Written by: Kris Millgate, www.tightlinemedia.com
It’s 2011. I’m on Utah’s Green River shooting my first film for Trout Unlimited. The Green is a marvelous blue ribbon running through red rock. I need to see every stretch of it because there’s a pipeline proposal floating around. It would move the Green across the Continental Divide to water Denver.
I’m here to document what the Green looks like pre-pipe, research how a pipeline would change that look and explore just how deep this river runs in the West’s veins. It doesn’t take me long to find depth. It’s in the stern, gaze of Walt Gasson and the strong stick strokes of Charlie Card.
“Take three seconds to look around at where you are,” says Charlie Card, Green River fly fishing guide. “This is pretty good.”
I once had a Colorado guide suggest I spend the day in his lap, as that provided the best angle, in his opinion. Of course, he was wrong, and I knew that without getting anywhere near the ridiculous space between his oars.
Charlie is not that guy. Far from it. He’s the Green’s gentleman. He doesn’t cuss and he doesn’t drink. Neither does Walt, but the rest of the crew on this shoot does. I know this because I hear pukers in our community bathroom on early mornings after late nights. As the only crew woman, I always get my own room, but not always my own toilet. Honestly, sharing beds may be easier than sharing bathrooms.
In contrast, time in Charlie’s boat is charming. He’s so tied up in trout and what they’ll take that I know for certain he doesn’t want me in his lap anymore than I want to be there. Gender awareness is void between us, and I’m content to wrap myself in my cameras, including the new underwater one I’m learning to manipulate. Charlie, polite as he is, doesn’t hesitate to point out the fish that’s frustrating me.
“I think that was actually the middle fin he flipped you there,” he jokes.
Charlie smiles a lot. It’s a full smile with a healthy laugh that escapes the welcoming space between his front teeth. As he grins, he rows a calm and constant rhythm that holds its own tune. You can’t help but rock to it whether you’re casting to fish or capturing footage.
It’s obvious Charlie doesn’t just love the Green. He lives the Green. He’s on it more days a year than he’s off it. He doesn’t feel right without his regular dose of water. Walt is the same way, but drifted farther into Wyoming in his later years. He doesn’t get to put his hands in the river as often as Charlie does, but he’s still anchored by it.
“The Green River is the sort of place where we go to get our boots dirty and our souls clean,” says Walt Gasson, Trout Unlimited Endorsed Businesses director. “It’s hard for us to tell where the land leaves off and we begin. Where the river leaves off and we begin.”
Three decades separate Charlie and Walt, but they are of the same mind when it comes to the Green.
“If there’s one thing that’s been constant through the history of the interior West, it’s been bad decisions about water,” Walt says. “But this isn’t just about water. This is about home. And people will do things for home that they won’t do for anything else. I can’t stand by and watch our home place be lost.”
His home place is spectacular and by summer’s end, I’ve made four trips to the Green. Interviews are done. Scenics are in the can. I just need a bit more fish porn. That’s all Charlie and I are after in September. My new underwater camera is revealing a world we’ve been blind to until now. In a system with an estimated 16,000 fish per mile, there’s no doubt my footage is fishy, but on day three of the shoot, all my footage goes overboard.
I didn’t have enough overnight hours between shooting days to dump video files to an external storage drive. Three days of irreplaceable money shots are on the camera slipping out of my hands and into the water. I hover between losing my dignity and losing my lunch as I watch the camera sink then roll along the river bottom. Damn the Green for being so clear. I witness every bruise, bump and punch to my lens. It’s torture.
The other problem causing panic? The day is hot enough to pool sweat in my breathable waders, but the Green’s water heater never works. I’m not a strong enough swimmer to survive the cold and the current, but Charlie is. He strips from the waist up and promises one retrieve attempt. He’s modest so I promise not to shoot any footage of his bare chest if he’ll just dive in right now. He does. I hold my breath.
The drowning camera is recording the whole time and watching it later proves just how well Charlie swims. Not that I care about technique when first his hand holding my camera surfaces and then he emerges. You see me grab for the camera and leave my hero bobbing in the waves.
To this day, the footage still pushes my meal up toward my molars. Charlie still squirms when he watches it too. In his pale colored pants, he looks naked. Not exactly the kind of fish porn we were going for, but we laugh about it every time we fish together.
When I head his way these days, I leave my cameras home and take my husband. We’ve spent many wedding anniversaries in Charlie’s drift boat. My easy-going guy enjoys the floating, the fishing and the friendly banter every time.
The camera dumping footage is called Overboard and it’s the blooper at the end of Tight Line Media’s film Green with Envy produced for Trout Unlimited. The rescued camera still works. The pipeline still isn’t built.
This story is from a chapter in the new book My Place Among Men, written by outdoor journalist Kris Millgate. It’s a collection of the best outdoor news stories she’s covered in the last two decades with the addition of perspective. Hers. Expect unreal, yet true, outdoor expeditions plus the smudge of awkward that goes along with being a woman working in a male-dominated industry. To order a copy, click here.