Life’s too short to hunt with an ugly dog…

kris_jetboat.jpgIf you ask jet boat pilot Kris Kennedy how shallow he can take his skiff, he’ll tell you “five feet.” “I can make it across about five feet of dry gravel.” Kris is without a doubt one of the best sport fishing guides in Bristol Bay. His plan to save the area from mining is to find Bigfoot. This way we’ll have a Bigfoot wildlife refuge on our hands. I like this idea. Photo by Ben Knight

Q&A of the day: Does a bear shit in the tundra? Answer: Yes, lots.

Updates: We just passed the 13,625 viewer mark on the Felt Soul blog. Cheers to that, and thanks for your support of independent filmmaking!

Best blog day ever: Saturday August 4th, 555 views.
[Thanks to the Telluride Daily Planet]

Day: 62

Total hours filmed: 41

Total hours of cherished footage known to be lost in the black hole of the evil matrix of our digital world: approx 30 minutes

Did you know that bug populations are so epic in Alaska that the severity of the insect swarm can dictate Caribou migration? At one point on the upper Nushagak river I was contemplating my own migration back to Colorado as the demonic white sock fly was crawling up my sleeves, behind my ears and under my waist line, leaving streaks and pools of my own blood behind. As you could imagine, it’s a little challenging to hold a camera still when this is happening. It’s also hard to resist the urge to flail around like a man on fire, ripping your clothes off and cursing God. When I rolled up my sleeve, my forearm looked like it had been through BB gun hell fire. Your skin crawls with the urge to itch the bites after you’ve wiped the blood away but those who know from experience tell you not to scratch unless you don’t mind permanent scars oozing puss, or a possible trip to the hospital. Not what I would describe as ideal filmmaking conditions, but fuck it, you only live once.

camille.jpgCamille Egdorf, 17, has been hunting and fishing since she was big enough to hold a rod and aim a gun. This girl can throw some line. When I fished with Camille I felt like a monkey waving a stick and every time I looked over she was releasing a rainbow. Oh, and the bronze color on the water is pollen incase you were wondering. Photo by Ben Knight

Don’t expect a re-cap of what you’ve missed in the last couple weeks. Seriously. Just leave me alone. It’s not like I’m getting paid to write this crap. I can barely comprehend the amount of shit that has gone down. First of all, Lauren [TU girl] hates me for sure. Boy, did I call that one early in the trip. Not many people have hated me, but I’m almost positive that she finds no redeeming qualities here. It’s pretty much all over a box of king-size Snickers, but it’s a long story, and I type too slowly to tell it. Brief explanation: Ben + Snickers = wonderful, fun to be around and sarcastic dry humor for days. Ben – Snickers = Insensitive, sensitive, bitchy redneck [with a shotgun]

lauren_chumattack.jpgLauren was severely mauled by a snaggle-toothed chum salmon that she tried to handle for a photo. We haven’t seen her since. Word has it she’s back in Juneau doing whatever it is that vegetarians do. Oh, right, eating game. “Alaskatarian” is what she prefers to be called. Blurry photo by Ben Knight

What you’ve missed in a [nut]shell:

Travis went wakeboarding behind a small fishing boat wearing nothing more than his boxers and a lifejacket and every time he got up these two little Athabascan indian girls had to cover their eyes because his shorts were falling off and his balls were showing. Yes, we have this on video. No it won’t be on U-Tube. Travis shivered for the following two hours, but the doctors say he’ll be fine.

The wealthiest man in Alaska [seriously] is a big, bold, cigar lovin’ fella named Bob, and he happens to be leading the fight against the Pebble Mine by paying for lobbyists and expensive political-style ad campaigns. His 5,000 square foot lodge sits in the Lake Clark National Park, just a stones throw from the proposed mine site. His rich ass had two of his pimped-out bush planes and three employees at our disposal for an entire day. Before we arrived via jet boat at his lodge he had already sent a beaver [the hot-rod of float planes] stuffed with a 3-wheeler and trailer to be dropped off on a lake near where we were going to start our 53-mile raft trip down the Koktuli river. [a river that begins at the mine site] You won’t believe your eyes when you see these guys trying to fit a 3-wheeler into a floatplane. Now that is an awesome idea that only an Alaskan comes up with. When they landed, there were already bears hanging out, so the dude they dropped off was armed with the biggest handgun ever made. “Check these out…” he said, ” “This is why I don’t carry a shotgun.” Referring to a handful of massive predator slaying bullets. That dude and his big ass gun drove the raft a mile across the tundra and kindly pumped it up for us. If I had asked, I’m almost positive he would have thrown me over his shoulder and carried me to the put in. Beast of a man he was. Without that 3-wheeler we would have spent a day just getting our gear to the river. [incase you were wondering: No, Bob didn’t pay for our film, he made a contribution to our still ongoing funraising efforts and obviously saved us several thousand on the Koktuli lift]

bigfoot.jpgNot sure if this was a bear track or a Bigfoot track… I’m going to go with the mythical creature theory because there obviously weren’t any bears this big outside our tents. That’s Lauren’s right hand by the way, and for all you single bushmen on the prowl: there ain’t no ring on the other hand. Photo by Ben Knight

Keep in mind this place is hundreds of miles from anything. Imagine that… exactly, you cant. Nothing is out there besides hungry wild animals, tundra for days and the occasional Northern Dynasty helicopter whirring overhead scaring terds out of the caribou. We strapped the camera to the wing of the other plane, a Super Cub [the tricked out Subaru WRX of the bush] and did a reconnaissance mission over the 53 miles of river to make sure we knew where the dangerous log jams were and picked out a good spot for a pick-up seven days later. In addition to lending us their 14-foot raft, we also borrowed a chainsaw and a can of Boy Scout juice [lighter fluid] for those rainy, difficult to start a fire sort of nights. Turns out… that was every night. Oh, and a shotgun. Just in case the natives got restless.

trav_rain.jpgWelcome to life on the Koktuli river. Paddle, fish, paddle, fish, repeat. Travis takes momentary refuge under a small umbrella that I’ve carried all over the place and never actually used until now. Photo by Ben Knight

The river started off skinny and stayed that way for 2 days until the first tributaries began trickling in. My back ached at night from dragging the raft over shallow sections of river while Lauren sat in the raft and enjoyed the view. She would get out and help, but only when I’d exhausted all possible forms of grunt inducing leverage. Every couple hours we’d surprise a grizzly bear or two but luckily they seemed more apprehensive than curious. I got the feeling they hadn’t seen many [if any] humans before by the way they reacted. If roles were reversed and I was chowing salmon on the riverbank when a bear came around the corner rowing a blue raft… well, I’d peace the fuck out too. I’ve never felt more alone, even with two friends near by. There was a quiet in the tundra that I’ve never experienced. Not even a bird chirp, or the sound of water at times when the river was slow. Having no idea what was around the next bend in the river gave a sense of adventure. I often wondered how quickly I could cock the gun and get the safety off before Travis’s scalp was being gnawed on. And then Lauren would belt out in her least lady-like voice HEY BEAR… HAAAAY BEAR. So much for my quiet time. Lauren would yell “hey bears” all the time, even when she actually saw a bear, which was confusing and constantly startling for Travis and I, so we came up with the code word for an actual bear sighting. BUTTERFLY! BUTTERFLY!

eagles.jpgI often drive 45 minutes to a small town near Telluride called Norwood in hopes of capturing a shot of an eagle. It never works, no matter how slow I crawl toward the tree. Turns out, it’s way easier to just fly to Alaska where they’re not as camera shy and just sit there squawking at you like a couple cocky roosters. Photo by Ben Knight

Seeing our first pod of spawning sockeye weave around the raft was a memorable moment, but after a few days and hundreds of sightings it just seemed normal to see massive glowing cherry-red fish darting around like roaches when the lights go on. It makes the river feel alive, like a vein pulsing blood from the ocean into the hills. Feeding almost everything that breathes. HAAAAY BEAR. HAAAAY BEAR. “Does she see one, or is she just finding a place to piss?” I would say to Travis. Travis kindly reminds me of the code word. It started raining the first day and didn’t stop for more than a few minutes for the rest of the trip. By day four I smelled like a moldy jockstrap so I braved the river for a bath. For some reason that I can’t really explain, bathing naked in an ice cold river and trying not to scream with the camp soap bottle in my mouth on a rainy, windy night just seemed like the perfect moment for something with big teeth and claws to pounce from the bushes. Maybe the early stages of hypothermia induce mild paranoia… or maybe being naked and gun-less gives a sense of vulnerability… who knows, but I couldn’t stop checking the bushes. Turns out, the only thing watching me was Travis. He had the camera rolling the whole time. I think he may have stopped rolling when I lathered up my junk though. This also, will not be on U-Tube.

rain_grass.jpgThe liquid on this Alaskan bush grass is called “water.” It comes from the sky in the form of what the natives call “rain.” This phenomenon happens often… usually in periods of four days in a row. You will be imprisoned in your stinky cold waders until further notice. Get used to it. Photo by Ben Knight

The journey was a successful one, we were able to get some wildlife footage that we needed [moose, bear, caribou, eagles] and most importantly show people ground zero, a place that could be most quickly affected by a potential accident at the mine. At one point, up-river of where we put in, the Koktuli actually disappears underground and a mile or so later it reappears. Seeing how shallow the headwaters are, and considering a maze of underground aquifers in the Tundra… it just seems insane to extract water from this creek for mining, much less expose such a complex water table to anything out of the ordinary. But that’s just my [un]educated opinion.

trav_bite.jpgTravis dedicated about 8-10 hours a day to finding the elusive Koktuli river rainbow. This process involved mostly the act of fishing and not so much the act of catching. Photo by Ben Knight

“Lean forward when I tell ya, ok?” Said the pilot who was trying get his floats on step after cramming the gear from our river trip in every nook and cranny of his plane. If a plane had an ashtray, we would have put something in it. That’s how full this plane was. Travis and I gave a nod to the pilot and looked at each other, confirming our mutual confusion over whether or not he was serious about the whole lean forward thing. 20 seconds pass as the rpm’s come to a deafening hum and we’re still motoring up the river… getting closer to the end of the straightaway and approaching a bend lined with tall trees. “LEAN FORWARD!” barked the pilot. Travis and I shot our chests out as far as we could but the plane was still on the water. We started to turn, following the bend. At this point the engine was roaring, leaving a wake you could ski behind. I actually had time to reflect: “Maybe there is more to life than having the stiffest wheels on my mountainbike.” A moment later the plane sluggishly took flight, gaining just enough altitude to clear the tree line. Come to find out later, this was the heaviest load he had ever lifted off a river in this aircraft.

dave.jpgThe one and only, Dave Egdorf. Ever meet someone who you swore up and down that their life would make the perfect book? Well if his life was a movie it’d need a sequel because this man has stories for days. He’s literally done it all, seen it all. Some say Dave came out of his mother’s womb with dry feet… already wearing a pair of hip boots so he could walk straight into the woods and not come back. Photo by Ben Knight

Meet the definition of a bushman. Dave lives the dream of many men. He’s killed and skinned just about anything that moves, caught every fish, flown, landed and taken off where few dare to take an aircraft and always… I mean always, has a story to tell. Normally slammed flying clients in and out of his two incredibly remote sport fishing camps, we were blessed with 2 days of his time. His guide staff, his drunk cook, his wife Kim and his amazing daughter Camille were all there to greet us and do whatever they could to better the film. We had no idea what to expect… it was like going to a movie you’ve never heard of and leaving the theater completely floored. After 3 perfect days I didn’t want to leave. One of the guides we met had been engaged recently. A seemingly perfect life in his path, but the draw of Alaska [more specifically Dave’s camp] turned it all upside down. He found himself faced with choosing between the two. The guide’s eyes would light up with intensity when he spoke of the auburn fall colors and the way the light changes with the seasons. He kept mentioning how he’s walked and boated where no one has before, and caught rainbows that have never seen a fly. The wildness of this place was intoxicating, yet humbling, and the sense of family in that random grove of tall pines on the river bend was enough to change anyone. I understood why these people had all made sacrifices to be there.

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Tom is his name. A [mostly benched] division 3 college football player who thought being a rookie, under-paid Alaskan fishing guide might just be the way to go. So here he sits in the upper Nushagak river, [as are we] waiting motionless and silently for two hours for a grizzly bear that never showed up. [the wind changed, so he most likely smelled us] A piece of recently learned bush wisdom that Tom shared with us: Campfire charred porcupine tastes best the closer you get to the ass.

[If you are a grandparent of mine, don’t read this, and shame on my Dad for giving out this web address to my poor family]

Rookie Tom’s campfire joke of the day: What are the three reasons why it sucks to be an egg?

1. It takes three minutes to get hard

2. You only get laid once.

3. Your Mom is the only chick who’ll sit on your face.

kris_bow.jpgGuide Kris Kennedy tends to a small child-sized Nushagak rainbow while big Rummel burns some card. Photo by Ben Knight

Note: Although Travis and I… well, mostly me, give Lauren a hard time every day and on the blog, we love her dearly and are well aware that this shoot would have never succeeded without her hard work and dedication. She has left us for a well earned bowl of organic greens, and we understand. Heart.

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True Wilderness

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Ben packin’ heat on bear patrol with a pipe full of slugs at camp on the Mulchatna river. It doesn’t take long in Alaska to get the feeling that you are the prey. Everything around you will do whatever it takes to survive. The salmon will swim until they literally rot and when the bears get tired of salmon and berries they’ll take down an animal three times their size. Whatever it takes. Long story short: big guns are cool and they make [Ben] happy. Screw the bear spray. Photo by Travis Rummel

Up until the past couple of weeks, our experiences in Bristol Bay were limited to small villages and towns that make up what little infrastructure there is in Bristol Bay. We had not had the true wilderness experience that was always surrounding us but just out of reach. This all changed with a drop off at the headwaters of the Nushagak River on the Koktuli River in the shadow of the proposed Pebble Mine Site. The Koktuli is one of two creeks (the other being Upper Talarik Creek) that would disappear if the mine were to go through. The water will be needed to quench the thirst of the mining activities.

aerial.jpgThe veins of Bristol Bay. Even from a thousand feet you can see the salmon if you look close. [PLUG] Especially with a fabulous pair of polarized Oakley sunglasses. [END PLUG] Photo by Ben Knight

The Koktuli is truly wild, especially once you get out of ear shot of the near continuous helicopter noise near the mine site. The river starts as a literal trickle barely wide enough to allow passage of our 14-foot raft, with each passing mile the creek slowly grew into a full-blown river. Starting high on the tundra before descending into a birch forest, we spent 6 days traveling 53 river miles from the mine site to the confluence with the Mulchatna River. Encountering brown bears on a daily basis and floating over spawning chum, sockeye and king salmon, the river teems with life. There were rainbows, grayling and dollies too.

This was my first experience in a true wilderness environment. After living in the west for close to 10 years, I like to think of myself as an experienced outdoorsman. The wild nature of this float dwarfed my prior outdoor experience. It felt intoxicatingly good to be awestruck by the size and scale of my surroundings. The float was epic even with the presence of near constant rain.

camille_trav.jpgCamille Egdorf, every Nushagak rainbow’s worst nightmare. Photo by Travis Rummel

The sun finally made an appearance as we were waiting for our pick up along the bank of the Mulchatna River by Dave Egdorf. Dave has one of the original camps on the upper Nushagak. His operation hasn’t changed much in its 18-year history. It is old school in the finest sense. If I were ever going to throw down some coin to hit up a destination this is what I would be looking for – raw wilderness and just enough amenities to keep it comfortable. The camp is amazing and was matched only by the Egdorf’s and their guides’ hospitality. Oh the fishing was pretty good too. Big healthy wild native bows sucking down mice on top and eating dead drifted flesh down below.

trav_wetsuit.jpgTravis, shivering as usual, waits for for the sun to dodge a cloud on the Kvichak river. Lauren declared that Ben’s ass, while rounder and more robust in the wetsuit, didn’t compare to Travis’s sleek, super tight, for business only ass. Photo by Ben Knight

It was a trip to be wading across the mighty Nushagak, 240 river miles from where we had previously been knee deep in the harvest of sockeyes just weeks before. Now, we were in the midst of thousands of brightly colored red sockeye getting ready to spawn. There were also tons of spawning kings, magnificently large in comparison to all the other fish in the river. There were no other people for 100 miles in any direction. It felt as if it was our river.

Thanks Dave, Camille, Kim, Kris, Ben and Tom for putting us up and sharing your camp with some hungry worn out filmmakers.

Also I wanted to give Lauren a shout out. Ben and I are now back to mono a mono as Lauren has made the decision that she has had enough of our “film” project and with us. She is back in Juneau enjoying greens from her garden and a mound of paper work on her desk. Thanks for all of your help Lauren; we couldn’t have done it without you.

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…”TU Girl…” Reporting In and Out…

illy_sunset.jpgThere are only a few sunsets in your life that you’ll remember, but it helps when they last for hours. Lydia Olympic, Illiamna Lake. Photo by Ben Knight

While watching another disco-tech download at Egdorf’s camp, Travis asked me “Are you sad it’s over?” And I pretty much replied —- Heck no, because we did it all, you’re set for the last pieces you need, and it just feels like a job well done. Back in October when we started mapping out our logistics, this was the dream, all of this. We’ve seen more and learned more and talked to more people in region than I ever could have imagined. I have so much to process and reflect on and consider for how our work moves forward. So many more people wanting to support our efforts… And I know you’ve got the footage and editing skills now to make the best damn film ever.” And well, I was ready for a new pair of clothes and a day without the never-ending despair of extreme shooting conditions.

Really people (holy geez 10,000 of them watching now!), I don’t hate Ben, I just really didn’t want to be that woman who barely made her 26th birthday found mauled beside a box of snickers, out in depths of the last great frontier state.
Travis and Ben, thank you for all that you are doing, for all that you are, for stepping forward and asking TU to join forces with you to make this happen. You guys are amazing. And back in civilization with a break from swatting and itching flies, I can clearly see we have already made a difference…. But these past 7 weeks were just the start of all that is to come…

the-team.jpgThere’s no “I” in team. Our last night on the Koktuli, thankfully a dry one. (L to R) Lauren, Ben and Travis. Photo by Ben Knight

Some highlights from my Journal on the Koktuli:

….My seasons of guiding rivers in the lower 48 allows me to deeply appreciate the push-off moment again — when boat leaves bank and adventure begins– those feelings of freedom and the unknown when all logistics and plans mean nothing anymore. What we have is what we have, and what we become are guests in wild territory. Those feelings intensify when the float planes takes off and our team of three is committed to the winding path ahead – to make it from headwaters in the heart of the proposed mine site to the confluence with the Mulchatna river. Koktuli to Mulchatna to Nushagak, the water we touch will eventually meet Ole and Dylan and Sarah and little Finn too at Nushagak point…

ben_trav_kok.jpgBen rows while Travis throws on the last mile of the Koktuli. Photo by Lauren Oakes

…Day 1: There’s a part of me that wants to float completely silent, quietly move with the girgling rio through the narrow green canopies of leaning spruce, eyes peeled in the thick grass for any wildlife that might appear, unaware of our presence. That’s the ever-curious piece of me, always searching and inquiring, wanting to fully experience… the let’s appreciate it all and do not disturb mindset. Then there’s the other side, okay let’s be honest, the much more dominant one that is hollering hello or offering a round of applause around every 180 oxbow turn. I’m a bit frustrated with this urge to warn the wild, as I’d really just like some quiet. But I deeply appreciate how in tune I am to the surroundings, the breeze through the trees, the sounds of current, the flap or a the wing of an arctic tern to the swoop of an eagle, to the unique slow clop of four grizzly paws, making way from bush to sand to water…

camp.jpg53 miles of river and only one sign of a previous campfire. Photo by Ben Knight

…Day 6: Silent appreciation prevails at last and I move quietly downriver simply looking and listening in the lead. I am floating around a big bend, unable to see much of anything at all, admiring the terns that squak above. (It seems as though they still cannot forgive us for our previous camping site. We appear to be continually disturbing their nesting grounds, and I feel bad about that.) The boys float behind me, Travis still on his unrelenting mission for rainbows. I hear an enormous clatter, the sound of something, big, really really big, charging up river at me. I have absolutely no visibility around the corner.. I just know it – what?- is coming right at me… I’m hollering “wooaaa woooaaaaaaaaaaa.” And standing tall, thinking I’m pretty damn sure bears don’t charge in herds. But after sleeping in a puddle of prints three times the size of my hands night after night after night, 10 encounters already, in this moment I am vividly picturing a wall of bears at full speed ahead….

…The clatter, to my relief and immediate, pure joy, is a herd of the Mulchatna Caribou, row after row of brown bodies stretching from one bank to another. It is the sound of hooves upon river bed, clogging their way straight for little me and little red. And to my amazement, in a split second they all come to a screeching halt, hooves settle still on rock and Koktuli water settles. And it’s at this point that I laugh, actually laugh out loud. I slowly pull back into sight of the boys, who are no longer fishing, but standing and looking intensely, surely wondering perhaps slightly fearing what raucous I’d run into around the bend. I beckon Travis and Ben downriver, hoping the herd remains for the cameras to run. And we simply watch and listen…

tundra_baby.jpgA mysterious and rare “Tundra Baby” found near the mine site. Another reason to save this place from open pit mining. Photo by Ben Knight

There are so many people to thank from these past few weeks. But I’m working on the credit list instead; it will be a massive. How can we truly thank you all? By making an amazing film, by making a difference, by keeping in touch and strengthening the fight for permanent protection of this magical place we have so deeply experienced. Dave, I will forever remember our flight back to the Dillingham big city, me trusting you and the plane and the fate of nature at some 200 feet in the fog, the first leg of my trip back home. It was a ride I will never forget, a realization that we had, indeed followed the fish all the way up into the watershed, and experienced the communities, the fishing, the wild all along the way. It was a moment of seeing we had come full circle as we soared above the Nushagak and moved downriver. Dave pointed out the camp where Tech Cominco first camped when exploring in the 80’s, and we talked of what is to come of this ever-developing, overpopulating world. I soaked in the miles and miles of the pristine land and water that sustains that last great salmon fishery remaining, and all these incredible people and lifestyles and wonders it supports.

B & T, I am thinking of you guys. Say hi to the Salmon for me. Over and out, Lauren

A Renewed Sense of Vigor

Jack Ross, our guide up to Lake Clark is an 82 year old fishing fanatic, he also is putting an addition on his house by himself using a chain saw to hand cut the wide cedar planks. He thought he might need some additional help with the roof. He makes me feel old, especially when we pulled up to check on one his creeks pouring into Lake Clark. “If you guys are going to be so god damn slow about it, I will get in there myself.” I looked up in time to see him to hook a grayling on his first cast, while I was still fumbling to free a rod from his rod rack on the side of the boat. The joy that comes with hooking a fish no matter what your age was evident in Jack’s face with every fish caught and every fish story told.

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Jack Continues to Slay ‘Em | Photo by Travis Rummel

He returned us to Nondalton – where we have been camped out for the past week, attempting to get to know the subsistence lifestyle enjoyed by our Athabascan hosts. The sockeye that have made it past the commercial fishermen of Bristol bay, past the sportsfisherman on the Kvichak River, still have one big seine and a couple of gill nets to avoid in the waters of Six Mile Lake and Nondalton before nosing into the friendly national park waters of Lake Clark. The ride up river and through the lakes only gets more beautiful with each passing mile.

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Ben humbly prepares to let a beast of a grayling swim away into the waters of Lake Clark | Photo by Travis Rummel

I feel like an old man – arthritic, worn down, and dirty. No showers in the last week and none on the forecast for next week. Today we head via float plane to the headwaters of the Koktuli River, this river flows directly from the intended mine site and her waters could vanish under the water intensive needs of the mine. We could not be more excited to finally experience some of the wilderness aspects of Bristol Bay and capture it for the film. 53 miles in 5 to 6 days.

Lauren is concerned about the bears – to put it mildly – and continually reminds us that we need to follow bear safety protocol to the “T.” Ben and I want to bring an extra cooler of food to compensate for the meager freeze dry rations she can squeeze into the bear proof containers. She is not happy about it. “This is how people die – green folks from the lower 48” at least we will die with full stomachs.

We will be back on the grid in early August, god willing. Please stay tuned….

Lovely Lake Clark

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Queen of Bristol Bay, Bella Hammond. Photo by Ben Knight

Lake Clark is a world of its own, crystal clear waters glowing green, mountains circling all around, so many fish every cast brings one in. Grayling, Lake Trout, pink stripes, winglike fins, and poka dots. And a lovely afternoon with Bella Hammond, wife of the late governor Jay Hammond. Jack—our 82 year-old guide who exclaims every time he catches a fish like an 8 year old boy hooking his first—says, “Bella, you will love. If the natives of Alaska had a queen, it would be Bella.” She is a warm, quiet woman, one who enjoys her solititude. Yet her passion for protecting this area welcomes three strangers to her dining room table for tea. She heats water on an antique wood stove, porcelain black edges shining bright. Bella speaks of her own love for Lake Clark and for the waters of Bristol Bay, of Jay and his shared passion, of her lifestyle she treasures here, the lifestyle still shared by many. It was a memorable day for us all, and I felt a sense of honor to share the time we did… but then, I see more that this is exactly what it’s about—more and more people coming together out of concern for the mining threats facing this place, coming together over this fishery and all that it supports. Bella steps forward out of a belief that the more voices heard, the more power we have to gain protection. Thank you to Lake Clark National Park for your help with historical photos. It was a privilege to spend the evening with John Branson, eating salmon soup and talking Bristol Bay history. If only Jack could come on the Koktuli with us. He was a joy we miss already.

Making Friends with Flies

img_2480.jpgNo Pebble waves high above drying sockeye in Nondalton. Photo by Lauren Oakes.

“I think I am really starting to smell,” I noted today, looking down at the same set of clothes I’ve been wearing since June. Ben noted, “Lauren, the swarm of flies actually cleared away from the fish when you moved in to make photographs.” We’re hanging in there, cleaned up a little this evening thanks to the beautiful waters out the front door of the Nondalton Village Community Center and the wonderful Belluta family down the street. They, along with many others from this quiet village, have so kindly taken us in, tolerated showers, and fed us while we awaited a plane drop of food from anchorage for two days. I admire the patience that comes so naturally to the locals around us. Any longer and I would have started building our own fish camp here; yet I suspect two days in village time is nothing. It doesn’t take long for one to really see and understand how connected families are to the fish that return year after year, how life and culture is indeed so deeply tied to the renewable resources here. A toast today to Dr. Carol Ann Woody, brilliant fisheries consultant, who somehow manages to juggle white paper deadlines, field research schedules, and emergency food packing, bear canisters and all, for some hungry folks in the Alaskan bush. And to Rick and Nancy Delkiette, who so kindly shared the day with us, helping us learn more about the Athabaskan way of life.

img_2493.jpgNancy Delkiette hangs her fish. Photo by Lauren Oakes.

And thanks to all those who have donated to the Face Fund. It’s actually just a ploy to raise more money for the film, sometimes you gotta take one for the team. So far it has raised us evacuation insurance from my mother, who so kindly sent me some sort of magic number today over the internet. It better be a magic number given our experience with calling cards thus far. And speaking of moms, Happy Birthday to Ben’s mom.

Delicious beaver

mary_gun1.jpgMary Olympic shows off her semi-automatic 22 caliber rifle that she used to bust a cap in a brown bear, taking him down with one shot. The fuzzy wuzzy had been messing with her salmon . Photo by Ben Knight

Add beaver to the list of things I’ve put ketchup on. Mary Olympic, 75, an Igiugig (Iggy-ah-gig) village elder and great-grandmother prefers mustard on her beaver. I guess if you like your beaver tender, it’s good to let it dry before you cook it. Who knew? Rumor has it the tail is the best part, but I wasn’t offered the tail. I was offered something that didn’t resemble food, but I was hungry, there was ketchup, and there was a little dark meat left near a joint. It reminded me of pot roast, but it tasted like a cross between a really dry chicken liver and what I would imagine dog tasting like. Not a lab per say, but maybe a street dog that hasn’t bathed regularly or had his shots and swims around ponds with a flat tail. It was a tad gamey, so maybe more like a wild dog. The next day lunch was smoked salmon and rice. I thought ok, can’t go wrong with salmon and rice. I peered into the pot and to my horror there were hundreds of maggots fleeing the meat of the salmon and twitching around in the hot water. I didn’t say anything… I just tried to stay calm. I whispered to Travis “dude, check this out” and ushered him over to the stove. “Are you gonna eat it?” he said. After a defeated sigh I replied “I guess so”. By the grace of God, Martha, Mary’s daughter saw the maggots and took the pot outside and dumped it. By that time I had already prepared myself to do the “polite thing” and eat it.

True story: This one time… [at fish camp] Mary was in her boat on the Kvichak river and noticed a bull caribou swimming across. Seeing an open opportunity to score some serious meat, she pulled her boat along side of it and held its head underwater until it was at the mercy of the current. You go girl.

mary_smokehouse.jpgMary Olympic keeps an eye on her smokehouse as strips of salmon breathe in their third day of flavor. Photo by Ben Knight

We had the pleasure of meeting Tim Bristol, the director of Trout Unlimited Alaska. Tim has been fundraising and writing grants [busting his ass] to help make this film possible. I feel like Tim could be raising the bar for Trout Unlimited as a whole. For him to sack up and take on a development of this size seems extraordinary. For him to dedicate his time and sacrifice an employee for an entire summer because he believes in the power of a documentary… well, just add Tim to the list of phenomenal people that I don’t want to let down.

laurens_scar.jpgThis is Lauren’s mangled forehead shortly after the accident. Donations for costly the reconstructive surgery can be made sent to:

Attn: Bristol Bay Film Project/Lauren’s Face Fund
Hillary Coley, CFO,
Trout Unlimited 1300 North 17th Street Suite 500
Arlington, Virginia 22209

Beware: Really long sentence ahead. Besides being embedded with a sweet family in a quaint native village of 25 at the mouth of the spectacular Kvichak (queejack) river while spawning sockeye motor up the banks in the gin clear water like a trail of ants across a picnic, everything is going straight to hell. Our primary hard drive is dying a slow pitiful death and TU girl just slingshot a led weight into her forehead after her hook broke free from a running salmon. (Go sockeye go! Hustle! Swim it like you stole it! Go blanket the streambed in sperm you spunky bastard!) After the bleeding stopped and the color came back to her face I talked her out of chartering a $1,000 flight to Anchorage for emergency reconstructive surgery. A handy local woman with some first aid skills came to the rescue shortly and taped her forehead back together. Dear Tim, [Lauren’s boss] you may not recognize her brutalized face when she returns to work, but just try to remember that she’s still the same Lauren you used to know and try not to stare. Just stick her in the back where she won’t have contact with the public.

trav_littleroom.jpgWelcome to the current Felt Soul Studio in a random spare room in Igiugig, Alaska. This is where dreams come true, and where Travis tries not to scream and throw hard drives at the wall. Photo by Ben

Back to the hard drive: Literally seconds after I said “Jesus dude, it looks like a fucking disco over there,” [referring to all the flashing lights on 3 different hard drives Travis had transferring video at the same time] we proceeded to stroke our egos re: how few film makers would have the balls to take on the challenge of going completely digital dependent in places this remote. Cue the karma: Alarms go off, the drive goes down, both of us go pale, and the emergency problem-solving begins. No joke.

brian.jpgBrian Kraft of the Alaskan Sportsman’s Lodge. www.alaskasportsmanslodge.com Photo by Ben Knight

Cue our savior, the solver of all problems, the CEO of gettin’ er done. The one and only, Brian Kraft. Ex hockey pro, owner of the world renowned Alaska Sportman’s Lodge, fishing guide, hunting guide, bush pilot, carpenter and anti Pebble Mine advocate. When you’re making a film in the middle of nowhere Alaska it really helps to have an ally with 8 skiffs, a jet boat and 3 bush planes at his disposal. It also doesn’t hurt to have a fisherman who can pretty much tell a sockeye when and where to eat his fly for the camera. Did I mention he has a chef who encrusts halibut with crab and smoked salmon? Long, tedious story short, Brian is now figuring out a way to get [two] terabyte hard drives from the Apple store in Anchorage into our hands by Friday. Two days from now. As far as we can tell no precious footage has been lost. But, the biting mental anguish of possibly loosing something we’ve filmed because no one can seem to make a decent hard drive makes me want to unzip my tent and put a hurtin’ on the first bear I can find. But, I’ll probably just suck it up, pout for a while and make really bitchy comments to Travis.

hands.jpgIgiugig village elder Mary Olympic holds her new grandson at her home after a long day of splitting fish. Photo by Ben Knight

TECH UPDATE Our new hard drives arrived today in the Athabascan village of Nondalton. To our absolute bewilderment, one doesn’t work… brand new-out of the box. I’d like to send out a sincere FUCK YOU to the quality control staff at Wiebe Tech and Rocstor. Our problem solving continues.

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_tired.jpg

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

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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

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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