fly fishing life as a child playing in his father’s garage. Ken’s dad — raised in a family of Kentucky sharecroppers — was game warden on the Lewis-McChord Joint Base in Washington. “He had grown up hunting and fishing for food as a boy in Kentucky,'' explains Ken. He recounts dusting off his father’s old, fiberglass fly rod he found in the garage and taking it for a spin on Sequalitchew Lake, honing his skills on the local largemouth bass population. Ken had first seen fly fishing in an edition of Outdoor Life, but it wasn’t until he put the hours in learning the craft that he became truly enamored. It wasn’t long before panfish, rock bass, and trout on his home waters became somewhat of an obsession. But it was ultimately a surprise encounter with an anadromous steelhead that sold Ken on the fly fishing life — hook, line, and sinker. “We were fishing on one of our local Pacific Northwest streams, just like we did on most of our free days as kids," recounts Ken, thinking back on that fateful spring outing. "One of the guys hooked into something incredibly powerful. This fish took him down the whole river. He’d chased it down a number of runs before it came unbuttoned, but the report was that he’d hooked a steelhead, that got me going. I started going down the rabbit hole, learning more about big, migratory fish and how to target them. After witnessing that battle and learning from some accomplished local fly anglers, I started using the fly rod almost exclusively, wherever we would go.” On the Nisqually River — the same river esteemed rod builder Gary Loomis fashioned his first rods on — Ken honed his feel for fly rodding, persisting through cycles of failure, analysis, adjustment, and repetition when things seemed to click. Watching folks like his father, Ken learned to read the river and use the current to his advantage, working with it to present flies naturally to fish. As Ken grew as an angler, he established a sound set of fishing fundamentals that would go on to serve him well later in life.

“I’d fish a puddle with a chopstick if I thought there was a fish in there. But I’d go drive upstate every Monday — it was a tradition — with a friend to get our fishing fix.”

Plays, call sheets, and the call of the wild

Ken Baldwin Football.jpeg
Ken, #91, during his UW football days.

While fishing occupied much of Ken’s free time, Ken also had other aspirations from an early age. “I wanted to be an actor or a professional football player. I always felt an intuitive connection to those two facets, especially the things I saw on screen.” In college, Ken explored football at the University of Washington, also capitalizing on training camp’s prime location (there was a lake right across from the team’s home stadium). 

The harsh realities of a career in professional football soon materialized for Ken, and upon graduating he ventured to New York to further explore his interest in acting. There, he watched Dustin Hoffman star in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a deeply moving performance that inspired him to enroll in a New York theater school in pursuit of an acting career. Even throughout his thespian education in the Big Apple, fishing remained a constant in Ken’s life. As his acting career gained traction, he made the move back out west — this time, to the film industry hub of Los Angeles, California. Here, he began picking up spots, and diving into photography and writing as ways to more fully understand storytelling, and further stretch his creative muscles.

Ken Baldwin Demolition Man.jpeg
Ken as Wasteland Scrap in the 1993 feature film starring Sylvester Stallone, "Demolition Man."

In the midst of this new-found acting career, a call came from a friend remembering Ken’s early and unique love of fly fishing. A lodge in Bristol Bay, Alaska that specialized in fly fishing wanted to see if he’d be interested in helping guide clients in Alaska for a summer. 

“In my mind I’m thinking, ‘I’d love to fish Alaska!’ I’ll go for a few weeks, and I’ll do it, but I won’t do it again. So I want to be an actor, but I’ll do it this one time. That’s what I told myself initially. Just once.”

Guiding in Alaska

First year 4.jpg
Ken with a client during his first year as a guide in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Fast forward over 20 years to today, and Ken recalls that a lot more fishing than guiding took place, especially in those early days. He was hooked, and wasted no time turning that first summer into the next chapter of his life. He began guiding Bristol Bay for rainbow trout and arctic char. Over the next twenty years living alongside Alaskan brown bears, bald eagles, prolific salmon runs, giant rainbow trout, and trophy arctic char, Ken documented his life in Alaska, preserving nature’s beautiful displays of spontaneity.

Ken Baldwin Photographing.jpeg
Ken exchanging rod for camera to photograph a nearby Alaskan brown bear fishing for salmon. 

Life after Alaska

Ken’s time guiding and photographing the Last Frontier caught the eye of numerous publications — Catch MagazineFish Alaska Magazine. Springboarded by the pursuit of his passions, Ken soon combined his outdoor interests with his acting career while hosting his very own TV show — “Season on the Edge.” 

TV and writing

The show follows Ken’s fishing journey around the world, as he introduces viewers to some of the amazing experiences gained through angling and travel. Ken ultimately transitioned “Season on the Edge” into The Endless Season — a fly fishing column for Men’s Journal devoted to the all-season pursuit of fly fishing.

At the intersection of fishing and lifestyle, Ken’s carved a space where anglers can learn and think about their craft in newfound ways — a game of curation and communication perhaps akin to his guiding days. Indeed, wielding over 20 years of experience instructing clients and hosting travelers, Ken approaches writing as a teacher with street smarts.

With Camera.jpg

Writing, photography, and acting are all excellent exercises in observing, analyzing, adjusting, and repeating the process when things work out. Ken has internalized this mindset in his writing — championing a world outlook enriched by the joy of life outside.

You can follow Ken’s work at Men’s Journal’s “The Endless Season” fly fishing column.

“When I used to be a guide, I used to think, ‘What did I wish this person knew? What would help this person?’ And in writing I ask myself the same questions. What does a guide wish their clients knew before their trip? I want to share things that can help people become better anglers… things I’ve learned along the way. Hopefully, when it’s your time to hit the water, you might see things differently, or try something new. That’s where you find joy — in discovery.”

Ken Baldwin FAQ

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