Magnetic North: Filming On-Location in Alaska

Alaska Ambassadors
by Sarah Menzies Mar 27, 2013

Video footage, photos, and words from Matador Ambassador Sarah Menzies about her recent trip to Alaska, working on a fly fishing film. All photos by author.

“All you need to know about fly fishing is…”

These words echoed in my head for the entire month I spent up in Alaska this past fall. I was there with Fly Out, a media company making a film about the Alaskan experience, told from the point of view of lodges and anglers in the southwest of the state. I was hired as the videographer for the film.

I had never gone fly fishing before this production.

I landed in Anchorage, made my way up to Dillingham, and was on an eight-day float trip in the Bristol Bay watershed the very next day. It was guided by Mark Rutherford, owner of Wild River Guides. Eight days in remote wilderness with 11 skilled anglers, and it was my job to film them. It was time to learn the art of fly fishing, and I needed to learn fast.

Iʼve always seen the beauty in the sport, but the only time I’d ever tried my hand at it was with a fly-less line. On the first day of the float trip, I found myself ducking and dodging flies, even hiding behind my camera at times to not get hit. It was clear I needed to better understand the cast if I was going to get the shots I wanted.

Day two and the director of the film, Cory Luoma, was excited to get a rod in my hands and teach me the sport. Cory runs Fly Out, but he spends his summers as a guide up in Alaska. The perfect person you want when youʼre learning. But with every Dalai Lama fly I took to the head, or hook I had to rip from my outer layers — you should see all the pricks and holes I had in my down jacket by the end of the trip — one of the guys would come up to me and repeat the familiar words: “All you need to know about fly fishing is…”

One by one they would come to tell me the one trick that would make it all click. The problem? Each of my helpful instructors had a different tip. Lock your wrist, snap your wrist, look behind you, pull the line, let go — my head was spinning. Iʼd retreat back to my camera, the perfect excuse to keep from getting frustrated.

Filming the sport day in and day out on the float trip, I still felt drawn to it and wanted to end the experience as a capable fly-fisher-woman. Iʼd find myself ending the day in my tent, falling asleep to visions of casting. Cory and the rest of the guys were all amazing at teaching me the fundamentals, and by day five, I looked less like a wizard with a wand, and more like an angler. When I pulled in my first Silver, I gave it a kiss. Who am I kidding? I kissed every fish I pulled in after that because it felt so damn good to be getting the hang of it. And even better, I knew just where to stand to capture the elegance and precision of the cast.

“All you need to know about fly fishing is…” This became my mantra as we left Bristol Bay and continued on our way.

“All you need to know about Alaska is…” Coryʼs vision for the film was to share the uniqueness and awe of the state. With the proposed Pebble Mine, our time in Bristol Bay was made up of conversations about conservation. The guides we filmed with on the float trip all spoke of the need to protect the sacred headwaters. They had a deep-rooted connection to the wilderness up there, and wanted to ensure a healthy ecosystem for future generations.

Next stop was Mission Lodge, outside of Dillingham on Aleknagik Lake. We were in some of Alaskaʼs finest fishing holes, which could only be accessed by bush plane. Most of the guides we filmed with only lived there seasonally. Their summers were spent catching bigger fish than we could ever dream of in the lower 48. They knew all the tricks of where to find them and how to catch them. Come December, theyʼre already dreaming about next summer because that’s the draw — catching monstrous-sized salmon.

The Kenai Peninsula was our next filming location, where the water is a magnificent teal, and the bears are hungry. We spent a few days with Kyle Kolodziejski of Kenai Riverside Fishing. Kyle lives up there permanently now and spoke of the serenity and peace he finds on the Kenai.

Our final stop on production was at the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, an hour’s bush plane ride from Anchorage. At Tordrillo, the emphasis was on recreation. It wasnʼt until riding backwards on a jet ski filming their lodge manager foil boarding, or standup paddle boarding in a glacial lake surrounded by ice, that I understood how much fun could be had in the Tordrillo Mountains. We were at base of towering peaks, at a river mouth that feeds into the lake where the lodge is positioned. Everything is right at their fingertips. The guides at Tordrillo are drawn to the pure, unadulterated fun that can be had in Alaska.

“All you need to know about Alaska is…” For me, all I need to know is that no matter how you look at it, Alaska is a place that offers so much more adventure than I ever could have imagined. And that adventure comes with passion. Passion for the environment, the wilderness, the wildlife, the mountains. The air is as crisp and clean as the rivers, with a magnetic pull that keeps you wanting more.

Hereʼs the trailer for the film we shot up there: Magnetic North.

We’re releasing different episodes from the film on the first of every month. Visit Alaska Fly Out to see each episode, and stay tuned because there are more to come.

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