When Central Okanagan filmmaker and fisherman Travis Lowe first read about a world record brook trout that had stood the test of time, he knew he was onto something.
It was a fish tale bigger than most; a world record catch that had stood for over 100 years and was surrounded in mystery and controversy.
The record brook trout (Latin name salvelinus fontinalis) was a 14.5 pound monster caught (or not) by Dr. J.W. Cook in the Nipigon River in Ontario in 1916.
A chapter in Nick Karas’ 1997 book called Brook Trout investigates the story behind the record and when Lowe dusted the book off his shelf and read about it, he knew he wanted to dig deeper.
To use a fishing term, he was caught, hook, line and sinker.
“It had an entire chapter about the 100-year-old record brook trout that J.W. Cook had supposedly caught,” said Lowe, who has completed a feature film called Finding Fontinalis set for its Canadian debut Nov. 5 in Kelowna.
“Once I read that, I knew I had a real story to tell of one of the greatest fishing tales ever told.
“That gave me the framework for which to build and hang our story on.
“The story was the search for a new world record but that was really only a guise so I could hide the conservation message behind it.”
Over the next three years, Lowe travelled across the USA, into the forests of Ontario where the Nipigon River has gone from one of the best fishing rivers in the world to water that is no longer fishable, thanks to hydro dams, and into the wilds of Argentina and Chile, an area that cultivated a brook trout fishery that has grown to produce large fish but has problems of its own.
What he had was a story of a once proud fish—known as America’s first trout—that has come on hard times, been revived in Argentina and is in now—like a lot of natural resources—in need of more support than ever before.
“In angling there is a progression,” said Lowe, one of the founding members of Trout Unlimted Kelowna.
“At first you want to catch a fish, then you want to catch as many fish as you can, then you want to catch the largest fish you can.
“By that time most fly anglers evolve and practice strict catch-and-release and then they begin to realize that they aren’t really out there to catch fish.”
That’s where Lowe is now. He’s a conservationist who is using his considerable film-making skills to push a message of saving the resource.
He’s a fisherman who would rather swim with fish than stand on the shore hoping to catch them.
To get underwater footage of brook trout, Lowe made one final trip to the southern hemisphere in 2015 and spent days filming fontinalis underwater.
“It was the most incredible experience I have ever had,” he explained.
“For me it closed the circle. I had been spending the last two years chasing large brook trout with four anglers and I got to become one with them.
“I became part of their world. I became such a fixture in the Rio Corcovado that the brook trout weren’t even bothered by me anymore.”
In Finding Fontinalis, Lowe has crafted his first feature film, moving away from short films to dive under the surface.
It’s a fishing film, true, but it’s not just fishing. Lowe examines conservation issues such as the destruction of the famed Nipigon River, which was first dammed in the 1920s, covering popular fishing holes under water.
“The death knell of the Nipigon River was when the first dam was built,” said Rob Swainson in the movie, a biologist in charge of the Nipigon.
“The impact to the fishery was horrendous.”
That moment, early in the film, speaks to where Finding Fontinalis is heading. This is not your average, every day fish film.
“I’m a conservationist, and I have married my passion for filmmaking with my love for fly fishing,” said Lowe.
“I see this medium as a tool for change and I want to affect some sort of environmental change with my work.”
My hope is that the film’s message resonates with people whether they fly fish or not.”
From the Nipigon, Lowe’s film takes off for Argentina and Chile, as the main character in the movie—the Patagonia company’s director of fishing—searches for a world record catch.
But over the course of their travels into Argentina, the conservation message runs throughout in what turned out to be a physically demanding trek through untouched wilderness.
For eight weeks, on three different trips to Argentina, Lowe filmed from sun up to sun down deep in the heart of the Andes mountains near the border of Argentina and Chile. There was no power so batteries were charged with solar cell systems. The fishermen and the crew had exhausting hikes just to access fishing water.
“We had so much film equipment, cameras, drones, underwater housings, wet suits, lights, tripods, camera jibs, dollies and all of it had to be carried by someone,” said Lowe.
“It really was a back breaking shoot. I would get up with the sun rise, shoot every waking moment of the day and long into the night, eventually passing out in my tent from utter exhaustion and get up the next day and repeat it again.”
A thousand hours of footage was boiled down to the final product.
Finding Fontinalis will make its Canadian debut in Kelowna on Nov. 5 as local anglers gather for their annual fundraiser. It will be the eighth annual Okanagan Chapter Trout Unlimited Fly Fishing Film Festival and Lowe’s feature will be the main film, accompanied by other select films from the 2016 Costa Fly Fishing Film Tour.
The event will be held at the Laurel Packinghouse with proceeds going to different projects around the Okanagan. There are still plenty of tickets available for the event which will also feature live and silent auctions.
For Lowe and others who support local fishing, it will be a chance to spread the conservation message.
“When you have all these anglers in one spot they have a tendency to listen to a voice or voices and I think we can get the message across about conservation,” said Nick Pace, of Trout Waters Fly and Tackle, the title sponsor for the event.
“When they leave they are not only satisfied in seeing some great films but also maybe they are thinking about doing something to help conserve the resource. So many projects need to get done and if we can help support it, we want to do that. We want our money going to projects on the ground.”
For Lowe, it will be a chance to sit back and watch his creation. It’s a 70- minute journey that will tug at the heart of anyone who cares for the planet.
“The reason I wanted to make this film was because I really thought there was an incredible story to tell,” said Lowe, “(It’s) one that takes the audience by the hand and leads them on an epic journey across North and South America. I want to help protect the environment where wild trout are found because like the main character says in the film, ‘That is where I find my true self.’
Tickets are $20 and available at Trout Waters. Doors open at 5 p.m. on Nov. 5 with the event starting at 7 p.m.
For more: www.findingfontinalis.com.