Grundens Presents: Chrome Chasers – A Flylords Film

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How this came to be

Let’s get this out of the way… you must be crazy to make a steelhead film. We don’t say it’s crazy purely because it is a fish population that is diminishing, but also because it is such a special species deserving the utmost reverence by anyone who wishes to capture them on film. When we were approached by the team at Grundens to make a film in the Northwest, we were intrigued, they understood how crazy it was to make a steelhead film, but also understood we needed to tell this story to elevate the conservation efforts which are ongoing to protect these beautiful fish.

Then we met Rick…

Man driving a boat
Rick Matney, Chrome Chasers Lodge

About Chrome Chasers

Rick Matney is a multi-generation outdoorsman through and through. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, he sowed his outdoor roots by learning the ropes of fishing, hunting, and commercial trapping with his father and grandfather. His passion for wild places took him to Bozeman, Montana to obtain a college degree – but, more importantly, to pursue a career in fishing where he eventually became a trout guide.

With guiding in his blood and an affinity for promoting sustainable fisheries, Rick landed in the Tongass region of Southeast Alaska – an area that he explored as a young man, documenting steelhead on numerous rivers while his dad operated a local commercial trapping business. As he dove deeper into the world of becoming a “steelheader,” the need for conservation became more and more apparent.

Through the foundation set by Trout Unlimited, Rick – along with a coalition of dedicated anglers – documented the salmonoid species to protect habitat throughout the Tongass Coastal Range.  Simultaneously, Rick worked tirelessly alongside commercial fisheries management to shift fishing seasons and safeguard wild steelhead in small streams where they were being captured as bycatch during the Chinook Salmon run.

The Steelhead Fishing

In order to collect data and document these steelhead, we needed to go fishing. The process of going steelhead fishing in southeast Alaska is no small endeavor. On top of all the time and effort to find the steelhead, there are over 5,000 anadromous watersheds. You are going to need deep knowledge of the tides so you don’t get stranded. You will need a boat that can run you to the mouth of the creeks, and a jet boat to get you to shore. From there you are just getting started.

It is fitting to put some miles on your boots and really put your waders to the test when the fish you are chasing are battling so much adversity to meet you in the same place. We would hike for miles through the forest, over deadfall, dodging devil’s thumb (the worst kind of thorn plant you can imagine), and scramble up and down rocky banks to have the chance to catch a steelhead.

Southeast Alaska is a true test for your gear.

Rick would march ahead of us, and as we reached each of his “spots” we would in almost every hole have an opportunity to see fish. This was a first for all of us in the group and for any serious steelheader this is a rare occasion. You learn an incredible amount when you are able to study a fish. To sit on the bank and watch how the fish moves, where in the water column they are sitting, and more importantly how they react to your movements and presentation of a fly.

The creeks we were able to fish were just coming up in flows and too skinny to fish the traditional swung fly. The setup of choice was a 7wt rod with an indicator rig in order to get the perfect drift to the fish we were sight fishing. When the bobber would go down, all hell breaks loose.

Ed Fuhrken from Waters West Fly Shop hooked up to a steelhead.

When brought to the net, Rick was able to take the documentation he needed for the genome-tracking projects he was helping with. This would require measuring the fish, taking a fin clip, and a scale sample. All of this would be done while keeping the fish in the water to make sure the work being done was not going to hurt the population. As a group, we were able to see dozens of fish and were lucky enough to shake hands with a few from different watersheds.

The Takeaway

Beyond the fishing, you can’t help but be blown away by the journey these fish had to go through to get to where we were meeting them. Rick’s passion for these fish hasn’t stopped him from interacting with the entire fishing community, both recreational and commercial to inspire meaningful change for steelhead in southeast Alaska. The bottom line is, if we don’t have any fish, there is no fishing.

We along with Grundens hope this film inspires you to join the fight with Trout Unlimited, Wild Steelheaders United, as well as other great organizations fighting for these incredible fish.

In southeast Alaska, there are over 5,000 anadromous watersheds, but only 346 are officially recognized as supporting annual runs of steelhead in the state’s Anadromous Waters Catalog (AWC). Trout Unlimited believes Steelhead are in twice that many streams. Documentation in the AWC is critical for the protection of species and their habitat. The Trout Unlimited Alaska’s Fish Habitat Mapping Project is an ongoing effort by TU staff and volunteers to expand Alaska’s AWC by mapping previously undocumented anadromous waters and species in Southeast Alaska.  The first habitat survey conducted by Trout Unlimited focused on adult steelhead, but since then the effort has expanded to include surveys for juvenile salmon as well.

Since the project began in 2018, TU has added more than 67 miles of anadromous habitat to the AWC. More information about the project can be found here The Fish Habitat Mapping Project.

In 2021, the U.S. Forest Service charted a new direction for the Tongass National Forest with the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy. This direction includes ending large-scale old-growth logging and instead prioritizing restoration, recreation, and climate resiliency. As part of that strategy, the Forest Service restored roadless protections on 9.3 million acres of the forest, conserving plentiful salmon and trout streams and critical wildlife habitats for deer, bears, wolves, bald eagles, and many other animals.

Trout Unlimited is working with the Forest Service and local communities to advance restoration projects across the forest. These projects will remove barriers to fish passage and restore stream habitat for anadromous fish. This work doesn’t just benefit fish and wildlife, it also brings vast benefits to the people of southeast Alaska, who rely on a healthy forest to support their cultures and tourism-based economies.

Get Involved! 

To learn more about how to take action and protect Steelhead please visit America’s Salmon Forest and Wild Steelheaders United.

Thank you to Grundens for being crazy enough to make a steelhead film with us, they understand the dire need for these fish and the importance of making sure we have fish to chase for generations to come. If you are interested in learning more about Grundens go HERE.

Thank you to Rick and Dory at Chrome Chasers for sharing their slice of heaven with us for a week, and inspiring us to be more thoughtful about how we are treating our resources. If you are interested in learning more about their operation go HERE.

Watch The Film Here

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