Trout (Snuff) Porn

The first time I’d heard the name Montana Wild Films was, ironically, while trolling Instagram for “trout porn” pics. I guess that shows how little I pay attention to the fishing film industry, since they have produced a number of films that have been highlighted at major fishing film festivals, such as Bucknasty Browns at the 2015 Fly Fishing Film Tour, and… listen, I’m not going to take the time to research this company any further, because they’re assholes. This is learned within about ten minutes of discovering they existed. Here’s why.

A link from a reply to one of their Instagram pics took me to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website which outlined an investigation undertaken by Montana wildlife investigations into filming Montana Wild conducted on waters in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a large tract of wild lands under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service and the home to numerous tributaries of the South Fork Flathead River that harbors bull trout. The co-owners of Montana Wild, and a third angler, filmed themselves catching & releasing bull trout in areas of the Bob Marshall Wilderness where commercial filming is not allowed. They also apparently filmed in areas where commercial filming is allowed, but did so without the proper permits.

Okay, so the owners are idiots for failing to get the proper permits and illegally filming their exploits. That alone should earn them a Finger Wag of Shame from the fly fishing community. But no, dear reader, it doesn’t end there. The Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks investigators obtained a warrant to seize Montana Wild’s recording and computer equipment, and reviewed 2200 videos shot in and around the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Here is what some of that video showed:

Numerous videos showed [Montana Wild owners] Boughton’s and [associate] Anthony Von Ruden intentionally fishing for bull trout in tributaries, such as Youngs Creek, White River, Big Salmon, and Little Salmon Creeks; these streams are closed to fishing for bull trout.

Straight up poaching. And…

[Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks investigator] Sommers notes that the fishing violations that took place on the South Fork Flathead River and its tributaries could have devastating impacts on the bull trout populations based on the over handling issue in which some fish were handled for up to 12 minutes or longer after they were in the net. In one instance a bull trout was caught, netted, handled and released (with the hook still attached) only to be fished again for underwater filming, concluding with the fish being netted, handled and released again.

Fish were handled for up to 12 minutes or longer after they were in the net. FUCK. YOU.

A bull trout was caught, netted, handled, and released (with the hook still attached) only to be fished again for underwater filming. NO. REALLY. FUCK. YOU.

Montana Wild racked up nearly $6000 in fines on 38 state and 11 federal violations. They have remained ominously quiet on their social media pages, although their former fans have not. If you’d like to leave them a friendly note yourself, you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, or drop them a line on their website. I’m sure they look forward to hearing from you.

(UPDATE 2/20/2016: Montana Wild has posted a statement on their website, in which they say “…we never had any intent on breaking any laws during this trip. That honest mistake is on Montana Wild and we assume full responsibility.” They also claim: “We believe some of our practices could have been handled better during this trip with what we now know, but we believe FWP misrepresented this part of their case in their press release about our handling practices. Never was a fish out of water for more than a few breaths and then back into the net quickly. We feel strongly that we had no negative effects on the fishery and we never intentionally released a fish to replay it for the camera.” Take that for what you will.)

I don’t think I can discuss what Montana Wild did without also discussing how I found out about it. I was trolling Instagram, looking at and liking photos of fish. Mostly trout, some bass or pike or bonefish or redfish, some hoisted out of the water, some held at the waterline, some gripped by the tail, some with flies still lodged in their lips, some less pleased than others.

Instagram is all about good photos. A great “hero shot” with a grinning angler and a massive brown trout can net hundreds of likes and thousands of followers. Facebook is rife with trout porn, too. The success of the F3T, IF4, and Down The Hatch film festivals is testament to the growing demand that fly anglers have for fishing media that has helped to created an upstart commercial empire. Hell, the middling success this blog has had is likely in part due to the interest in fishing blogs fueled by publications such as Moldy Chum and Gink & Gasoline.

Now, I believe that the Montana Wild story is an outlier, and that most commercial fishing film companies are not stupid enough to sacrifice the resource that makes them money. I’m also not attempting to throw stones in a glass house. I take photos of fish. Over the years my understanding of safe handling and releasing of fish has changed. I’m willing to admit that some of my photos from season’s past are probably little more than pictures of ghosts, because I fucked up and I didn’t know any better. I don’t think there’s an angler who hasn’t at some point.

On the other hand, I can safely say that I’ve never held a fish for 12 goddamn minutes unless I was planning on keeping it. I’ve never released a fish still hooked just so I could take pleasure in landing it a second time. I may not be able to say I never was a dipshit angler, but I can say I never was a total asshole of an angler.

If we as anglers want to consume fish media through photos and films, that’s great. The following that has grown around fly fishing film tours is amazing, and it has many positive benefits for building stronger local angler communities and serving as a great jumping-off point for addressing conservation issues surrounding angling. However, we should recognize that many of the creators of fishing content are commercial outfits that are exploiting natural resources for profit. We should expect that commercial films are produced in a way that follows best angling practices that minimizes the effect on the fishing populations they use in the filming process.

We all love to take our own photos, as well. Me, too. Personally, my goal as a (lousy) fish photographer this year is to follow the tenets laid down in the Keep ‘Em Wet Campaign, which is pretty simple. Keep fish in the water as much as possible, handle them as little as possible, and release them in the best possible condition you can. I made not be able to take a good photo, but I can have the satisfaction of knowing the fish was released in good shape.

Taking photographs of our experiences on the water might be the most powerful means of sharing our enthusiasm for the sport of fly fishing to anglers and non-anglers alike. The beauty of the land, the water, and the beasts that swim in it are the greatest conservation tools we have at our disposal. If your picture speaks a thousand words, make sure they are positive ones.

At the very least, you don’t want your photo to scream, “Sir, we have a warrant.”

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Author: chesleyfan

I work, I fish, I write.

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