Three casts into a metro bass fishing outing this week, Sam Sobieck was kneeling on the sleek front deck of his boat, unhooking a nice catch — a real "Billie.'' But all he could talk about was his triumph from the night before.
He and his longtime girlfriend, Stephanie Hanson, had crushed all competitors in their weekly "Tuesday Nighter,'' a summer bassin' tournament held among friends on a hodge-podge of lakes outside the Twin Cities. As the sun was setting, their five-fish bag weighed in at 20.06 pounds.
"Steph was on fire,'' he gushed. "She put the hammer down.''
Tens of thousands of YouTube followers will see it for themselves when the next "Sobi'' video drops. The 27-year-old outdoors junkie has developed a loyal and growing fan base by mixing friendship and fun into a never-ending series of four-season 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 outdoors content, but his boyish enthusiasm, expert videography, humor and his embrace of realism have been setting him apart and attracting valuable promotional partners.
Matt Johnson, a Lake Minnetonka fishing guide who heads the pro staff at Clam Outdoors, said Sobieck has turned down big-money jobs inside the fishing industry to pursue independent, outdoors storytelling. If you haven't yet heard of "Sobi,'' it could be just a matter of time.
Johnson said Clam struck up an early promotional partnership with the southern Minnesota native because the animated, glass-half-full character on camera is the same person in real life.
"He's a well-rounded human being and his integrity shines through,'' Johnson said.
Where a lot of fishing-oriented YouTubers dwell in hype, Johnson said, Sobieck includes his foibles and takes time to share techniques and to model selective harvest and other conservation practices.
At a recent roundtable discussion with fishing stakeholders from around Minnesota, Johnson said it was time for the Department of Natural Resources to incorporate social media practitioners like Sobieck to promote fishing and deliver messages to younger audiences.
Sobieck picked up his first GoPro camera, a used one, when he was 15. By then, he had seven years of fishing adventures under his belt with buddies from the Cedar Lake area in New Prague. They acquired a rubber raft paid for by mowing lawns, then upgraded to a small aluminum boat.
"As kids we would just take our bikes and go,'' he said. "We would just fish and fish and fish.''
At New Prague High School, Sobieck played baseball, football, acted in school plays and fished. High school fishing leagues were starting to form, but he and his friends resorted to fishing local tournaments on weeknights against grownups.
"We would get our butts kicked … just absolutely killed,'' he recalled.
Some of the action was worthy content for Facebook pages they had been feeding since their sophomore year. Around the same time, they organized Team Yukon Outdoors and stepped into more serious production of ice-fishing videos that attracted support from Clam Corp. and Vexilar Inc., Minnesota's famous makers of hard water gear.
Sobieck became the man behind the camera, teaching himself shooting and editing skills before there were YouTube videos to learn from. His pals were featured on film.
"That's when I fell in love with making videos,'' Sobieck said.
By the time he was going off to college at Wisconsin-Stevens Point to fish competitively and study graphic design, he was getting enough gigs as a freelance videographer to work his way out of roofing jobs and landscaping. By senior year, he was good enough to temporarily drop out to work full time for an emerging group of fishing YouTubers from the South. He followed them on adventures to Thailand, New Zealand, China, Mexico and other countries as their videographer.
"It was fish, film, edit, repeat,'' Sobieck said. "That's when I got really efficient with my eye and my gear.''
Making a run
On the fishing team at Stevens Point, Sobieck competed in the nationals and, after college, continued to hone his video-making production skills. In 2018, he broke away from side jobs to put himself on camera and launch the "Sobi" brand in earnest — a video franchise centered around 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 just figured I could make a run at this myself,'' he said. "I've jumped in head first.''
Sobieck has ambitions to make longer-form videos, or even movies within the realm of fishing and the outdoors. He has a fascination for weekly, local fishing leagues — those "Tuesday Nighters'' and "Wednesday Nighters'' that have boatloads of tradition, competition and colorful characters. They could be documented, he said, in the same manner others have filmed in-depth stories about Minnesota town baseball.
"You've got a lot of superstars at the grassroots level … camaraderie and excitement,'' he said. "Find out who owns this lake.''
For now, Sobi has attracted an impressive base of 70,000 followers on YouTube and 40,000 followers on Instagram with photos and 10- to 12-minute videos that capture fun-filled outings. The clips include a revolving cast of close friends who date to elementary school.
There's Brok "B-Rock'' Schwarzkopf, a fishing bum at heart who makes his own videos when he's not slamming bass with Sobi. Then there's Hays Baldwin, a long-haired pro fishing guide who led the way this spring on a kayak adventure to pop crappies on Lake Minnetonka before the ice was fully out. The dialogue in Sobi's video of the adventure incorporated Hays' fascination with an albino squirrel. Between some clowning, Sobi and Hays weaved in fishing tips on how to duplicate their success. They also talked about their selective harvest of smaller-sized keepers.
In another recent video, Sobi and Stephanie searched for morel mushrooms in a rite of spring around their small lake cabin near Shieldsville, in Rice County. They whispered to each other while keeping secret the location of their customary hot spots. "We've already got enough for some burgers tonight,'' Sobi said. "This is money time.''
Sobieck said he's barely scratched the surface on filming outdoor adventures in Minnesota and nearby states. Out in the field and behind the computers at his editing desk, he strives to produce dynamic, fun stories around fishing and other good times in the outdoors.
"The plan is to continue to grow the fan base,'' he said. "We eat, sleep and breathe it … I want to show awesome adventures.''