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For this installment of F3T Behind the Lens, we sat down with Dorsal Outdoors filmmakers Ben Meadows and George Constantine to discuss their latest film “The Holy Well.” The film takes us to the rich, Yucatan Peninsula to fish the famous ‘cenotes` or underground waterways that connect the sea to landlocked lagoons. What ensues is a top water tarpon bite beyond one’s imagination! 

FLYLORDS: This isn’t your first rodeo being in F3T (congratulations!), but for those who are unfamiliar with your work, who are you, and what is Dorsal outdoors?

BEN: Dorsal Outdoors is a collective of our good buddies here in the south, mainly in Alabama. And we shoot stories that we’re passionate about. Most of us are self-taught anglers but we love to fly fish. So, there’s that element of DIY that I think is always going to be an integral thread through all of our films. We love stories that capture our attention and characters that capture our attention, like our guide Nick Denbow in this film. We’re a group of buddies that want to tell fun stories that anybody can laugh or clap along with. We’re southerners so we love to sit around and tell stories. And so, we wanted to bring the cinematic angle to that. There’s only one F3T and we’re blessed to have a film in there this year.

GEORGE: Just to add, bootstrap has always been our theme and I think that continues. We definitely stepped up our game from some of the equipment. But for us, everything’s on a budget. We’re throwing things together. We’re getting down there on a cheap dime. We’re bringing small rigs on a boat and trying to make the best out of what we can. We are trying to bring a little bit of a cinematic element to some pretty regular dudes. It’s come a long way in the last few years and I’m excited to see where we go from here.

FLYLORDS: Skunks and getting “kicked in the nards” go hand and hand in fishing. But “sometimes things just work out for you” as you say in the film. What happened during this trip that finally snapped your 15 years of bad luck?

GEORGE: It’s one of the rare times that things worked out like we planned and even more so exceeded our expectations. We went on this trip with a guy that we’d found named Nick Denbow, who came highly recommended by several different people. We end up having some conversations with him [Nick] and we are super stoked after talking with him a few times. He’s definitely speaking our language, so let’s see what we can do to make this happen. We didn’t know exactly what to expect. And that was kind of the way that Nick does things. Let’s figure out what the day gives us, see where it goes, and based on what the conditions are, and what we’re feeling, we will make it work. So that’s what we did each day. We ended up finding some pretty awesome stuff. And we were able to capture it on film, which is not always in our wheelhouse. So, it worked out really well for once.

FLYLORDS: How did you find out about the Cenotes or dz’onot as the Mayans called them? Is this a hidden secret or a well-known fishing destination?

GEORGE: The Cenotes have always been there but few people have fished them in the past. It’s not something unheard of but it’s definitely something not tapped into. Our guide, Nick, was telling us that depending on the tide cycle or the moon cycle, different fish will come in and out of these underground river tunnels. The water in these things has a mystique and mystery about it. It’s not like there are obvious entrances oceanside where they can swim in and out of. There is no sign saying “Hey Tarpon, come right through here!” They are a bit subtler than that. What’s interesting is that the water usually in these things can be of a darker nature just like typical mangroves. What’s cool about these is that the water here is apple juice color, tinted, but clear. A bit tannic. So, it was about as perfect sight fishing as you can ask for.

FLYLORDS: Tell us about Nick Denbow. How is his fishing/guide style?

BEN: Nick may have this feeling like he is just rolling out of bed and you don’t know what you’re going to do but he’s kind of a mad scientist? He has it dialed in and just won’t let you know what he is doing in his head. There is deep scientific knowledge that we crave to be around. Here’s an example to show you what I mean. The week we chose to fish with him was based on his understanding of how much water would be on beachside flats because of the angle of the moon. This way there wasn’t too much water sitting in between the beach and the reef break and it won’t bake and get really hot which is not what you want for flat species. So, he recommended being in a moon tide so that wouldn’t happen. In the film, you may hear George and I gushing about how creative Nick’s fishing program is but he wakes up and says “here’s what the conditions are giving you. What card do you want to play?” And we found that as a crew, very refreshing rather than beating our heads against the wall, chasing one species against bad odds. He’s also incredibly adaptive, just very responsive to the aspect of fishing. He responds to the conditions and is not set in his ways. That’s rare.

FLYLORDS: Pulling one boat through the thick mangroves could not be fun, but behind the scenes, there must have been at least two. Give a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes in capturing these incredible shots.

BEN: What’s funny is behind the scenes people think we are shooting off of skiffs or multiple boats. We are in rural Mexico, there’s no access to multiple boats, and certainly not skiffs and those kinds of things. So, believe it or not, the majority of the footage was NOT shot boat to boat. We ran two cameras in the same john boat. The boat-to-boat stuff was actually shot from a paddleboard and a kayak. You do the best you can.

FLYLORDS: Do tarpon really eat frogs? Is top water for tarpon the new standard in your quests for Silver Kings?

GEORGE: On that day, we just had perfect conditions. Slicked up high water with happy cruising tarpons all day. We were catching them on everything. Typical tarpon bugs, bunnies, and any type of fly we put in front of them. We had this one fly that they were just really tearing up. It got so ripped up that I was like “anyone else got a black bunny strip fly?” And we were all out honestly. You never imagine you are going to have a shortage of flies when tarpon fishing. I saw a little pop-top water popper in my box and I was like, Nick, would they hit topwater? He said sometimes they will. We already jumped 25 at that point so we gave it a shot! One throw, a couple of pops later, and OH YEAH! It really has ruined us. I don’t think I’ll be throwing topwater oceanside but it’s always going to be on my mind now.

FLYLORDS: What’s next for Dorsal outdoors? Another epic fish tale or back to 15 years of fish of hell and the elements beating you down?

BEN: Maybe a combination of both? Hopefully the former. We have so many videos from this one trip. We’ll actually be releasing a film on our YouTube very soon from the same trip. I managed to catch a grand slam on foot DIY style. We were rolling around just off the beach out of a pickup truck and I got a permit, a thick Yucatan bonefish, and probably one of the most bonkers way to catch a tarpon that you will have to see. We would love to have folded that into The Holy Well, but as you saw [or will see], there’s just no room. There’re a few others from our time in Yucatan. One where we just send it and manage to catch triggers and jacks. Stay tuned to our YouTube for those releases.

Special thanks to Ben and George for taking the time for an interview, be sure to follow along for more content on Dorsal Outdoors page and youtube. To check out the full film, click here to see The Holy Well. Stay tuned for more iterations of the Fly Fishing Film Tour, F3T Behind the Lens segment by clicking here. 

To see the full film attend a 2023 F3T Premiere, click here to find a local showing and purchase tickets.

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