Recently many have seen a statement by Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks about Montana Wild’s involvement in both fly fishing for bull trout and commercially filming in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
There are many, many issues that could be addressed regarding this case to give a better understanding of the actual circumstances, but the length and complexity is better suited for a different platform. Below is a short and honest history of the allegations against us.
The story begins when we planned a trip in 2013 to make a fly fishing film about bull trout in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, specifically on the South Fork of the Flathead River. This is the only waterway that you can legally fish for bull trout in the State of Montana and the regulations are clear on this point. To fish legally in this area you need to acquire a bull trout catch card from FWP. All three of us had legal catch cards in our possession during the trip.
Prior to the trip, we spoke multiple times with the Film Commissioner at the Montana Film Office about whether we would need a permit for our film. We were advised that a special permit would not be necessary for our production. This was our first year filming as a business and naively believed that the Film Office was the best source for this guidance. We later found out that the advice we were given was not true to the law. Since this case began we’ve worked closely with the Forest Service to make sure all of our past films are properly accounted for and all filming since then has been properly permitted.
Months before we set foot in the Bob Marshall, we asked advice from many individuals including local fly shop owners, outfitters and past guides about where to fish during our trip. Not once were we ever told that fishing for bull trout in the tributaries was illegal. During our trip we filmed the vast majority of our time on the water with the intent of showing the film publically as we have over the past several years in cooperation with the best brands and anglers in fishing. In our minds we did everything legally during this trip. Later when we were approached by FWP, we found out differently as they told us the tributaries are closed to bull trout fishing. We simply did not know that their interpretation of the regulations defined the fishery that way. In our mind, the tributaries were located in an area of the drainage that was open to bull trout fishing. In fact, the regulations in 2014 that address this fishery were specifically altered to clarify the points on which we were misunderstood. After those regulations were changed, The Drake Magazine published an article called “Chasing Natives” in their Fall 2014 issue. The last paragraph has a sentence that says, “The river and its tributaries are one of the few places in Montana where it’s legal to target bull trout…” Apparently we aren’t the only ones who have had difficulty in correctly understanding these regulations.
Montana Wild exists as a business and a passion because we love to inspire others to enjoy Montana’s best fisheries and most wild places. Each and every fish handled during the filming of this project was carefully released to see another day. Many elements go into the netting of a bull trout in the backcountry. FWP allows you to photograph your catch, which is mentioned in their Bull Trout Regulations. They also ask you to document the length of each bull trout as part of the catch card process. 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. That practice would violate the fish-handling ethos we hold dear.
After much work on this case over many months, we believed it was the best course of action to settle our case. On every point we have a counter point. But we are filmmakers and not lawyers—we feel more comfortable behind a lens than in a courthouse. While we feel that a court case could have been advantageous to our position, we wanted to begin our next feature film and continue to follow our careers and passion as filmmakers. In the end, several lessons have been gained by this experience. We wholeheartedly understand that passion projects like fishing for bull trout can lead to unintended consequences and we never had any intent on breaking any laws during this trip. That honest mistake is on Montana Wild and we assume full responsibility.
We are sorry if we’ve disappointed any of our supporters and we are excited to put this behind us. Our hope is that a look at our body of work and actions will speak louder about our intent and values as outdoorsman than a simple and honest mistake.
Zack and Travis Boughton