I thought I knew everything there was to know about brook trout fishing in the eastern United States. I was wrong.
Conventional wisdom tells us that Salvelinus fontinales has been extirpated from 90% of its historic range, and in the places it persists, it persists in small numbers, and small size. There are thousands of small streams from the base of Smokey Mountains to the border with Canada that sustain native populations of brook trout ranging from 4-10 inches. If you’re interested in native fish, then you’ve probably spent a lot of time on streams like that. The same way anglers out West return to the river day after day in hopes of landing that 24-inch brute, you’ve done the same on small freestone headwaters, searching any pool over 12 inches deep for a shot at a trophy barely half that size. My wife Aimee and I live in Massachusetts, and despite having spent the last decade searching every blue line in the surrounding 200 square miles, we’d never questioned that paradigm. “The US doesn’t have big, healthy, native brook trout anymore,” we thought. “And that’s that.” If you want that kind of fishing, you’d better start booking your trip to Labrador now.
Well, after spending several months in Maine I can now report back with a great deal of both hope and hesitation, that that is only partially true. There are still a handful of places left in the US where native brook trout can reach 6 pounds, but they are few, and they are under threat. A couple decades ago these fisheries were facing a steady decline, but thanks to a great deal of effort from grassroots organizations as well as state and federal programs it looks like Maine is going to continue to be the last great stronghold for big, wild, brookies. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to waltz on in and find them. Mainers are notoriously private people, and the sportsmen who call the “pine tree state” home aren’t in a hurry to divulge their secrets. But I suppose that’s what makes Maine such a special place; in the age of social media exposure, the fisheries have remained relatively unknown. It took us a better part of a year to research and gain the trust of the incredible folks up North, and we’ve made some lifelong friends along the way. I’m a firm believer that this process makes for better stewards anyway; because nothing is more precious to an angler than a fishery he or she has worked tremendously hard to discover. And make no mistake, these fisheries are still under threat, and in many ways their very survival still hangs in the balance. Don’t expect to see any geotags of these rivers on Instagram, but if you make the effort and earn your stripes, I guarantee you’ll be put on a 3+ pound, wild Maine squaretail in no time, and if that isn’t something worth protecting, I don’t know what is.
We got a chance to interview Chase and Aimee, check out what they had to say:
1. My first reaction when watching your film was wow, you guys are both incredible artists. How long have you been shooting film and video for? Do you have any videographers that inspire you?
C: Art sort of runs in my family. Although my folks pursued careers outside of the arts, they are both wonderful artists in their own rights, and when I began drawing around the age of 4 or 5 they were really adamant about encouraging and nurturing my creative urges. I first got into shooting video when I was about 10. I had just been introduced to skateboarding and my friends and I were looking for ways to document our daily adventures. Being the creative type already, I took the initiative to hijack my parents VHS shoulder cam and the rest was history. I continued making skateboard videos for the next decade, and in case folks aren’t familiar with the genre, it actually has a really innovative and unique aesthetic, and several of its big players drawing inspiration from far and wide in the art/film/photography world. So growing up watching and producing skate videos was a serious crash course in video making. When I graduated high school I applied to a bunch of art schools with a largely illustration based portfolio, but after being accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design I quickly made the choice to switch majors and focus on film and video. I was so heavily involved in both the independent and professional skateboard world at the time that I felt I needed to consolidate my work in and out of school. I’m glad I made that choice because I learned a whole lot about filmmaking over the next 3 years. If you’re familiar with my work through Tight Loops then you know that I still play around with some fine arts stuff, but film and video is definitely my primary focus. In terms of videographers, I admire? I could name a million filmmakers (remember I’m an art school nerd) but maybe I’ll keep it within the fishing world. I think Jim Klug and Chris Patterson from Confluence Films make beautiful work. They really set a standard for fly fishing films in terms of both production and storytelling. They also pay a lot of attention to the overall visual aesthetic of their films. I don’t know if they are shooting on 16mm anymore, but I know it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside when I pop in a copy of “Drift” or “Rise”. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Rolf Nylinder from Fronsidefly. He always has been, and maybe always will be one of the few people within this little niche community who’s really pushing the boundaries of the format and experimenting with both visual and narrative techniques. If anyone hasn’t seen his latest episodic masterpiece “The Field Coffee Diaries”, then stop reading this interview and go watch it immediately.
A: I started shooting film when I was in 7th grade. I was handed down a camera from relatives. A Minolta 35mm. I shot all black and white film and developed it myself. I bought a book on the basics and just went from there. I continued to shoot with that same camera all through high school. I applied to art school and went into a photography program. I made it one year. It wasn’t the right fit for me at that time. I wanted to be out experiencing and documenting life. I spent a lot of time photographing punk shows in Boston and the people around me. I put my camera down and walked away many times, but I always came back to it. This project was the first time I felt like I could fully focus on my art. I shot with that same Minolta up until maybe 2008, when I started experimenting with toy cameras and color film. When I started shooting medium format it really opened new doors for me. Buying my Pentax 6×7 was sort of mind-blowing. That thing takes such gorgeous photos and it’s such a beast.
2. When did you start to fish? What was the first fish you caught on a fly rod?
C: I started fishing in 1997. My entire family is from Montana, but I grew up abroad (in Israel in fact, but that’s a whole other story). I’d get to visit in the summers, so it was only a matter of time until my uncles and cousins introduced me to fishing. I spent the first two years casting conventional tackle off of docks during vacations. When I turned 10 my grandfather decided it was the time I learned to fly fish, and that summer he taught me how to cast and tie some basic flies. I remember my first fish so clearly; it was a 4 or 5 inch Brookie, caught on a Griffiths Gnat on a small feeder stream of the Big Hole just above Wise River, MT. I was instantly hooked! During the production of Journey On we were lucky enough to pay another visit to that stream and catch the great grandkids of those bookies. It was just as awesome I remembered it.
A: I just recently started fly fishing thanks to Chase, but my Dad took me fishing when I was a little girl and I caught my first trout. I definitely didn’t know what any of it meant at that time. There’s a photo of me and my dad and I’m touching my first trout. I look really excited. Its one of my favorite photos of my Dad and I. My Aunt Pat & Uncle Jay were big into fishing when I was growing up. I used to love waking up early and going out on their boat. We fished conventional tackle in saltwater. I’ll never forget the excitement when we got into a big group of stripers. Those are some really special memories. Chase taught me the basics of fly fishing when we started dating. He took me out in April when it was still really chilly and I caught my first rainbow trout. Once I caught my first tiny brook trout on a dry fly I was hooked. Its been non-stop ever since.
3. If you could explain the sport of fly fishing in one word what would it be?
C: Love. Love of water, love of the fish below it, love of the rich environments it flows through. When you truly love something, all you want to do is share it with people you care about. I think that’s the force that drove my grandfather to share it with me, and it’s the same force that drives me to share it with others.
4. What was your inspiration for taking this adventure?
C: Just general quarter-life detritus I guess. After I graduated college I worked in the film industry for a couple of years and hated it. Probably because 4 years of art school has a way of really crushing your creative spirit, but the truth about working in the movie biz is that there’s not a lot of room for creativity on a day-to-day basis anyway. I walked away from that and took a job with a buddy doing construction to keep my rent and bills at bay. While I enjoyed the work tremendously before I knew it three years had passed, and I was no closer to finding fulfillment than when I started. I guess after taking some years away from my creative work it seemed like the right time to shake things up a bit. Aimee had never been out West, neither one of us had ever lived nomadically like that before, and I was eager to sink my teeth into a substantial project. I think we’re both at the age where you first realize that time is moving way faster than it did when you were a kid, and every avenue you choose seems to have more and more permanent consequences. I guess it felt like if we didn’t get off our asses and start doing the things we wanted to do, then before we knew it, it would be too late. It honestly felt like we didn’t have a choice.
5. Did you accomplish everything you set out to do?
C: I think so. In hindsight, there are always things you wish you could go back and do differently, but I’m really proud of what we did, and how the film turned out. Part of me wishes I could go back and do it all over again without the cameras, but in the end it’s the love of filmmaking that brought us there, and we’re going to be really glad we have such an incredible record of our trip when we’re old and decrepit and unable to do this kind of stuff anymore.
6. If you could take another trip and make a new movie, where would you go?
C: This has been on my mind a lot lately, because we aren’t even close to being done taking trips, or making movies! I think the Canadian Rockies are high on my list, and over on the east, I wouldn’t mind making our way to Labrador at some point. In terms of more domestically, I’d like to spend an entire summer fishing only high elevation lakes. It takes a lot of work, but it pretty much has everything a fly angler could ever want; beautiful scenery, big fish, and unpressured water. There are so many places we haven’t explored yet. I’m sure we could spend a hundred lifetimes seeking them out.
7. For all the younger videographers out there, what is some advice you could give them about taking their work to the next level?
C: Make the movies YOU want to see. The fly fishing video world is exploding right now, but it’s still so young, and there are so many stones that are left unturned. Don’t be afraid to make the films you want to make, even if no one else is doing it. Experiment and push yourself out of your comfort zone. There are a lot of incredible places and fish out there, but those things alone won’t make a great film. Even if you don’t have tons of expensive gear, big fish, or exotic destinations there are a million ways to tell a great story, so don’t be afraid to get creative with your narrative or visuals.
8. If you could only bring one camera with you, what would it be?
C: That’s a really tough one. I guess I’d bring my primary camera, which is a Sony NEX-FS700RH because it’s got a lot of versatile functions. But the thing was like 10 pounds and requires a robust tripod, so I’m getting pretty tired of lugging it all over the place. My suggestion to people who are a little less masochistic would be to find something small, versatile, and bombproof. Shooting in the outdoors can be tough, and the less you have to worry about the better.
A: It depends greatly on the situation for me, but my Voigtlander Bessa R4M is pretty great. It’s lightweight and easy to carry around my neck when we hike. I just recently started doing the digital thing, and my Canon 5d Mark iii is so fun to shoot with. That will likely be my go-to camera for a while. But film wise, that Pentax 6×7 is pretty stellar too. I can’t pick just one!
9. Favorite Drink?
C: Well, when I’m not just drinking water to stay alive, which by the way, is a fine drink, I guess I’d have to go with a nice refreshing can of “Colorado Kool-Aid”.
A: Probably lemonade.
10. Favorite Movie?
C: John Carpenter’s “The Thing” never seems to get old.
A: Mrs. Doubtfire
11. What is it like having a girlfriend / Fiancee who shares your passion for fly fishing?
C: It’s amazing! For all the folks who have significant others with different interests; imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have to come up with some lame excuse every time you wanted to sneak away and get a couple hours in? Yeah, that’s basically our lives. Being able to share my passion with Aimee has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
A: It’s awesome. We get to share all of the things we love with each other. We both get so excited making all of these plans for fishing trips and films, and we get to geek out about trout and how beautiful they are.
12. What’s next for Chase and Aimee?
C: Marriage! We are getting hitched on September 17th up in New Hampshire. Other than that, we took another trip this past June, up to Maine to fish and film for the next installment of our Journey On series. We got to fish some of the most coveted trophy native brook trout rivers left in the US. It was an incredible experience and we look forward to sharing it, as well as some other project with everyone soon!
Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture
Maine Council of Trout Unlimited
Downeast Salmon Federation
Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition
Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust
Protect Rhode Island Brook Trout