A number of passions have their “porn”- photos or films of epic adventures that most will never experience. For the next few weeks, Montanans will cast off their lined Carhartts and cabin fever and get a taste of summer while oggling the offerings of the 2016 Fly Fishing Film Festival with other angling fanatics.
But amid the documentaries showing men perfecting marlin fishing off the Virginia coast or howling over bass fishing in Guyana, one film steps back a little from the fish fetish to present a call to action.
CHROME, a film produced by Montana-based Conservation Hawks, condenses four days of Canadian steelhead fishing into a scenic 11 minutes that Conservation Hawks director Todd Tanner hopes will move anglers to act on climate change.
It follows on the heels of Tanner’s short film CO2LD WATERS, which toured a year ago and highlighted the effect of climate change on trout fishing in Montana.
“We figured we had done trout already,” Tanner said. “We wanted to reach out to a new group of people and there’s really a subculture of anglers who can’t get enough of steelhead. It will appeal not only to steelhead folks but salmon anglers on both coasts and obviously over in Europe as well.”
Panoramic overhead shots alternate with wildlife close-ups and slow-motion casts as representatives from Orvis, Patagonia and Frigate Travel fish with Tanner on the Damdochax River in British Columbia.
As they wade in the jade-green waters and pause to flick the heavier line at fishing holes along a far pebbled bank, the speakers present their concerns about the longevity of even remote fisheries in the face of climate change.
“Chrome” is the nickname some use for steelheads, a salmonid that migrates from streams to the ocean and back again. Tanner intended to include a lot of flashy chrome in the film. But that was before the crew headed to British Columbia.
They ended up almost being skunked – they caught a few on the last day - probably because of the very threat they intended to highlight.
The water off the coast of British Columbia and southern Alaska has stayed particularly warm for the last three to four years. “The blob,” as scientists have dubbed it, prevented the upwelling of colder nutrient-rich water and that’s affected the fisheries. Fish weights and body size are down and some populations are smaller.
“I can’t say that climate change made our fishing slower, but that contribution is certainly possible,” Tanner said. “Some of the scientific studies show that salmon and steelhead will be moving north dramatically over the next 20 to 30 years. It’s just one more in the ongoing litany of negative impacts that we see on our landscapes and waters.”
Back in Montana, Tanner and his crew decided to take advantage of the situation and show some of the frustration the fishermen had experienced. Over the four-day period of the film, Orvis representative Tom Rosenbauer grows steadily more dejected, proclaiming his hatred of steelhead fishing just before he finally gets a hit. His subsequent whoops are as authentic as the river he’s wading in.
Tanner also decided to make the film a little less serious than CO2LD WATERS. So there are a handful of scenes that will no doubt prompt smiles.
“Last time, it was like sitting down with a teacher or your parents and having them say, ‘Get your shit together,’” Tanner said. “People would probably say this one is probably a little less in-your-face, a little less stern. It’s almost the old ‘a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.’”
Tanner said the early feedback from the tour’s Jan. 23 kickoff in Denver was good. If it stays that way for the next month or so, he’s already planning a third film about salt-water fishing and climate change.
“Our focus is to educate anglers and to get them as fired up as possible so they’ll sign the petition and raise holy hell with their politicians. So that we’ll actually start getting Congress involved so the U.S. leads as a nation rather than just having the executive branch issue orders that can be countermanded in the future,” Tanner said.
The 2016 Fly Fishing Film Tour dates for Montana include:
Jan. 26 – Bozeman Emerson Cultural Center, 7 p.m.
Jan. 27 – Billings Babcock Theater, 7 p.m.
Jan. 30 – Missoula Wilma Theater, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Feb. 5 – Helena Grandstreet Theater, 7 p.m.
Feb. 11 – Butte Mother Lode Theater, 7 p.m.