Ingredients for an organic, free range documentary

dylan_sarah2.jpgInfamous Nushagak Point set-netter Dylan Braund says bye to his incredible wife Sarah and their son Finn before joining his crew for 14 hours of sockeye genocide. Photo by Ben Knight

Quote of the day: “Sad is when a man is asked to tell a story, and has no story to tell.” —Sarah Braund of Nushagak Point, Alaska

Beware: this is a little on the sensitive side. Just deal with it ok?

Ever have those moments when you meet someone, and the glow in their eyes and the truth in what they say simply remind you what your priorities in life should be? I long for those moments when you’re left speechless, but everything [all of a sudden] just seems so clear. Seeing a new grandfather holding his grandson at his fish camp with tears rolling over his cheeks and speaking of his dream come true. Meeting a young man so passionate about the sockeye run that he spends his winters welding every seam of his boats by hand and uses the money from fishing to pay for law school so he can fight for this place in hopes that the salmon will return for his son. Here’s to Ole, Dylan and Sarah of Nushagak Point, three people I will always look up to and never forget. Thank you for trusting us.

eyeblack_matt1.jpgMatt A.K.A “Eye-black” came to Nushagak point for one thing, and one thing only: POUNDAGE! 20,000 pounds of sockeye in one night to be exact. Matt brought his girlfriend Tiffany, who may very well be the faster fish picker of the two and seemed to get more beautiful the dirtier she got. Photo by Ben Knight

Dylan Braund. As bad-ass as a fisherman can possibly be. Period. He is so bad-ass his nick name is “Captain Insano.” If being awesome was a crime, my boy would be on the most wanted list. When he’s not ripping his custom speed-picking skiff around like a bat out of hell for 36 hours straight and tossing hundred-pound anchors like horseshoes he’s taking a 5 minute nap in what they call “the coffin.” A coffin sized aluminum box with a hinged lid on the stern of his barge made for the brief speed nap only. His wife Sarah, the she-banshee of sockeye slaying, says all of his fingernails fall off by the end of the 3-week season. Why you may ask? In order to remove thousands upon thousands of fish per day from your net, they must be “picked.” This requires lightning-fast problem solving skills and super strong hands to de-tangle the sockeye’s gills from the matrix-like mesh and chuck the 10-pound fish without looking into a bag thus spraying a stream of salmon blood onto my lens. Techno is his beat of choice when the heat is on, and the music thumps from his I-Pod as his crew steps up the pace. You could go on and on about how brilliant and talented this cat is, but at the end of the day he’s a mellow, articulate dude who wants nothing more than to ride the tide home to his wife Sarah and his new son Finn. Dylan’s vision and dedication will undoubtedly revolutionize set-netting for his son’s generation.

keith1.jpgKeith, everybody’s favorite british geologist broke it down to us plain and simple in Northern Dynasty’s “core room.” This is officially a copper mine were dealing with folks… fuck the gold, we’re here for the copper. You just can’t beat a british accent… we couldn’t have casted a better geologist. Photo by Ben Knight

sam1.jpgNot all fisherman fit the bill, but Sam… I’d have to say Sam looks the part. Sam captains the “Lowboy” tender while his wife bakes chocolate chip cookies in the galley. Everybody digs Sam, he’s always got a big grin waiting for you. Photo by Ben Knight

ben_bargenap.jpgWith Travis sucking on a bottle of 10-year old scotch, Lauren passed out in the “coffin” and I drooling on my collar, we all settled down for a long winters nap. The alien looking things behind me are Dylan’s home-made ultra visible flashing buoys that alert other boats that his nets are out when it gets “almost dark” around 2AM. Photo by Travis Rummel

Quote of the day: “You may be a redneck if you have to remove buckshot from your trout before you eat it.” —Ole’s friend Bill re: the time Ole was out hunting birds in Montana and came back to the cabin with two brown trout instead.


Ole is the unofficial Mayor of Nushagak Point and one of the most respected fishermen on the Nushagak river. Even with a recently broken back and two artificial hips, you’ll rarely notice that anything fazes this spitting image of John Wayne. [But, I think I may have captured one of those moments] This photo was taken after 36 hours of constant fishing with only 5 hours of sleep. Ole even does the cooking for his crew and took time to feed Travis and I as well. Ole, fuck Mayor, you will always be the King in my book. Photo by Ben Knight

Worth noting:

Number of visits to the Felt Soul blog thus far: 7,500. [If that ain’t something to write home about, I don’t know what is]

Ok, here’s the deal: We’re headed off the grid for the remaining days of July. We’ll rarely have internet and we’ll be downloading footage in the field thanks to solar panels generously donated by Brunton. Don’t expect a blog update for a little while, but please check back in, because this junk show ain’t over yet.

Travis and I often wonder how we could possibly pay all the favors back to the people who have helped along the way. I like Travis’s idea best: “I think the best way we can re-pay the favor is to make a great film.”

Happy Birthday Mom, I love you. —Ben


I thought I could jump on the bottom of Ben’s post here…

In attempting to embed ourselves with the commercial fishing community of Dillingham we have successfully
Slept in a 40 foot container in the boat yard, the back of a leaky (for ben) Ford f250 on a rainy night, camped on the beach of Nushagak Point, enjoyed 2 nights in a hotel and spent over 15 hours on a single tender (a large fish transport barge) while traveling 3 nautical miles. Now the latest chapter – 3 people + gear camped out in a white Chevrolet Astro Van in the Peter Pan Cannery Parking lot. We are living the dream.

This last chapter is on the verge of breaking the team apart. The lack of sleep from pretending to live the commercial fishing life in the near climax of the sockeye push has worn us down; now go to sleep in the mini van and make a film, bitch.

In attempting the commercial fisherman’s experience in Bristol Bay, embedding ourselves and asking the fishermen to go on and pretend we aren’t there – keep fishing and forget about us – It seems that fishing, at least in Bristol Bay, is more about getting fathers and sons, hell in a lot of cases, the whole family together and killing a shit load of fish.

It has been a blood bath the last couple of days for us in the midst of what looks to be the peak of the sockeye push into the tidal waters of the Nushagak and Wood Rivers. I don’t want to sound like some kind of catch and release pussy, but seeing thousands and thousands of sockeye harvested day after day has taken a psychological toll. The utter amount of fish, net after net, is tremendous and almost unexplainable. The sheer magnitude is hard to comprehend and the fish keep coming.

About 5.3 million fish have been harvested through the combined efforts of over 650 drift net fisher men, the ones in the oversized 32 foot fishing boats, and the set netters or mud fisherman as they can prefer to be called. We were fortunate enough to spend time with some unique characters from both groups capturing moments that will make for an amazing sequence in the film.

A special thank you to Kai and Croc of the Heidi Ann, Peter Andrew of The Lucky Bear, Lindsey Bloom of the Erica Leigh, Ole Olson + crew, Dylan, Sarah, and Fin + crew of Nushagak Point for trusting us and letting us into your lives.

—Travis Rummel


Another blog jumper…

img_2210.jpgLate night aboard the Island Beauty, traveling to the South Line in Wild Salmon Water World. Photo by Lauren Oakes

I am pretty darn sure I am the first Trout Unlimited employee to use our name as a call sign over VHF amidst the peak of the world’s largest remaining sockeye salmon commercial fishery. Seemed like every fishermen out there was willing to help out one way or another, however, knowing we’re trying to protect the resource. The more time we spend out here, the more we see commercial, sport, subsistence truly coming together.

The team finally earned real credibility for our dedication to the project when we finally made it back to Peter Pan after our 6 days fake or fo fishing, foshing I guess. “You’re starting to look a little haggard,” mentioned Jeff in the main office. Little did he know I spent the night before trying to catch and hour of sleep in the coffin, a remarkably warm yet somewhat scaly stainless steel box aboard Dylan’s boat. And wished I had spent the 20 bucks for the deckhand license to get out there and pick, instead of standing knee deep in 10,000 pounds of sockeye, only as witness. Splattered in sockeye blood, plastered with silver scales, I thought, “Somehow I don’t think this is what our Redington / Sage sponsors imagined when they sent us new waders.”

img_2220.jpgApparently Ben gets motion sickness. Thanks to the folks who make Bonine this is not a projectile moment, rather one for pondering the next shot… Photo by Lauren Oakes

A few highlights from the past week– Sunset at Nushagak point, perhaps the most magical place and community I have experienced yet. Fourth of July with Sarah, Ole, and little Finn, baking cookies for the fisherman and listening to stories. Tears welling up from everyone in the barge cabin, as we can only begin to understand what it means to pass this way of life on to yet another generation. Ole, wishing us farewell, “Tell the truth, and it will set your free.” “Hopefully it will keep the fish running free…” we holler back, now knee deep in the legendary mud off the point. Dylan, Bill, Brady, Nick “the Machine”, Tiff, Matt, all of you — we will never forget our time with you. Dylan and Sarah and little Finn, you are truly an inspiration.

Thank you to all the tenders and boats and wonderful hard working people who helped us along the way. Minus the 15 hours Travis spent standing on a tender wondering about a ride one way or another, I would say it couldn’t have gone better. We are seeing and experiencing so much, it’s a challenge to take it all in. With clean lenses, gear trimmed down to bare minimal (still some 300 lbs total), recharged camera batteries and somewhat recharged personal batteries, we head to Igiugig to begin the chapter of understanding a subsistence way of life along the shores of Lake Iliamna…

—Lauren Oakes


9 thoughts on “Ingredients for an organic, free range documentary

  1. Ben, your ability to paint a picture and impose a viseral reaction through the written language is amazing. The crew that you are with sounds like a great group!! Continue to enjoy; continue being safe; and continue to write….


    jesus, nice work fellas. it looks like your having a blast and gathering the goods for one hell of a film. congratulations and may the schwartz be with you.

    keep firing assholes!! – Dark Helmet

  3. Guys, go see Kiana Putman at the ADF&G office there in Dillingham, she will set you up with a place to stay, tell her I sent you. She is the tall one who works behind the counter sometimes. And go find Jason Dye at ADF&G too, you really need to talk to him, he might let you camp in his backyard, he lives off of the lake road. I will let Kiana know you are on the way…

  4. I am so deeply affected by the descriptions of the people you are meeting, the bonds you are making with those who depend on fishing for their livlihood, and the many ways you are already touching the lives of the people you are meeting on your journey, just as they are touching yours so very profoundly. The work you are doing, the adventure you are on, and the documentary you will make are all so important. I am so very proud of the three of you, but especially of my daughter, Lauren, who is on this mission with you. There is no doubt that when you are asked to tell a story, you will have an incredible one to tell.

  5. Hello,

    My son is a fishing guide for BBL (Bristol Bay Lodge) last Sep when he returned from AK he came back with 50 lbs. of coho and your documentary Red Gold. I was quite moved by your film and sure it will do much in the fight against the Pebble Mine.

    I want to help somehow and am currently working on a song about this threat to this fishery.

    I would like to get in touh with Dylan Braund and see if he is still on track with his law studies to help fight the mine.

    Again hats off you for a great documentary.

    Respectfully Yours,

    Timothy W. Lacinak

  6. Timothy,
    Dylan just graduated from law school this spring and is currently in Dillingham getting his fleet of set net skiffs ready for the 2010 season.

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