We sat down with filmmaker and guide Asher Koles to talk about his latest release, “Our Two Hands” a project focusing on wild steelhead and their conservation in the Pacific Northwest. Asher told us some truly inspiring stories from interacting with passionate wild steelhead anglers and even an encounter with mountain lions…
Flylords: Tell us a little about yourself and Bloodknots itself.
Asher: I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, and still call it home today. I guide out of Park City for both our company, Bloodknots, and a couple of other outfitters in the area from March through October. I fill the rest of the year chasing fish all over the place, while traveling and producing film and photo work, primarily in the outdoor industry. Bloodknots started out as a blog to which my business partner, Brandon, and I posted content from our personal fishing trips. We were both working in a fly shop in SLC one winter, (we all know how much there is to do in fly shops in the winter…) and we devised a plan to make Bloodknots legit. We now specialize in all stages of production in projects of all sizes with a focus on conservation, activism, and the fly fishing lifestyle.
Flylords: When did you first pick up a fly rod? A camera?
Asher: My dad stuck a fly rod in my hand when I was 10. I fished throughout Idaho, Montana, and Utah every summer growing up. I took a little hiatus in high school to chase girls, skateboard, and snowboard but started guiding and obsessing overfishing while pursuing my degree at the University of Utah. I grew up in the trend-setting snowboard scene in SLC and always chomped at the bit to see the new videos each winter. Intrigued by the creativity of the dudes behind the lens, I bought a camera and started documenting my travels and fly fishing experiences. I worked in a fly shop and watched how many young people were getting into the sport. I figured if I could take the culture and style that influenced me, and put my spin on fly fishing content, it could be a rad blend of both worlds.
Flylords: When did you catch your first wild steelhead?
Asher: I was on my second steelhead trip, 15 days without a fish to hand. My buddies and I were fishing a pretty famous run on an unnamed Idaho steelhead river that is a notoriously shitty wade. You have to jump across these basalt lava tubes to get out to the primo water. After nearly taking multiple drinks, I stumbled to end of one of the fingers. I made what were probably some pretty sloppy casts and hooked a steelhead. I nearly drowned in that same run the next morning… Worth it! That was six years ago.
Flylords: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Asher: We were, and still are obsessed with all things spey fishing. Every aspect of this niche sect of fly fishing has its grip on us. Remember, we lived nearly 300 miles from the nearest place to even hook one. Salt Lake City is kind of melting pot of fly fishers. Lucky for us a bunch of guys in our community influenced how we think about these fish, the sport and how to protect and promote both of those sacred things. Dec Hogan (@dechogan), Steve Schmidt (@hayduketully) and Greg Pearson (@greendrakeoutdoors) steered us towards some great resources and mentored us along the way. Brandon and I came up with the general idea for the film, but the finished product was light years from what we had first imagined.
Flylords: How long did the project take start to finish?
Asher: The actual time in production was three years. Not filming the whole time obviously. We have a very busy guide season and other projects we needed to take to pay the bills.
Flylords: What was the biggest challenge during filming?
Asher: Aside from constantly battling weather and blown out rivers while filming in the Pacific Northwest, trying to get footage of an endangered species that anglers call the fish of 10,000 casts, and convincing guides to trust two guys from Salt Lake City to make a film about salmon and steelhead, the biggest challenge was figuring out what aspects of the issues facing salmonids we would focus on, and what shots would tell that story.
Flylords: I have heard that wild steelhead are notoriously difficult to catch, did you encounter this difficulty during filming?
Asher: Short answer: Yes. Most of the fish you see in the film are from our own personal fishing trips. After our guide season wraps up, Brandon and I hole up and swing flies until it gets too cold to bear. The cameras followed us to nearly every run during the project.
Flylords: Craziest wildlife interaction during filming?
Asher: Every interaction with a wild steelhead is special. I’ve seen grown men have very emotional experiences with these fish. I’ve had my fair share of weird relationships with them over the years as well. Probably the coolest non-fish wildlife interaction we had was: We found two mountain lion cubs gnawing on a fresh deer kill on the Grande Ronde. Mom was surely nearby. I crept up, snapped a few shots and got the hell out of there.
Flylords: What was your touring experience like? Favorite part? Least Favorite part?
Asher: The tour was so rad. We met so many inspiring people along the way who really care about these issues. Stirring up the conversation at each one of the shows with the Q&A panels was one of our favorite parts. Handling all the logistics for setting up the shows from SLC was a little nerve-racking. We sold plenty of tickets, but we never really knew how many people were going to show up until they walked through the door.
Flylords: In your opinion, what is the largest single threat to wild steelhead populations?
Asher: The public’s lack of education about the issues facing these fish is our biggest hurdle. Sure, we need more awareness about the importance of these fish ecologically and socially, but we really need an education effort focusing on why things are the way they are. Where is the money being spent? What are the returns on our investments with hatchery programs? What strategies are worth spending our tax money on at this point, and how can we bring more people into this conversation?
Flylords: How can someone get involved in wild steelhead conservation?
Asher: It’s cliche, but the first step is to get involved with an organization. Wild Steelhead Coalition (@wildsteelheadcoalition), Native Fish Society (@nativefishsociety), The Conservation Angler (@theconservationangler) and Trout Unlimited (@troutunlimited) are great places to start. They have national campaigns tackling large-scale issues, as well as local, watershed specific community groups that can educate and put people to work on the ground. More than anything it’s a matter of educating yourself about the rivers you fish. What were they like historically? Why are they the way they are currently? Start asking questions. Get involved with protecting your river(s) and its fish, and bring a friend.
Flylords: What outdoor and flyfishing filmmakers inspire you?
Asher: Oh man. There are so many great ones around right now. We live in a pretty amazing time for quality content. – My friend Danny Schmidt (@danny_schmidt) is a big inspiration. – I love the camera work, and editing from Patrick Rhea (@livit_films) – Octave Zangs (@zangsfilms / @octave) and Jason Fitzgibbon (@jasonfitzgibbon) have been putting out some great conservation/adventure work. – Ben Knight (@ben_knight) of Felt Soul Media (@feltsoulmedia) is an all-time favorite as well.
Flylords: Any advice for aspiring fly fishing filmmakers?
Asher: I’m still an aspiring filmmaker. I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been! Our Two Hands is our first in-house, feature-length project. When I feel a lack of confidence, It helps me to focus first and foremost on the stories. Grip and grins, slow-mo top water eats and epic drone shots are sweet and all, but the market is saturated with that stuff. Knowing how to use your equipment is a big part of it, but using those tools to tell a story gives that investment meaning and worth.
Flylords: Favorite Steelhead fly pattern?
Asher: Green Butt variations duh…
Flylords: What’s next for you?
Asher: For the film? I’m taking a little hiatus from long-form film work for a bit. I have some projects in the works with some conservation organizations we work with. We filmed a little web series last summer called, “Peak Season”. I’d like to do something like that again this coming year.
Our Two Hands is continually screening across the country. We have a show in Ft. Collins, CO on February 22nd with St. Joes Fly Shop and New Belgium, and are working on dates for Bozeman and Missoula in collaboration with Simms (@simmsfishing). If you want to host a screening in your community please reach out. We are happy to help you set one up.
Asher Koles is a filmmaker and steelhead angler from Salt Lake City, Utah. Be sure to stay up to date with the film and angling adventures @bloodknots on Instagram!
Photos courtesy of Asher Koles and Arian Stevens
For more stories about wild Steelhead be sure to read these posts: