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A Backyard in Nowhere Q&A
Questions and answers from the team behind the pike western DVD
The DVD "A Backyard in Nowhere" is something else as you can read in my review and see in the trailer. Fly fishing, sure, but also a different experience traveling, fishing, hunting and meeting people by the Innoko River system in Alaska. The team behind the video is Danish, and it was quite natural for me to grab a hold of them and get them to talk a bit about the background for the whole project.
Peter Lyngby and Mikkel Poppelhøj are the main anglers in the DVD and Mathis Eskjær and Peter Christensen the filmmakers and editors. Here are their answers to my questions about the project.
1) What made you choose Alaska and in particular the Innoko River as a destination in the first place?
Peter Lyngby: We had two major reasons. First of all, the Innoko offers some of the best pike on the fly in the world. It is a giant watery maze of superb pike habitat. There are not that many places on earth where you think - hmm, this seems to be designed to make a certain species of fish grow big. But there are a few: New Zealand's South Island for brown trout, the Seychelles for bonefish, and the Innoko for pike. This bleak wilderness covers thousands and thousands of square miles, there is minimal disturbance, almost zero fishing pressure and no infrastructure. So for pike fishing fanatics like us, it is the place to go at least once in a lifetime.
Mathis Eskjær: The second reason was our film project. Alaska is such a classic fly fishing destination, so from a film maker's perspective it is fun to mess with people's idea of Alaska as a place full of snow-capped mountains, chrome salmon and luxury lodges. The material we ended up with sure shows a new side of Alaska, but far more exciting and extreme than we could ever have imagined.
2) What and how did you plan ahead? Internet, local contacts, professional outfitters, previous visitors?
Peter Christensen: There is not a lot of info available on those parts of Alaska, but we did as much research as we could beforehand, for instance by checking out potential hot spots on Google Earth and picking up leads from people in the fly fishing community. That is how we first heard of a notorious shootout between Alaska Natives and the Midnight Sun fly fishing guides, which ended up playing a dramatic role in the film.
We were lucky to find a couple of bush pilots that had some experience with pike fishing and could give us some pointers. During our month on the Innoko we became close friends with the Natives, and they where kind enough to share some of their best fishing spots with us, which eventually led us to some totally amazing pike fishing.
3) What was your reactions and impressions of the locals apart from the things we see in the video?
Mikkel Poppelhøj: Meeting with the native people was intense, but also a positive and fascinating experience. The one thing to keep in mind when watching the film - and when traveling to remote places - is to be open and avoid putting up barriers. In the film, there is a lot of whisky drinking etc. (it's a Western after all) which leads to some quite outrageous situations, but we made the decision early on to say "yes" to everything and go with the flow.
A bottle of boot-legged whisky costs 80$ US in a village far up the Innoko, so it is highly insulting to decline when a drink is offered. It was this "loose" way of meeting people, mixed with tremendous hospitality from the natives, that eventually led to close friendships and a string of wild adventures.
Innoko is not a place for the puritans or tender-eared people
But yeah, the Innoko is not a place for the puritans or tender-eared people. There is a special set of values out there, far from the reach of law, and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to apply the norms from back home to the Backyard. People talk dirty, fish and hunt dirty, and sometimes interact in a pretty dirty way. But if there is any moral to this, to me that would be that even though natives have had many disappointments from the white men coming to their lands, they still meet you with open arms (and bottles). They are brave and good folks, but sadly the natives are used to run into an arrogant attitude from white people that come out there.
4) Would you recommend others to follow in your footsteps on a similar DIY-trip?
Peter Christensen: DIY fishing will rarely be as rewarding as guided fishing when you look at the number of big fish you catch, but in my opinion it can be a lot more rewarding in other ways. When you set out to catch some special fish on your own, or with a small group of like-minded fanatics, there is a huge potential for things going WRONG, or at least very differently from what you had planned. To me, this is one of the coolest aspects of fly fishing. Sometimes, you'll feel like you are in a fairytale, searching for some imaginary creature, fighting all kinds of challenges on your way. To me that connection to the fantastic and imaginary is what makes fly fishing so fascinating.
But to answer your specific question, I would advice people to stay clear of the Innoko River. In retrospect, we where extremely unlucky to run into so much hassle. But on the other hand, after seeing the film, I'm sure most will agree we where pretty lucky to escape unharmed. "The Backyard" is a strange place, and I don't think any of us will dare to go back there ever again, and my advice to DIY-minded people would be to check out some of the other rivers in the Yukon drainage.
5) Your film is called "A Backyard in Nowhere - a fly fishing western". Can you elaborate on what seems a very strange genre mix?
Mathis Eskjær: We didn't start out with the intention of making a fly fishing western, but as the adventure began to unfold, it seemed like we where indeed caught in a very western-esque world. On the one side we had natives fighting to keep
their ancestral lands, on the other, a group of redneck "cowboys" trying to colonize the wilderness to secure their guiding business. I found myself in the middle of all that, trying to make a film about catching pike on the fly, but these two separate stories mixed in many ways, to a point where they became inseparable. In short, there was no way of telling our own story, without telling the story about the Midnight Sun and the natives.
Peter Christensen: Also, the western genre goes well with the atmosphere out there in the barren swamps. For a film maker it is a lot of fun to go "all in" on a genre mix that has never been tried before - the fly fishing documentary and the western.
Whether this new and unorthodox approach to fly fishing films is a success will be up the the viewers to decide. But we can guarantee, that you have seen nothing like it before.
My hope is that the adventures we experienced in the Backyard will captivate fly-fishing fans and film lovers alike, or for that matter, anyone who dreams of straying into the wild.