Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Eddy Conversations: Travis Lowe Edition, Part 2

Welcome to part two of my conversation with Travis Lowe, a Canadian filmmaker making a movie about Montana, spring creeks, ranchers, and water (sounds like an epic). For more info (plus some archive footage from the movie), check out his website. Also, check out part one. In part two Travis waxes on about water wars and how he spent a bunch of time on Montana spring creeks armed with a camera rather than a fly rod. Enjoy and support Spring Creek, exactly the kind of movie I think the fly fishing film industry ought to be making.

The Eddy: You mention water as the predominant issue. Here in the west people have been fighting over water for as long as anyone can remember. I love being surprised by a a group of people that I thought I understood What surprised you about the ranchers that you met in Montana versus the attitudes about water in BC?

Travis Lowe: There’s an old adage in the American West and I'm sure you know it, that “whiskey’s for drinking but water’s for fighting”.  It’s a proverb that cut its teeth in the American West and not Canada.  Here in Canada, with roughly 20% of the world’s freshwater, whiskey‘s still for drinking but water is for wasting. In the Okanagan Valley where I live, we have less water available on a per person basis than anywhere else in the country, yet we consume twice the amount of water as the average Canadian. The average Okanagan resident uses 675 litres or 179 gallons of water a day! In British Columbia, the traditional paradigm in ranching, agriculture and development has always been “there’s more than enough water.”  In fact, present BC Water Act doesn’t even govern the removal of ground water (fortunately the government is overhauling that legislation). Ranchers continue to dewater entire rivers and creeks to the determinate of trout, salmon and entire eco systems.  

The reality is that water is a finite resource, the whole “all the water there will ever be... is now” idea.  I said it earlier; water is the most pressing issue of the 21st century. People in my province are just starting to slowly wake up to that reality. Thankfully, perception is slowly changing and so is public sentiment. A recent study shows that 9 in 10 British Columbians feel that freshwater is our most precious resource and 94% of BC’ers say they want protection of nature, wildlife and species made a top priority in new provincial water rules. Unfortunately the government of the day here in BC doesn't listen to the people. They have the worst environmental record in the entire history of my province and due to recent political developments it’s about to get A LOT worse.  

The BC Liberal (liberal only in name) government here favours development at any cost. Protecting the environment has always been last on their agenda.  The former premier Gordon Campbell wanted to allow methane coal  bed mining in the Flathead Valley. Christy Clark has just become premier here in BC, this a woman who called the Federal Government’s decision to ban Taseko Mining from draining a pristine, wilderness fish bearing lake “dumb”. She also has an employee of Enbridge Piplelines on her transitional power team.  Things are a complete mess in British Columbia and I’m not saying that Montana doesn’t have its own problems. But what I found in Montana, while not ground breaking was definitely eye opening from a British Columbia-centric view. 

In Montana I found ranchers who were stewards of the land.  Pioneers like Tom Milesnick and Poncho McCoy and many others.  Ranchers that were concerned about water levels for trout, that spent hard-earned money on in stream habitat enhancement and embraced angling as a means of economic diversification in order to maintain their traditional way of life.  I found myself immersed in the mystique of Montana’s spring creeks and the people who surround them.  Their attitudes regarding water are a world away and light years ahead of British Columbia.  What I found in Montana was almost intangible.  

I began to think for the first time maybe, just maybe, there might be hope for my province and my river. If people in Montana could seemingly attempt to transcend the traditional clash between agricultural water rights and  in stream trout flows, perhaps that would translate to British Columbia. I began to feel a sense of optimism that alluded me before and I wanted to document it. Like I said before it comes down to one question for me and whether or not water is the most important issue of the 21st century is no longer the question. The question is will there be any left for trout? This film is what I am doing to raise awareness around that question. It’s my part. As hokey as that may sound. I just felt I could no longer sit around and do nothing.

The Eddy: Okay, conservation and water are definitely important...but did you get to fish some of those Montana Spring Creeks?

TL: Did I get to fish any of those fabled spring creeks? Not as often as I would have liked, that’s for sure. I have been fortunate enough to stalk the banks of many of Montana’s best spring creeks looking for risers, over the past year. But more often than not, with camera and a set of sticks, not a rod. Spring Creek is my film; I’m the producer, d.o.p., camera, writer, announcer and editor. When I’m on location shooting I don’t fish, I can’t. It’s like guiding; you have to be able to live vicariously through your client or in the case of filmmaking the images that you capture at the end of the day. Sure I try to manage an afternoon here or there, when I can. But for the most part I’m behind the lens, which is just as enjoyable for me.  I think over and entire season of shooting, I may have fished a handful of times in Montana. I spent a couple of hours with Steve Bielenberg  at McCoy Spring Creeks , outside of Dillon. We fished the PMD hatch on Big Meadow.  I had a phenomenal time; I think I landed two fish in three hours. One of which was a beautiful twenty two inch brown. Steve and I are pictured with it on the masthead of That brown was perfectly shaped, incredibly brilliant hues of butterscotch, like a Derek DeYoung painting, the pectoral fins were so large they were like wings. 

One night I got to fish the evening rise at Circle 3 Spring Creek Ranch.  I’d spent the day shooting with David Thompson from Brickhouse Creative in Bozeman.  Earlier in the day, Poncho McCoy who manages the ranch had told us about a ranch hand who had witnessed a giant brown take a duckling from the surface of the pond at twilight and that the pond regularly produced browns up to 10lbs. So when David offered to row me out in the middle of the pond in the ranch’s Hyde, I was pretty stoked about the opportunity to toss a fly.  It was one of those Big Sky sunsets and the trout began to rise as the light faded over the horizon. I was just about to switch to a dry fly when a huge brown smashed the streamer I was fishing. David’s Winston doubled over in submission. The fish was so big that Thompson was worried that his rod was going break. That won’t make it to the film though as the camera was packed away.  Having said all that, if a person is looking for wall-to-wall fish porn....they won’t find it in Spring Creek. That’s not what the movie is about.

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