Last spring I got a phone call from friend and filmmaker extraordinaire Gilbert Rowley of Capture Adventure Media. If you have seen Modern Nymphing or have been to an International Fly Fishing Film Festival (IF4) in the last few years then you’ve seen his handiwork. Gilbert was tossing around ideas for the upcoming 2018 IF4 and wondered if I would be interested in shooting a film of a pack trip back into a bull trout bastion which we had trekked into the year before with our friend Connor Murphy. I of course said yes! If nothing else it gave me a chance to revisit this epic fishery. It all hinged on whether we could dance through the hoops needed to secure a permit for the filming. At the outset we doubted that the permit would come through but several months later Gilbert got the call that we were good to go.
As we were making preparations we found out that Connor had taken a guide job at a lodge in Alaska for the summer. Connor and I have been on several memorable pack trips together and I have thoroughly enjoyed our treks through the backcountry to find fish and solitude. I was happy that he was pursuing his dreams but admittedly disappointed that he wouldn’t be joining us on the trip. Gilbert suggested that his friend Chris Cutler of livingflylegacy.com fill in for Connor. It wasn’t until we hopped on a video conference call before the trip that I realized I knew Chris already from a class we had together while I was finishing my bachelor’s degree at Idaho State University. With the cast of characters set we prepared and waited.
In mid-August we rendezvoused at an interstate truck stop and the trip was on. We only had three days of fishing to shoot the film. This is a pretty short time compared to what most film tour submissions are shot in but I was confident the fishing would be solid and that we would have the material we needed. It ended up being the kind of trip that overused cliché terms like epic, unbelievable, and awesome were created to describe.
The first day and a half we used beastly articulated streamers attached to Euro-nymphing leaders wielded by Thomas and Thomas Avantt 10’ 6 weights (see them in our shop here). Just about anywhere we thought there would be fish we were crushed by aggressive heart stopping takes. And the hits and fish kept coming. We found them in obvious runs, undercuts, and pools. But to me the most exciting fishing was under trees and behind boulders in rapids and pocket-water. There is one rapid in particular that Connor took a swim in the year before while connected to a big bull. During filming, Gilbert hooked a massive fish there. A new tree had fallen down over the side of the river we were fishing on. The fish tore downstream and went under the tree where Gilbert couldn’t chase it. Since I was the designated net man, I thought quickly and squatted the tree so that Gilbert could get under it. Somehow after all of that Gilbert landed one of his biggest fish of the trip.
Gilbert with his pocket-water antics fish.
The evening of the second day Chris decided it was time to pull out his mouse patterns. I’ll admit that I was skeptical that we would get bull trout to come up for them. They aren’t exactly known for being surface oriented. I have always needed to bring nymphs or streamers to them, often in deep water, to get takes. However, Chris let me be the guinea pig and handed me the mouse rod to begin the experiment. It didn’t take long before my doubts were proven wrong and bull trout repeatedly blew up on the mouse. When I watch the takes on film, they remind me of the violence of watching an orca whale thrashing seals through the air. Needless to say, though we didn’t get the larger fish this way, it was some of the most visually exciting fishing I’ve experienced and it is easy to see why Chris likes fishing mouse patterns so much.
Gilbert with a fish that ate one of Chris's mouse patterns.
The last day was bittersweet knowing that we were leaving a magical river and its piscine inhabitants. It is always hard to leave a place that leaves an indelible mark when you don’t know if or when you will see it again. Sometimes it only takes a song, picking up a fly box or rod, or the smell of a certain food to bring back the memories of trips like this and the nostalgia sets in. We fished and filmed as long as we could with several iterations of the typical “I just need to end on one more fish” scenario. But as the sun angle lowered we knew we needed to rush to break camp as a long uphill hike into the dark awaited us. When it was all over, Gilbert’s car awaited us with a dead battery, which left us stranded at the trailhead for one more night. While the battery needed a jump, we all slept fully charged by the experience and the anticipation of seeing the trip on the big screen.
This Friday January 5th you can join us for the debut of Confluentus: The Merging of All Things when the IF4 premieres at the Denver Fly Fishing Show. We hope to see as many of you there as possible or at an IF4 showing down the road. And don’t worry about asking where we fished. We are all sworn to secrecy by a blood pact……
We would really like to thank our sponsors for their support. Without them, this film and trip would not have happened.