Aside from "A River Runs Through It," when was the last time you have you seen a good movie about the soul of flyfishing?
"Rivers of a Lost Coast" (2009), produced by Justin Coupe and Palmer Taylor and narrated by actor and conservationist Tom Skerritt (A River Runs Through It), is an 84-minute tale of the love affair between the soul of fishermen, salmon and steelhead, and wild rivers of California's Northern Coast, especially the Russian, the Eel and Smith Rivers; as well as how we can let natural ecosystems slip away if we fail to perceive changes in the bounties of nature that nourish us.
The main characters are a fly fishing community rooted in San Francisco's Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club, that for a time in the mid-twentieth century was the epicenter of flyfishing for West Coast salmon and steelhead.
This community was the place where world championship distance casting over 200 feet first occurred, the shooting head fly line was birthed, and many new flies were developed in order to enable dedicated flyfishers a chance to tap into what was at one time the prime salmon and steelhead fishing in the Lower 48.
A central character in "Rivers of A Lost Coast" is the iconic, Bill Schaadt, who passionately lived to flyfish, and his competitive relationship with his nemesis, Bill Lindner. These two men became legends in their own time, fishing for salmon, stripers and steelhead with dedication, almost obsession, and they were definitely characters.
The Lost Coast anglers developed many new flies, but the one I liked best was Schaadt's "dirty pool fly," which he created for snaggers. A section of razor blade was connected to the curve in a large hook. Schaadt, who was an excellent distance caster, would spot someone trying to snag salmon or steelhead, and cast out to catch their lines.
When his fly connected with the snagger's line, it would be automatically cut as he hooked their line.
Chocked full of archival stills and film, seasoned with beautiful nature photography mixed with interviews with old-timers who knew Schaadt and Linder, filmmakers Justin Coupe and Palmer Taylor use the colorful lives of flyfishermen of northern California to set the stage to tell the sad story of the decline of the salmon and steelhead of California.
In the 1960s and 70s, the North Coast of California was the place on the West Coast to fish for steelhead and salmon. Thanks to articles in major magazines, fishermen flocked here from around the world, often to fish elbow to elbow with Schaadt and Linder and others.
For a time, it was Valhalla, and then the fishing began to wane due to dams, slash and burn logging, offshore trawlers, and the lowering of the water table by agriculture, whose origins they trace back half a century. At first they tried to fix things with hatcheries, but that only slowed the decline and made the gradual decline harder to see.
One angler talks about years past of his landing 200 fish in a season, and then his most recent years with 1-2 and then none. This film ends on the note that since 2008 there has not been a salmon season in Northern California, except for the Klamath River — the first such closure in 158 years. (And it looks like there will be another closure this year.)
This is a nostalgic tale about how one comes to know a river with your heart and soul, and become a conservationist through enjoying and celebrating nature's bounty. Hopefully it will move modern folks to take to the waters and learn the magic that can only come from wild places, wild fish and wild fishermen.
Making this film was itself a heroic act. The two filmmakers assembled a collection of 800 still photos, and the entire production took four years to make. The result is like going into a flyfishing museum and having the stories come to life.
One of the reasons why this film has such a wonderful spirit is that both filmmakers are flyfishermen who understand the sport.
Justin Coupe is a sixth generation Californian, living in the greater Sacramento area. He first fly fished for steelhead at the age of 12 on Southern Oregon's North Umpqua River.
Palmer Taylor grew up in upstate New York, flyfishing with his father. Palmer got hooked on making this documentary when he hooked a 30-pound salmon on his first trip to the North Coast.
This award-winning documentary comes with a beautiful 41-page color booklet, for $29.99, plus shipping and handling from riversofalostcoast.com
James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.