Chris Kitchen talking about the making of, ‘Baja Lines,’ an official selection of the 2020 F3T
When Chris Kitchen from KGB Productions got the call to head down to Baja, Mexico to follow the story of childhood friends on their annual fishing and biking trip, he was skeptical. But through hardscrabble adventure and misadventure, Kitchen shines the light on this motley crew hoping to find never-before ridden terrain and experience marlin exploding into chaotic topwater action. In this part of the world, almost nothing, other than a cold beer at the end of the day, comes easily, even stalking striped marlin on the fly and progressive, freeride mountain biking.
Q: Where are you based out of and what is KGB Productions?
A: We’re based out of Jackson, Wyoming. We’re a commercial video production company, we focus on outdoor and action sports. We started off in the snow sports industry, doing ski films and working with ski brands in 2002. Over the years, we just expanded out of the snow sports industry and into general outdoors. I grew up fly fishing with my dad, uncle and grandfather so it was a natural progression. Now with the F3T it provides a great outlet beyond the internet to watch cool and quality fishing films.
Q: How many films have you had in the Fly Fishing Film Tour? And what was the name of the one in F3T last year?
A: Two films so far. The film last year is called The Return. Quite a bit different than this year. It was more of a conservation-oriented piece, about this guy Dave Sweet and his effort with Trout Unlimited to bring back the Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
Q: What’s the name of the film you have in this year’s film tour? Tell us a little bit about the film.
A: Yeah so, this year’s film is called Baja Lines, it’s a combination of marlin fishing on the fly and mountain biking. Basically, what happened, there’s these guys, George Vandercook, Jack Porter, and Rudy Babikian and they have spent the last three or four years just cruising around Baja in their little 19 foot Boston Whaler trying to find a fishery. And about two years ago they were, like “dude you got to come down and see this marlin fishery.” And they had no money and they wanted me to come down and I was a little skeptical. They showed me some of the GoPro footage they had and I was like okay there’s something there, so I went. I filmed a bunch of stuff for them and I was just like “wow” this is such a unique experience. Being able to literally sight cast to a marlin feeding on a bait ball.
Q: Where did the idea for this film come from?
A: Rudy and George were telling me their other friend Cody (semi-pro mountain biker and a professional trail builder), who’s been down there with them a couple of times that he wanted to mountain bike all around the mountains of Baja. So then I started brainstorming and pitching it to the sponsors, “Hey we have this crazy idea where we can showcase this marlin fishery and toss in mountain biking, which is a whole different experience.” And, then you know the hook on the film was that the two mountain bikers are not the greatest fishermen in the world and that comes across in the film.
Q: Where in Baja does the film take place? How’s the travel to get there?
A: It’s in an area called Mag Bay, which is in the middle of nowhere. It’s about six hours North of Cabo on the Pacific side or three hours from La Paz. It’s one of the things I thought was super cool about the area. It’s not been “gringofied” it’s a pretty local scene there. There’s pretty much no tourism infrastructure. It’s mostly a fishing village.
Q: How long have people been fly fishing down there?
A: It’s somewhat new, there are a couple of local outfitters that have been doing some fly stuff but they are mostly traditional fishing. A lot of the fishermen that are in that area are on the big yachts and they’re coming down from San Diego or coming up from Cabo on, you know. But this is the first true fly fishing operation in the area.
Q: Tell us a little bit about marlin on the fly and what kind of marlin you guys are targeting and what goes into it.
A: Yeah, we’re targeting striped marlin and they’re not even exactly sure why all these marlin congregate down there. Something with the water temps and then just a large amount of baitfish. But there are literally schools of 20-30 to several hundred marlin out there. And then the gigantic bait balls, as seen in the film.
Q: Can you tell us the difference between teasing in a marlin vs. just straight casting to a feeding marlin?
A: Most people are doing a combo of live bait, dragging a spread of teaser rubber fish or casting from a spin rod a teaser fish to get the marlin to chase it and then you cast a fly into that zone as another person pulls the teasers up and out of the water. It’s the old bait and switch. But since the marlin in Mag Bay are so aggressively eating on these bait balls, we’ve discovered that you could throw in a fly and as soon as you’re stripping it out of the bait ball, they hit it. It’s pretty aggressive fishing. Your standing on the front of the boat, it’s bouncing, it’s wavy and some days the bait balls are not really moving and the marlin are right there and you’re catching five or six fish in an hour.
Other days you get one cast and they’re moving and the boat has to go another hundred yards, you get one cast and then you’re moving again. So it all depends on the fish that day.
Q: What’s so great about marlin on the fly?
A: It is so visible for me, being more of a trout fisherman, it’s awesome that you literally just sight cast. You’re rolling up seeing a marlin’s fin pop in the surface, you’re seeing baitfish, you’re seeing bills coming out of the water and it’s just incredible. I don’t think this exists in a lot of ocean fishing where you’re at deep blue water and you’re sight casting. So it makes it really exciting. I think you see in the film that it’s some of the most exciting fishing as it’s just so active in front of you. There’re birds flying everywhere, there’s bait, there’s fish, it’s a pretty interesting scenario out there.
Q: What weight rods are you guys using?
A: It’s funny we prefer 16 weight rods, but a lot of companies don’t make those anymore. So in this film, we were actually using 12 weight G Loomis rods and they were surprisingly doing really well. They held up, we didn’t break any rods.
Q: When you’re capturing those underwater shots what kind of camera gear are you using? Are you snorkeling or how did that go down?
A: Yeah, I was snorkeling using an A7Sii and underwater housing. It’s funny before I went in I talked to some of the local Mexican guys and asked, “Is this safe?”. They (the marlin) have a giant spear on them. But what convinced me, is one of the local guys was out there with his 13-year-old daughter. I’m like okay if he’s willing to jump in with this 13-year-old daughter then I shouldn’t be scared.
Those animals are so precise that even when they would come three feet in front of me and turn into the fish, they are so dialed and agile, they’re not going to accidentally stab you or run into you. And actually the biggest growing business down there is the ecotourism of people coming to swim with the marlin.
Q: Seemed like a lot of hookups, what’s it like landing these marlin?
A: Yeah landing these fish is super tough. They’re a big powerful fish and if you don’t set that hook right, they will break you off pretty quickly. So yeah, I say we are probably every 1 of 2, 50% of hookups to landing the fish.
Q: Can you talk about some of the challenges you guys ran into when producing this movie?
A: The main thing is you’re in the middle of nowhere, Mexico. If your rod breaks or you have engine problems it’s not like you can just go to the store and fix it. So you have to MacGyver your way to fix it. The biggest thing was and I know these guys are okay with me talking about it but three days before I got down there to film the movie, they had accidentally sunk their new boat. Which, threw a big wrench into the plan. But luckily the place where they are based out of, they had their 19 foot Whaler and this other ponga boat we could use. So, that was a challenge. I mean finding the fish is always a challenge. You’re looking at where they were from the day before and you’re looking at water temperature charts.
But a lot of it is you’re just blasting out there and we’re just looking for the birds. Cause the birds literally have a bird’s eye perspective and they could see 50-100 feet down in the water and they’re watching those bait balls and watching the marlin. And when the marlin starts to push that bait ball up, the birds come down low to the water to pick off the fish. So we’re literally covering 70-80 miles a day, just driving around in the middle of the ocean looking for birds and zipping over to the birds.
But the biggest deterrent is just the weather out there, you want it relatively calm. Anything above a three-foot swell is pretty much a no go. And then there was always, what we would call getting “Bajaed,” which was happening almost every day. Like you pull out and the trailer tire would go flat or the engine gas line clamp would come loose or the fish would be moving super fast and the wind would be blowing directly against your casting direction. Every single day something seemed to try to conspire against us.
Q: Where did the mountain biking come into fruition?
A: Yes, so pretty much George and Cody are best friends. They grew up together in the Beaverkill valley of New York and then they both lived in Jackson for a while and during the offseason, they would spend the whole fall driving around Baja, biking, and surfing. Cody kept being “I can ride my bike down these mountains”. So he kept bugging these guys for years saying “Hey, I want to ride my bike down there”.
It’d be funny, we would drop them off at 8:00 in the morning, in the middle of this island, in the middle of the desert. It’s 85-100 degrees a day, no shade. And then we would go offshore and fish and then come back and pick them up at 6:00 at night. And they would have built a few hundred feet of trail. And all the locals were super supportive. They were really excited to see it. I don’t think they’d ever seen anything that before.
And it was just an interesting way to show that yes fishing is the main focus but, there’re other activities to do.
Q: How long did the trails take to build and how many trails did they build?
A: They built one big trail, it took them about a week to build. They spent about four or five days down there just trying to find zones that they could bike in. Cause there were a lot of places that yeah, from the ocean it looks great and then you get on land and it’s not good or there’s no way to get the boat to land or the seas are too rough. So it took a while to even identify the zones that they could actually bike.
Q: Can you talk about the support from the local community?
A: Yeah when these guys showed up they figured out the fishery on their own. The locals saw these guys going out in a 19 foot Boston Whaler, 20 miles offshore every day. And, all the other local fishermen saw this and were like okay, these guys are part of our tribe. They’re willing to take their little boats out to the ocean every day. They’re not coming down here asking us where the fishing is or where or how to start a business. And before they even opened their business they spent four years just making sure that the community is welcoming and all that.
This guy Gabino, who runs one of the big guiding operations down there. I feel like he’s almost they’re ocean father. He checks in every day to make sure they made it back from the sea and made sure that the boat is okay and all that. So it’s amazing. And then, they try to give back to the community as much as possible. There’s that little scene where they’re painting the street. One of the guys said “Hey, we’re having Saint Carlos Day it’s a big festival. We want to paint the street.” And the guys said, “What do you need?” “We need to buy paint to paint the street”. And they’re, “Yeah, no problem. Of course, we’ll do that”. So I think they made those meaningful connections with the people in that town that matter.
I also think they just clicked because of the natural affinity for the ocean and for fishing.
Q: Is it a catch and release sport fishery? I mean I assume that Rudy and George are all catch and release, but are the locals keeping fish?
A: It is mostly catch and release. Most of the local people understand it, especially the fishing guys, they benefit from catch release. But they do eat marlin in the town, and very occasionally they don’t survive. I think most of the people seem to understand the importance of the fishery and the wildlife, so they’re trying to manage in a pretty sustainable way. The town’s symbol is the sea turtle and their biggest source of tourism income is winter whale watching and they seem to understand the interconnectedness of it all.
Q: What is the biggest threat to the fishery?
A: I would say the biggest threat to that area is all the big sportfishing boats coming out from San Diego and Cabo on their multimillion-dollar yachts that are catching, 70 to 150 fish a day on live bait. It’s a tough thing to regulate because they’re technically out in international waters. Those guys are not doing anything for the local economy. They’re on their yacht, they’re not coming into town, they’re not even filling up gas, they’re anchored out in the bay. I think that’s going to be the biggest issue coming up in the future.
Q: Anything else that you want to add that we didn’t discuss?
A: Just a shoutout to these guys and what they have going on. They guide all over the world. They’re down in South America in the winter. They’re in Alaska in the summer, but they always come back to Baja just cause it’s such a unique experience and fishery and beyond. What they like to do once you are done fishing, is jump in the water with your snorkel gear on and watch what’s going on and it’s just incredible. That’s honestly my favorite part about being down there. It’s being in the water and just watching these marlin and seals just pound this bait ball. It’s a natural spectacle that’s no other. And it’s amazing that you can just witness it right there.
Q: Any exciting projects upcoming?
A: We have a loose connection with this guy to travel to far East Russia and there are rumors of 75 to 100-pound taimen. It’s Eastern Russia so I don’t and can’t even really tell you exactly where it is cause I don’t really know. But that would be a full-on adventure exploratory trip. So that will hopefully be our film next year. No guarantees though it depends on a lot of factors.
You can follow Chris Kitchen @chriskitchen.
Don’t miss the chance to see the full ‘Baja Lines’ film during the virtual release of the 2020 F3T on August 27th.
Shout out to our F3T fans! Since we had to cancel some of the 2020 F3T premieres this spring because of Covid, we still have you covered. This virtual event will have all the key parts that any of our events have, including swag giveaways, raffles, special guests, and opportunities to support our conservation and non-profit partners. Raffle prizes for the show come form our partners Simms Fishing Products, Yeti Coolers, Costa Sunglasses, Ross Reels, Scientific Anglers, Thomas, and Thomas Fly Rods, Oskar Blues Brewing Company, and Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures. Learn more here.