It is difficult to find a species more iconic to the East Coast than the Striped Bass. Every year, Stripers migrate between their spawning grounds in bays and rivers as far south as the Carolinas to their summer waters of New England and Canada. This migration has anglers all over the East Coast running down to their favorite beaches, flats, estuaries, rocks, and shoals to get a shot at what some dub to be “The Perfect Sportfish”. As fly anglers, we get to experience just about every side of Striped Bass, whether they are cruising along a shallow flat looking for crabs or violently charging squid on an open-water rip, we have developed a great appreciation and love for these fish. Unfortunately, over the past few years due mostly to overfishing, the Stripers we all know and love are in danger. Clearly, something needs to be done to bring the Striped Bass stocks back to their once-thriving numbers, but how we do that is still undecided.
The film “Hardlined”, in this year’s Fly Fishing Film Tour tells the story of the Striped Bass and offers insight on a solution to this problem; and of course, highlights what an awesome fishery these Stripers have to offer. For this installment of F3T Behind The Lens, we sat down with Chris Kitchen and Rex Messing to talk about their film.
Flylords: So, who are you guys?
Chris: I am Chris Kitchen, a self-started filmmaker, director, producer, and whatnot. KGB Productions is my company where we have a couple of guys that work for us and a bunch of freelancers. We’re just trying to make cool outdoor commercials and films that tell people’s stories as effectively as possible. We do dabble in some commercial work too, but we love the outdoor work more. It’s a collaboration of a bunch of different people who come together to make films, but I’m the principal owner-director guy.
Rex: My name is Rex Messing. I am the brand communications producer for Simms Fishing Products. I am also formally the Northeast community leader for Simms, so I’m very mentally invested in all things East Coast. I work with guides, non-profit organizations, different events, and just to try and build the Simms name out on the East coast and get Simms involved with any of the conservation issues out there. Also, I work on any of our marketing materials, including videos, photoshoots, and any commercial projects we’re working on.
Flylords: What is your film called and what is it about?
Chris: Our film this year is called Hardlined and it is about Striped Bass. More specifically, it’s a conservation-focused film about the Striped Bass and their legacy. They almost got over-fished in the late seventies/early eighties, and they had this amazing comeback, some would say the best comeback ever in fisheries history. They’re such an iconic fish. If you are in New England or anywhere on the Eastern seaboard as a fisherman, you’ve probably fished for Striped Bass, it’s the entry fish that everybody gets into. It’s also the biggest fish and a huge fighter. Everybody loves them! They’re currently on another decline due to mostly overfishing.
The film is a celebration of how awesome the fish and the fishery is and all the people involved in it, but it’s also a call to action. What I like about this story is it is unlike a lot of conservation stories, which are super complex, the solutions aren’t that easy; the solution to this is actually relatively easy. With some fisheries management and regulation, we can really help this fish population out.
Flylords: Why did you choose this story to tell?
Chris: I chose to make this film because we enjoy good conservation-oriented stories and we’d been hearing a lot about the Striped Bass recently and what’s going on with them. The East coast is such a big fishing community that I don’t think gets represented that well in all these films. The whole zone is pretty fishy. We definitely wanted to focus on the East coast and we wanted to tell a great story, so there’s nothing more iconic than the Striped Bass.
Flylords: From the flats of Maine to the Vineyard rips, to the wide-open blitzes of Montauk, you clearly experienced some epic fishing. If you had to give a summary of “Fly Fishing for Striped Bass as a whole”, what would you say?
Rex: It’s just such a diverse fishery. These fish occupy so many different environments. They’re so interesting in all of these different situations. They act really, really uniquely in each of the places that they’re at. Like on the flats, when they’re cruising along looking for crabs, it’s so similar to any of your traditional flats fishing down south. But, if you go out to the rips of Montauk, they’re angry. They’re just pissed off and trying to gorge and get as much food as possible.
You can find any style of fishing that suits your interests in these fish and they’re easy to access. You don’t need a ton of money to do it and you can go out on any given morning during the season and have a chance at catching fish, wherever you’re at and however you want to do it.
Flylords: In the film, you said you were not pushing for a moratorium, but you said the Bass need a break. What are some of the solutions being discussed for Striped Bass fisheries management and what is your opinion on them?
Chris: In the film, we’re reiterating what people that are respected in the industry have to say. Their general recommendation is to limit the amount of fish you can keep, and change some of the regulations around harvesting the Bass. Right now, in one state you can kill juvenile fish, and the next state over you can kill spawning-age females, and then the next state over you can only kill any fish over 40 inches. With these scattered regulations, no class has a chance, right? So, to me the biggest thing that would benefit the Striped Bass the most is if people can agree on coast-wide management plans, not state-by-state piecemeal plans.
Rex: My opinion is that we should be protecting the fish that stand the best chance of rebuilding this population. We experienced the moratorium in the ’80s that was super successful, and the reason it was so successful was that we had one good class of fish left and the managers of the fishery realized that those fish needed to be protected.
Right now, we’re in a situation where our best year class is the 2015’s and they are about to hit the size limit. For me, those fish should not be getting killed. If we’re going to do anything with a kill fishery, it should be one fish over 36 inches and that’s what a lot of the people that are in touch with the science are saying as well.
The trouble is there are just so many states that are looking out for their own fisheries best interests, whereas we really need to think about this fishery as a whole and get behind the idea that there are certain fish that really do need to be protected and we need to protect these fish to give them a chance to spawn before they’re even considered being killed.
Flylords: What would you say to anglers who think “I just want to go fishing and not worry about fish populations and environmental problems”?
Rex: I would say that you can’t go fishing if there’s no fish. That’s just the reality of the situation. It’s such a fluid fishery that if you want to be able to go out and enjoy the resource, you have to think about what’s going on behind the scenes and what your impact actually is. If you want to be able to go out and have a good time catching fish, you have to think about what’s going on with the bigger population and what environmental issues are affecting it. It’s impossible to be completely ignorant and hope that you can continue to do it the next day.
Flylords: What is the main thing that you hope people watching your film will take away from it?
Chris: We want viewers to take away, one, that Stripers are an amazing fish. It’s a great fishery. We all want New England to get the credit it deserves. I also want people to take home the fact that the solution to this problem is easy. We can solve this problem. We can all do something, whether that’s, pushing for better regulations, paying attention to legislation, calling your Congressman, or donating money and volunteering. Or like we just said, simply releasing fish properly, releasing more fish, and doing it the way that they survive more.
Flylords: You filmed in a lot of places with a lot of people for this project, what was the most memorable moment?
Chris: It was Montauk. I mean, Paul Dixon is a legend. He’s been fishing for Striped Bass forever and figured out how to do it on the fly. I said to him, “I want to see blitzing fish. That’s the only thing we haven’t seen.” He told us to come down there in October and we came, and it was, as you see in the film, mind-blowing. It was as good as it can get. Another piece on the conservation side of that Montauk trip was that we were out there for four days, and there was crazy blitzing every single day. But then to hear the locals talk about, the fact that there was a seven-year period where this just didn’t happen. And that was recent. These insane blitzes have only appeared in the last couple of years.
Flylords: There were some incredible drone shots in the film, what is it like trying to capture those moments with the drone?
Rex: It really just boils down to a lot of time on the water. While we were with the film crew, it was a little more challenging for sure. We had anglers running around, boats constantly changing angles trying to figure out where the best view was going to be, just all-around chaos. It’s just tricky, but those fish were pretty cooperative for the most part. We definitely missed a lot of really good shots where the drone just wasn’t quite in the right spot at the right time, but it was just a lot of hours and we were pretty fortunate to be able to have the drone in the air for some incredible, incredible days.
Flylords: What is next for you both?
Chris: We actually have a last-minute super exciting project going on where we are going to be sailing around Belize and Mexico for almost a month, starting in two weeks.
Rex: Yeah, Simms is getting behind that project as well, so we’re supporting those guys on that adventure. I’m very excited to see how that one goes. Personally, I’m just running around, trying to get a whole bunch of stuff worked on for Simms and hopefully catching a few fish along the way.
Flylords: Any last comments before we finish up?
Rex: Yeah. This has been a story I’ve really wanted to tell for the last several years and I’m really, really happy that KGB shared the vision and that we were able to tell a compelling story and hopefully help these fish, while still showcasing the badass fishery that it is. It might not be in its best state, but there’s still unbelievable fishing to be had. We just really need to think about what the future holds for these fish and hopefully, everything in the film gets that message across. I just feel really fortunate that we were able to spend the time this summer, despite all the craziness that was going on with Covid and be able to put together a project that I think is hopefully going to be very powerful.
Also, follow along with the film tour @flyfishingfilmtour on Instagram.