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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Montana film festival highlights Spokane angler in effort to conserve steelhead

Heather Hodson, the founder of United Women on the Fly, is featured in “B-Roll,” a short film about declining steelhead numbers and efforts to conserve those fish.  (Courtesy Heather Hodson)

A Spokane woman and angler is featured in the Montana Fishing Film Festival.

Heather Hodson, the founder of United Women on the Fly, is featured in “B-Roll,” a short film about declining steelhead numbers and efforts to conserve those fish.

“The whole thing is if we don’t continue to conserve or actually do something then at the end of the day everything will be b-roll,” Hodson said. “None of that is going to exist.”

The film is part of the Montana Fishing Film Festival, which opened in Missoula Saturday. The films will play Wednesday at the Garland Theater in Spokane (see sidebar).

The film is a “microcosm of what I’m trying to do,” festival founder and organizer Matt Devlin said.

“Three main characters,” he said. “A white guy from Montana and a Black man from Tacoma and woman from Spokane.”

In the decade that Devlin has run the film festival, highlighting diverse groups and individuals who fish has been a main goal. That’s a big reason why Hodson agreed to join, she said.

She founded United Women on the Fly in 2015 with the goal of making women feel more comfortable and seen in a sport viewed as masculine. Since then, she said she hasn’t seen much change in how the fly fishing industry depicts women.

“As far as films go, I attribute it to a lot of things. Manufacturers. The film makers. Everybody. They’re just not investing in women,” she said. “But Matt, on the other hand … as a film maker and also as a film festival owner, he actually cares. He’s actually making it a point to bring all people that don’t look like the norm on to his screen.”

While the film certainly has a social message, it also carries a conservation warning. Steelhead numbers have plummeted with steelhead and salmon populations struggling due to a combination of ocean conditions, climate change and dams.

In “B-Roll,” Hodson talks about how steelhead used to travel to the Spokane River.

“For us pre-dam, we were the No. 1 place where all the (native) people would come to fish and feed their families and their tribes,” she said.

That all changed with the construction of a number of dams without fish passage.

But “B-Roll” isn’t a simple conservation dirge, mourning the possible loss of a species. Instead, it offers, Devlin said, “a different approach to a steelhead conservation film. It’s about a two-handed fishing technique called spey fishing.”

Spey fishing, or casting, is a two-handed fishing technique developed specifically for steelhead and salmon. It’s a technique that some are using for other, smaller trout such as Spokane’s native redbands. Unlike a single-hand rod, like most fly rods, Hodson said a spey cast is “very dynamic” and you’re “using the water in front of you. You’re fully connected with most of the cast.

“It’s probably easier for a beginner to learn this type of fishing than it is for a single-hand fly fishing.”

But how does that help conserve steelhead?

Hodson and Devlin hope that by highlighting a casting technique originally developed for the ocean-going fish they will raise interest and awareness in the plight of steelhead.

“I hope that it sparks some interest in the technique,” Hodson said. “Because anybody can do this technique. I hope people see that and learn more about the history and especially fishing for steelhead.”

Or as she says in the film, with each cast you can “actually can feel it. You can feel the history.”