Out there: Savoring the Soca
It’s been nearly two years since local guide R.A. Beattie first waded in Slovenia’s Soca River, where pristine turquoise currents flow through the rugged Julian Alps.In the summer of 2005 Beattie, along with girlfriend Kelly Wade and professor Stuart Smithers, first laid eyes – and reel – on the Soca’s translucent waters as he fished for the elusive marble trout, the world’s largest stream-dwelling trout. It was here that Beattie first witness the country’s grand landscape and learned about its tumultuous past. And it was here that Beattie Outdoor Productions unofficially launched with the 38-minute film “Marbles of the Soca.”Beattie had just one regret.”I went there and it was incredible,” the 24-year-old remembered. “But it was an experience I didn’t get to share with my closest friends.”He recently had another chance. Beattie and five others – among them friends and experienced fisherman he met at the University of Puget Sound and Carbondale’s Paul Wade, a fly-fishing guide, ski instructor and the group’s “elder statesman” – explored the Soca Valley during a 10-day trip in mid-May. The mission: document their pursuit of the marble and other species in Slovenia’s rivers and capture it all in high definition. Beattie and cameraman Mike Cuseo met as freshmen at Puget Sound’s campus in Tacoma, Wash. By his own admission Cuseo, who runs aspenfreeride.com, said he and Beattie “did their own thing” in college; they occasionally joined forces for a ski or fishing excursion. Both saw the Slovenia trip as the perfect opportunity to collaborate once more, this time on a much larger scale. The task was daunting, both said during an interview Thursday in Beattie’s office downtown. The logistical challenges of maneuvering through a foreign country were difficult enough. But the true test was trying to master high definition, a relatively new format with which they had little experience.”You have to have a more thought-out approach to what you’re shooting when the cameras are rolling,” Cuseo said. “You can’t just press the red button and go for it.
“My main goal was knowing the equipment inside and out.”The high definition camera’s disks are capable of holding only 15-20 minutes of footage and must be backed up on a hard drive – a tall task when filming in remote locales. The technology has obvious payoffs but adds an extra degree of difficulty when filming an unpredictable sport like fly-fishing, Cuseo said.”This was a massive project, and I was always a little nervous because it was our first time working with this media,” said Beattie who, along with Cuseo, tested out the equipment in the weeks leading up to their departure. “But I feel like it was a major success from what I’ve seen so far.”It wasn’t a success at the onset. One of the group’s bags, which held cranes and netting, never showed up in Venice. (The next time Beattie saw the bag was in Aspen, three days after he returned.) That necessitated some improvisation – on at least one occasion, Cuseo used a bridge post as a tripod. Any angst over missing supplies dissipated when the group caught a glimpse of the Soca Valley as they navigated the steep grades and switchbacks of western Slovenia’s mountain passes in their rented nine-passenger van: “It put Independence Pass to shame,” Cuseo joked. Dense forests cover the remote area, and vegetation clings to the steep mountainsides. Small villages dot the valley floor. Scarring on cliffs still remains in areas where huge chunks of Limestone calved from solid earth – a reminder of the devastating earthquakes that altered the landscape in years past. The blemishes of war – the valley was witness to many bloody battles during World War I – also remain.
Bullet holes still adorn facades and concrete structures. Bunkers with angled gun turrets still line the sides of mountain roads. “You can’t escape the history there, no matter where you go,” Beattie said. “That history is relevant to the story of fishing. With everything that area went through, the fact that everything survived is amazing.”The fishing and the surrounding ecosystems, like the Slovenians who have overcome natural disasters and war, are intact, Beattie said. From their jumping-off point in the town of Bovec, and with Mika Ivanc of the country’s Fisheries Research Institute serving as guide, the group explored the waters of the Soca and Unica rivers and nearby tributaries that flow into the Adriatic Sea. What they discovered – and captured in multiple formats and periodically posted on the Web – exceeded expectations.”It was real high-quality, challenging fishing,” Beattie said. “Every day, we felt like we were being pushed to the end of our abilities. It was probably the hardest we’ve ever worked, but also the most rewarding.”Beattie and the other fisherman had their tussles with the marble, as well as a host of other species, from rainbow and brown trout to grayling. Jesse Eckley, a Puget Sound grad who now works for outdoor outfitter Cabela’s, had a once-in-a-lifetime experience when he successfully hooked a huco, a rare fish in the taimen family.”He’s one of the few people in the world to have tangled with them,” Beattie said. Cuseo was there to capture the fleeting moment – if their nets hadn’t been lost in transit, they would’ve had more time to document it. Such was reality for Cuseo.
“Every time they put their waders on, I put mine on, too,” he said. “My real challenge was trying to keep up. I tried to understand the guys’ language and what they’re goals are. In fishing you never know what is going to happen.”He constantly searched for the perfect shot – from zooming in on a fish thrashing at the surface to zooming out on a fisherman struggling across the rocky shore while trying to keep his line taut. Then there was the challenge of capturing the surrounding audio, from the clicking of the reel, to the rustling of a jacket and the hushed mutterings of a fisherman who just watched an opportunity go awry. “My job was stressful but rewarding,” said Cuseo, who often spent so much time cataloguing footage that he forgot to stop and eat lunch. “When there was a catch, I was just as excited as the fisherman.”Cuseo and others captured an abundance of footage, some 20 hours in all. The task now ahead of them – whittling 20 hours in one 38-minute documentary to premiere Sept. 18 at a fly-fishing retail show in Denver – may be as difficult as hooking a marble.”We’re in it for the long haul,” Beattie said. “We want to see this come out great.” “This whole experience was refreshing for me, who was coming from the ski movie genre, which is saturated and formulaic,” Cuseo said. “Fly-fishing is rediscovering itself. This whole adventure fly-fishing idea is new, and it was great to work with R.A. to create a unique product to present to a fresh audience and a fresh fan base.”One day we’ll be able to kick back and watch it.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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