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‘Hollywood Hunter’s’ Alaska Adventure

The following story appears in the June issue of Alaska Sporting Journal (photos courtesy of Freddy Harteis/The Hollywood Hunter)

 

Hollywood Hunter 4

By Chris Cocoles

Freddy Harteis, big game hunter with central Pennsylvania roots, couldn’t be more of a fish out of water than in his home base of Los Angeles, which is, as his hunting show states, “a place that isn’t too kind to hunters … Hollywood may not like what he does, but they will respect him.”

Harteis was more in his element when he filmed an episode of his Sportsman Channel TV show hunting bears in Southwest Alaska. But the California lifestyle is what Harteis chose after marrying Jeannie Mai, a Golden State native, makeup artist, fashion expert and cohost of a talk show targeted towards young women, The Real. The couple has settled in with the (mostly) gun-abhorring Los Angelinos.

His series, the cleverly titled Hollywood Hunter, chronicles his global adventures of chasing big game and depicts his conservation views. He assures the audience that just about all the meat from his harvested animals gets distributed to those in need.

“It’s not so much hunting, but the conservation behind it or the good behind it,” Harteis says of his fish-out-water existence in famously anti-hunting Hollywood.

He’s become a voice for hunting and conservation in his adopted hometown.

“L.A. is all about going organic. But most of them believe when you walk into a grocery store meat just comes from a grocery store … Believe it or not, a few generations ago everyone did what we are doing. So get off your high horse and accept the reality that this is the world we’ve come from.”

He fit right in when he went to Alaska and filled tags for black and brown bears.

“You hear a lot of places around the country and the world that they say are ‘God’s country.’ Well, I believe (Alaska’s) the ultimate,” says Harteis, who has hunted in Africa and throughout North America. “Just the freedom of wide-open space – and you have some of the biggest mountains in the world there. You see the eagles flying so free everywhere. And so much wildlife beyond belief – I couldn’t believe how many animals we saw in five days of hunting. Just an incredible place.”

Hollywood Hunter 1

AN ALASKA HUNT has always been on Harteis’ bucket list. He grew up in Harrisburg, Pa. His father, businessman Fred Harteis, was a also a hunter who made three bear pilgrimages to Alaska, finally harvesting a brown bear on his last trip (Fred passed away in June 2013). Freddy listened intently.

“He told me many, many stories about the terrain, the intensity, the wide-open wilderness. And really, specifically, he told me about brown bears,” Harteis says. “As I saw him go up to Alaska and hunt Kodiak Island and many other places, he would come back unsuccessful, yet so thrilled and excited to be out there in the middle of it.”

What really stuck out for an adrenaline-chaser like the younger Harteis was Dad’s tales of charging bears racing through the brush and how to stay safe in such a frantic scenario. The thought of such a visual – dangerous and all – was mesmerizing, so Hollywood’s hunter was obsessed with making it to Alaska.

An old high school buddy from Pennsylvania, Dave Kiser, moved to Alaska in 2005. He and his wife, Joni Kiser, own Full Curl Archery in Anchorage (907-344-2697;fullcurlarchery.com).

“They started talking to me about coming up there. As we started discussing the idea, I got more and more excited because, No. 1, I could connect with old-time friends; and No. 2, I knew I would be in good hands,” Harteis says.

The trio hunted with two guides in a secret location about an hour’s flight from Anchorage. Nonresidents were allowed to hunt brown bears in that zone for the first time, so it was a completely new experience for the guides, for Harteis and for the crew shooting footage for his show.

And given the setting and the unpredictable nature of bears in Alaska, it was a humbling experience.

“I think if we’re honest with ourselves, there is always fear and in the back of our minds the what-ifs?” Harteis says. “But as I prepare for trips that are very intense and dangerous, I try to prepare in a fashion that becomes instinct – to be able to shoot on instinct and think on instinct. To do the things so repetitively before I get there, the odds are in our favor to do the right things. But it’s healthy and good to have a little fear, because it’s a respect; fear keeps you on your toes.”

Hollywood Hunter

FRED HARTEIS TAUGHT Freddy a lot about hunting, dating back to their roots in rural Pennsylvania. The area around Harrisburg is full of outdoors enthusiasts, and as a boy Freddy carried a BB gun around the property and hunted plenty of deer and birds with his dad. The two made their first big trip to British Columbia when Freddy was 12, and after he graduated from Pennsylvania’s Clarion University, father and son went on a safari hunt to Africa. Harteis knew he wanted to be a professional hunter even with his business degree in hand and after starting his own networking business in Colorado.

When he met his future wife and eventually moved with Jeannie to Southern California, in 2007, it was time for a change.

“I realized if I was going to live in the city as a country boy who’s not belonging, then I was going to have to get back to doing something that I was passionate about,” Harteis says.

“One of the greatest things I’ve been taught is to chase my passion and not my pension. I thought this was the chance to build something and stand out in a culture and a city that doesn’t get it, and I’m tired of it not getting it. And I didn’t care if they were with me or not, but they’re going to have to respect the fact that I was going to stand out, which was kind of the vision for Hollywood Hunter.”

The show has taken him to various points on the map, and he spends whatever free time he can at Harteis Ranch (harteisranch.com), a lush forested Colorado property that hosts big game hunts for bull elk and mule deer.

Arriving in Alaska and embarking on a similar brown bear to his father’s adventure was an experience dripping with nostalgia. And the stories he’d heard were about to come in handy.

“One thing that (Fred) said rung in my head every day I was in Alaska: ‘One grizzly, one bear; one wounded grizzly, 10 bears.’ It was just the idea of being extra cautious,” says Harteis, who has tried to push the envelope when it comes to the hunts that appear on his program.

This excursion, hunting with guides who were more experienced chasing black bears and opting to use bows rather than high-powered rifles, was sure to test everyone’s skills and nerves.

“We knew it would be a challenge,” Harteis says. “We knew it would be intense; and we knew we would be up against elements that we’d never experienced.”

Hollywood Hunter 5

THE EPISODE PROFILING the hunt will air in the third week of July, and it was highlighted by what everyone who hunts or fishes tends to experience: expecting the unexpected.

Without spoiling too much, the black bear portion of the trip was particularly harrowing for Harteis, who injured his knee in a confrontation with a black bear that was more aggressive than anticipated. The pain has lingered to the point where Harteis will probably eventually go under the knife to fix the problem.

“I realized I let my guard down too much; I’ve hunted black bears a lot and have always thought they’re pretty docile and you can chase them away,” he says. “To see the one time that did not happen, I didn’t respect the intensity of a black bear and what it could be in its personality. So definitely the black bear encounter was one of the most memorable pieces of that hunt.”

It’s safe to say the overall experience and brush with the bruin – watch the episode when it airs for more details – “will probably save my life in the future, as I run into black bears,” Harteis says with a laugh.

Another lasting memory he’ll have is his persistence. The long hours of daylight allowed for long stretches waiting for bears to come within range of his bow. Toward the end of the hunt, someone wasn’t ready to go back yet with the brown bear tag remaining unfilled.

“At midnight, we had sat there for 12 hours, and my cameraman, ‘Thunderpants,’ and the guides were getting anxious,” Harteis says. “So I called him off and said, ‘Hey, boys, go ahead and leave the gun. I’ll stay and I’ll be here until tomorrow noon. Pick me up, because the floatplane is coming in at 1. My deal is, I can’t kill that bear if I’m not out here. So I need to maximize that opportunity,” he says. “They said, ‘You know what? You’re crazy, but we’ll stay.’ And about a half-hour later, that (brown) bear was standing beneath our tree.”

At that point in the trip, Harteis was tired, ailing from his knee injury, wondering if, like Dad, his elusive brown bear harvest wasn’t destined to happen on his first trip to Alaska.

More than once during his journeys around the globe, Harteis has been called obsessed with the sport he loves. Perhaps that’s the secret to his success.

“It almost gets personal to where I have to figure this out. It’s one of those things where you want it so bad and when your mind’s telling you no, you find it and stay anyway. It’s kind of in my DNA and one of those things that I grew up with,” he says.

“I didn’t realize as a hunter how it would have come full-circle and be a big part of why I do succeed in the field.”

With the clock ticking and his knee aching Harteis was in his tree stand, waiting for the brown bear it took Fred so much patience to finally put down; so Freddy turned spiritual.

“I said a little prayer to my dad and said, ‘Dad, if you could send a brown bear … I don’t need to kill it; just prove to me you’re listening.”

Fred Harteis would have been proud of Freddy’s big brown he bagged, despite some distressing moments.

“It definitely goes down as one of the top hunts that I’ll forever cherish,” he says. “And that’s because Alaska is so unique to its own. When you go to Alaska it’s not only views and not only wildlife; it’s just wild. It’s so free and untamed and uncharted. You just feel so small and so insignificant against such a massive wilderness.”

 

Harteis and his wife, talk show host Jeannie Mai

Harteis and his wife, talk show host Jeannie Mai

THERE ARE MYRIAD lands on earth Freddy Harteis hopes to hunt on someday. For a future episode of Hollywood Hunter that will be filmed later this year, he’ll head to South Africa to pursue lions. On the 2016 docket is water buffalo safari to Australia.

He wants to go back to Alaska and bring Jeannie along to share the Last Frontier with his wife. But any to-do list will be difficult to top this Alaska bear adventure, if for no other reason than it fulfilled Harteis’ dream of matching what it took Fred so long to accomplish: the conquest of a
brown bear.

Hunting Alaskan bears for the first time won’t soon leave the memory banks.

“One thing I learned from this hunt that I have not learned from any other hunt is that if you pay attention to other people’s stories,” Harteis says, surely thinking back to Fred’s tales of disappointment before finally metaphorically sipping from a Stanley Cup-like trophy brown bear victory.

“You take your life experiences alongside of others. You can walk into situations of hunting animals that you’d never hunted, and figure it out yourself. To see it all kind of work when things were not working, that’s rewarding.” ASJ

Editor’s note: New episodes of Hollywood Hunter will air later this summer on the Sportsman Channel on Sundays at 7 p.m. Pacific, Mondays at 1 p.m. and Saturdays at 12 a.m. Check out hollywoodhunter.com and follow Freddy Harteis on Twitter (@FreddyHarteis) and at Facebook.com/hollywoodhunter1.

 

Little Kid, Big Halibut!

A 10-year-old Boise girl hooked the halibut of a lifetime while fishing in Alaska last weekend.

And with a little help from “every hand on the ship” during the hour-long battle, Lily Cornish was able to bring her 333-pound, 84-inch barndoor of a halibut back to Ketchikan.

“It was the first bait down, then my pole was tugging,” she told a TV station in her hometown. “I started reeling it in and then my dad helped me. And then a big fish came out.”

LILY HORNISH AND HER FAMILY

LILY HORNISH AND HER DAD, BILL, BROTHER CARSON AND MOTHER ERIN CARVER AND THE WHALE OF A HALIBUT. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Her parents describe Lily as an avid angler.

“We flew to and from Alaska on Alaska Airlines for the weekend to fish,” mom Erin Carver emailed to Northwest Sportsman. “Lily loves to fish and couldn’t wait to fish in Alaska.”

The giant was caught while the family was fishing with Oasis Alaska Charters.

It was weighed on the Clover Pass Resort scale, which reportedly only goes up to 250 pounds, but using Alaska Department of Fish and Game calculations for an 84-incher, Lily’s halibut went just a hair under 333 pounds and provided 243 pounds of meat.

WITH ONE BIG FILLETING JOB AHEAD OF HER, LILY DIVES INTO THE MONSTER HALIBUT SHE HOOKED IN MID-JUNE.  (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

WITH ONE BIG FILLETING JOB AHEAD OF HER, LILY DIVES INTO THE MONSTER HALIBUT SHE HOOKED IN MID-JUNE. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Lampreys Falling From The Sky In Fairbanks?

Photo courtesy of ADFG Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of ADFG Facebook page.

In a moment that fans of SyFy Channel’s strangely successful franchise, Sharknado, will surely celebrate, weird creatures appear to be falling out of the sky in Fairbanks. So are these lampreys signs of the beginning of the end? The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a rational explanation:

From ADFG’s Facebook page:

This past week the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), in Fairbanks, received calls about arctic lamprey found in strange locations. The local Value Village store found a live lamprey in their parking lot and placed it in a bucket of water. Another resident called and said he found one on his lawn! 4 lamprey were found on land so far. How is this happening? 

The answer is probably gulls. Gulls are picking them out of the Chena River with their bills and then dropping the squirming critters while in flight.

Phew. Crisis averted. Sharknado 3 is heading straight to cable TV later this year.

BOG Upholds Spotting Ban For Sheep

Photo by Tom Reale

Photo by Tom Reale

 

This news is a couple days old, but sheep hunters who relied on aerial spotting will not have that luxury, the Alaska Board of Game confirmed.

From the Alaska Dispatch:

At a town hall meeting with the board earlier this year, Mike Meekin, owner of Meekin’s Air Service in Sutton, emphasized the importance of giving state biologists the chance to figure out what’s causing sheep populations to decline.

“It seems to me this is about sheep, not so much allocation. We just don’t have the sheep,” Meekin said. “I’ve been in valleys (where) 40 years ago, guys, there was 100 ewes and lambs. Now there’s nothing.”

 Rough Fish and Game estimates show the Dall sheep population dropped from almost 57,000 in 1990 to about 45,000 in 2010. Biologists blame declines in part on warmer weather dumping wet snow on coastal mountains, covering forage, setting up the potential for icing or avalanches and forcing sheep to struggle for food on normally windblown mountain ridges. Many hunters say predation is a problem.

Of about 90 comments received before this week’s special meeting, about 20 favored the ban and most of the rest opposed it, Probasco said before the vote.

 

What Memorial Day Represents

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Alaska Sporting Journal correspondent Dennis Musgraves shared the following:

I had a buddy of mine not make it back from Iraq, SSG Jason Butkus (died, Aug. 30, 2007). He loved fishing in Alaska. We used to go out during lunch and fish at a small lake for stocked rainbows, which was directly across the street from our barracks on Fort Wainwright. ADFG used to put about 25 brood stock trout (averaging about 24 inches) in the lake for a kids fishing derby held once a year.  Of course Jason and I would be out there feverously trying to catch one has soon as they put them in (I know – we were afflicted with fishing; what can I say?).  

Well, he managed to land one of them one year – lucky guy. I an still hear him talking smack about catching the big fish.  I tried many afternoons trying to catch one of those fat fish out of the lake, and never did.    
 
Not only was he a great fisherman, he was a super soldier, and a awesome leader –  a typical square-jawed, flat-bellied, take-no-sh%t-type. He was a proud paratrooper and was honored to serve our country in the military. He was also a terrific father. Although separated from his wife, he did his best to be all about his son. 
 
His final resting place is at Arlington, surrounded by many heroic people  just like him.  

I promised myself to always share stories about people I served with in the Army with others, because they can no longer share for themselves – I will never forget).

 And here is the Arlington National Cemetery release on Jason’s memorial service from 2007. It’s a must-read.

Rest in peace, Jason, and thank you.

 

Remembering Fallen Heroes

Randy Houston (with his dog, Pennie) started Purple Heart Anglers as a tribute to his older brother, Purple Heart recipient Jerry Houston. (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)
Randy Houston (with his dog, Pennie) started Purple Heart Anglers as a tribute to his older brother, Purple Heart recipient Jerry Houston, who passed away in 2011 (below). (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)

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My dad, a proud Navy veteran, visited me this weekend, and we made sure to watch whatever Memorial Day programming we could find on the tube to honor our fallen heroes. I wrote this piece in our sister magazine, California Sportsman. I hope you enjoy it and as we enjoy a day off, catch some baseball, sit in the sun and fire up the grill, we take some time to reflect about the sacrifices that have been made to get us to this point.

 

By Chris Cocoles
The ultimate goal is not about rehabilitation
but recreation.
But Randy Houston is being
too humble. His vision for creating opportunities
to take disabled veterans fishing
and hunting has accomplished more
than he will take credit for.
Houston started Purple Heart Anglers
(purpleheartanglers.org) as a nonprofit
organization intending for the simplest
of gestures to thank those wounded in
battle. Four years later, as he arranges
fishing and hunting trips all over California
(a group was funded to take a fishing
trip to Alaska last summer), it’s become a
healing place for American heroes to experience
the joy of the outdoors.
Busloads of veterans from conflicts as
recent as Afghanistan and as far back as
World War II, and from organizations like
the Veterans Home of California in Napa
County’s Yountville, head to New Melones
Reservoir and Camanche Lake to
fish, or Camanche Hills Hunting Preserve
in Ione to shoot pheasants.
“They show up and we go fish and
then eat. We eat a lot of food,” Houston
says with a laugh. “That’s become kind of
our mantra: we hunt, fish and eat, don’t
talk politics and we don’t do therapy. And
that’s just the simplicity of it.”

Randy Houston is proud of the flag (top left) given to him my troops deployed in Afghanistan.  (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)
Randy Houston is proud of the U.S. flag (top left) given to him by troops deployed in Afghanistan. (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)

RANDY HOUSTON GREW up on the San Mateo
County coast in El Granada, south of
San Francisco, where he dreamed of being
a baseball player, not of combat. His
older brother by almost 12 years, Jerry,
wanted to be a solider and left home for
the Army when Randy was just 7.
“I never really got to know him that
well,” Randy Houston says. “When I got
older, the attitude I had about him leaving
home when I was kid had changed.
There was a time when my big brother
wasn’t around. He was a soldier and I
didn’t know what that was about when
I was a kid.”
Jerry Houston went to Vietnam and
was wounded twice starting in 1966,
once from a sniper’s gunshot and, after
going back, when a booby trap exploded.
After losing some fingers and his
body filled with shrapnel, he was awarded
two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star
for Valor.
In 2009, then 72-year-old Jerry was
named the national Patriot of the Year by
the Military Order of the Purple Heart and
inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of
Fame after he’d moved there. His younger
brother attended the latter ceremony.
“I was looking at a man who was different
from the one I knew,” Randy Houston
says. “Over the years he had started
using a cane and he was becoming a little
weak. When I saw him walk into the
(building) for the ceremony there was a
taller, straighter and stronger man than
I had seen before. And I realized that he
was amongst his peers. And that’s what
he was – he was military.”
It was an eye-opening experience for
Randy, who never considered a military
career, instead following in the footsteps
of the boys’ carpenter-father, Elmer. Randy,
60 and around retirement at the
time, thought about it and called his
brother. He wanted to help Jerry’s peers,
but he had no idea where to start and no
contacts. Jerry had some answers.
The Houston’s were an outdoors-oriented
family; Randy got his first hunting
license at 9, hunting in pheasant
fields around El Granada and Half Moon
Bay, and harvested his first buck at 12.
The most logical move to do his part
for Jerry’s comrades hurt in action involved
what he knew so well: fishing
and hunting.
Purple Heart Anglers was founded
under the umbrella of the Military Order
of the Purple Heart, but a couple years
later the organization became its own
501 (c) (3) nonprofit outfit. Houston says
about 1,000 disabled veterans have participated
on various outings over the last
five years.
So impactful has this and other organizations
around the country contributed
to a better quality of life for veterans,
in 2014, Randy Houston was inducted
into the California Outdoors Hall of Fame
in a ceremony at the International Sportsmen’s
Expo in Sacramento.
Trips have included the aforementioned
Ketchikan, Alaska, fishing adventure
(money was donated to secure
airfare for a small group, plus part of the
lodging costs and fishing trip), deep-sea
excursions off the California coast, salmon
fishing in the Sacramento River and
an upcoming trout trip to Lake Tulloch.
Houston says his organization always
seeks funding from outside sources and
is always willing to listen to corporations
willing to provide sponsorship opportunities
to help with costs.
“Without the donations, it’s tough,”
Houston says.
But he’s adamant about making
sure Purple Heart Anglers is about the
veterans, not he or anyone else behind
the scenes. The only banner that currently
flies during events is the group’s
purple-themed logo featuring an outline

of a jumping fish blended with a Purple
Heart medal.
Volunteers like fishing guides and
food vendors have offered their time
to host fishing trips and feed everyone
at the end of the day. For pheasant
hunting trips at Camanche Hills, Purple
Heart Anglers supply the birds themselves,
but the fee to hunt on the land
gets waived by the owner (Houston’s
beloved German shorthaired pointer,
Pennie, “is our No. 1 pheasant hunting
volunteer”).
When this was just a fledgling idea,
Houston set up shop with a tent in
front of a Bass Pro Shops store in Manteca
and sold raffle tickets to help fund
fishing and hunting events. But many
disabled veterans shopping there also
found their way to the booth. Over
time, 500 would sign up to be a part of
the fun.
“(Bass Pro Shops) was good to me
to allow me to sit outside in my little
tent,” he says.
In those early years, Houston rarely went
on the boat or into the field with the veterans
and the volunteer fishing or hunting
guides located around Northern or Central
California who took them out. He wants to
be in the background, and even now he’ll
many times stay behind to help prepare
the usual meal lakeside or near the hunting
land when the groups return.
“My wife would ask me, ‘Why aren’t
you going?’ And I would say, ‘It’s not for
me. It’s for the guys.’ If I take a space on the
boat and I’m not taking a space of someone
else who can go, then maybe I’ll go.
It seems funny for me to be on the boat
when there’s a veteran somewhere who
could be there,” Houston says. “I’ll wave at
the dock when they leave and welcome
them back when they get home.”
And though it’s obvious this is cathartic
for those who went through such tragic
circumstances that left them wounded
in action, Purple Heart Anglers tries to
stay away from trying to reinvent the
wheel and play psychologists.
“I’m not there to fix anybody; I don’t
know how. The only thing we do is create
a space where the veterans and the
people they’ve served and protected can
get together,” Houston says. “We can say
thank you that way.”

Purple Heart Logo

A veteran shows off a Delta striper during one of many trips arranged for Wounded Warriors, some of whom date back to World War II. (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)
A veteran shows off a Delta striper during one of many trips arranged for Wounded Warriors, some of whom date back to World War II. (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)

AMONG THOSE BRAVE men and women
who Purple Heart Anglers have thanked:
a 92-year-old World War II bomber pilot,
a 96-year-old who also fought in WWII
and 20-somethings who recently served
in the Middle East and came home with
combat injuries. There are Navy and Army
vets, Air Force pilots and Marines, both
men and women.
“As long as they have a disability rate
of 1 percent, that’s all we ask,” Houston
says, though an October fishing trip on
the Sacramento River included 14 active-
duty Marines.
Chats during downtime and meals
don’t always bring up stories about how
the vets suffered their wounds. But occasionally,
the subject comes up. In Alaska, a small group of four veterans was sitting

at the dinner table literally swapping war
stories. At one point, Houston had the
sensation of square peg in a round hole.
“Wait a minute: I don’t belong in this
conversation. I don’t know; I never was
there and I don’t understand,” he says. “It’s
like if you never jumped off the bridge
you don’t know what it’s like to hit the
water. I’ve excused myself from conversations
because of that. They open up
because they feel comfortable in that environment
with each other.”
Houston and some of the men and
women have talked about their experiences
– the soldier in a Humvee talking to
a colleague, and minutes later that friend
is no longer there.
What overwhelms Houston is that
when the day of fishing for bass at New
Melones or hunting upland birds in a
Central Valley field is completed, the
wounded warriors go home to their lives
and families and try to carry on the best
they can.
“That’s why (post-traumatic stress disorder)
is such an important issue. Those
in Vietnam came back with it; those in
World War II came back with it. We had a
young guy who was blown up 12 times,
and they didn’t let him go back,” Houston
says. “And he was angry. His friends were
still there doing what he was supposed to
be doing.”
But an impact, small or not, is being
made. During many events, Houston will
sit in a corner and relax after a successful
outing. But periodically one of the veterans
will walk over to him.
“They say to me that I’ve changed
their lives. I’m thinking, ‘How serious can
that be?” he says with a laugh, knowing
his intentions are just to be a small relief
among a far more complicated picture
considering what they’ve been through.
“It becomes way overwhelming.”
One disabled vet who once tried to
commit suicide now volunteers to help
cook up lunch after his peers go fishing
or hunting. The program has affected
many lives for the better. Houston and
his volunteers are not miracle workers,
just people who like to be outside
and want to share the experiences with
those who are trying to put their lives
as well as their bodies back together.
And having a sense of humor can go a
long way to cope with some unimaginable
tragedy.
“We did a fishing trip out of Brannan
Island (Rio Vista on the Sacramento River)
with some disabled vets. One of the old
guys from Yountville hooks a fish and
starts to reel it in. And about two-thirds
of the way in he starts to run out of gas,”
Houston says.
“And he’s in his 80s. At that particular
moment any good fishing buddy will
start giving him a hard time, which I did.
I said, ‘You act like an old man out here.’
He finally gets it in and says, ‘Oh, that was
hard.’ And he says, ‘I can’t help it. I just had
a stroke three months ago.’ We’re laughing
and he’s laughing. I almost fell out of
the boat. We’re all laughing hysterically
and he’s having a great day of fishing.”

Twin brothers from the Marines enjoying a day on the water. (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)
Twin brothers from the Marines enjoying a day on the water. (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)

JERRY HOUSTON, WHO was also exposed
to Agent Orange during his tour of duty,
passed away at 75 on April 21, 2011. One
trait his little brother admired about Jerry
was the honor and pride he took and
protecting and serving, whether it was
his country or family.
“It’s funny, I’ve discovered my brother
had a lot of other brothers when you’re
talking about the military brotherhood,”
Houston says.
Jerry was a man of few words while
managing to say a lot with his actions. His
widow has told her brother-in-law many
times how proud Jerry was of his baby
brother for being so gracious to fellow
wounded warriors.
Randy has learned more about his
brother since he passed from getting to
know so many others who were like Jerry:
the ones who suffered on battlefields
thousands of miles from home.
“When he was still alive, the program
was becoming more active. I’d call him
and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing.’
And in his simplicity it was, ‘Yeah, proud
of ya, boy.’ He was not a rah-rah cheerleader.
It would bring me back down
where I belong. He had a way to put
things in perspective for me.”
Purple Heart Anglers takes the approach
not to magically heal and repair,
but to just do what they can to create a
few smiles.
“It’s not hard not to stay engaged in
this program. I had a man in a wheelchair
who was 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, was
paralyzed by a gunshot and in a chair for
eight years. The first thing he was telling
me was to thank me for what I’m doing,”
Houston says.
“He had it backwards. What it does
show me is those people appreciate
what we’re doing as an organization. It
means something to them that we care.
You know, I’m a rather egotistical guy
and always have been. But this has kind
of put me on my knees. I have been completely
humbled by the participants. I’ve
seen legs missing, limbs missing, blindness,
deafness. They’ve gone through
things I couldn’t even have imagined.
And they’re coming out and having a
good day. How can you not participate
in this?”

Editor’s note: To contact Purple Heart Anglers
to donate or for more information,
email Randy Houston at randy@purpleheartanglers.
org. Write them at Purple
Heart Anglers, PO Box 1621, El Granada
CA 94018. You can also find them on
Facebook (facebook.com/pages/Purple-
Heart-Anglers/120269434661712).

Trips like this with residents of the Veteran's Home in Yountville are what Purple Heart Anglers is all about, giving back to those wounded in battle. (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)
Trips like this with residents of the Veteran’s Home in Yountville are what Purple Heart Anglers is all about, giving back to those wounded in battle. (PURPLE HEART ANGLERS)

Filmmaker Vows To Preserve Alaska’s Wild Salmon

Salmon documentary poster

 

The following appears in the May issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

 

 “If you look 100 years down the road, which, to a geologist, is not much time at all, and you think about how will people look at salmon, it’s going to be viewed as one of the most incredible food sources on the planet. And it grows itself; throwing away a resource like that for short-term interests makes no sense.”

–Geomorphology professor and author David Montgomery, in The Breach

By Chris Cocoles

In his mind, aspiring filmmaker Mark Titus wanted to make a “love story.”

Except in this project, Titus’s idea wasn’t to pen a romantic comedy with a sappy feel-good story starring the Drew Barrymores of the genre; nor was it a more gritty drama with the classic Hollywood tragic-ending screenplay. In fact, the object of his affection wasn’t a human being. It was a salmon.

“This (is a) fish that’s revered, not only here,” says Titus, a Seattle resident with sentimental ties to Alaska and the salmon fishing industry, “but as I’ve come to find out, in lots of parts of the world where they’re no longer around.”

With that, Titus’s first feature-length documentary, The Breach, was born. It’s his tribute to the dwindling population of salmon, which once roamed the Atlantic Ocean in massive numbers but is all but extinct from the Eastern seaboard of North America to the European continent. The Pacific Northwest and Alaska are some of the last few regions on earth where large numbers of salmon continue to make their anadromous journey from the sea to coastal rivers for spawning.

Despite the obstacles, red flags and warning signs that seem to threaten the ongoing cycle of life and death, the fish keep coming back. Yet those who rely on these iconic and wild salmon in this part of the world wonder if it all go away in their lifetime, or at least for future generations.

Titus has worked for around four years to get his finished product done, and it clocks in a little shy of one hour, 30 minutes.

“It’s such a vast topic and there are passionate, passionate people at every turn on this topic; you can’t possibly cover it all in 90 minutes,” Titus says. “But we wanted to try and create a narrative that at least brought people in the door and gave them an emotional experience and a reason to learn more about wild salmon.”

Salmon documentary 5 Salmon documentary 2

 

“We’re blessed with an ecosystem that provides an abundance. And we have the ability to go in and responsibly harvest.”

–Bristol Bay fisherman Jason Kohlase

As a young college student in the Northwest 20-something years ago, Mark Titus began spending his summers working in the Last Frontier’s fish-heavy culture, first at a salmon-processing plant in Bristol Bay, then for the better part of a decade as a wilderness fishing guide in Southeast Alaska. Part of his inspiration to head north was through the writings of David James Duncan, whose homage to fly fishing, the novel The River Why, was the basis of a 2010 feature film.

“I was just head over heels in love with the land and the people; and most definitely with the salmon, especially the Chinook. As we all know, they were the most elusive, the most prized (fish),” Titus says. “It’s something that I took seriously and sacredly.”

By 2004, after studying acting and directing at the University of Oregon and the Vancouver (British Columbia) Film School, respectively, Titus began a career in the film production industry. He produced commercials for Seattle-based companies like Boeing and Starbucks, and one of his first projects was directing a six-minute documentary short called Fins, about the lore of killer whales around Puget Sound.

In April 2011, Titus traveled to Southern California for a commercial shoot and, “knowing how enraptured with salmon I was,” was reading a book recommended by a friend. Author Bruce Brown’s Mountain in the Clouds: A Search for the Wild Salmon was a major turning point. Brown’s work detailed the factors that were diminishing salmon runs around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

“I’m reading this book and going, ‘Why is this the first time I’ve read this?’ It’s something that was published in 1983,” Titus says. “And No. 2, I ran across the name of an attorney who had instant connectivity.”

The lawyer’s name was Russ Busch, whose son was a friend of Titus’s. One of Busch’s lifelong crusades was joining forces with Native American Elwha tribal leaders on the Olympic Peninsula to remove dams on the Elwha River. The damming had all but snuffed out the stream’s legendary salmon runs. Finally, a nearly 40-year fight to get rid of the two dams was coming to fruition. But by then, Busch was dying of stage IV brain cancer.

“This was April, and the dams were supposed to come out in September. And I thought, ‘I should start interviewing him immediately and maybe he’ll get a chance to see these dams come out.’ And he did,” Titus recalled.

“Russ was the catalyst.”

Busch’s appearance in the film is among its most compelling moments. He was there when the lower dam was detonated shortly before his death in April 2012. “As more and more people got involved and Congress got involved, I began to see what was going on,” Busch says in the film, recalling his involvement in the case dated back to 1976. “The tribe always knew how important the dams were. I kind of realized there’s a lot of people who wanted these dams out of there.”

While Titus’s film’s name is a reference to the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams, the largest such project in history and completed in 2014, it is more about a breach in the contract between man and nature, and more specifically, between man and wild salmon and their needs. In a sense, taking out the Elwha dams is a step towards patching the breach. As the river clears, salmon as well as steelhead have slowly begun to make their way back from the Pacific. While dams built along the mighty Columbia River, which flows through Washington and Oregon, have resulted in decreasing salmon numbers, as Titus says, “the Elwha is a very interesting story of promise.”

“More than had been seen in decades, but still a fraction of the over 400,000 salmon a year that used to return to the river before the dams had been built,” Titus narrates in the movie.

By the time he’d interviewed Busch and done more research, Titus was hooked and set out to make his documentary. He picked the brains of several of the Pacific Northwest’s and Alaska’s heavyweights of wild salmon conservation. Among 82 interview subjects – 22 of whom got into the finished product – is noted activist Alexandra Morton, a key source in Sara Pozonsky’s fine wild salmon documentary, A Fishy Tale (ASJ, June 2014). Also contributing were authors Brown, David Montgomery – whose work includes King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon– and Duncan, artist Ray Troll, chef Tom Douglas, former Environmental Protection Agency head Bill Ruckelshaus, and several others. They’ve all endured highs and lows on their journeys to preserve one of the planet’s great ecosystems, where in a perfect world Pacific salmon would thrive for generations as they always have.

“The common thread was, everybody loves these fish, and a lot of people felt frustrated about what’s happened,” Titus says. “What I kept coming back to was, ‘Yeah, there has been a lot of bad stuff that’s happened.’”

 

Salmon documentary 1

“The thing about Bristol Bay that makes it so one of a kind is these large systems up here that are nonpolluted, are able to create an environment that could not be recreated by man.”

–Bear Trail Lodge owner 

Nanci Morris Lyon 

Returning to Alaska was a sentimental reunion for Titus. He learned so much about himself guiding clients for trophy salmon on the Panhandle. The filming locations in the Northwest and Alaska were near and dear to his heart. Titus was the caretaker of a wilderness fishing lodge 60 miles north of Ketchikan. One day, as a 25-year-old, he was shoveling snow and looking out over the bay.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. This is my home.’ How many Americans have that sense of place? The Pacific Northwest, these islands; this is my root source. I don’t have any desire to live anywhere else. Here I am in a place that I was in love with and where I want to fight for. I consider it my home.”

Part of that home is being threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine, which has its sights on set on Bristol Bay’s rich minerals in the form of copper ore. That the Pebble Limited Partnership’s planned open-pit mine shares the same ecosystem as the waters containing roughly half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon has had both sides dug in for a lengthy and highly publicized battle.

Interviews with Bristol Bay locals are among the heart and soul of The Breach. One fisherman, Curyung Tribal Council chief and former Dillingham mayor Tommy Tilden, was Titus’s first interview subject in Alaska. Tilden shared with Titus of taking the season’s first salmon harvested to his ill sister, who also would succumb to cancer. A tradition among Native subsistence fishermen is to share the first fish caught that season. This one had even more meaning.

“I offered her the first part of it, and the look in her eyes – that gave her life, although brief that it was,” Tilden says in the film. “But it was very moving. How do you describe that spiritual feeling that we felt? This is who we are.”

Tilden chokes up during the interview. Titus also admitted to getting tears in his eyes.

“In all the folks I interviewed and was fortunate enough to spend time with, they were not telling me because it was cute or politically correct or sounds good,” Titus says. “They’re telling me this because this is who they are. The salmon is in their blood, in their fiber, in their stories and in their culture.”

“Every single thing about it was authentic and that sense of authenticity was overwhelming to me. The words were one thing, but then when they bring you into their home and they show you the 40 cases of jarred salmon that include king salmon hearts, bellies, livers – the whole thing. That’s what they eat in the winter. This was no BS, man; this is the real deal. When they say they subsist on this fish – they subsist on this fish all year long.”

Throughout The Breach’s social media pages, the hashtag #eatwildsavewild is prominent.

“I think it’s a very important question: Why would I eat wild salmon when I want to save them? Why wouldn’t I want to just leave them alone?” Titus says. “It’s hard to understand without a little knowledge. If you’re a consumer and salmon is the third most consumed fish in this country, 91 percent of that is farmed. But if you’re demanding wild salmon, you’re demanding a product that by its nature needs clean, well-preserved habitat in order to keep coming back.”

In the debate over farmed salmon in open-water pens that dot the British Columbia coast and threaten Canada’s run of wild fish, The Breach points out how self-sustaining salmon runs have been over the course of time until many factors, most caused by man, have jeopardized the cycle.

“Farmed salmon need continual care and management by human beings,” Titus says. “Wild salmon don’t need any of that. They not only survived but thrive on their own when they have sufficient habitat to make babies and keep going out to the ocean and back. That’s a resource that can be sustained forever if you simply let it do what nature intended.”

Salmon documentary 4

“These salmon have been feeding us, and there’s more and more and more of us on this planet, and we can’t get that in control; we better start paying attention to the refrigerator.”  

–Alaska artist Ray Troll 

 

This has been an eye-opening odyssey for Titus, who was hardly a novice about salmon and their importance to the culture, diet and livelihood of his corner of the world. Even he looks at these fish differently than he did all those years in Southeast Alaska, before marriage and a new career in making movies prompted a change.

But Titus dug deeper and appreciated more about the exquisite salmon-themed art of Ketchikan-based Troll; found new meaning in the writings of Duncan, Brown and Montgomery; was affected by the years of hard work that paid off for the dying Elwha River attorney Busch; marveled at the tireless crusade of British Columbia-based activist Morton; soaked in the ebb and flow of emotions for concerned commercial fishing boat crews and lodge owners in Alaska; and was inspired by tales of tribal elders and subsistence fishermen in the Northwest and Bristol Bay.

“I thought I knew everything there is to know about salmon. The vast amount of knowledge that I consumed over the course of this project, I couldn’t possibly have planned for,” Titus says. “It was almost overwhelming – there’s so much history, so much biology, historical and legal precedent. I was astonished. For me, this was like a football player interviewing Joe Namath. These were my heroes.”

Titus bought his first print designed by Troll – called Midnight Run – when he was just 19 and working a cannery in Dillingham. Years later, the two men’s worlds collided again. Troll’s artwork once told a story to its buyer. Now, that buyer was telling the artist’s story.

“It was a tremendous honor,” Titus says of filming Troll at work in his studio and showing time-lapsed shots of his art in the film.

The Breach returned to Ireland to be screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in March months after an earlier version was shown in Galway, Ireland (see sidebar), where it was among the top 10 picks in the Audience Award Winners category. It played the Portland Ecofilm Festival in mid-April, and by the end of last month Titus was to begin a barnstorming tour through most of May that started in New York and will end on the 20th in Los Angeles.

Titus hopes he’s told a human story about a wildlife issue and tried to keep politics away from the main arguments, as difficult as that can be in this age of Twitter feuds and toeing the party line.

“As an overarching goal, I wanted to create a story that is accessible by anybody across the political spectrum,” Titus says. “A person who gets engaged and involved in a story just because they are a human being. They want to learn more about salmon.”  ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on where you can see The Breach during its film festival tour this month, go to thebreachfilm.com and sign up to the mailing list for details. You can also check out its Facebook page (facebook.com/thebreachfilm) and follow on Twitter (@thebreachfilm).

Salmon documentary 6

Bering Sea Gold Season Finale On Friday

Photos courtesy of the Discovery Channel

Photos courtesy of the Discovery Channel

 

From our friends at The Discovery Channel:

GOLD FEVER FREEZES OVER ON SEASON FINALE OF DISCOVERY’S ‘BERING SEA GOLD’

               

Friday, May 15 at 9 PM ET/PT on Discovery Channel

The season freezes to a halt as the dredges rush out for their final push for gold. Captain Hank Schimschat saves the day and the Pomrenke’s break records and new ground. Meanwhile, one family reunites as another family falls apart and revenge, like the beginning of winter, is served cold.

 

Here’s a sneak peek of this week’s final dives.

 

 

You can also check out our interview with Emily Reidel here.

The Breach Showing On West Coast

 

Salmon documentary poster

 

We’ll post our May issue cover story on Mark Titus’ wild salmon documentary, The Breach, in the next week or so. But if you want to see the film on the West Coast, check out this information:

I’ve been on the road a while now and it will take some time to really process all of the powerful experiences from this national tour.  The one constant throughout though are all the vibrant, passionate people I’ve met along the way across this country.  Wild salmon and the ultimate sacrifice they make by giving up their lives for future generations seems to be a unifying language and this has been profoundly special to see.  Thank you to all who have come out to see The Breach and support wild salmon on this #eatwildsavewildtour.

 We’re in the home stretch now – and have the remainder of our west coast stops ahead.  Please come out and join us for the film, great panels – and amazing wild Bristol Bay Sockeye dishes prepared by local chefs.

 I’ll be sending out one last note with details before the tour ends, but I wanted to let you know about our very special homecoming screening coming up this Friday here in Seattle. The show will be at the gorgeous Seattle Art Museum this Friday at 7pm – doors open at 6:30.  Enter on the first avenue entrance underneath the Hammering Man statue.  Ticket price will include the screening, a special Q&A panel and a wild salmon reception featuring Bristol Bay wild salmon.

 Immediately after the screening our VIP panel will include Bill Ruckelshaus – salmon champion and first head of the EPA, David R. Montgomery – author of King of Fish, chef Craig Hetherington of Taste Restaurant, Yupik subsistence fisherman Heidi Kritz from Dillingham Alaska and me.

 A delicious wild salmon reception will follow the Q&A right outside the doors of the theatre, prepared by chef Craig Hetherington and his staff at Taste.   Wine will be generously provided by Chris Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars.

 Event Link:  TICKETS

 I want to thank our intrepid partners who have been supporting this film and this tour without fail:  The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA), Tom Douglas RestaurantsVital Choice Wild Seafoods and OrganicsTrout Unlimited andOrvis.

 Also, if you’d like to listen to an interview that aired yesterday with Terry Gildea of KUER Public Radio in Salt Lake City – you can do so by clicking right here:  INTERVIEW

 And thank you for caring about wild salmon and listening to their story.  We have four shows left on this tour – Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and Santa Monica. I hope to see you at one of them soon…