For our latest video of the week, we had the chance to catch up with Chase Bartee of Tight Loops Fly and ask him a few questions about their film BIG LAND. You can see the full film HERE.
Fly Lords: How did the idea first come about to go on this trip?
Chase: I think it started the way most crazy ideas do; half jokingly. We’d stumbled on this 15 year old article about a “first ascent” fishing expedition in the area and joked about how we should go there some day. I think we’re reaching the age where we realize that time isn’t stretching out in front of us forever anymore, and just decided to say screw it, why couldn’t we just manifest this dream into reality?
Fly Lords: Why did you decide to go with a canoe?
Chase: A lot of reasons, but I think the chief one fell in line with the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” It might be a little lost on most people in the lower 48, but in Canada (and certain parts of the US, Maine and Minnesota come to mind) canoe culture is this whole other thing. First Nations peoples as well as later European fur traders have been crisscrossing the Canadian shield in canoes for centuries. It’s a vessel that was born out of that environment, and there’s this whole magical world around canoe based travel that’s still alive and well up there. It only made sense to do it that way. Didn’t really even feel like a choice to be honest.
Fly Lords: How many days did you all spend out in the wilderness? How many miles of water do you think you covered?
Chase: We spent 13 days in the bush, plus another 7 or 8 in travel. Its a three day process on either end to get within striking distance, and when it comes to flying planes in the north you can pretty much guarantee some weather delays. By the time we were back home in our best it took the better part of a month. As for water It’s a little convoluted, because we crossed our route up and down a couple of times. Anywhere between 20-40 miles most likely.
Fly Lords: What was your favorite moment of the trip?
Chase: Gosh, there were so many. This might be an obvious one, but I think when we finally found the fish and everyone was hooking up on mice in the middle of the day was something I’ll never forget. There was this crazy tension leading up to that point. We’d all put our lives on serious hold and dumped a ton of money into this trip, which at the end of the day had a sort of open ended promise of fish. We’d guranteed a film to sponsors etc, and when we couldn’t find them, I think everyone started to feel a little desperate. That’s the downside of fly fishing filmmaking, is there’s a lot of expectations. As the team leader/trip organizer I felt that the most probably. I had to spend a lot of time selling everyone on this trip (I don’t want to sound like I twisted anyones arm, but a trip like this is a big ask) and when it started to look like the whole thing was going to be a flop as far as fish were concerned I was really feeling the pressure. When we finally found the fish everyone was screaming and just laughing and high fiving. I don’t think I’ve celebrated catching a fish like that since I was a kid. I can still remember that feeling of immense joy and relief vividly. If I could bottle that and sell it I’d be a rich man.
Fly Lords: What kept you motivated when you weren’t catching fish at first?
Chase: It’s hard for me to answer that, because as I said above I’ve got all this other stuff wrapped up in it as a filmmaker. So in that sense the motivation just comes from a strong work ethic. I’d been working on getting there and getting fish on camera for nearly a year at that point. Not following through wasn’t really an option. But I will say this; the trip was about a lot more than just fish. All 4 of us were there because we have a deep wilderness itch we can never seem to scratch. We were there to live life in simpler terms, and experience something you can’t get anywhere else. Waking up every day knowing you’re a month of travel on foot form the nearest person in every direction was all the motivation we needed. I dream about Labrador almost every night now, and most of those dreams don’t have fish in them.
Fly Lords: What advice would you have to anyone wanting to plan their own trip out to the wilderness?
Chase: Take it seriously. It’s not a day hike at your nearest State Park (though you can find yourself in a lot of trouble even there). If you’re serious about getting into wilderness, real, no joke wilderness, you need to make sure you’re prepared 10 times over. You may watch the film and think that it looks like a lot of fun, but it took a year of intense logistical research and planning, training, a good $15K (filmmaking aside) in gear and travel, and 4 serious global rescue insurance plans. People die every year in remote places because they’ve been reading about them in books or watching videos online and think they can handle themselves. Never underestimate the potential for a dangerous escalation, and plan accordingly because it’s life and death out there. For us, it feels like we’re dying slowly at home if we aren’t taking steps to get out and do things like this, so we do what we have to to make it happen.
Fly Lords: Do you plan on making it back to Labrador?
Chase: We’ve actually got two more trips lined up for this summer. These are a little more straight forward; we made some friends with lodges during this whole thing and they’ve invited us for some good old fashioned guaranteed great fishing. It will be a welcome reprieve, but we’re already planning a trip back to do a major river “source to sea” in the coming years. We’ve come to really love the days of river travel, and are looking forward that a trip thats more focused on covering ground than finding fish.
Be sure to check out the full film to see all of the epic adventures that Chase and his crew experienced on this trip! You can see the full film HERE.
Interview conducted by Fly Lords team member Conner Grimes.