Gray Ghost Productions Blog: Rolling On Salmon Take 2 - The Penobscot River
Salmo salar. Arguably translated as “the leaper,” this Latin term describes a fish whose attempts at doing what it is genetically pre-programmed to do are nothing short of amazing. History has proven that if you give this fish an opportunity to succeed, it will. Against all odds. Yet, since the American Revolution, humans have time after time created countless challenges within the river systems that these majestic fish inhabit.
The Penobscot River, once home to one of the most productive and healthy Atlantic salmon fisheries in the world, certainly the most productive in the US, is a perfect example of these challenges. We’ve spent a lot of time on this river system lately, and it will play a large part in the film. The Penobscot has received a lot of attention in the last few years, playing large parts in the Atlantic salmon’s listing as an endangered species, as well as the River Restoration Trust, Trout Unlimited and the Atlantic Salmon Federation's dam removal discussions. More importantly is the immensely exciting spike in the fish count at the Veazie Trap this year. According to reports from Maine DMR, this year was the 3rd largest count since 1978 with a total of 3,124, the largest run in 20 years!!!
A few quick facts about the Penobscot River: From Bangor to the confluence of the East and West Branches in Medway the main-stem is 74 miles long. If you include all of the tributaries, the Penobscot drainage includes over 1600 miles of streams and rivers with 625 lakes and ponds. Not all of these tributaries are salmon habitat, but you get the point; it’s a large system. And thanks to the efforts of many people, the river is as clean as it’s been in years.
But clean water doesn’t matter much if the fish can’t swim up to spawn in it. We discovered that at current count, 19 dams span the river, from the headwaters of the West Branch to Bangor, including the Piscataquis River and the Stillwater section. To those concerned with Atlantic salmon, the most significant would probably be the Veazie Dam, as it is the first structure that a salmon would hit on its way up river to spawn.
This past June we had the great opportunity to roll cameras at the Veazie Trap and spend a day with Oliver Cox and his crew from Maine’s Department of Marine Resources. We also spent some time talking with some incredibly passionate biologists about the Penobscot. I encourage you to take a look at the rough-cut video.
With help from the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, Trout Unlimited, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and many other organizations, the Veazie Dam has been scheduled to be removed in 2014, and the Great Works Dam in Old Town is listed to come out in 2012. One of the most poignant things we have learned in this process is that although we are madly in love with Salmo salar, other, less sexy fish are just as important to the inter-workings of a healthy river ecosystem. The lowly shad, and the alewife offer much to the overall restoration of this formidable waterway. But the worst may be over. Restoration has begun. Step by step, inch by inch, the Penobscot is starting to return to its original glory. This is great news for sportsmen, but one of the most important lessons we have learned is that the benefits of a restored ecosystem have benefits that transcend fishing; everyone and every living thing benefits from restored balance.
As we start to wrap up filming for this project, the blog post: Rolling on Salmon will be updated more frequently. Looking ahead, you can expect to see footage from our adventure to the Adlatok River in Labrador with Robin Reeve and John Gierach, or the GGP crew on location in Gaspe, the Atlantic salmon’s impact on our native peoples, as well as a look back to the sporting heritage of Salmon fishing. As always we love to hear your feedback, you and your stories are very important to us.
Yours in rivers,
The GGP Crew
Gray Ghost Productions
Gray Ghost Productions Blog: Rolling On Salmon
So after having taken a year or so off to catch our collective breath, and to bask in the glory and accolades associated with the release of The Good Life (Golden Globe Awards, meetings with high-level executives, appearances on Jay Leno…ahem), our wives started to take notice of the fact that we weren’t taking the camera with us when we were headed to the river for “work.”
Alas, if only that were true. The truth is that work on our newest film has been underway for a few months now. For those of you who consider yourselves the true believers in what we do, first, thank you. Secondly, we decided to take a bit of a different tack with this film. Our first three, of which we are very, very proud, were a celebration of everything we love about fly fishing. We have always, since day one, felt that there were certain elements that every film we make should have: First, it should frame fly fishing as an exciting sport. No stodgy foolishness here. Secondly, it should celebrate the places we fish. While fly fishing is done in a surprising diversity of settings ranging from downright urban to the downright wild, typically the setting is absolutely beautiful, which is a big part of why we choose to do what we do. Third, we always want to sketch the characters that make this such an incredible sport. And as you have seen, there is no shortage of characters to be sketched. Finally, conservation must always be represented. Our world is changing, and we wholeheartedly support efforts to maintain and preserve the places where fish swim and thrive.
Which brings us to the subject of our next film. Whereas in the past we might have focused more sharply on the search for wild fish or the unique personalities that populate our sport, we realized that there are some significant efforts in place to better understand what is going on with the fabled Atlantic salmon. To that end, we’ve been interviewing, attending meetings, filming on location on the Miramachi, the Penobscot, in Labrador and dozens of other places. In September, we head up to the Gaspe Peninsula to work with some distinguished guides whose livelihoods depend upon the health of Atlantics and the future of the species.
There’s no doubt; Atlantic salmon are in trouble, particularly in the Coast of Maine watershed and some other northern Atlantic places. Where once there were thousands of fish, now there are tens. That’s tens. Sadly, in some places, there are none. So that’s why the newfound coordination and cooperation between government agencies, NGOs, salmon clubs, scientists, NOAA and other interested parties is so interesting. And why it gives us so much hope for the future of the “fish of kings.” And so throughout the next seven months it is our goal to not only produce a quality documentary/fishing film based entirely on the Atlantic salmon, but also to keep any interested parties out in the general public informed and enlighten through this blog.
Our cameras began rolling back in April of 2011, starting first in New Brunswick on the Miramachi River, fishing and filming for “blacks.” With the support of Scott Stone of Norway Maine and his crew of eight, fishing high water in mid-April was the ideal way to not only cure the “shack-nasties” but also an important part of this project, investigating the entire story, leaving no stone unturned. This trip was the classic case of “you should have been here last week” but we have gotten used to that line here at GGP HQ. In the end Stone and his crew did well on the water. An interesting component however was spending time with Keith Wilson, owner of renowned Wilson’s Sporting Camps and his experienced guides, some with over 40 years on the Miramachi.
I encourage you to take a look at the photos from the trip as well as a brief video sequence from the raw footage.
Looking ahead to future posts, you can expect more angling adventures such as the one we recently returned from in Labrador with Robin Reeve and famed author John Gierach as well as insight from the scientist’s and organizations that we have connected with. I encourage all of you to share you salmon stories, questions or remarks throughout this production faze of filmmaking. Stay tuned for future posts and videos. Because like all GGP films, this isn’t going to be typical. It is going to be exciting, and you’re going to get to see some very cool people doing some amazingly important work. Work that could save a whole species of fish. And there’s nothing more enjoyable that seeing success in the making.
The GGP Crew