In a lot of ways, I started work on this film 18 years ago, when my beloved spring wild steelhead fishery on the Skykomish River closed. About 10 years ago, I’d read enough scientific papers and talked with enough scientists to understand that hatcheries were one of the primary factors in our spiraling wild salmon and steelhead populations, and that tax-paying citizens were spending billions of dollars to finance a system that didn’t work. I felt compelled to read and speak on the subject. After publishing a number of stories about the impact of hatcheries, I found myself traveling around giving a talk called “The High Cost of Hatcheries,” to crowds ranging from three people to about 100, and mostly preaching to the choir. I quickly realized that I was making almost no impact on a very contentious subject. People in the fish world had all, for the most part, made up their minds.
Fast forward a bit to three years ago. My buddy Yvon and I discussed the situation at length, and agreed that we needed to take the message to a larger audience. Patagonia, riding the success of DamNation, would make the film.
And after two long years of production, with a fantastic director, producer and crew, and the talented, guiding hands of the Patagonia film department producers, we are almost ready to show the resulting film. So yeah, I’ve been a little busy, especially during the last month, which is why I’ve been so negligent about keeping up with the blog. But I’m super excited to share the first public announcement of the project. Tomorrow morning, when the Denver Fly Fishing Show opens, these posters will be up in the Patagonia booth, along with an essay in the Patagonia Fly Fishing catalog. Still a ton of work to do, but the film itself, now called “Artifishal,” will premiere this spring. The home stretch is in sight. Here we go!
It’s not easy to leave Puget Sound in summer, especially during king salmon season, but Montana–and our friends Craig, Jackie, Finn, Dozer, Gizmo and Bee The Cat–were calling. So the kids and I traded industrial-strength downriggers and gear rods for five-weights and waders, and headed east for what turned out to be one of the best trips of our lives so far. After a couple days on the road, we had a welcome home-cooked feast of thick, juicy elk burgers at Craig and Jackie’s, then headed to the river. That’s the kids and Craig soaking up that gorgeous Montana light, waiting for the post-dinner hatch to come on.
With Craig’s expert tutelage, Skyla struck first with a gorgeous, bright rainbow that jumped five times and nearly ran out of the pool. Weston hooked a big fish at dark that did run out of the pool and under a logjam, jumping all the way. It finally broke off, and Weston, probably for the first time, felt that gut punch of a good fish getting away.
In the days that followed, we wet-waded meadow streams, hiked up boulder-filled canyons, and fished the Madison in the evenings, finding healthy, fat, drag-pulling, wild fish everywhere we went. That’s Skyla, below, with one of eight selectively feeding rainbows the kids landed one night on pink lady spinners. (Photo by Craig Mathews)
And the incredible meals from Craig and Jackie’s kitchen! I think the antelope steaks took top prize, although the ruffed-grouse-jalapeno sandwiches were right there, too, as were the elk burgers. We actually looked forward to dinners–the food, the friends, the dogs and cat–as much as the fishing. Huge thank you to Craig and Jackie for making our visit so special, and for all their conservation work that’s kept this part of the world the incredible place that it is.
One day we left the rods behind and drove through Yellowstone as pure tourists. Skyla chose the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Falls as something she wanted to see. They did not disappoint, although the hike back up to the car nearly killed me. About 3/4 of the way back up the trail, huffing, puffing and sweating, I had to take an old-guy break while the kids sprinted, yes, sprinted, past me to the top. Humbling. My cell-phone pix don’t do it justice–if you’re ever in The Park, go check out the canyon and falls. Breathtaking…in more ways than one.
Both kids fished well, even going to some single-handed Spey casting along brushy banks. Their dad about burst with pride. Watching neon-colored grayling rise up through five feet of air-clear water to eat a dry fly was a highlight.
As were chrome rainbows taking soft-hackle flies (sent to us by our friend Yvon specifically for this place) in a 30-knot headwind down in Idaho.
And yes, Weston found redemption for the big one he lost the first night.
That’s him putting the wood to something big, above, with paparazzi in tow. (Photo by Craig Mathews) And finally, after an epic battle, lifting Troutzilla for a quick picture. When he released it, he stood there with a funny look on his face. “Dad,” he said, “there’s something wrong with my hands.” He extended them for me to see–they were shaking from adrenaline. Welcome to Montana, Buddy!
This shot (yeah, that’s me) was taken by Tim Pask, one of the many great photographers featured in the new Patagonia fly fishing “brand book.” (The term “book” is used more and more loosely these days…it’s all digital. And it’s free.) Click HERE and page through the images at the top. I think it’s definitely worth a look, and if you’re like me, it’ll get you dreaming and drooling.
I was honored to contribute a short written piece at the end of the “book,” titled What Is Fly Fishing? Not sure if it really answers the question, but it was fun to write. Hope you like it.