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Guide idles rod for filmmaking

Simon Perkins captures dry-fly fishermen in action on the Missouri River for his film “Sipping Dry.”
Simon Perkins captures dry-fly fishermen in action on the Missouri River for his film “Sipping Dry.”

The transformation of Simon Perkins is as startling as a stonefly nymph’s metamorphosis to a salmonfly.

While guiding fly fishers on Montana’s Smith, Blackfoot and Missouri rivers for seven years, Perkins, 28, gradually shifted from the oars to a camera and emerged as a filmmaker.

He said he was inspired by his countless hours on the water and the quality of the experience being captured in videos by other filmmakers.

“There’s a lot of good video being shot out there, a lot of footage that almost hits the mark, but it’s much more challenging to come up with the trophy shots, the footage that gets your blood pressure pumping. I live for that.”

His latest film, “Sipping Dry,” focuses on the obsession he and many of his guide buddies have for duping big trout with fly patterns that float on the water’s surface.

“On the river, there’s a natural high in catching a big fish, and I get that same rush catching it on film,” he said in a telephone interview from Vermont, where he’s wintering.

Simon’s flick will be featured in the 2012 Fly Fishing Film Tour coming to the Bing Crosby Theater on Feb. 8.

He picked one of the shortest “dry fly seasons” in years for focusing on that subject. The unusually persistent high flows of 2011 – the spring that lasted well into the summer – smothered many of the mayfly hatches and forced anglers to spend more time fishing deep.

“I crammed my filming into 10 days in August,” he said. “Mainly I filmed the big hatches of caddis and tricos in the late season.

“When the Missouri is on, it doesn’t take a lot of time to get the action.

“I was a one-man band doing all the sound and filming myself. I just had to convince my friends to come out and fish in front of me. That wasn’t hard.”

He based his filming out of Craig, Mont., on the tailwaters downstream from Holter Dam, where there’s no shortage of fish, hatches or guides.

Being guides, most of his friends were busy when the fishing was good, but Perkins got around that by getting out early or hanging around late.

“A lot of the great fishing was really early in the morning,” he said. “We put in while it was still dark and clients were eating breakfast. Often I could get in a couple hours of filming before the buzz about where the action was. Then my guide friends would go meet their clients.”

Most of his time was spent editing copious footage of the guides expounding on dry fly fishing. “I just let them talk about it, and boy it’s a subject they can go on and on about,” he said. “The amount of footage I had to edit is pretty insane.

“Dry fly fishing is their thing. Their lives are shaped around it.

“Sure, they like to go stripping streamers and hitting the saltwater fish, but their ultimate is fishing dry flies and I wanted the story to revolve around that – in their own words.

“It’s not my story; it’s their story.”

The angler inside Perkins doesn’t want to publicize a fishery and flood it with people, he said.

“The Missouri already is very much discovered,” he said. “I don’t like bumping into boats all day either, but there’s always a way to get around it, stretches that are lower traffic, times of day to avoid the crush. I used the same mentality for filming as I did for guiding.”

Perkins said he’s always searching for a unique perspective to make a film refreshing. In “Sipping Dry,” a camera-on-the water shot of releasing a colorful rainbow is a good example.

“It took time and effort to bring everything together for that one shot, but the result is really cool,” he said.

“I’m trying to come up with ways to convey the power of fishing with the same emotion you have when you’re catching the fish.”

The guides he featured showed plenty of emotion as they tell it like it is, much of it so raw it had to be dumped in the film-editing trash bin.

“She’s a cruel mistress,” one guide says in a clip that made the film. “No shortage of stories about getting my balls kicked on the Mo.”

As images of big trout snouts surfacing to suck down dry flies grace the screen, another Missouri River guide offers sage advice from personal experience.

“Don’t bring your young children or teenagers here, because you might alter their lives. They’re not going to become a doctor and attorneys. If they get hooked on this deal, it’s game over.”