For this installment of F3T Behind the Lens, we check in with filmmakers Chase White and Jordie Lepage to discuss their latest film “Common Ground”. The film takes us north to British Columbia, where a husband and wife duo, Missy and Darren own an intimate steelhead lodge nestled on the shores of the mighty Skeena River. This is not your normal fishing lodge it’s one big family. And in this family, everyone is brought together by common ground.
FLYLORDS: How did this film turn from an idea to a reality?
CHASE: As both outdoorsmen and creatives we’re drawn to the Skeena Valley. If you’re an angler, there’s no better place in the world to pursue the connection with a wild steelhead. And if you’re a creative, the opportunity to bottle that up and share it with the world is super compelling. That said, after initially meeting Missy & Darren from The Steelhead House a year earlier, I just knew there was a big opportunity to combine this into something that will inspire people around the world to both connect with the fish, and also to protect them. That was really the inception, the rest is really just production work of connecting everyone’s aligned interests.
FLYLORDS: The Steelhead House seems like a special place, what makes it this way?
CHASE: Missy & Darren are just awesome. They’re like the brother/sister/aunt/uncle that you can’t help but have a very natural connection with. And their DNA is in everything about that lodge – from the structure of the house to the knots in the tippet. When you have two people like that who have deep experience in both the area and industry (and great taste in outdoor experiences) you get The Steelhead House. A warm, unique outdoor experience unlike anything else. It is steeped in the community they foster. And in that community, it always comes back to the fish.
JORDIE: Missy and Darren are what make the Steelhead House what it is. They each have a deep passion for what they provide. Whether it’s on the water or at the dinner table they are always striving to provide the most tailored experience you’ve ever had. They basically bring you into the family and treat you as such.
FLYLORDS: The film portrays “steelhead” as the glue to the community, what is so special about steelhead?
CHASE: For recreational anglers in the river, they’re really just the perfect target species. From where they live to the way they’ll take a fly, to the unforgettable war that ensues when the stars align… They’re as aggressive as they are magical. And that’s all compounded by the mythical journey these fish take as they migrate from the salt to freshwater. Like most steelhead anglers, I’m pretty sure I can remember every single steelhead I’ve ever landed. They become burned into your memory. Like Ray Makowichuk said in Leap Year, “You just never forget them.”
JORDIE: I’d have to say that steelhead are the conduit to strong relationships, good or bad. They can bring people together but at the same time they can really divide a community if people disagree on management practices. In any community that you find steelhead you’re going to find people on both sides of conservation.
FLYLORDS: If you could describe the Steelhead House operation in one or two sentence/s what would it be?
CHASE: They’re a small operation but they are very dialed. Nothing is overlooked. It’s casual and fun, but very much designed for the die hard spey angler. Simply put, if you’re looking to chase wild steelhead on the main stem Skeena, you’re gonna have a good time with Missy and Darren. They’re beloved legends.
JORDIE: It’s an amazing place to call home for a week and you will want to revisit for years to come.
FLYLORDS: What was it like hanging out with Darren and Missy?
CHASE: You know how you feel deeply rejuvenated after you spend time with your family? It’s like that. They’re a wonderful family that extends from the community to the fishery.
JORDIE: Darren is so passionate about steelhead and has so many great stories that it’s impossible not to find a common thread. Missy is so caring and just wanted us to have the best day on the water (and have the best food). She really felt like a sister to me. Together they really make an amazing team.
FLYLORDS: Let’s talk about fishing, what type of fishing were you doing and what kind of gear was the team using?
CHASE: In this world, it’s all about the swung fly. Whether with a dry fly on a dry line or a wet fly with a light sink tip, the two-hander reigns supreme. We specifically gravitated towards the Sage IGNITER 8136-4 on this shoot because it allows you to make big casts (even in the afternoon wind) with longer-belly shooting heads while also giving the angler the power to turn heads of bigger fish, which in this case are typically 30-40 inch wild steelhead. We also leaned heavily on the impeccably-designed rain gear and waders from Simms. In northern British Columbia, there’s no bad weather, only bad preparation. With their made-to-fish layering systems, we were always well prepared for anything that Mother Nature threw at us both on and off the river. Highly recommended.
FLYLORDS: Any memorable fish moments? Can you walk us through the most memorable moment of the trip?
CHASE: Ah man… The one that got away. As an angler, they haunt us. But as a filmmaker, it’s true torture. After a few days, Missy hooked into what was easily the biggest steelhead I’ve ever personally seen. Of course chaos ensued. We all watched the fly come unbuttoned mid-air on the last jump, as if it was in slow motion. Missy and I were both stoked and gutted. And to be honest with you, I’m still not over it. Maybe I should see some kind of sports psychologist to work through it?
JORDIE: Definitely the most memorable fish moment was the fish that rose to Missy’s dry fly. I didn’t even see it because I had just changed positions to shoot Darren but Chase was losing his mind at the size of it… When it spat the hook Darren described the splash as sounding like a refrigerator dropping into the water.
FLYLORDS: Any difficulties filming? Multiple days without fish? Or disaster stories from the production?
CHASE: Well for some of the filming, we had to row our own media boat through some pretty techy class-3 water with about $100k worth of equipment in a raft that had definitely “lived a life”. I remember once when Jordie and I were on a cut bank filming down-river with the drone when our bear-dog started yelping. Darren (across the river) then yelled out, “Hey guys, bear coming your way!” Instantly panicked, we’re frantically trying to get the drone back safely. Jordie responded, “Grizzly?!” Darren yells back exactly what we didn’t want to hear: “Big one!”… We pretty much crash landed the drone into our arms as we dove into the raft, only to see a Volkswagen-sized grizzly just below the bank from where we were (and closing the distance). I’ve lived in bear country for years and I’ve never seen a bear that big.
FLYLORDS: Last year your guy’s film “Leap Year” went into the struggles that many Canadian fishing lodges and guides went through during the pandemic. How is the Steelhead House doing with the ups and downs of the pandemic and steelhead numbers being lower than the 10-year average?
CHASE: Steelhead are a really interesting species, and for those who really know, there are still reasons to be hopeful. And no one knows these fish more intimately than Darren and Missy from the Steelhead House. They are part of their family. So, I would say they are both optimistic and energized to see what lies ahead while they do what they can to fight on behalf of the fish. They are participant stewards – exactly the type of people you want guiding others on the river with fish that are as special to us as steelhead are.
JORDIE: Darren credits Missy and her business sense for getting through the pandemic. Deep down I think that there is a bit of optimism in every steelheader, and Missy and Darren are no different. They are optimistic that things can turn around but they also know that they need to adapt to a changing fishery and contribute to conserving it.
FLYLORDS: What message are you hoping viewers walk away with?
CHASE: Really, I just want people to enjoy this example of how impactful angling can be to someone’s life, and a community as a whole. Not necessarily because it’s work, but rather because it brings people together in ways that are life-changing. That is finding Common Ground. Missy and Darren’s lives would be dramatically different if it weren’t for their love of angling and spending time on the river. Make no mistake about it: This is not sitting down at the pond with your pole and your bobber. This is a lifelong obsession they share that has singularly brought them together in ways they never could have imagined. Like the rocks in the river worn smooth from years of changing currents, it has shaped who they are.
JORDIE: I want people to realize that the relationships that we build on the water are going to outlast any problems that we might encounter and they might be all that we have left if we fail to protect the fish that we do have.
FLYLORDS: Anything else you want to add about the film?
CHASE: With all the talk about the lower-than-average numbers on the Skeena system this year, we specifically did not want to make a “fish porn” film. That sort of thing felt a bit tone-deaf, and we much more preferably leaned into the characters, culture, and overall impact that this angling life can have on someone. And ultimately I couldn’t be more glad we did. Will there be more fish porn in future films? Maybe, maybe not. Ultimately, that’s not why we love this life of angling adventures. These moments we share together in-between fish are what we really love. And that’s what we’re proud to share in this film.
ABOUT THE CREW: CHASE WHITE & JORDIE LEPAGE
Coming off the heels of their short film, Leap Year, Common Ground is the sophomore piece from the duo. Leap Year garnered enthusiastic acceptances into five film festivals, including awards such as “Best Cinematography in a Short Film”, and is now available to watch for free on YouTube:
More about Chase: Chase White is a commercial and editorial outdoor photographer based in Squamish, British Columbia. Often documenting the places and experiences that define The British Columbia experience, he draws his creative inspiration from nature and the outdoor pursuits that make people feel thrilled to be alive. His work has been featured in publications, films, and with brands around the world. As an avid fly angler, when Chase is not working, you can likely find him on his home river with his wife Lindsay, son Waylon, and their pup Ted on the hunt for an encounter with a wild fish.
You can follow Chase on Instagram at @anadromous.
More about Jordie: Jordie Lepage is the director and co-founder of TOPO Films, based in Vancouver’s backyard, Squamish, British Columbia. With extensive experience working behind the lens on small and large teams alike, Jordie is an adventurer with the technical skills to bring hard-to-reach visions to life. When Jordie isn’t working, you can often find him cruising the river with his dog, mountain biking or tying flies for his next steelhead outing.
You can follow Jordie on Instagram at @jordielepage.