For this Fly Fishing Film Tour Behind the Lens series, we had the chance to sit down with Paul Nicoletti from Van-O-White Productions to discuss his film, Expectations. This film takes you all the way down to the Bahamas. As we all know, this part of the world is greatly impacted by devastating hurricanes. Both hurricane Irma and Dorian have seriously affected many of the island communities that benefit from anglers’ dollars. Read on to see how this fishery has recovered and how we can do our part to help.
Flylords: Tell us about yourself and your job?
Paul: “You can be a broke fisherman, but if you see the beauty in everything you have a wonderful life.” – Red Gold, a fly fishing documentary produced by Felt Soul Media was the first film that completely transformed the way I looked at the world as a young adult.
I’ve always loved documentaries and their ability to impact the way you see the world. Until taking more of a full time role with the F3T this October, I hadn’t spent more than 1 month in a particular location in over 4 years. My current job is multi-faceted. In addition to managing 25 national tour film tour showings, I have been a part of choosing films for the F3T, producing the Stonefly magazine, logistics and tour planning. Film tours are a lot of work and driving. I absolutely love it. We inspire young kids to get into fly fishing, help raise money for conservation groups around the country, and most of all, get people from different places and backgrounds stoked about fly fishing.
Flylords: Tell us how the notion of this film came about?
Paul: After working on the F3T for the last two winters I had a lot of time to hang out with audience members from around the entire country. I started to ask (everyone) two very simple questions. What did you think about the films? and why? Just like fishing, everyone has an opinion on what works and what doesn’t. I started to hear that everyone still remembered the older films like “Doc of the Drakes”. My friends and I agreed, we wanted to make a low budget film and keep it as authentic as possible. I grew up watching films like Red Gold, The Trout Bum Diaries, and Eastern Rises. I always loved watching people authentically capture what it was like to go fishing with their best friends. I guess, the notion of this film came about because we wanted to see if we could see how challenging it is to go out and make a film that the audience would like.
Flylords: Did you guys really fish the location blind and wing it?
Paul: We went in completely blind. We had no idea what we were going to find. I hate to say it, but in today’s world it’s really hard to find wild places that are lightly touched by man-kind. It evoked the question, how many un-explored destinations are still out there? For us, curiosity killed the cat. It all started when we met Will Blair. Our old bosses had connected us with Will at the Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont after a day of packing up our gear for the 2019 tour. Will didn’t know much about the fishery. He had only been once before and the weather conditions were tough. On his first visit, he saw a lot of potential because there was a nice collection of habitat, flats, and proximity to deep water. Our friend group mutually agreed that it meant there was potential to catch a wide variety of species. When we first started talking about the island with Will he admitted that he really had no idea what was there, and we appreciated Wills honesty. He promised one thing. There will be beer.
Part of our confidence in Will is based off his experience. We figured that if he could successfully own and operate a lodge for 20 years in Russia(—he’s on to something). We (Rex, Sanford, Elliot and I) were poor at the time. The thought of risking it for the bonefish biscuit became a reality. The overwhelming consensus between the group was… we never get these opportunities! Let’s go.
Flylords: What did this trip mean to you guys?
Paul: There are (4) of us in the film. I actually grew up with two of them, Elliot and Rex. Elliot used to bring a full backpack of textbook sized Cabela’s catalogs into 8th grade history class. Our teacher used to yell at us all the time for picking out our favorite lures and flies in the back of the room. A few years later I met Rex and we spent most of middle school and high school fishing wild trout streams, freshwater lakes, and the Long Island Sound. I met Sanford (the banana guy) during my first year guiding in Alaska. All together we have 3 years of time guiding and living with each other in western Alaska.
We re-ignited our love for fly fishing. When your passion becomes your job it’s easy to sometimes forget where you started. Regardless of your perspective on a fishing trip it’s easy to set expectations. At the end of the day it’s about being outside, spending time with your best friends, and living in the present.
Flylords: What’s something you learned on the trip?
Paul: Sometimes the most fascinating learning experiences appear in times during our life when we are not paying attention. Hurricane Irma ruined the island’s infrastructure two years previously and more than half of the island’s population had left after nature took its course. It left the island’s school ruined and their grid system out of power. Our lodge owner, Phicol Wallace spent some time explaining to us how hard it is to come up with a way to build a “sustainable economy on the island”. It was a learning experience to understand from our new friends the impact outside angling dollars bring into the Bahamas. After chatting more with Phicol about the social and economic impacts the island has on the Bahamas, I wanted to know more. I did a little investigating and was lucky enough to talk to Doug McKnight who works as Yellow Dog’s program manager for the Bahamas and Honduras.
We spent some time talking about the impact hurricanes have in the Bahamas. Without water and power, lodges can’t be open, but you probably want to get down to the Bahamas to fish some of those islands for a different reason. Hurricanes offer a few things that are advantageous for fish: Less angling pressure and a flush of nutrients that can improve the productivity of their food sources. The more important reason is that it helps the local economy to rebound. Yellow Dog is also responsible for creating the Yellow Dog Community and Conservation Foundation. We experienced some incredible fishing shortly after hurricane Dorian. Visit Yellow Dog and talk to Mike about which lodges were affected by Dorian.
Flylords: Why did Elliot decide to throw poppers for bonefish?
Paul: Elliot is the kind of angler who could care less about what others think. He loves to tie flies and one of his passions is being a naturalist. His attention to detail and love for nature hasn’t changed since I met the kid in 6th grade. Before finding the bonefish, Elliot had been targeting mangrove snapper, sharks, and barracuda at the random ambush points at the exit of the bay. After working past the other species he found a few pods of bonefish and he also noticed large schools of glass minnows everywhere. After catching plenty of bonefish on an array of classic flies Elliot decided to experiment with something new and started by tying on a small crease fly. He made his first cast and he got the eat!
Flylords: How did the rest of the team act once Rex caught his permit?
Paul: Our last day of fishing was a total crap shoot. We had stayed out until 3 in the morning letting loose and shark fishing off of a rocky point. The next morning was rough. After a little bit of snorkeling, everything started to come together. It all started when Sanford landed his massive barracuda and trigger fish. After a successful stint of filming and fishing, we decided to test our luck with a flat we had seen permit on earlier in the week.
It was unbelievable. Sanford was the first one to spot the permit. It was doing figure eights over a massive ray moving toward them. Sanford had three of four shots at the fish until it literally swam underneath his rod without spooking. Meanwhile Elliot is the furthest from the fish trying to hide his lama unicorn floaty. Eventually, Rex had his chance, after 4 or 5 casts he finally put his crab fly right on the back of the ray. Tensions were high for 10-15 minutes until we could get the fish close enough to the shore for Sanford to get his hands around the tail. Rex has been trying to catch a permit for 12 years. Needless to say, it was an emotional moment for everyone. The last thing we expected was catching that permit. It’s a memory we will never forget.
Flylords: Describe each member of the team with a single word.
Paul: Rex—methodical. Elliot—wizard. Sanford—passionate. Will—Charismatic.
Flylords: Do you think you’ll all be guides forever?
Paul: In some way or another. We all have found true love for watching people enjoy themselves when they catch a fish. Professional or not, I am really looking forward to taking my friends out on the water.
The interview was done by Flylords team member, Collin Terchanik, check him out on Instagram at @c_terch.
Follow along with the film tour @flyfishingfilmtour to see where they will be next!
Find out when F3T is in your town, and buy tickets before they sell out!