By Howard Meyerson
Mid-winter is a slack time for many Michigan fly anglers. The rivers are frigid, and coveted fly hatches, like Hexes and Hendricksons, are months away. But the joy of fly fishing knows no bounds. It glows like a hot ember, even in winter. And that smoldering excitement becomes boisterously evident in the darkened theaters and bars where fly anglers gather, often by the hundreds, for the annual Costa Fly Fishing Film Tour.
Now in its 10th year and screening in nine or more Michigan cities this winter, the once fledgling event has become a nationwide phenomenon.
“When we started, we didn’t realize what it would become,” said Doug Powell in a phone interview from his Boulder Colorado office. “I knew it would be fun and a good time, but I had no idea that it would grow as it has, and branch out from hard-core fly anglers to kids, husbands and wives and lawyers. I just didn’t see that coming.”
Powell is the co-founder and managing director for the tour which held its 2016 Michigan debut in Marquette on February 2. The two-hour film festival annually presents the newest works by the nation’s top fly fishing film makers.
Different each year, the tour provides a look at the heart of fly fishing, showcasing stories that range from poignant and humorous, of Midwest anglers and their obsession for trout or muskellunge, to down-home, steamy explorations of fly fishing for redfish on southern bayous, and meaty conservation issues like saving Atlantic salmon. Each tour also highlights the unusual, extreme and fascinating possibilities for fly fishing around the globe.
Film tour good for fly fishing
“I think it’s great for the growth of the sport,” notes Brian Pitser, owner of the Northern Angler fly shop, in Traverse City. “It creates good off-season excitement for all ages and appeals to the younger generation as well as the older fly anglers
Pitser’s shop sponsors the tour in Traverse City. Bringing it in, he says, helps generate business and interest. The films were initially shown at a local bar and restaurant, but the tour’s popularity has since grown and the event now screens at the City Opera House.
“We outgrew it (the restaurant),” Pitser said. “A lot of it is far-fetched, like taking three months off to film a fly fishing expedition, but people love it. It creates a buzz around adventure travel and trying new things.”
The tour’s reputation has grown too, all across the continent, according to Powell. Once a modest endeavor with 20 to 30 U.S. showings it will draw 60,000 viewers to screenings in 175 locations this year. The 2016 lineup includes films about hunting for legendary brook trout in Patagonia, hooking Golden Dorado in the jungles of Bolivia, and compelling stories of people who chased their dreams.
“We have more expedition films now and big adventures,” Powell said. “And the home-water films are really well made and have more story-telling. The audience told us they want to see fishing, so it ebbs and flows and we work to find balance between fish porn and stories with characters and locations.
“In the old days we could have put out anything; people were psyched to see fly fishing films. YouTube was new and there was not a lot on television about it. Early on it was just hard-core guys (attending) who fished 40 days a year. Now we are reaching people who fish a couple of times a year, but have a blast at the film tour.”
Women also are a growing segment of the audience, climbing from eight percent to 27 percent in recent years. Powell said that reflects the greater interest in the sport and the ever-more polished films that are being made.
“The tour really shows how our sport is changing,” reflects Glen Blackwood, owner of Great Lakes Fly Fishing Co., in Rockford, just north of Grand Rapids. “Fly fishing today is not the sport it was – a quiet, stoic, cerebral pursuit. Does it (the film tour) bring anglers together to oooh and ahhh and dream a bit? Certainly, it does. This is a sport that has been around since the 1400’s. The written word (until recently) has been the main form of communicating about it. It’s exciting to see these film makers putting it up on the big screen.”
2016 Fly Fishing Film Tour Michigan Showings
2. Marquette, Marquette Theater
20. Boyne Falls, Boyne Mountain Resort
26. Ann Arbor, Michigan Theater
27. Grand Rapids, Wealthy Theatre
4. Traverse City, City Opera House
9. Midland, Oscar’s Bar and Grill
17. Royal Oak, Location TBD
(TBD). Okemos, Studio C Theater
22. Fremont, Dogwood Center
To buy tickets online or see trailers and find showings, check out: flyfilmtour.com/
© 2016 Howard Meyerson
Appears in Michigan Outdoor News.