Three hauls into a Subway bass fishing outing this week, Sam Sobieck was kneeling on the sleek front deck of his boat, unhooking a good catch, a true “Billie.” But all he could talk about was his triumph the night before.
He and his longtime girlfriend, Stephanie Hanson, had crushed all the competitors at their weekly “Tuesday Nighter,” a summer bass tournament held among friends at a hodgepodge of lakes outside the Twin Cities. As the sun was setting, his five-bag of fish weighed 20.06 pounds.
“Steph was on fire,” he gushed. “He put down the hammer.”
Tens of thousands of YouTube fans will see for themselves when the next video for “Sobi” premieres. -Seasonal fishing, hunting, camping and foraging exploits filmed in Minnesota and the Midwest.
The “Sobi” YouTube channel competes for clicks in a sea of other fishing and outdoor content, but its youthful enthusiasm, expert videography, humor, and embrace of realism have set it apart and attracted valuable promotional partners.
Matt Johnson, a Lake Minnetonka fishing guide who heads the professional staff at Clam Outdoors, said Sobieck has turned down big-paying jobs within the fishing industry to pursue freelance outdoor storytelling. If you haven’t heard of “Sobi” yet, it might just be a matter of time.
Johnson said Clam struck up an early promotional partnership with the southern Minnesota native because the animated character, glass half-full on camera, is the same person in real life.
“He’s a complete human being and his integrity shines through,” Johnson said.
Where many fishing-oriented YouTubers live in hype, Johnson said, Sobieck includes their weaknesses and takes the time to share techniques and model culling and other conservation practices.
At a recent roundtable with fishing stakeholders from across Minnesota, Johnson said it was time for the Department of Natural Resources to bring in social media professionals like Sobieck to promote fishing and send messages to younger audiences.
Sobieck picked up his first GoPro camera, a used one, when he was 15 years old. By then, he had seven years of fishing adventures under his belt with friends from the Cedar Lake area of New Prague. They acquired a rubber raft paid for by mowing the lawn and later upgraded it to a small aluminum boat.
“When we were kids, we’d just grab our bikes and go,” he said. “We just fish and fish and fish.”
At New Prague High School, Sobieck played baseball, soccer, acted in school plays, and fished. High school fishing leagues were starting to form, but he and his friends turned to local weekday fishing tournaments against adults.
“They kicked our butts… they just killed us,” he recalled.
Some of the action was valuable content for the Facebook Pages they had been feeding since their second year. Around the same time, they organized Team Yukon Outdoors and went a step further in producing ice fishing videos that attracted support from Clam Corp. and Vexilar Inc., the famous Minnesota hardwater gear manufacturers.
Sobieck became the man behind the camera, teaching himself filming and editing skills before there were YouTube videos to learn. His friends appeared in the film.
“That’s when I fell in love with making videos,” Sobieck said.
By the time he went off to college in Wisconsin-Stevens Point to compete in fishing and study graphic design, he was landing enough jobs as a freelance videographer to get out of roofing and landscaping jobs. In the last year, he was good enough to temporarily quit and work full time for an up-and-coming group of southern fishing YouTubers. He followed them on adventures to Thailand, New Zealand, China, Mexico and other countries as a cameraman.
“It was fish, shoot, edit, repeat,” Sobieck said. “That’s when I got really efficient with my eye and my gear.”
doing a race
On the Stevens Point Fishing Team, Sobieck competed in national championships and after college continued to hone his video production skills. In 2018, she broke away from side jobs to get in front of the camera and launch the “Sobi” brand in earnest, a video franchise focused on money-making YouTube episodes, augmented by promotional partnerships and growing merchandise sales. Already part of his stable is the Sam Sobi Special fishing rod, made by Texas-based Dobyns, one of his promotional partners.
“I thought I could do this myself,” he said. “I dove headfirst.”
Sobieck has ambitions to make longer-form video, or even film within the realm of fishing and the great outdoors. He has a fascination with the weekly local fishing leagues, those “Tuesday Nighters” and “Wednesday Nighters” that have boats full of tradition, competition, and colorful characters. They could be documented, he said, in the same way that others have filmed detailed stories about Minnesota city baseball.
“You have a lot of superstars at the grassroots level… camaraderie and excitement,” he said. “Find out who owns this lake.”
So far, Sobi has attracted an impressive base of 70,000 followers on YouTube and 40,000 followers on Instagram with photos and 10-12 minute videos capturing fun-filled outings. The clips include a rotating cast of close friends hanging out in elementary school.
There’s Brok “B-Rock” Schwarzkopf, a bum angler at heart who makes his own videos when he’s not hitting bass with Sobi. Then there’s Hays Baldwin, a long-haired professional fishing guide who led the way this spring in a kayaking adventure popping crappies on Lake Minnetonka before the ice was completely out Dialogue in Sobi’s adventure video incorporated Hays’s fascination with an albino squirrel Between some antics, Sobi and Hays weaved advice from fishery about doubling his success, he also talked about his selective harvesting of smaller breeders.
In another recent video, Sobi and Stephanie searched for morels in a springtime ritual around their small cabin on the lake near Shieldsville, Rice County. They whispered to each other while keeping the location of their usual hot spots a secret. “We already have enough for some hamburgers tonight,” Sobi said. “This is the time for money.”
Sobieck said he has barely scratched the surface filming outdoor adventures in Minnesota and nearby states. In the field and behind the computers at his editing desk, he strives to produce dynamic and fun stories about fishing and other good times outdoors.
“The plan is to continue to grow the fan base,” he said. “We eat, sleep and breathe… I want to show incredible adventures.”