Tributaries – An International Fly Fishing Film of Contrast and Commonality
By RC Cone
Here I am in the middle of the hair-pulling, eye-bulging screen time that is post production. Another 14-hour day and I need fresh air. I go for long walks under the stars and think about the night skies of the Bahamas, Iceland and Patagonia.
After my last film, Breathe, I really wanted to explore the wider implications of fly fishing. How does our sport fit into the world? What is this worldwide community like? What are the differences and similarities on a global scale? Instead of a personal journey, I wanted to explore the world’s waters and the cultures that inhabit them.
I thought about the places and fish that enticed me – and booked flights. I put 90% of my belongings in storage, cancelled my cell phone service and disconnected the battery from my truck, consumed goodbye beers.
[Above: Prescott Smith chases bonefish on the flats of Mastic point, Andros Island, The Bahamas. All photos courtesy of RC Cone]
I’m nervous, excited and anxious. Breathe was an eye-opener for me personally and I have a strong feeling Tributaries will do the same and more.
My plan was to meet up with three guides in three very different places – Iceland, Argentina and the Bahamas – and immerse myself in local language, culture and fly fishing. I didn’t have many preconceptions and I wanted my experiences in each locale to dictate the path of Tributaries as a film. The goal was to truly embed myself and be present wherever I was at the moment.
A one-man filmmaking and fishing crew travels like a wrecking ball. Loaded with pound upon pound of photography equipment and fishing gear, for three diverse climate zones, I staggered off towards my first stop: the Bahamas.
I arrived on Andros Island in the Bahamas excited for the bonefishing and tropical weather – those things are definitely there, but there’s so much more. Actually, there’s nothing there. I expected huge resorts with sunburnt tourists in fanny packs lounging by the pool ordering room service.
Nope. Not even close.
Calling the roads pothole-infested is an understatement; the worst Montana dirt road doesn’t have anything on the Queen’s Highway, the main road through and around Andros Island. Between dodging holes and dodging other cars dodging holes, one can go miles before seeing a settlement or another person.
In the Bahamas, bonefish are everywhere you look. Of course, I could never spot them, but my guide, Prescott Smith, has the third sense. Once I saw them, it’d be too late. They’d be jetting off, laughing at my northern ineptness. Bonefish make reels scream. Pound for pound, they are amazing fish to chase and watching them dart around the flats like fighter jets is quite the experience.
Prescott knows that in a country whose number one economic generator is tourism, the flats are their most important resource. He sees fly fishing as his vehicle – training other guides, teaching the big-wigs and business men that visit him the importance of the flats, always staying involved with the young government on issues that concern Bahamians. He works tirelessly to empower everyone around him through fly fishing. Through his lodge and his organizations – the Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association (BFFIA) and the Bahamas Sportfishing Conservation Association (BSCA) – Prescott has worked diligently for 20 years to give local Bahamians a stake in the greatest resource they have: the flats.
Prescott says, “I wouldn’t fly fish if I didn’t believe it can lead to something more.”
Prescott Smith poses in front of his most important natural resource: the flats.
What do you get with the largest flats in the world? The largest concentration of bonefish.
Prescott Smith returns to his boat after a long day of bone fishing at Mastic Point, on the northeastern end of Andros Island.
The dock at Stafford Creek Lodge, on Andros Island in the Bahamas, on a starry Caribbean night.
My favorite Icelandic word is “yes.” It’s spelled Já but pronounced “Yow.” In Iceland, with Siggi Hauger, “Já” is all you can say. Siggi fishes for 12 hours a day. The sun doesn’t go down, there are salmon running the rivers, and the scenery is beautiful. Já, Já, Já, Já, Já, Já is the name of the game in the land of Vikings.
Salmon rivers; never-setting sun; hardcore, stoic fishermen – it’s amazing. I fished with Siggi for two weeks before ever having time to sit at a computer. That’s how nonstop this fishing culture is. Three different rivers, 12-plus hour days and SO MANY salmon landed made my trip to Iceland a total blur. I would’ve been exhausted if I had time to think. Where am I? What day is it? I lived the life of an Icelandic guide: out by 7am, back by 11pm and ready to do it again the next day. This is how they do it.
Siggi likes to laugh. Big jokes are accompanied by a big laugh from a big guy. The fly he invented, the Hauger, is in the fly boxes of most guides around the country. He said to me, over many cups of morning coffee and cigarettes, “You’re only ready to fish when you’re ready to fish.” He’s never in a hurry to get to the water, except when he’s fighting a fish. I’ve heard it called the Siggi Sway. He tugs on fish like a Viking pillaging a town, with absolute conviction and zero hesitation.
One night, around 3am, scotch finished, sun already rising, Siggi threw a curveball at me. He started talking about how salmon learn to slap leaders in an attempt to escape with their tails. Was it genetics? A learned behavior? Instincts? I’m pretty sure Nietzsche’s name was mentioned somewhere in the conversation but you’ll have to ask Siggi. It was over my head.
Eastern Iceland meets the Arctic Ocean at the start of another day.
Siggi Haugur walks into his favorite pool on the Hofsa River in Eastern Iceland.
Watching a giant salmon rise to the surface and take a fly is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Hofsa River.
Dark, imposing weather frequently backdrops salmon fishing in Iceland.
If Siggi is the booming Viking and Prescott the philosophical, purpose-driven fisherman, my next stop in Argentina, with Tuqui Viscarro, was where I met the fun-loving angler who sums up the connection between all three guides, and us all.
Once you get on the water, its one world.
Everyone talks about Patagonia. I get it now. Some of the biggest brown trout I’ve ever caught; a 5000 kilometer road trip across Argentina; a horse-accessed, barely fished, private creek; lamb lunches made by legitimate gauchos. Whoa.
I was completely out of my element fishing for salmon and bonefish, but creeping around with a 4 weight is my kind of water. Further, this area of Patagonia feels like my home in Montana. Big sweeping grasslands, willow-infested river valleys, muy frio en la mañanas y noches, yet warm enough for nice hatches during the day. The people even remind me of home – I met a few of the ski instructor/fishing guide types in Junin de los Andes. Even though I was completely foreign and barely spoke the language, Argentina felt more familiar than anywhere else I’d been that year.
I was proud to become Tuqui’s personal cebador, the one responsible for making the mate. Shake out the dust, make sure the water is hot but not boiling, take the first drink to clear the shake, and keep that mate gourd rotating! Also, if someone hands you a gourd, don’t say thank you until you’re actually done with the mate, they’ll just keep handing it to you.
Patagonia life blends new and old. Tuqui himself is quite the animated, social dude with a dedicated passion for sharing the joy of fishing with as many people as possible. He honks at everyone, waves “hi” and will always stop for a conversation on the street. Tuqui’s gaucho roots emphasize a connection to the natural world that makes him a perfect ambassador for his favorite thing in the world: water.
Tuqui Viscarro sets up to fish Spring Creek in Northern Patagonia, Argentina.
Tuqui plays one of the many Argentine trout on his favorite 2-weight fly rod.
Fooling big browns on a fly is one of the more rewarding Argentinian experiences.
Lamb asado after a long rainy day exploring new water, in a secret location, with legitimate Argentine gauchos on horseback.
Now, back in the U.S. of A., I’m trying to tell this story, and I realize the story has been there the entire time. Although we are an international crew of fly fishers, and although we fish for different fish with different styles, it’s the water that connects us. We’re all stakeholders in having clean water. Why can’t we, as the fly fishing community, be the leaders and take charge in preserving the one thing that brings vitality to our existence?
After meeting these three guides, I realized we can. A gold mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska and the issues associated with not-so-eco tourism in the Bahamas concern us all. They are both, theoretically and technically, issues that concern the same water. When you’re fishing in the Bahamas, you’re fishing water from Alaska, Iceland water in Argentina, African water in Australia, etc., etc. – and vice versa. The realization: fly fishing is a powerful current that unifies an even stronger worldwide community.
Tributaries is a journey to uncover the commonality among different cultures, people and water. It explores the contrasting experiences of three diverse guides – a Bahamian flats-drifter, a Patagonian trout bum and a Viking-blooded Icelander. Three stories merging into one: a tribute to the world’s water. Tributaries is an official selection of the 2014 F3T and 2014 Rise film festivals. Full-length downloads are available at Tributariesfilm.com and begin at $4.
Watch the full film now.
RC Cone is a photographer and filmmaker currently living in Portland, Oregon (that’s where his bike is at least). When he was 18, RC moved from the flatlands to Big Sky Country and graduated from the University of Montana with a camera and a degree in Environmental Studies. He and his camera have travelled around four continents and dream everyday of new adventures. Get his latest updates on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.