This spring a new documentary will wind its way through the Pacific Northwest, carrying a bittersweet message that shimmeringly echoes that borne by the steelhead and salmon making their lone, dwindling way these recent years upriver from the ocean. See here: a beautiful, feisty relic of the glorious past. See here: the fish, the fishermen, dying off. See here: Now that was a time.
The film is Rivers of a Lost Coast by Justin Coupe and Palmer Taylor and narrated by Tom Skerritt, who played Rev. Maclean in the movie A River Runs Through It. It recalls an old-time clan of fly fishing men (and some women) who joshed, jostled and formed cliques along the rivers of the Pacific Northwest. From the documentary's Web site:
"At the turn of the 20th Century, a handful of pioneers carried their fly rods into California's remote north coast and gave birth to a culture that would revolutionize their sport. For a select few, steelhead fly fishing became an obsessive pursuit without compromise."
The documentary travels those glory years into the present disastrous situation with the disappearance and serious decline of fisheries worldwide. Much of it takes place in our neck of the woods, featuring local fly fishing gurus. The filmmakers especially credit Eureka resident Nelson Rossig with providing substance for the story.
Rossig, who turned 100 in December, was home Tuesday afternoon and happy to talk a bit on the phone about fishing.
"I've fished from the Christmas Islands to the Bahamas and from Alaska to Central America, so I've covered a lot of ground," he said. "My favorite river was always the Eel. And then the second favorite would be the Klamath River."
Rossig started fishing when he was about 10 years old, and quit just two years ago.
"This is really a joke," Rossig says, laughing, recalling his last time fishing the Eel. "Of course, you wear your waders, see. And I just hobbled out with my wading staff, out in about knee deep of water and started casting. Well, I'm casting there a little while. And, for some reason or another, my equilibrium don't hold up when I make a quick turn to my right, so I happened to make a quick turn to my right and down I went. I laid there, fillin' my waders full of water, and I had to crawl ashore. You can't get up with the waders full of water. And my automobile is fairly handy there, so I laid down and drained my waders out and crawled in the car and got up and came on home.
"Well, about two days later, I did it all over again! I went out and I fell down a second time with my waders! Well, that second time wasn't telling me to quit, so then finally, the third time, I didn't even have my waders on or fly rod in hand. I just got out of my car and walked a little ways on the gravel and I fell down again! The third time. Anyway, that was it. I said, they're trying to tell me something. Telling me I had just better quit. So I quit right then and there."
Like Rossig's vitality, so go the rivers.
"Where there used to be maybe a million migratory fish in the river, now they are only in the thousands," he said. "And of course, in those days when I first started fishing, it was almost nothing to cast a fly out there and hook a fish. There were so many fish."
Rivers of a Lost Coast will be in Modesto April 16, in Berkeley April 21-22, Sacramento April 22-23 and Santa Rosa April 27-28. Then, sometime in May, it comes to Humboldt, but no dates have been set yet.