We are excited to release our next feature in the “Behind the Lens” blog series presented by The Fly Fishing Film Tour. We will be conducting behind the scenes interviews with all of the filmmakers in this years film tour. Make sure to check out the F3T website, to see when they will be in your town! Get your tickets before they sell out!
“Atlanticus” is dedicated to Megalops atlanticus or the Atlantic Tarpon, a game fish known to most as the often air-borne, Silver King. The film follows a team of anglers as they fish for these incredible beasts in the waters of the US, Central America and Africa. We sat down with the mind behind the film, Dr. Grant Wiswell, to take you behind the scenes:
Flylords: Tell me about yourself Dr. Wiswell
Dr. Wiswell: My name is Grant Wiswell and I’m 43 years old, born and raised in southern California area. I started fishing when I was 4 years old with my dad but didn’t really start picking it up until high school. During a football game, I happened to break my hand and got sidelined. I ended up meeting with a world class fly tier and I kind of passed time with my football injury learning to tie flies. The following years lead to a lot of fly fishing. I soon lived in Ecuador for 2 years as a missionary. After that I did my undergrad at the University of Southern California, received my masters at Brigham Young University, went to medical school at UNC, following with dental school and residency at Michigan University. I moved out to Montana which is a place I have always wanted to live and opened my own practice. I now have five kids and my family absolutely loves living in Montana.
Flylords: How did Castaway films come about?
Dr. Wiswell: When I graduated from college my dad took me on a saltwater fly fishing trip as a present. He told me I could go and do whatever I wanted. I picked Los Roques, it seemed like a cool place to have some diversity in species. I caught a 100 lb. tarpon in the harbor with it only being my first day out and I have been hooked ever since. As I entered this long period of schooling, I didn’t have the finances to go back to the salt as much as I wanted. Castaway was then born as a “vehicle” so to speak, for me to experience these amazing destinations. We would collaborate with lodges and they would bring us out to do promotions. I felt like I got the experience vicariously because of Castaway Films.
Flylords: What were the major influences in starting this project?
Dr. Wiswell: The project started early in 2014. I caught wind of this tarpon fishery in Gabon, Africa. Inland, there was a captain that ran his boat near two little cities. One in Central Gabon and the other in the northern Congo. He found these fish in this region that were less spoken about. After hearing the fish stories of the 300-350 lb. tarpon, I was addicted, I really wanted to do it. I initially wanted to make Atlanticus only about African tarpon but I was dissuaded from shooting only in Africa because of the many difficulties of fly fishing for these fish. The project kind of came to a standstill and I ended up shooting in Karawala, Nicaragua. It was a nightmare! Between the two boats we could only hook into two fish. Imagine blind casting for two days… We got absolutely smoked on that trip. Finally, in 2016 we were finally able to go out to West Africa and begin the filming project. We quickly realized it wouldn’t be possible to only fish for African tarpon due to timing. So, the guys at Fly Water Travel introduced me to two awesome individuals; Mark Martin who owns a fishery near the border of Panama on the Atlantic side and Tom Enderlan who owns another fishery a hundred miles inland from the ocean in central Costa Rica. We were able to do a lot of filming with these fisheries making the film possible. People like, Jeff Currier, Jako Lucas, Neville Orsmond, Drew Miller, Dr. Andy Danylchuk, Aaron Ford, and much more helped get this project off the ground and have been on board for the past two years.
Flylords: Why Tarpon?
Dr. Wiswell: Name a fish that is an apex predator, can breathe air, has the ability to swim 100 miles up a river, and can thrive in a fresh and saltwater ecosystem. This fish we know so little about… there is so much more to the west African tarpon than we ever knew about. We have so many questions as to whether these tarpon are all the same species or if they all partake in these great migrations. When you hook this thing, as a filmmaker it is just spectacular. They jump, fly, and take flies so aggressively. Then sometimes they break your heart, for being tough to catch and for their moodiness.
Flylords: What gear was used for the film?
Dr. Wiswell: For baby tarpon, 8wt rods were used but, a variety of 12wt rods were mostly chosen. Jako Lucas was absolutely destroying it on a 12wt cane rod, such an experience watching him. Rio Products also provided us with specialty Tarpon fly line and fluorocarbon leaders. At the end of leaders hung purple and black 2/0-6/0 peanut-butter flies. As for film gear, we shot everything in 4k with Sony cameras with a little underwater film gear and two drones for aerial shots.
Flylords: Were there any dangerous encounters on this trip?
Dr. Wiswell: Well, we had a couple fun ones… A lot of crazy stuff happened in Gabon, we visited this place a few times. We were first detained because they didn’t know who we were or what we had, so that was a little intense. After that, it felt like we were in the “tarpon boot camp.” Ed Trudder, the guide, was a super hardcore tarpon guy and thought us Americans were wimps. He takes us to the beach and there are crocodiles in the water, elephants, and hippos on the beaches, sharks swimming up river mouths, its pouring rain, lightning striking everywhere, and Ed tells us to wade out to begin fishing! Thankfully Ed finally agrees to come back in until weather clears… Then we find our boat captain has only one eye! How is he supposed to drive through this storm?! It was an insane few days, I promise you that. The next dangerous encounter there was when we buzzed poachers with our drones. They flipped our drone off and later as we retrieved the drone, it happened to almost cut my own pinky off with its propeller.
In our last shoot, we were in the Sixaola River that borders Panama and Costa Rica. Now, this was a drug-heavy area, so a lot of Columbians and Panamanians run drugs up through to Mexico. As we headed to this river, we saw a lot of buzzards hovering the beach which was unusual. We checked it out and found this dude that was face down in the water wearing board shorts and a tank top with literally no skin left on his body. We had no idea what happened so that was frightening.
Flylords: What moment stands out and is most special on the trip?
Dr. Wiswell: With no guarantees in this game, you don’t know if you will get what you came for. One of the last nights in western Africa, we barely had any action. We then see a military person in a large boat and found he was from Scotland. We approach him and explained how we have had zero luck on the beach. We ask him if there was anything he could do to help. He goes “oh yeah!” “there are tarpons right outside the breakers, let me take you there.” It was amazing how everything changed… Juvenile tarpons were everywhere, almost like we were striper fishing. The whole African shoot was saved because we didn’t have any footage of fish. Literally, the last day made the difference and was the most special.
Flylords: What destination was your favorite?
Dr. Wiswell: I can’t do it, man! It is like picking your favorite child. You just can’t do it… In Gabon, you fish for tarpon that have never seen a fly before. You know every fish you catch there has ever caught. In San Felipe Mexico, you are holding the future of tarpon. You stand there holding a fish 10 lbs. and realize this is the same fish your grandkids could catch in Pensacola or Key West. Being in the Sixaolo fishery in Panama, every fish was nearly 100-200lbs. The one place with the whole overall experience was in the Jungle Tarpon Reserve. It was an area that seemed like it was forgotten by time. You are a hundred river miles from the ocean, fish surrounding you in the 100-200lb range, howler monkeys screaming at you, canopies engulfing you, and the echoes of wildlife were just incredible. To hook one of these massive fish in a trout stream is something almost impossible to describe. You have to go yourself and live it.
Dr. Grant Wiswell is the producer of the film “Atlanticus” featured in the 2018 Fly Fishing Film Tour, playing now across the country!
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Check out our other “Behind the Lens” interviews: