We here at Fishing Jones are enjoying the maturation of the fly fishing video genre into something beyond the instructional or extreme categories. From Red Gold, to Drift, to the rediscovery of Tarpon, we like where things are going. Add to this our expectations for the upcoming documentary-style movie Rivers of a Lost Coast, which focuses on California’s rich fly fishing history. After viewing the Vimeo trailer and reading the pre-release information on the blog, we decided to ask the filmmakers, Justin Coupe and Palmer Taylor, a few basic questions:
It’s not often we get a fly fishing film that focuses on the past rather than the present. What inspired you to tell this story?
It started when we first started going over to the coast about 7-8 years ago. There was a guy named George Innes form Woodland, CA. who used to tell us stories about Bill Schaadt, Walt Bennett, Jim Golden, Jim Peas and a couple other early fly anglers from the Russian and Gualala Rivers. George himself was a phenomenal angler, tough to impress, secretive and had loads of experience. We could point to any body of water on a map in California and there was about an 85% chance George had fished it. I’m sure that sounds like we’re filling you with B.S., but it’s true. George knew his sh*t. So when George talked about these early pioneers and their incredible casting abilities, their drive, their ingenuity, they were almost immediately elevated to a mythical status.
The other thing about the coast was, that when we first started going over there, everybody was quite a bit older than us. There just weren’t many young anglers taking an interest in the sport (mainly because of its difficulty, its very low returns, a high-bar of entry and the demanding nature). So as we became more and more entranced with the history of California’s coastal fly fishing, we were also always aware that it was a dying entity.
To a certain level, we felt like we were the only people who would have the time, energy, resources and passion to do a project like this. That may or may not be true, but that was the way the way we felt. Because of that there was a small level of obligation we put on ourselves. As filmmakers and fishermen in California, we felt we needed to tell this story before it slipped away and was forgotten.
The film covers a lot of ground on a fly fishing culture that evolved and took place 30, 40, even 50 years ago. How hard was it to unearth this story and put it all together? How long did it take you?
Research took 18 full months. We spent a lot of time in the California Library’s History and Special Collections rooms. We also spent a decent amount of time at the Humboldt State Library and various Historical societies across the state.
We spent a lot of time on the phone. There wasn’t a whole wealth of info online so it wasn’t like writing a term paper. We relied on personal accounts and drove to a lot of houses to meet in person. The most difficult thing about the research was gaining the trust of the older generation.
In California (and we imagine in Washington and Oregon), the serious coastal fly anglers are a little secretive fraternity. They are extremely wary of giving information to anyone. A few people had tried and failed with similar projects in the past and many of the fishermen felt burned or slighted. There are also always a lot of politics when you’re dealing with fisheries and people wanted to make sure we didn’t have any hidden agendas before they started working with us. Longtime coastal fly anglers Dean and Peggy Quaid of Fort Bragg helped vouch that we weren’t bad kids and I think that made a big difference within the spider web.
The hardest part about the actual story was shifting through all the research and making those really tough decisions about who, when and what we were going to focus on.
Every good story features conflict. The trailer and pre-press materials allude to conflict between two icons of this particular fishing scene: Bill Schaadt and Ted Lindner. How serious was this conflict and how prominently does it play out in your film?
When Bill Schaadt died, Ted Lindner asked where his gravestone was so he could go piss on it. There was no love lost between the two. We use their deteriorating relationship as a metaphor for the deteriorating fisheries.
What did these guys, and all of the people mentioned in the film, contribute to modern fly fishing? How did they influence the sport as we know it today?
Most of the innovation in California came out of the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club in San Francisco. A lot of the stuff that we take for granted today was designed and refined back in the 40s and 50s by the GGACC, Winston, Powell, Sunset Line, Jimmy Green, Pete Schwab, Jim Pray, Myron Gregory, Buddy Tarantino, Phil Mirravelle.
A lot of the innovation in sinking lines, fiberglass one-hand rod distance casting, pram fishing and shooting heads came out of the Bay Area. Jimmy Green, who later in life was associated with the Clearwater and Grande Ronde, was instrumental early on in distance casting innovation.
These guys were to a certain extent the founders of that “push the boundaries” attitude of fly fishing that is really popular today.
The film also carries an environmental message. What can we learn from the film about how to protect our own waters?
The overwhelming message of the film is it happens fast. In Oregon and Washington steelhead and salmon are much more in the public eye, so you have better networks to protect the fish. Fish in California haven’t been in the papers until very very recently. California can still protect its fish and improve the runs, but massive amounts of irreversible damage have already happened down here. That’s the sad truth. California was the guinea pig everybody else should learn from. In Rivers of a Lost Coast we show how the state never really made fisheries a priority and the anglers themselves didn’t organize soon enough to have an impact when it was needed. What Oregon and Washington anglers will learn from Rivers of a Lost Coast is be on-guard and work to protect things when they’re healthy not after they disappear. One day everything seems great and then all of a sudden . . .