Want to learn about fishing? Have an urge to learn more about wildlife? Do you love snake videos on YouTube? There’s a local couple who might be just right for you.
Cole and Jay Harken started uploading videos of their wildlife adventures to their personal social media accounts for fun a few years ago. They never would have dreamed they would now have more than 200,000 followers on YouTube and be working as full-time wildlife content creators, but here they are.
The video that hit things off was no different than the rest, but for some reason, this one went viral. It was a video of Jay handling a Nerodia rhombifer, more commonly known as a diamondback water snake.
“She had posted hundreds of this type of videos before, but this one took off and got millions and millions of views,” Cole said.
The newfound attention came at a time when Cole and Jay had finished college — him with a degree in wildlife management and hers in environmental studies — but were unsure what they wanted to do next.
“I knew from an early age I wanted a different career path,” Cole said. “When I worked normal jobs or retail jobs in school, I wasn’t happy. I was always trying to get back outside and follow my dreams.”
Jay’s video popularity came as a lot of other YouTubers were finding success posting fishing and wildlife videos, so Cole and Jay decided to give it a shot.
“We made a YouTube channel and started posting,” Cole said. “We didn’t expect anything from it, but we got traction and got to where our channel was monetized.”
The duo’s first upload netted nearly 10,000 views and by their fifth video, they’d reached more than 870,000 views. Some of their more popular uploads — including fishing for bullfrogs and snake encounters — have eclipsed a million views.
The couple’s most popular upload to date is a 13-minute video where they gave one of the butterflies they’d raised a new wing.
“We want to entertain folks and get them excited about going outside and learning about wildlife,” Cole said.
When the YouTube venture started, Cole made a deal that he’d quit his part-time retail job if they reached 100,000 followers. The couple now have more 200,000 subscribers and average tens of thousands of views on their uploads, which sees the couple exploring the Natural State and its beauty.
A search of their channel shows a bevy of fishing outings, peppered with snake catching, cooking and storage tips, and family outings with their son, Cypress. The couple try and upload 3 to 5 videos each week of their outings.
“It takes a lot to make a living on YouTube,” Cole said. “But it’s nice to work for ourselves, do what we enjoy and work at our own pace.”
While they may not be using their education in the traditional sense, Cole and Jay are using their love of the outdoors to inspire and encourage others to get out and enjoy the beauty around them.
“Being outside boosts your physical and mental health,” Cole said. “You have time to focus on yourself and what’s around you.”
Q&A with Cole & Jay
How did you two meet and how did your outdoor exploring begin?
We met at Arkansas State University. We found we had a mutual interest in the outdoors, so our first several dates were just fishing trips. I (Cole) was into herping (searching for and catching amphibians and reptiles) so I took Jay to catch snakes and turtles and she got into it so that’s all we did after that, along with fishing.
What are the opportunities to get outdoors around Conway?
The epicenter of Conway outdoors is Lake Conway and the surrounding areas. Not everyone has a boat or kayak, but if you do, you can get into one of the creeks of the lake and see some amazing wildlife and some great scenery.
Another area is Beaverfork Lake. You have fishing and water recreation, but also disc golf and large fields to go throw a frisbee or a baseball and just have fun. You can also go walk one of the many trails in Conway. We spend a lot of time at Kinley Trail at Tucker Creek and as you may have seen in our videos, there’s a lot of wildlife to be seen in the creek.
What is a hidden gem in Conway?
We just discovered this place a few years ago, but the Camp Robinson Wildlife Management Area. There’s an auto tour you can drive and the area is a savannah-type with oak trees. From May to July, it’s loaded with wildflowers and birds and butterflies. It is breathtaking.
Many times, we over plan when we decide to go outdoors. Your videos seem to show a lot of planning doesn’t have to go into a successful time outdoors.
We are guilty of overplanning, too. We’ve found when we do a lot of planning for our videos, we tend to fail miserably. When we just say, “we’re going to drive to this spot and go,” the trips are more fun, we don’t have any expectations and it just plays itself out.
Conway has a lot of public access fishing areas, trails and parks, so there are plenty of opportunities to just go and do.
What advice do you share with people about snake encounters in the wild?
Whenever you see a snake in the wild, you’ve entered into its safe place and domain. Snakes are generally aware of you before you’re aware of them. A snake isn’t going to chase you down and try to bite you; that’s a myth. There can be times when you’re in a boat and a snake will slide down the bank and may cruise next to your boat or kayak, but it’s doing that because it doesn’t see you as a threat, so you shouldn’t see it as a threat, either.
When people get bit, it’s usually from handling improperly or harassing the snake. Arkansas only has six venomous snakes. Most of the snakes we encounter around the state and Conway are non-venomous. We encourage people to familiarize themselves with the markings of the venomous snakes, they are easy to learn.
What advice do you share with parents who want to take kids out?
It’s all about presentation with kids. They have the curiosity to be outside and learn. Make the trip about them and what they want to do. If they have a positive experience, they’re likely to want to go again.
Don’t take a kid fishing for the first time when it’s cold and rainy or to a difficult spot where you don’t catch anything. Set yourself up for success.