Behind the Brand: onWater Fishing App


In this installment of our “Behind the Brand” series, we’ll be checking out onWater. For this feature, we sat down with onWater founder, Scott Carver, as well as Senior Product Specialist, Josh Eaton, for a peak behind the curtains of the fishing-focused app which seems to be taking the outdoor community by storm. Here, we’ll be looking to get a glimpse into the background of the app, as well as what actually sets it apart from the others.

checking private property with onWater
The onWater App in use: Finding alternate routes around private land.

In the rapidly evolving technological age, it seems that more and more outdoor-focused apps are hitting the market, providing solutions for recreators to push their outdoor pursuits to the next level. The ever-encroaching shadow of digital advancement has received mixed reception amongst anglers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. While some suggest hurling your digital device into your nearest reservoir so as to never be bothered by the ‘bings’ and ‘pings’ which we strive to escape from, there is a separate proportion of the community that has embraced technological advancements as just another tool in the box which can be used to further push the boundaries of what is possible out of doors.

Over the last few years, there have been a few notable apps that have entered the fly fishing stratosphere – plenty of which have been quickly labeled as detrimental to the very nature of our sport. However, there do seem to be a select few that serve to give more than they gain: focusing their effort on constructing a smarter and safer way for anglers to approach the waters (as opposed to their neighbor’s secret spot). An app that fits this bill well, and has drawn the attention of our team over the last 6 months, has been: onWater.

An interview with onWater Founder: Scott Carver:

Flylords: Who are you? 

Scott: I’m the Founder and CEO of onWater.  I live full-time in Boulder, CO, and part-time in Ennis, MT. I’m a passionate outdoorsman and serial entrepreneur.   I love starting things from scratch…especially businesses. With onWater, I was able to combine my passion and experience in the fly fishing industry with my career experience in building technology companies.  Kind of an unusual combination.

scott carver

Flylords: How and when did you start fly fishing? 

Scott: I’ve been an angler my whole life but really became immersed in fly fishing in my early twenties, when I discovered how therapeutic standing in a cold stream was on my knees.  I had had my knees reconstructed 13 times from my college football days.  Adrenaline outdoor sports were more challenging for me, so when I discovered fly fishing, it became all-consuming.   I spent every waking moment either fly fishing or thinking about fly fishing.  I became so consumed with it, I built a fly fishing lodge on the Madison River.

Flylords: In your words, what is onWater?

Scott: onWater is an outdoor recreation technology platform designed to enhance the angler’s experience, connect our community, and protect our resources.  Handheld devices now are a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives.  GPS, satellite imagery, and technological advancements have allowed outdoor recreation enthusiast to pursue their activities with more confidence and relevant information. At its core, fly angling embodies adventure, so it only makes sense to provide tools to anglers to help them explore more, safely, and with confidence.

Flylords: What was the mission for onWater? 

Scott: The idea for onWater was born out of a fishing trip to Montana with several buddies and after spending a day on the Madison River, we began wondering where we might fish the next several days.  As we began searching for options it became an incredibly tedious process.  We had to research what rivers were in that area, how far away, how we access them, what were the flows, where could we access and how much of the property was private.  We had to figure out what fly shops served those rivers and call them to get fishing reports and recommendations.   It dawned on us that this was crazy… ”there has to be an app for this right”.  So we started looking and found nothing that brought all that together for the fly angler.  Given my background in building technology companies and being an owner of a fly fishing lodge, I said…” we could build this”.  At that point, we started onWater.

As we started to develop our Product Roadmap, we drew on our own personal experiences as anglers to decide what functions and features we wanted to build into the app.  One of our most powerful features is a GPS navigation tool that tracks your position and movement on the river.  It also allows you to determine distances from your location to any point on the river, in river miles.  You can also set a notification when you are approaching a designated point like a boat ramp, campsite, or hazard.  This feature was conceived based on my own personal experience when my young son was floating a river and unknowingly missed the take out just before dusk. He floated several miles past in pitch-black darkness and was not aware there was a very dangerous diversion dam ahead downstream.  Thankfully, he had the good sense to pull off the river and try to find someone to call for help.  But if he had kept floating he would have easily gone over that diversion dam and certainly died. That experience shook me to the core and I said we could build a feature in our app to prevent that from happening to anyone.

To learn more about onWater’s story, check out the video below: 

Flylords: In the first year, what did onWater look like? 

Scott: Like most start-ups, it was exciting and chaotic.  The first year we were mostly focused on building the platform, so everything was all about creativity…how will it look, what are the features and performance, what areas of the country should we focus on, and so on.  It was all about the platform…the user’s experience would come later.   Unfortunately, we made a tactical error at the very beginning…we outsourced the original platform development to an outside software development agency.  This proved to be a huge and costly mistake. The agency we used had little angling domain experience and was more interested in billing hours than building quality software.  We quickly concluded that we needed to pivot and bring all of our engineering in-house.  So we hired an incredible team of software engineers and completely transformed the platform and process.  It was a defining moment for us.  Every start-up has those moments…fortunately we experienced ours early enough to avoid a catastrophe.

using onwater in the vehicle

Flylords: What were some of the hurdles of the initial development of the app/ company?

Scott: The biggest hurdle we faced was transitioning our software engineering from an agency model to an in-house model as I mentioned above.  But once we got through that our two most significant hurdles were how we could scale the process of curating our digital maps across the entire country and figuring out the Customer Acquisition model.  What makes onWater unique is the precision and detail of our maps for positioning and navigation.  Other mapping apps simply overlay public data, primarily from government sources, to create their maps.   This can lead to incorrect geo coordinates, misplaced points on the map, and just plain outdated information.  onWater, on the other hand, has a team of experienced anglers hand curating our maps to ensure accuracy and current information.  With the number of waterbodies in the US and across the world, this can be a daunting task.  So one of our biggest hurdles is figuring out how to scale that part of our app without sacrificing the detail and accuracy of our maps.  We’ve made amazing progress and in 2023 we’ll improve more than 10X.

The other hurdle we face is understanding the Customer Acquisition model.  Fly anglers, in particular, are a challenging audience.  We are very secretive about our angling activities and generally distrustful of any technology entering our sport.  I find it very it very interesting that anglers have no problem posting and sharing their fishing adventures and prize catches all over social media, but yet may be hesitant to embrace a tool that would enhance their angling experience and be completely private to them.  The days of paper maps and spiral-bound fishing journals are gone, so we must reinforce to our customers that this technology does not diminish our sport, but is really value add on so many levels.  For that reason, we are constantly tweaking our messaging and methodologies to connect with customers.  If we continue to bring features that anglers value, I know this audience will embrace onWater just as many outdoor enthusiasts have embraced other apps like Alltrails, onX, or Strava.

Flylords: Since the idea was translated to fruition, how have you seen onWater evolve?

Scott: onWater is evolving so rapidly it blows my mind on some days.  Right now I would characterize where we are as “the tip of the iceberg”.  We have a very robust long-term product roadmap, but we made the decision we were going to be really good and solid at just a few high-value things before we moved on to the next phase.   Our mantra is we want to be “an inch wide and a mile deep” rather than “a mile wide and an inch deep”.  We’ve stuck by this principle in how we’ve rolled out features and evolved our product.  Thus far our focus has been primarily on enhancing the experience for the individual angler, so the features we’ve introduced around map precision, navigation, property data, tracking, journaling, and local resources are second to none.

However, as we all know the fishing ecosystem is quite large and there are many different stakeholders.  We view conservation organizations, fly shops, outfitters, lodges, product manufacturers, fisheries managers, product manufacturers, authors, bloggers, and many others as part of our community. The evolution of onWater will involve connecting this entire community and developing elements of our product that drive value for each one of them.  A prime example of this is some of the work we’re doing with conservation partners and non-profits promoting fly fishing within disadvantaged groups.  We are currently rolling out several new programs and features that we believe will not only promote the proper stewardship of our resources but raise awareness of and participation in our conservation partner’s initiatives.  We are mission-driven and giving back to our sport is one of our key missions.

The ever-growing onWater team.

Flylords: How has the creation of onWater affected your personal relationship with fly fishing and the fly fishing community?

Scott: Creating onWater has given me an appreciation of the abundance of angling opportunities we have in this country and how critical it is to protect it and preserve access to it.  We are so blessed in this country to have access to so many diverse waters and landscapes.  It’s unfortunate that so many anglers concentrate on such a small percentage high profile water bodies when there is so much more out there to explore and experience.  My hope is that onWater will help people gain the confidence to venture a little further, try something new and explore more.  In doing so, I think that translates to more people having a vested interest in preserving what we have.

Q: Who do YOU believe the onWater app is for? 

Scott: As I stated earlier our vision is to create a platform that would connect our entire angling ecosystem and drive value for every one of its stakeholders. But, of course, we are only in the early stages of that journey.  For now, onWater is for anglers who want to spend more time fishing and less time researching and planning to go fishing.  It’s for anglers who want to explore new waters and do so with the confidence of fishing conditions, where to access, and not venture into areas where you shouldn’t. It’s for anglers who want more real-time, relevant information at their fingertips. Anglers who enjoy journaling their days on the water, tracking their journey, and reliving their experiences.

Many people ask me is onWater for beginning anglers or experienced anglers.  My answer is certainly both.  I have fished all over this country and all over the world.  I’d love to boast that I know it all, but I don’t.  Prior to onWater, I carried hundreds of paper fishing maps with me and when I went to a new location, I bought another one…for 20 bucks.  I love fishing new places and for an experienced angler like me, I find onWater to be an incredible tool.

Likewise, people new to the sport or just learning will find just as much value.  Whether it learning the character of a water body, where the fly shops are, what the regulations might be, purchasing a license, or just where to go…there’s something there for everyone, no matter where you are on the experience spectrum.

Flylords: Where do you see this app going in the future?   

Scott: In the near future we will be focused on expanding our geographic footprint.  We expect to have the entire country covered in the next few months.  We have a full suite of new features that will be released shortly that will dramatically enhance the overall user experience.  There are too many to name here, but they include things you can’t find anywhere else.  In the coming months, we will also be expanding into the conventional angling and paddle sports segments.  Those are natural extensions of our core platform and we have some exciting news that we’ll announce in the very near future.

Long term, our goal is to expand the reach of our platform to all stakeholders and global geographies.  In doing so, we can create a community that is aligned, informed and vested in protecting our sport and its resources.  As I said earlier, this is a journey and we are just now leaving the driveway.

We also had the chance to sit down with onWater Senior Product Specialist, Josh Eaton, for a more “boots on the ground” perspective:

Flylords: Who are you? 

Josh: My name is Josh Eaton – I am the GIS/ Senior Product Specialist for the onWater App. I was born along the banks of the Madison River in Ennis, Montana. I grew up surrounded by fishing guides, my mom Julie Eaton was one of the first female fishing outfitters in the Madison Valley and started our family outfitting service, Eaton Outfitters, in 1994. Living in the mountains I developed an understanding and love for paper maps which were crucial for success and safety during hunting season. This connection to maps and information was a major influence on my decision to study GIS mapping and City Planning at Montana State University. My passion for fishing and mapping was a natural fit for joining onWater at its inception in 2020. When I am not working or rowing down the rivers of Southwest Montana, I’m likely skiing moguls up at the local mountain!

Flylords: What is your position at onWater? What are the roles and responsibilities that come with that role?

Josh: As the GIS/Senior Product Specialist I use my knowledge from a lifetime of fishing and nearly a decade of guiding to help bridge the gap between data and angler. Using a GIS system, we are able to create and query data that applies to anglers and showcase it in a POI (Point of Interest) format on our maps. Accordingly, I also carry the responsibility in making sure we stay on the ethical side of information sharing.

Secrecy is natural a part of fishing; there is an important aspect to fishing that involves being out in nature and “figuring it out” – and I keep this close to heart when doing my work. OnWater’s mission statement follows the spirit of the sport – we are not a fish-catching app, but an app to help anglers tap into to the information and knowledge they need to wade, float, and plan with confidence. Speaking from experience, having confidence in where you are going and being comfortable out on the water allows you to enjoy everything the outdoors has to offer!

Flylords: When did you get started with onWater?

Josh: I started with onWater at the company’s inception in 2020; my passion for fishing and mapping along with my degree from Montana State University proved a natural fit for joining onWater.

Flylords: What role does fly-fishing play in your life?

Josh: As a third-generation fly-fishing guide in Southwest Montana, fishing plays an important role in my life. I was super fortunate as a youngster to fish with family members who had vast knowledge of the local rivers including entomology and structure of the river systems, but it wasn’t until I was older that I gained more appreciation for the underlying principles of the sport. As I got older, I began venturing out to the rivers on my own and no longer only fished with friends and family that floated the local rivers almost every day. As a result, I was able to welcome the reality that fishing is not all about catching fish: which has given fly fishing a much larger role in my life.

Flylords: What are some developments you’ve seen with the app/ company that have been impactful since you started at onWater?

Josh: As an app, there have been a vast number of developments since the founding of the company. However, my favorite is still in the works (here’s a little sneak peek). We are currently working on a user-discovered information update, which would allow users to share important information with other users. This could include hazards such as newly falling trees – to site closures but would NOT include fishing spots. It will allow user interaction to benefit the community with updates that do not hinge on catching fish, but rather create a safer experience for everyone.

Learn more about some of onWater’s features, HERE.

Flylords: What are some of the projects you’ve worked on/ lead/ been a part of that you’ve felt have been helpful in getting the app to where it is today?

Josh: I have been a part of the curation team/effort since the app’s founding. The river maps are one of the main pillars of onWater, and it’s rewarding to use the app and open up a map that I worked on/crafted that helps inform our users while following our company’s vision.

Flylords: In your opinion, what is one of the most important features that the app has to offer users?

Josh: Growing up on a drift boat means that I absolutely love floating rivers. Accordingly, my favorite feature is the ‘Notify When Near’ feature which allows users to mark a POI such as a boat ramp, and have their phone notify them when they are within a certain distance of said boat ramp. This feature comes in handy when floating new streams, I get to spend less time worrying about where a boat ramp is and more time fishing!

Flylords: How do you draw from your personal experiences (on and off the water) and work them into the app?

Josh: I draw off my personal experiences to help bridge the gap of maps and anglers. Most people associate maps with discovering spots, a sort of a Pirate’s treasure map mentality. Yet, the onWater maps offer a different type of interactive experience. If you have been in the fishing and particularly fly-fishing industry, you may know that the sharing of spots is frowned upon. Accordingly, using our backgrounds as fishermen and a deeper knowledge of maps, our app provides information that does not exactly revolve around spots, but instead focuses on helping users be more comfortable and in turn discover “fishing spots” on their own!

Flylords: What part of your job do you feel is most fulfilling?

Josh: The most fulfilling aspect of the job revolves around helping anglers of all backgrounds feel more comfortable out on the water. I relish reading every new review or customer email that tells us how our product and my work helped someone have a better fishing experience. When users can spend less time planning/worrying and more time exploring their rivers, they will start to paint a bigger picture of the importance and diversity of our water bodies and the need to protect them for the future. This is turn will hopefully spawn more and more activist that get out and vote in the name of conservation and volunteer their time to defend our waterbodies!

Flylords: What are you working on now that we can expect to see in 2023?

Josh: National coverage is on schedule and expected to be available by late spring. Because our rivers are hand-curated by employees including myself, they take some time. We don’t just copy+paste information. We want to make sure that each river or lake is crafted so that if we were going to go fish it, even though we might get skunked, we would have the resources at our fingertips to get on the water in a safe and legal fashion. As a company, we continue to constantly improve the user experience from both an angling community and usability standpoint. There’s a vast amount of new developments that we are excited to share with the community in 2023!

Thank you to the onWater team for dedicating some of their time to chat with us. If you’re looking to learn more about onWater, you can check out their website, HERE. You can also download the app on the Apple App Store or Google Play.

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