Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday Review: Rivers of a Lost Coast

Thursday Review: Rivers of a Lost Coast

Justin Coupe and Palmer Taylor's new documentary Rivers of a Lost Coast (Skinny Fist, 2009: 1 hour 26 minutes run time) is a fascinating account of a largely unknown chapter in American fishing history. A film about the rise and fall of north coast California fly fishing, the story is narrated by the legendary actor Tom Skerritt -- best known to fly anglers as one of the stars of A River Runs Through It.

The stars of this loving chronicle are the salmon and steelhead and the people who love them. For those who have never had the pleasure of angling for steelhead, they rival the tarpon and Atlantic Salmon as mythic water beasts. And there were few places on earth with more mythic steelhead than California's Eel, Smith and Russian Rivers. Yet the vast resources of California were largely unknown to anglers outside of the region.

Men such as Schwab, Stoner, and others were responsible for putting California's winter fly angling on the map in the post-World War II era. Developing new techniques and tackle powerful enough to withstand the powerful steelhead, organizations such as the Golden Gate Casting Club (home to Fenwick's Jimmy Green and others) where shooting head lines were first developed, soon made fly angling for the coastal steelhead and Chinook possible.

The post-war boom that touched every area of American angling forever changed California's coastal fisheries. The Russian River serves as the backdrop for the great drama that unfolds in the film, where Bill Schaadt, the unorthodox and legendary angler, first became the epicenter of a growing rivalry and controversy.

The legendary Bill Schaadt.

The problem was that California's great fisheries were no longer a secret. Outdoor writers such as Ted Trueblood hyped the northern coast in a series of popular articles, driving thousands of anglers to rivers all across California. As the fishable waters dwindled, Bill Schaadt found his foil in the form of Ted Lindner, another dedicated and obsessed angler. With differing philosophies, they soon grew to dislike each other intensely, and as each developed a cadre of followers, the rivers devolved into two camps even as the last truly wild frontiers were disappearing.

The ecological disaster that followed unregulated logging took its toll by the 1960s, when the great fishing of the north coast declined drastically. The damming of the Russian River, for example, nearly extinguished its legendary steelhead run, while the Eel was literally filled with mud, the result of overlogging in the nearby hills. By the 1970s there was virtually no fishing left on the north coast rivers.

This is the backdrop to the drama of the story that unfolds in Rivers of a Lost Coast. Utilizing numerous vintage photos and in particular home made 8mm film, the filmmakers intersperse these images with interviews with both anglers who fished the rivers during its golden age and writers such as Russ Chatham, Lani Waller and Jack Berryman. The result is a beautiful fim.

Rivers of a Lost Coast is an elegiac tale of angling and anglers gone by. Lovingly crafted and filmed, it is both a fitting tribute and a clarion warning about what we all have to gain -- and lose -- when it comes to our fisheries.

The film is available for $29.99 from the Rivers of a Lost Coast web site and is a must have for anyone interested in fly angling or fishing history. Everything about the film is first class, including the DVD case which even comes with a commemorative booklet. It is on the short list of perfect holiday gifts for the fly angler.

-- Dr. Todd

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