If there is one sleeper hit fly fishing film this year, it is the Morris brothers’ Cast Alaska. Filmed in 2011, the documentary was released for distribution earlier this year and quickly found popularity on places such as iTunes. The film is stunning, beautiful, and creates in the viewer an undeniable urge to visit the state whose residents call The Last Frontier.
“Fly fishing should be in the X Games,” co-director Sean Morris told me in an interview.
At least, it should be when it takes place in Alaska’s remote rivers. The film follows Dave Holsman and crew as they leave on their quest for a 30-inch rainbow trout, but the fish are only one part of angling in Alaska.
“They go out to the middle of nowhere, surrounded by 50 grizzly bears, in under-20-degrees weather to catch the perfect fish,” Sean said.
Cast Alaska is brainchild of Sean’s brother, Kevin Morris. The brothers grew up near Anchorage and spent their early years fishing the Kenai River or hunting caribou with their father. Kevin wanted to change the idea that fly fishing was something that “old people did and were kind of boring.”
The trailer for Cast Alaska can be seen below:
“We wanted to make a documentary focused on the adventure aspect of it,” Sean explained.
That involved getting past what Sean calls “fish porn.”
As a cinematographer, fish porn is what Sean calls long shots of someone casting or pulling fish out of the water in slow motion. It’s visually appealing, but lacks the substance of more well-rounded films.
“We want to make a documentary with a story, not just a bunch of people pulling fish out of the water,” Sean said.
That doesn’t mean that Cast Alaska isn’t gorgeous. The film is as much a love poem to the state’s wilderness as it is a story about the state’s fly fishermen and their experiences. While Sean wants the documentary to get viewers excited about visiting Alaska, there are also some dangerous moments.
“One of the scariest moments I’ve ever had while filming on the documentary happened while I was taking a great shot of this bear and her cubs,” Sean recalled. “I had zoomed in all the way and I was trying to focus on it when I looked up and realized it wasn’t zoomed in at all. Instead of the bear being 30 or more feet away from me, it was five feet away.”
Instead of quickly scampering away like he wanted to do, Sean calmly alerted the bear to his presence and it went on its own way.
On the other side of the coin, Alaska’s wildlife are also one of the main draws for the state, and Sean recalls a time when a golden eagle visited their fishing camp.
The crew had just finished a long day in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and were settling in for the night when Kevin managed to find the eagle nearby. With ice melting from its beak, the eagle turned and regarded Kevin’s camera, leading to one of the best shots in the film.
“Other beautiful places in [North America], they’re usually pretty easy to access,” Sean said. “You need to put a little bit of effort to get the most out of Alaska, whether it’s fishing on the Kenai or visiting some remote village somewhere. Once you put in that effort, though, you’ll see some of the most beautiful, pristine wilderness that you’ve always dreamed of.”
The Morris brothers are currently hard at work producing Cast Alaska II, which will see many familiar faces returning from the first film. In the second movie, the fly fishermen head above the Arctic Circle to tackle sheefish. Weighing up to 55 pounds and measuring up to four feet in length, catching one on a fly rod is not an easy proposition.
“We talked to some locals and when we told them that we planned on catching these sheefish on a fly rod, they laughed at us,” Sean said with a chuckle of his own. “That’s how we knew we were on the right track.”
Watch a trailer for Cast Alaska II below.
But with more than 150 hours of footage that needs to be cut down to a more palatable portion, Sean gave me the rough estimate that the film will be ready for release this October. You can download the original Cast Alaska from iTunes here and if you haven’t already, go take a look at the trailers above.
Images courtesy Sean Morris