Justin Coupe and Palmer Taylor: Angling for a story

Palmer Taylor (left) and Justin Coupe along the American River near the Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Gold River, Calif. (Photo by Florence Low)

By Peggy Townsend, review@ucsc.edu

Justin Coupe and Palmer Taylor became friends in a place everyone called "The Tennis House." It was a rambling, wood-sided home on Santa Cruz's east side that, at any one time, housed from seven to 11 members of the UCSC tennis team.

"We both took academics very seriously," Coupe said of the early days of their friendship. They also shared a love of fly-fishing handed down from their fathers.

The result of that partnership is the award-winning, 86-minute documentary Rivers of a Lost Coast.

The film tells the story of a fanatical group of anglers who fished for steelhead on the rivers of Northern California, and the freefall of those fisheries over the last 30 years.

"We thought the history would be lost forever if we didn't capture it soon," said Taylor.

Coupe, a 29-year-old film and digital media major who minored in creative writing and literature at UCSC, and Taylor, a 27-year-old applied physics major with a minor in electronic music, began their project four years ago with a few thousand dollars in the bank and rumors of an off-kilter angler named Bill Schaadt in their heads.

Digging through faded photographs, driving from Livingtston, Montana, to Hollywood in their salvaged Ford Ranger, and sometimes forced to prove their fishing skills to dubious anglers, the friends coaxed stories out of a score of grizzled fly-fisherman who told of a time when steelhead and salmon seemed limitless and when heroes were born.

The rivermen told the story of Schaadt flipping his car on the way to the Eel River and of how he climbed out, ran the rest of the way to the water, and only summoned a tow truck after it was too dark to fish.

They told stories of clandestine treks to secret fishing spots, of carefully crossing rivers because there were so many salmon they could knock an angler down. Then, finally, how everything crashed, the victim of a perfect storm of floods, logging, dam construction, and overfishing.

It was a project that exhausted and exhilarated the filmmakers, and there were days, Taylor said, when each woke up in a cold sweat "wondering what we were doing with our lives."

But, said both men, they had learned a lesson while on Bob Hansen's tennis team. "We learned that you can put a major task in front of you and if you work hard and smart you can accomplish things you never thought you could accomplish," Coupe said.

Their film, which cost about $100,000 to make, will be out in DVD in mid-October and is expected to turn a profit, much to the filmmakers' relief. It also proved a point about a changing movie industry. With the marketing tools of the Internet, a niche film like theirs can connect to a far-flung audience.

Living in the Sacramento area now, the pair is working on a new documentary called "Cloud's Rest" about a young man with cerebral palsy who, in an undertaking that took 30 people, climbed to the top of a 9,934-foot peak near Yosemite.

The trouble is, all that work doesn't leave them much time to fish.

For more information about the tennis program at UCSC and head coach Bob Hansen, visit the UCSC Athletics web site.