I spent a week with 12 swimsuit models Part II

After spending a few days with Gary and Melinda (Mel) Garrison, I was naturally curious about how they got started producing their calendars and what kind of response they have received.

Their first calendar, which is still produced annually, is named "Women in Waders." How this calendar came about is quite an interesting story.

The name came from the days when Gary found himself single. His passion for fishing and hunting is almost as strong as his love of motorcycles and he didn't want to give up one moment in the outdoors, not even for a date. So, he would pick up his date, stop by the sporting goods store and buy her a pair of waders, then take her fly-fishing with him. After a while, his friends started saying, "Here comes Gary with one of his women in waders."

Then something happened to Gary, he met Melinda. At first they were good friends and even roommates. She was dating someone and so was Gary. Then, they realized they were meant to be more than friends.

Even with two boats things can be a little crowded. One boat is carrying three photographers and one person running the boat, the other boat has the model and some to position the boat.
Just before their marriage, Gary and Mel hit upon the idea of a calendar, based on Gary's "Women in Waders." Mel had some experience as a model and called a few friends. Off they went to do their first photo shoots. They produced the calendar and headed to Chicago for the Bass Masters Classic.

That was a disastrous year for the Classic. Not many people showed up to attend the tournament in the "Windy City." Gary and Mel's calendars didn't sell well and they even thought that their idea might be a bust. But, luckily, this pair doesn't give up.

They went on to the next sportsman show and sold more calendars than they could have imagined. They knew they found a hit.

"Gary was going to quit every other day," said Mel. "I just kept right on working, filling orders, building the website and lining up new places to shoot. Gary would just come right back in and start working. I knew he was frustrated, but he wouldn't quit."

As time went on, they decided to add to their line of calendars. Their next calendar series included their other passion - motorcycles. They started producing "Women in Chaps," a calendar that combines beautiful women and beautiful bikes. Since they tended to go biker rallies anyway, why not produce something they could sell while they were there.

Knowing how big the bass fishing industry is they decided, a couple of years ago, to produce the "Beauty and the Bass" series. It was an instant success. Bass Anglers all over the country have scrambled for these calendars ever since the first one was produced last year. The combination of beautiful boats, spectacular locations, big bass, and of course, beautiful women, hit a nerve with anglers.

Gary and Melinda (Mel) Garrison get ready for another long day of shooting.
Now their plans are to combine one other passion into their list of calendars - hunting. Staring in 2005, Gary and Mel will start producing "Guns and Camo," a calendar that combines rifles, hunting gear, great locations and . oh yeah, beautiful women.

The key to their success, besides a lot of hard work, has been locating the right models. That's right guys, producing these calendars isn't all fun and games. "We try to find women that represent the 'girl next door' type," said Gary. "We want women who can represent our company in a positive light. The wholesome type of woman"

Gary has been known to fire a girl if he thought she wasn't representing them positively.

Public response has been good, but there have been times, especially in the beginning, when people protested their calendars. Over the last few years though, people have come to realize that their calendars, and their models, are not what they first believed and have come to respect Gary and Mel for their work. There are no nudes, no seductive poses, nothing trashy in their art. Their calendars are a celebration of fishing, hunting and biking and the human spirit.

Many calendars only hire models that are 18 to 19 years old, but Reel Fish Calendars is different. Their models range from 18 to 40 years old. "There are beautiful women of all ages," said Gary.

Producing four calendars each year is not an easy feat. It requires 48 different shoots every year at locations throughout the country. Lining up the right models is chore in itself. They usually have models they have worked with before but there are rare occasions when they use a modeling agency to refer someone.

Mel gives some last minute advice to one of the models.
The next step is finding the right locations. Each calendar is different and locations are crucial to each shot. Sometimes, getting the shot isn't as easy as it sounds either. Lighting and angles are all worked out ahead of time and then fine-tuned during the shoot.

Mel is charge of taking care of the models. She looks at their skin tone, hair and eye color, what the background will be for the shoot, including what color the boat is they will be standing in, and then chooses two or three different swimsuits for the model to choose from. In their truck, she usually has anywhere from 150 to 300 swimsuits to pick from.

Then it's time to hit the water, get to a good location and begin shooting. This is a big job. Gary does the primary shooting with his digital camera and Mel backs him up with another camera. They also bring along a digital video camera for what will become their "Behind the Scenes" video they are thinking about producing. When shooting "Beauty and the Bass" two boats are required, one for the model, the other for the photographers. Luckily, Gary and Mel have done this long enough that once they are at the location, the shoots are very fast, surprising the models who have been on shoots that can take days.

"I don't see any reason to waste a lot of time," said Gary. "We know what we want and with digital cameras we can see immediately if we have what we want, so why drag it out."

You would think that traveling around the country and taking photos would be all there is to do, but you would be wrong. After finishing the shoot, they head home to Oregon where the work really begins. They start processing the photos and laying out the calendars to get them ready for printing. In the meantime, Mel is working on keeping their seven websites up to date and filling orders. They are also lining up the shows they plan to attend and making travel arrangements and finding out which models will be able to attend the shows with them.

When the show season starts, off they go. They hitch up their fifth-wheel and start on the road again. They attend sportsmen shows, biker rallies and others. The list of shows they attend is long and they will put over 40,000 miles on their truck getting to them.

Gary Garrison get ready to take photos of the 2005 cover for Beauty and the Bass.
These shows last for days and they are working 10 to 15 hours each day, only to pack up and head off for the next one. At the shows Gary and Mel are always there and they will have one or two of their models with them signing autographs. Sometimes the calendars sell exceptionally well, other times it can be tough. But each year they have learned which shows pay off and which ones to avoid.

Even though this may sound like enough work for anyone, they are looking to expand out and start attending more shows in the eastern part of the country.

Their work had provided them with some interesting stories. At one show, they looked at the booth across the aisle and Gary went to find the show manager. "Why don't you like us?" questioned Gary.

"We like you Gary. Why would you ask that?" said the manager.

"Well, look at the booth across from us." Gary said.

The manager looked and said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I had no idea."

The booth across from Gary and Mel was a booth for an outdoors Christian's organization. Gary laughed and said not to worry about it and their neighbor never complained.

If you ever see their booth at a show, stand back and watch for a while. It' s quite humorous. There have been wives who have spotted the booth before their husband and will walk past the booth, turn and wait, to see what their husband's response will be. Others will point the booth out and ask their husbands, point-blank, what he thinks.

There have been times when a man would walk up to the booth and point at one of the posters. The girl in the poster will be blonde, and the girl in the booth is a brunette. "Is that you?" he may ask. Never realizing the hair color difference, or any other differences.

Mel has modeled for the calendars in the past and Gary has had other men ask if it bothered him to have other men looking at his wife, Gary just says, "I don't think I would want to be married to a woman that other men didn't find attractive."

If you see Gary and Mel at one of the shows, they are usually at the ISE show in Sacramento, stop by and say hello. Gary and Mel are just two down to earth people who happened to hit upon a great idea. They are warm and humorous and apparently enjoying working together, which is one of the reasons they enjoying doing this so much. They are a team.

Oh, and by the way, Gary isn't too bad at fishing either and I hear he hunts pretty well. That is, if he ever finds the time to go.