How did you two meet?
BRUCE: I knew Aaron at an early age as we both grew up in the same small village, Walden, NY, and attended the same Synagogue. Because of our age difference, me being 6 years older, I never really interacted with him. By the time I returned back to Walden after college etc., Aaron was already out in the world and our paths never crossed.
AARON I grew up right next to Bruce’s grandparents, Lily and Meyer. They were the sweetest people on the planet and I would often eat lunch at their house with Bruce’s cousin Marcia who was my age. Bruce’s family owned the largest supermarket in town and everybody knew his family. I knew Bruce’s parents and his brothers, they all worked at the market, but I really don’t remember Bruce that well from those early days.
You reconnected as adult men, what sparked the idea of the film and teaming up on it?
BRUCE: In 2017 I hatched an idea to do a short lifestyle video/film on the modern era of fly fishing. I felt that an inside look into the world I lived in through fishing and fly tying would appeal to both the fly fishing community and the general public. I already knew the characters for the film as I was always attracted to the dedicated, talented, hardcore yet funny and zany people that surrounded me. I found Aaron’s phone number and called, as I knew he was in film and had successfully done a documentary called Sam, about a local Dutch farmer/stone mason that I knew well from our Village of Walden. I gave Aaron a brief overview of the sport and he was interested enough that we met and took a tour of the Catskill rivers, towns and people that were to be in the film. From there, the idea slowly morphed into a feature length film adding segments of the sports roots in the US.
Coming from a high paced world, I really did not feel the challenges of production. Aaron was very competent and dedicated so the heat was off me. I knew nothing going in about film production and Aaron shortened that learning curve by 25 years. Like my Grandmother would say "keep your mouth shut and your pocketbook open."
AARON: It was a surprise phone call that I received from Bruce a couple years ago. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in perhaps 40 years! And we spent probably 2 hours on the phone that day, as Bruce described his world of fly fishing, a sport I didn’t have any experience with. It was fascinating and after the tour he took me on, I was hooked, pun intended!
Bruce started fishing at 8 years-old but Aaron does not fish. Did you try and get him out?
BRUCE: I gave Aaron a nice rod and reel setup and gave him casting lessons at my cabin on the East Branch of the Delaware river. He immediately started casting well. He was a natural. He fished a couple of times in nasty spring conditions out of a drift boat. The conditions were not great to catch fish each time. I blew the chance for him to enjoy the sport as I should have brought him to a pond to catch easy fish and give him the excitement. Anyway, his fishing days faded and I got the rod back. The sport is crowded enough anyway!
AARON: Bruce and the other anglers we filmed are all experts in a rather complicated sport with knowledge they gained over a lifetime of fishing. So there was no way I could compete with these pros. Besides, I am so busy with producing films that the only time I make for a hobby or sport is flying. I got my private pilot’s certificate a few years ago and enjoy flying whenever I have free time.
What was the production experience like?
AARON: We filmed for approximately 22 days, half of the time on the river. My DP Robert Featherstone owns a Sony FS-7 and has some nice old lens which added to the beautiful images we got. We filmed in 4k with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 to capture the wide rivers and mountains. We only used 2 cameras on one day when we filmed a conversation between the two legends in the film, Joan Wulff and Dave Brandt. That day we added a Sony A7.
Filming on the drift boats was relatively easy because they are very steady and the rivers run pretty slow. We would alternate placing Robert in the boat filming with the anglers and then in the boat that was following the anglers. Sometimes the water was so shallow that he could literally walk from one boat to the next! The hardest part was figuring out how to follow along in other drift boats and avoid being in the shot. I would be in a second drift boat with our sound man, Nick Poholchuk, monitoring the audio. Our associate producer, Christa Trinler, would follow us in a car with a com so we could communicate with her about trivial matters like food and where to pick us up at the end of the day. Some days we would travel 10 miles from the point of our “put-in.”
Equally hard was being in the right spot at the right time to capture the moment when an angler hooked a fish. I spent hours and hours watching, waiting and frankly, drinking beer only to wrap that day without a single fish being caught. The trout in the Catskills are very smart and particular about when and what they eat! We only had one day where the rain was an issue and it was a storm that came through the Hudson Valley with high winds, lightning and even tornados. We were on the river when it swept through and it was really frightening. The skies got black and we knew we were in for a ride. We pulled over and took shelter, but that day I decided not to wear waders and I got completely soaked!
What did you learn about each other that surprised you?
BRUCE: I learned about Aaron’s dietary restrictions and found a competent, dedicated, professional that shares a lot of my beliefs and a person that I now call a friend.
AARON: Bruce is a character! It’s been fun getting to know him. We spent a lot of time together and I often bunked in his cabin while we were filming. I learned about his lifestyle, which is all about fishing, and playing music. I enjoyed getting to work with a smart, unique and passionate individual. As he had never made a film before, I took more time than usual to talk him though the reasons we do what we do. He was a quick study and became a good partner. Surprising me most was how few hours he sleeps, how he normally gets up at 3 in the morning to my discontent, and how his diet consists of Twizzlers, roast beef sandwiches, cigarettes, nuts, salami and cheese and Jim Beam!
Fly fishing is inherently social distanced, right? How is the community responding to the challenges?
BRUCE Most fly fishermen have been socially distanced their whole fishing life. It is a sport most often enjoyed alone. After you get off the river it's another story, as more big fish are caught after a few drinks in local bars than are ever caught on the river. It is common to have a fishing buddy or two to share rides and experiences, on and off the river but that's about it. The community is really hard on people fishing in the same boat and riding with people during these days of COVID. As a nonessential business, guides are not allowed to have clients, so the economic impact is affecting them as well. Numerous fishing resorts and conservation organizations are urging people to not fish with others and for out of towners to stay away from fishing towns completely.
AARON I’m isolated in an apartment in Los Angeles through this crisis, so I haven’t been out on the river with Bruce in the Catskills. In fact, I can’t even go to the beach now that everything in California has been shut down. But Bruce is lucky to have a cabin on the East Branch of the Delaware River so he can fish as much as he likes. Unfortunately, Bruce’s main fishing buddy, Dave Brandt, passed away a few weeks ago so he has been fishing with Rylie Lake who is one of the characters in our film.
Bruce, can you share some insights into the exponential growth in the women’s sector
BRUCE Fly fishing is not easy, but for those that enjoy the outdoors and challenges it is attractive. It is not a sport of muscle, so women are at no disadvantage. It is a thinking person’s game because it is not easy to fool a trout. I liken women's migration to fly fishing similar in some ways to the kayaking explosion. There are an awful lot of either single and divorced participants in both sports since they afford the chance to get away on an adventure alone. ON THE OTHER HAND It is a good way to pick up chicks or hunks...or both.