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Video of the Week: Fly Fish Hunter’s Insane 150 Foot Cliff Boat Launch

Image Courtesy: Fly Fish Hunter

In this weeks episode of Video of the Week we catch up Fly Fish Hunter and his crazy launch to pursue winter steelhead on the Oregon coast. After rolling up to a zoo of a boat launch he decided to do something most of us wouldn’t dare attempt. A hard boat and an extremely primitive boat launch. A 3 drag system, a belay, plus a hope, and a prayer gets these guys where most don’t go. Not only do they get to enjoy a section of river seldom seen but they also happen to catch an awesome chromer in the heavy rain. Sit down and enjoy the craziness!

Check out his YouTube page here for more rad videos: Fly Fish Hunter 

Make sure to check out these awesome articles as well!

A Beginner’s Ode to Swinging Flies for Steelhead

Making the Switch Part 2: Switch or Spey

Video of the Week: IQALUK – A Hooke Film

Trophy Striped Bass Tips with Capt. Matt Zimmerman

I first met Matt Zimmerman, a.k.a. Zimm, in the summer of 2018 when I moved to Massachusetts for a seasonal job. We spent the rest of that summer meeting up at a boat ramp at 4:30 AM to chase busting bass before work. One of these mornings, I got to witness something truly incredible, a boat side eat from a 45″ cow striper in the wash. Now I’ve never personally hooked into a true “cow” striper like that, but needless to say after witnessing that go down on the bow, I knew I needed to chat with Zimm before this Striped Bass season to attempt to glean some tips and tricks!

Flylords: What setups are you using when you’re targeting larger bass?

I’ve been fishing Cheeky Limitless 425 and Boost 400 reels paired with intermediate, and 350g sink tips. For rods, whatever isn’t broken, mainly 8-10 WT Orvis Helios 3D rods

Flylords: Any tips for fishing off a boat for stripers in the open water?

Having confidence is the name of the game. Knowing how to identify “fishy water”. Birds & bait are the #1 indicators, especially in moving water around the sub-surface structure. Sometimes you’ll even smell the bait before you see it. Spend time learning areas, fish are only going to be in certain areas during specific tides. Just because you don’t catch big fish in areas doesn’t mean they aren’t there. 

Secondly, practice your double haul. It’s the difference-maker between casting, and “fishing”. Being in the zone, presenting your fly the right way. “Fewer casts” are better, no more than 2-3 backcasts, and let it fly.

Flylords: What is your most memorable trophy striper to date?

 

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That’s a tough one, you never forget your first 40” on the fly. But I’d have to say my most memorable was w/ you Dan, a 45” tank that ate boatside in the rocks out of my 12’ “ Tin Whistle”. Since then, I have landed a few fish in the 48-49” range. 

What tactics have you found most successful to get those large stripers to take a fly?

  • Being in the zone, tight to the rocks where most boats feel uncomfortable. 
  • Large 8” flies to imitate the mackerel/bunker we have locally.
  • ALWAYS watching my fly, looking for any signs of a bass slowly following. They are lazy, 90% of my big fish come within feet of my boat. 
  • Strip to the tip, and hit ’em hard!
  • Don’t palm the reel, let your drag/rod do what they are supposed to.

Where can people find and book your guided trips?

Currently, it’s all word of mouth through Instagram. My personal account is @mzimm03 or my charter page @backeddycharters – Located on the North Shore of Massachusetts. 

TU Costa 5 Rivers Angler Spotlight: Eeland Stribling

Eeland Stribling has been a part of Trout Unlimited's 5 Rivers college program since he was in college at Colorado State University.

The Trout Unlimited Costa 5 Rivers Program is community of over 140 College conservation–focused angling clubs around the country that seeks to engage the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts through recreational fishing and advocacy for the fisheries that unite us. In this TU Costa 5 Rivers Angler Spotlight, we highlight Eeland Stribling.

Eeland is a wildlife biologist, comedian, and former club member of the fly-fishing club at Colorado State University (@csuflyfishing). Eeland is passionate about sharing his fly fishing and conservation knowledge with others through his work with @brownfolksfishing@lincolnhillscares, and his career with @coparkswildlife.

He takes passion in teaching Colorado youth about the importance of proper wildlife stewardship and ethical fishing practices. Check out the video below to learn more about Eeland and his involvement in the fly fishing community.

Find out more about Eeland by following @blacksteveirwin! For more information or to start your own TU Costa 5 Rivers college angling community on your campus, visit www.tu.org/5rivers.

Trout Unlimited Costa 5 Rivers 2021 Program

 

Costa Sunglasses Launches New PRO Series

From Costa Del Mar Sunglasses:

Costa Sunglasses overhauled two of its most trusted and well-loved frames this season, the Blackfin PRO and Fantail PRO – because the best can always get better. The new frames build on Costa’s commitment to be the best on the water with an entirely new set of features – six to be exact – that help keep your vision clear, and your frames locked in place so you can stay focused on finding fish.

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For more than 38 years, Costa has built a reputation for being the best sunglasses on the water. The brand’s legacy continues into spring 2021, as it perfects its offering in core performance eyewear for anglers and anyone who spends long days on the water. The new frames feature:

  • Sweat channels and eyewire drains to help keep you cool and your vision clear
  • Improved Hydrolite® grips to keep your frames comfortably in place
  • Fully adjustable ventilated nose pads for a customizable fit and reduced fogging
  • Side shields and hooding to keep light from leaking in
  • Metal Keeper slots to “keep” your frames from going overboard

Lastly, and arguably one of the most important performance features, the new frames have Costa’s polarized, color-enhancing 580® Glass lens technology for PRO-level clarity. The scratch-resistant 580G lens cuts haze and blur and enhances key colors for superior clarity and definition.

Bahamas Bonefish Flats Phantom Costa
Courtesy of Costa Sunglasses

“If you’re looking for the best pair of sunglasses for long days on the water, it doesn’t get better than the Blackfin and Fantail,” said TJ McMeniman, Vice President of Marketing at Costa. “When we originally launched the frames more than a decade ago they were instant best-sellers, making them an obvious choice to modernize with the latest PRO technology. Working closely with our pros and guides, we dialed in every detail for the best experience on the water.”

The Blackfin PRO and Fantail PRO (a slimmed-down brother to the Blackfin) are now available at CostaDelMar.com, where you can also find additional information on Costa and it’s collection of best-selling sunglasses.

Behind the Brand: Duck Camp Co.

performance in cold weather

In this installment of “Behind the Brand”, we sat down with Sim Whately, founder of the popular hunting and fishing brand: Duck Camp Co. With the arrival of their new Spring Apparel Line, we wanted to catch up with Sim, and get a behind-the-scenes look into the trials and tribulations of starting a small business, and how this whole thing came to be. Having produced some of the most comfortable and practical outdoor apparel on the market, we’ve taken Duck Camps gear on our adventures far and near. It’s with that level of personal connection that we’re excited to take you, “Behind the Brand”.

FL: WHO is Duck Camp Co?

reaching for leader
Featuring the new Head Guide Fleece Hoodie. Click to hear our thoughts on it.

Sim: I’m reading a book right now about the brand Patagonia. They describe their core customer as a “dirtbag” which I think is pretty awesome, and something that resonates a little for us.  I think it’s important to remember that we aim to make products to a level of quality that our core customer sometimes might struggle to afford, but which they need, since they put our gear to the test the most. Our customer is the guy that wants to learn, wants to be better, isn’t going to let a day of being skunked ruin their mood, but usually doesn’t get skunked. A DIY guy that might go to the Bahamas and book a day with a guide, but will also spend the next 3 days getting after it with some friends. The guy that didn’t forget to pack some wire leader or a flask, but might have forgotten the sunscreen!

FL: Where’d the name come from (Besides the obvious answer)?

setting up duck decoys

Sim: There are a number of emotions that are evoked from time spent at the Camp. It is a combination of anticipation, camaraderie, excitement, awe. It is filling for the soul, to get out of the city, to spend time with friends and family on the water, in the woods, pursuing those activities that bring us back to nature. We tried to capture some of that in the Brand. It is as much about the fish caught, limits bagged, tags punched, as it is about the time spent enjoying the whole experience. It all happens at the Camp!

FL: What inspired you to start Duck Camp Co.dog licking fish

Sim: I was inspired by a few things off the back of the expansion of technical clothing in the hunt space. The type of technical outdoor apparel more common in climbing/alpine sports was being applied to hunting and it made a ton of sense, but I felt like there wasn’t a brand speaking to our core customer. Most of the brands we saw were expedition-style hunt brands, and while we love to fish and hunt, it is the entire event that we want to be a part of, and to celebrate! Everything from practicing your cast at the park (to confused onlookers), to the food, the boats, the dogs, the flies, the shared drinks around the fire. Not just the grip and grins!

FL: What is your personal background? How did this affect the way the business was structured?

duck camp crew in discussion

Sim: I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My grandfather was a big outdoorsman; co-founder of the New Orleans Big Game Fishing Club in Venice, LA, Chairman of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, conservationist awarded the Conservation Award by Ducks Unlimited twice, and generally a teller of tall tales.  My father followed in some of his (more sensible) footsteps, but did a good job of introducing the outdoors to me. There was a strong sense of entrepreneurship and a love for the outdoors that has persisted in the family.

Following my time at LSU, I move to Dubai for almost 10 years, co-founding a business with a friend that we grew through that region. When I returned home in early 2014, I wanted nothing more than to spend some quality time in the marshes and woods that I missed while living overseas. I think that time getting back in those environments, as well as seeing some of the new things in the market, helped to germinate the idea of Duck Camp.

FL: What were you trying to accomplish with the brand? How does Duck Camp differ from other brands its competitors?

duck camp performance

Sim: While I think some of this question may be answered above, we are trying to provide a line of apparel/gear that performs in the elements (hot, humid, cold, wet), is comfortable, both in those elements but not necessarily in need of them, and that is centered around a brand that celebrates time spent chasing fish and critters in sometimes dangerous but always beautiful environments.

FL: What were some other brands/ people you drew inspiration from when developing duck camps brand ethos?

walking in the snow

Sim: One can’t play in the outdoor space without looking up to YETI. They have taken story presentation and Brand ethos to another level. I personally love how iconic Patagonia has been for 50+ years and they make some amazing products with true authenticity within their sports. I’ve had the pleasure to work with and get to know Nick Kelley and Andy Anderson, who are such fantastic artists, and I’m constantly reminded about how small this industry is but it has been relatively welcoming so far.

FL: What did Duck Camp look like in the beginning? Were there some uncertainties?

undertain conditions

Sim: Duck Camp has followed the traditional startup path. 1. Have an idea 2. Try to convince others that your idea is worth working on. 3. Try not to make too many mistakes while you prove your idea and before you run out of money.

Uncertainties arise daily, if not, hourly, sometimes in the middle of the night. It is the excitement of working on a new idea and the added challenge of playing in an industry that does not put up with inauthentic people that makes it even more rewarding.

FL: what was one of the largest obstacles Duck Camp has had to overcome to get the brand to where it is today?

new fishing shirt
Check out new shirts, jackets, and vests that are sure to perform and keep you warm.

Sim: Building quality products and finding trusted partners to do it with will always be a challenge. It takes a lot of research, testing, trust, and patience, for a business that is trying to move quickly and to some extent break the mold. Finding those partners, building credibility, and delivering on that promise is definitely our biggest obstacle, and we still have a long way to go.

FL: What would you say has been one of your greatest successes since the start of the brand?

duck camp crew conveining

Sim: I am just constantly amazed at the level of talent we are able to attract to the company. We have a really strong group of folks that are working extremely hard to build quality products. We are proud of the team we have created, the products we are building and the stories we are trying to tell.

FL: Specifically in the fly-fishing space, how has duck camp tailored their product to match the needs of the modern-day angler?

traveling in duck camp

Sim: What I love about fly fishing is that it quite often has the elements of travel and beautiful scenery involved. Duck Camp was born out of the excitement of packing a bag for a long weekend off the grid at a camp or lodge and spending time with friends and family, and it shares that with fly fishing. We love to bring out the elements of exciting travel, hard fishing, celebrations, and tribulations. You’ll see that in the versatility of what we offer for Spring. Pieces that can be worn on the airplane, at the bar, and most importantly, on the bow of a boat.

FL: Personally, are you more of a hunter or fisherman?

catching a fish

Sim: Such a tough question. I have 4 kids now and my “hall passes” are getting harder and harder to acquire. I honestly equally love waterfowl, whitetail, and saltwater fly fishing, but these days I can usually negotiate a beach vacation with a couple of half-days fishing easier than I can convince my wife to go to Arkansas in January!

FL: What’s next for Duck Camp Co?

trip to far away places

Sim: Duck Camp just wants to be along for the ride. Hopefully in your suitcase, but potentially in person, wherever you’re going that is badass. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call and invite us on that all-expenses-paid trip to COSMO or Alaska that you have an extra spot for!

walking in new spring apparel

Thank you to Sim, and the Duck Camp crew for giving us the time to sit down and pick their brains. To check out Duck Camp’s new Spring Apparel Line CLICK HERE. Also, check them out on Instagram to keep up with new releases and adventures!

Gear Review: Duck Camp Co. Head Guide Hoodie

Gear Review – Duck Camp Co ‘Better in Bamboo’ Hoodies

 

 

How to Tie: The Creamsicle Jig

In this week’s “How to Tie” video feature, Fly Fish Food gives us a great tutorial on how to tie the Creamsicle Jig.

Learn About This Fly:

Difficulty: Intermediate

The Creamsicle Jig, a streamer that gets its name, well….you guessed it, because of its color. Golden or cream colored streamers provide an added option to your fly box and are a great representation of bait fish found in our creeks and rivers. Due to the way this fly is tied, it will ride hook point up. A blessing in disguise if you know what I mean.

The beauty of the Creamsicle Jig is the fact that it can be fished like a normal streamer or dead-drifted on a nymphing rod. Often when the word “streamer” is mentioned, we automatically think it needs to be stripped to imitate an injured bait fish. That is not always the case. Dead-drifting streamers can often provide as much if not more success than stripping the fly.

One look at this fly and you may think to yourself, “oh its just a golden wooly bugger.” You’re not wrong, the Creamsicle Jig resembles a wooly bugger very closely and is fished basically the exact same way. The biggest advantage with this fly is the fact that it rides hook point up as mentioned previously. This is by far one of the easiest and arguably most effective streamers to tie for new and experienced fly fishermen and women.

Ingredients:

  • Hook: TMC 708 Keel Streamer Hook – 6
  • Bead: Firehole Stones Matte Slotted Tungsten Beads – Fl. Creampuff – 4.5mm
  • Thread: UTC Ultrathread 140 Denier – Wood Duck
  • Thread: UTC Ultrathread 140 Denier – Dark Brown
  • Lead: Lead Wire Spool – .020
  • Tail 1: Fish Hunter Premium Strung Marabou – Burnished Golden Tan
  • Tail 2: Fish Hunter Premium Strung Marabou – Fl. Creamsicle Orange (UV)
  • Body: Solid and Krystal Tinsel Chenille – Gold
  • Collar 1: Medium UV Polar Chenille – Gold
  • Collar 2: Whiting 4B Hen Saddle – Medium Ginger
  • Tools Used: Loon Gator Grip Dubbing Spinner

Now you know how to tie the Creamsicle Jig.

Video and Ingredients courtesy of Fly Fish Food.

Ford Joins List of Companies Marketing Vehicles by Driving Them Through Rivers

The featured image is a screengrab from the latest Ford Bronco Ad.

When will 4×4 companies realize that driving vehicles through shallow rivers and creeks is detrimental? This week in their latest commercial for the new Bronco, Ford showed a clip of the SUV sending spray into the air while driving upstream in a river, which if you couldn’t guess, is horrendous for every kind of life calling that stream home. The practice landed Jeep in hot water a few years ago when they showed the same thing with a handful of their ads. Kirk Deeter, from Trout Unlimited and Angling Trade, just penned a fantastic Op-Ed on the topic, and he explains the issue far better than we can, and it’s well worth a read.

You can read that article here on TU.org!

When Jeep’s ads ran, TU adamantly reached out to the brand about their problematic ads, but the 4×4 brand refused to comment.

Piney Point, Industrial Waste Disaster–Here’s What You Need to Know

Last Friday, Florida authorities discovered a breach at an industrial wastewater reservoir that could send nearly 300 million gallons of industrial wastewater cascading into the Tampa Bay Area. In addition to the industrial wastewater, which contains pollutants that contribute to harmful algal blooms, a full breach of the containment reservoir could unearth the gypsum stacks that contain radioactive materials such as uranium and radium. Since Friday, Florida has declared a state of emergency and is intentionally draining the contaminated reservoir into Tampa Bay just three miles away, to avoid a worst-case scenario.

Florida works to avoid ‘catastrophic’ pond collapse

Five Takeaways

  1. Piney Point is an industrial site and former phosphate (fertilizer) plant that contains significant quantities of harmful mining byproducts: contaminated wastewater and phosphogypsum (a radioactive solid).
  2. A leak was discovered at one of reservoirs, and now authorities believe that the breach could worsen and lead to a complete collapse of the reservoir’s embankment. This would send nearly 350 million gallons of nutrient-rich wastewater into the Tampa Bay area in a matter of minutes and through a “20-foot wall of water.”
  3. In an attempt to avoid an all-at-once breach, Florida authorities are pumping roughly 35 million gallons of wastewater a day from the compromised reservoir and sending it into Tampa Bay.
  4. The nutrient-rich wastewater can produce and intensify harmful algal blooms, which have plagued Florida’s coasts for years and are ecologically destructive.
  5. The reservoir once held 480 million gallons of wastewater. On Saturday, it was estimated to have 390 million gallons. And today, Monday April 5th, just shy of 300 million gallons of wastewater remain. 90 million gallons of nutrient-rich, harmful algal bloom promoting, wastewater has entered Tampa Bay.

 How Did this Happen?

The looming disaster at Piney Point is not a new one. The industrial plant first opened in 1966. Since then, the property has changed hands twice, experienced several harmful “accidents” and discharges, yet Florida state and local authorities have failed to effectively address Piney Point’s toxic remnants. The situation has been complicated by the holding companies declaring bankruptcy. Tampa Bay Water Keeper said, “we should use this terrible failure to inform the public and our elected officials that we will hold those responsible accountable,” on their social media. Stakeholders and politicians are hoping that a permanent solution for Piney Point and other ignored sources of pollutants.

“We need our state legislature to introduce meaningful policy that holds polluters accountable for environmental impacts like this,” said Captains for Clean Water Co-Founder Capt. Chris Wittman. “The Florida legislature has systematically dismantled regulations to serve and benefit special interests. These special interests—in this case phosphate mining—are profiting off of Florida’s resources at the expense of our state’s citizens and environment. They make their profits, exhaust the resource, and then leave the mess to taxpayers. We have to see new legislation that prevents special interests from continuing this kind of bad business that exploits our state and its citizens.”

Unfortunately this disaster appears to have been completely preventable. According to Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, “The current failure at the Piney Point facility owned by HRK was preventable. FDEP knew of the failures of the liner not only at Piney Point but other Phosphogypsum stacks. FDEP failed to provide the resources needed to remove the water from the stacks at the site and knew as early as 2013 about the need to remove water from the stacks.”

Piney Point’s Effect on Tampa Bay’s Ecosystem

Millions of gallons of wastewater have been released into Tampa Bay. For years, the Piney Point reservoirs have contained significant amounts of process water, a chemical byproduct of phosphate mining that has high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, “the water being discharged from Piney Point is mixed sea water (primarily saltwater from the Port Manatee dredge project, mixed with legacy process water and stormwater runoff/rainfall). The water meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen.” Those are concerning and destructive exceptions, especially when considering the levels of pollutants. “At the current rate of wastewater discharge nearly 500 tons of Nitrogen are on track to be released in the course of about a week. This is equivalent to approximately 100,000 bags of fertilizer, though levels of Nitrogen may vary throughout the water column in the stack and these numbers are an estimate, based on recent samples,” according to Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.

Compared to a complete collapse of the reservoir–which would expose radioactive mining byproducts, according to authorities on the ground–these discharges seem like a small price to pay in the scheme of things. However, the ecological concern now is with harmful algal blooms. The discharged wastewater contains high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, which are known to cause or contribute to fish-killing harmful algal blooms.

Past example of harmful algae in Tampa Bay, courtesy of Rusty Chinnis

Tampa Bay area fishing Capt. Justin Moore, a second generation fishing guide who has been a captain since 1999, said he’s deeply concerned that the nutrient-rich water being released will cause harmful algae blooms. “I just don’t know how much more these bays can take,” Moore said. “It’s really unfortunate to see the ecosystem go through this again when this really could have been prevented.” Moore said he took a boat ride recently around the area where the water is being dumped and said there is already a change in watercolor. The water normally is clear this time of year, but Moore said it currently is a greenish yellow. There were no birds, hardly any mullet, you can tell the fish are sensing it and moving away from it,” Moore said.

Florida is no stranger to these harmful algal events. Red tides and other forms of toxic algae have harmed vast stretches of Florida’s ecosystems and its outdoor recreation and tourism economies. We are learning a great deal about these events, but nutrients continue to pollute water and encourage these semi-natural event. If Piney Point gives us one lesson, it’s this: strict regulations and proactive environmental mitigation are often needed to effectively protect the environment. Too often private entities just pack up and leave, relying on the taxpayer to clean up their mess–oftentimes climbing into the billions.

We’ll be following this developing situation closely, but authorities are hopeful the situation will become stable tomorrow, Tuesday. In the meantime, I’ll reiterate Capt. Chris Wittman’s point: “They make their profits, exhaust the resource, and then leave the mess to taxpayers. We have to see new legislation that prevents special interests from continuing this kind of bad business that exploits our state and its citizens.”

Dry Fly Tactics – Casting to Rising Trout

Its that time of year again. Cool brisk mornings on the water turn into warm sunny days by mid morning. Spring time is the start of a new hatch cycle, and as anglers, we couldn’t be more excited. Dry fly fishing is a technical approach to fly fishing but when a plan comes to fruition, there isn’t a better feeling. In this tips and tricks video of the week, The Orvis Company demonstrates the proper approach to fishing for rising trout.

Dry Fly Tactics

Trout have what is called a feeding window. This is the radius that a trout is willing to travel to feed. When water temperatures fare on the colder side, the feeding window for trout is much smaller as oppose to warmer water temperatures.

Cold Water Tactics:

Image Credit to the Orvis Company

When fishing colder water temperatures, it is important to remember to use smaller flies. Trout are more sluggish and not willing to move as far and so tight feeding windows = small flies. Along with colder water, low flows will also result in a smaller feeding window while trout are feeding.

Warmer Water Tactics:

Image Credit to the Orvis Company

Generally when water temperatures are on the warmer side, trout will be much more active. This results in a larger feeding window. When this is the case, you can get away with using larger flies to induce a down stream take.

Where to Position Yourself:

No matter the size of the trout’s feeding window, it is always best to position yourself for a cast that will land and drift into your side of the feeding window. This is important to remember because you have more room for error if the cast is positioned properly. If you cast across the pool, you will expose yourself and likely spook the trout feeding in that zone.

The key takeaway when fishing with dry flies is position, position, position. Placing your fly in the strike zone will lead to a successful day on the water. Once those hatches start popping off, take your dry fly box out and give these tips a try. Best of luck out there!

For more tips and tricks, check out the Orvis Company YouTube Channel by clicking here.

2021 F3T Behind the Lens: Just Like Mac

Tarpon. A word and fish that evokes feelings of excitement and disappointment in saltwater anglers around the globe. It’s one of the most challenging species to pursue on the fly and learning how to do it successfully is no easy task. Having a guide or mentor to lean on is often the difference between let down and glory. Mac Hammond was just that mentor for Tommy Cooper, an avid tarpon angler based in Florida.

“Just Like Mac”, a feature film in this year’s Fly Fishing Film Tour focuses on the story of a mentor and the lasting effects one can have on others through fly fishing. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with producer Ben Meadows and the star of the film, Tommy Cooper, to learn a little about tarpon fishing, discuss the importance of community in fly fishing, and the impact “Uncle” Mac Hammond left on Tommy.

Flylords: Can you tell us a little about yourselves, how you guys met, and the role fly fishing plays in your lives?

Ben: About four years ago when I was in grad school, I met Tommy probably in the weirdest possible way, his mother was my landlord. One day she asked me what I do for fun and I said I really love to fly fish and it really makes me sad being in Knoxville, TN because I really love taking a fly rod to saltwater. Being in Knoxville, you have to hedge that people won’t always associate fly fishing with saltwater but Tommy’s mom absolutely lost it. She said “No way! My son is obsessed with saltwater fly fishing and you’ll have to meet him.” And that’s where it started. Within one day of meeting Tommy, you could tell how obsessed he was with tarpon. 

I’ve gotten to fish for tarpon but not in the very formal way that Tommy fishes for the really big tarpon. And so the first summer that we were in Knoxville together, he threw me and my buddy George in a car and we drove to the Florida panhandle. He was just really excited to share the fishery with us. And we were humbled by it. I mean, we had never seen fish that big.

You could always tell that Tommy had this really high level of technical knowledge of tarpon, how they behave, where to position a boat, how to make the cast. All that kind of stuff. As he began to talk, it became really clear that he learned everything he knew about fly fishing from his Uncle Mac. It was almost to the point where you were ready for Tommy to introduce Uncle Mac who was about to walk around the corner or come in on another boat or something. That’s just how deep their personal relationship was. 

Flylords: Having met Tommy 4 years ago, what was the spark to go forward with making the film now?

Ben: It’s important to note Uncle Mac’s impact on Tommy, you almost can’t tell them apart. I’d always thought that there was something special about their story but didn’t have the talent or know-how. Through a mutual connection with Tommy, I met a videographer named Ben Fields who is based out of Knoxville and likes to fly fish as well. We started drumming up ideas on how to visually show fly anglers on limited budgets traveling internationally and doing really cool trips, so that was the main gig. I was just so humbled that Ben Fields took me under his wing and taught me. Tommy’s story about Uncle Mac has always been there, I just didn’t have the medium to tell it.

This past summer, Tommy and George were fishing and I got one of the worst phone calls of my life. They were screaming and hollering and all that stuff after having one of the best tarpon days of their lives. And they were like “dude, we were running the camera the entire time”. I was like “I gotta see it to believe it”, and bless my wife, we had just had our first baby 3 months before, let me go down to fish with them for one night. I left at 1 am, my son had woken up so I put him down, drove until sunrise, and got on the boat. The fishing of course wasn’t nearly as good the day before but I caught one of the largest tarpon of my life. I can’t claim to be a tarpon guy because there’s a whole culture around that, one that Monte Burke captures well in his new book, but it was a big fish. But anyway, we walked away from that trip, and then we realized that we could tell the story of Uncle Mac through this one tarpon session.

“When you have a powerful storyteller like Tommy, I feel like your job as a filmmaker is to just get the hell out of the way.”

So we came home and I asked Tommy to take voice recordings and trimmed the recordings until it was a storyline. Honestly, the main storyline was like catching lightning in a bottle. There’s a part in the film where Tommy talks about missing his first tarpon with Mac and we have a video of him trout-setting a tarpon, like how perfect is that? And I mean Tommy’s talented and that’s not in his character to trout set a tarpon but there it is on film. It was just a short little cut of their story through tarpon and seemed like an important story to tell and focus on the fish that shaped Tommy and Mac’s relationship. So we ended up just settling on brim and tarpon, that’s where this story evolved. 

When you have a powerful storyteller like Tommy, I feel like your job as a filmmaker is to just get the hell out of the way. The fact that he can still put so much emphasis on the first tarpon he missed with Mac shows you how scared that fish got him and the wealth of stories that he and Mac share. You could do a 4 hour documentary on them. 

Flylords: Were there any challenges that you encountered throughout the process? 

“It’s actually really hard to get the jumps with these big fish.”

Ben: Sure, filming tarpon is a beast all on its own. I think that’s where having skilled guys that have fished for tarpon comes in. You’re not aiming the lens at the line, you’re aiming at where you think the fish is going. Usually, the angler who’s fighting it know’s when they’re coming up. These big panhandle tarpon do a lot of rolling so you know when they’re going to come up. It’s a good opportunity to get some face time with the fish. It’s actually really hard to get the jumps with these big fish because they typically happen at the start of the fight and that’s when all hell is breaking loose on the boat. You’ve got fly line flying everywhere, people screaming at each other, you may need to re-position the boat and you’re supposed to sit there and be still with a camera. That’s really challenging. 

Tommy: Well, really capturing the film is pretty difficult. I don’t know how much tarpon fishing you’ve done but anyways, I love film but I love tarpon fishing more. Two things I struggle with are picking a camera up instead of another fly rod or helping another angler. A lot of the guys I fish with are still learning so I’m coaching them through what’s going on. There’s the chaos of not only trying to see fish, get in front of fish, but also coaching people to get the fly in the right place. To add a camera in there is difficult. 

Tommy showing how to get it done, no matter the circumstance.

Luckily over the last year, we hit the weather and timing right and had some really banner days fishing so getting a lot of eats and jumps helped making the film. The storyline came after the fact. Obviously, it’s a story that’s near and dear to my heart, we just got lucky with the footage we had tying into how the story laid out. 

Ben: This project really got the green-light because we had so much footage of fish from that blockbuster day. It gave us the confidence that the story could finally be told. This is obviously a story that Tommy has been passionate about for years, we just never had the right medium to tell it. Then this legendary day drops out of the sky. 

Hilariously, the weather was cooling down when we were trying to film the brim segment. So you’d think the easiest part would be brim but we kept getting hit with cold fronts while we were trying to film top-water eats and you need it to be warm outside. So believe it or not, that was pretty challenging. 

Flylords: Throughout the film it’s clear that Mac has left a significant impact on you. In what ways has he inspired you to teach others rather than going out and getting eats for yourself?

Tommy: Aside from Mac, I didn’t have anyone that I fished for tarpon with. Getting to share that bond with him and then losing him was tough. I didn’t have anyone to share the experience with and that’s really when I started going out with Ben and George and some other guys. It was cool to watch them, Mac was always the teacher and I was the student. Getting to fish with these guys reminded me where I started fishing for tarpon. It’s so difficult- you can be a good caster, a good fly tyer, you can practice as much as you want but there’s something so different about fly fishing for tarpon that you can’t prepare for aside from experience. 

Watching them start out and not present the fly correctly or not even be able to see the fish allowed me to share my knowledge. That’s a hilarious part- when you have a 100-pound fish swimming in 5 feet of water right on the grass line and they can’t see it, like how can you not see the fish. I began to notice where I was compared to them but also looking at them and remembering where I started made me feel like I became the mentor that Mac was for me. Seeing Mac’s success in me and now being able to coach these guys how to catch a tarpon on the fly really brought it to another level for me. 

Flylords: Are the others that Tommy is spreading his passion for tarpon with? Has the story of Tommy and Mac inspired you to share the sport with anyone else?

Ben: Yeah, so Tommy fishes on Mac’s boat. The boat you see in the film, that’s the boat he grew up fishing on. We’re part of that legacy of Tommy passing the sport on or passing the torch from Mac. Everybody who steps foot on that boat gets a little bit of that. Think about all the feet that have stood where he and Mac stood.

I think a lot about passing on fly fishing to my son, he’s 9 months old so it’s not going to happen anytime soon, but I always love telling people about fly fishing. I always have. When I was in high school my pitch to people would always be you know, even if the fishing sucks you can always work on casting. 

Flylords: Are there any tips or tricks that you would provide to someone looking to get into tarpon fishing?

Ben: It’s all emotional training. It’s patience. The ability to deal with really high levels of frustration. Tommy talks about it in the film. You don’t get a ton of shots. You get one string of fish and if you blow the cast that could be it for the day. Preparation is an obvious one. I’ve never been embarrassed to practice casting in my front yard.  There’s all the technical stuff, that’s what books and guides are for. As someone who just enjoys it, I’d say you gotta be tough, prepared, and ready to shake off mistakes. I set the bar pretty low for myself.

Tommy: Definitely literature. I’m not much of a reader but especially A Passion for Tarpon by Andy Mill and all different stories of those guys that pioneered the sport. He goes over a lot of the tactics and techniques that are hard to teach. If you’re going with a guide they’ll teach you a lot of those things but understanding how to feed fish, put the fly in the right place, knowing how to strip is important. If you’ve never done anything but streamer fish, you’re gonna rip the fly right past the tarpons face. It’s very slow, 2 inch, ticks. 

The other thing I’ve learned is that everything you know about fly fishing goes out the door when you see this 100lb fish coming at you, it seems like no matter how much you practice it all goes away. Literature and watching some of the tarpon shows to know what’s going to happen would be my recommendations.

Flylords: Do you have any tips for aspiring filmmakers or personal learnings from this project?

Ben: It’s easier to cut a moving story that matters to you rather than make a story for someone else. Tommy’s relationship and passion for Mac was unmissable.  Like I was saying earlier, I was a facilitator. Get out of the way and let the story teller tell it. 

Flylords: Anything else that you’d like our readers to know about the story or anything about the project in general?

Ben: What I’ve learned from Mac’s story and Tommy and even my experience from learning to fly fish is that fly fishing is worth sharing. I see the fly fishing community get wrapped up in techniques and levels of purity on what constitutes what. I think that it’s worth sharing. The people we appreciate most in the sport are often the ones who make the most sacrifices. It’s one thing that I’ve learned from Tommy and Mac. Mac sacrificed shots at tarpon for Tommy and now Tommy does that for us. If we have that mentality of sacrificing for others and getting others into the sport, that’s what’s important. 

Thank you to Ben Meadows (@_benmeadows) and Tommy Cooper (@tcoop92) for graciously taking the time to talk through their film, “Just Like Mac” with us. If you haven’t already, be sure to pick up your tickets to this year’s Fly Fishing Film Tour while you can.

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