CALLERI: Surprising new movie celebrates the start of fly fishing in America

Aaron Weisblatt / Cinema Libre StudioRachel Finn, an important women fly fisher, casts a line in a New York state stream in “Land Of Little Rivers.”

As a child, I spent many hours fishing in various lakes and streams. However, although I did see fly fishers occasionally snapping their lines into the water, I have never done any fly fishing myself. After watching the new release “Land Of Little Rivers,” I wish I had.

There is a meditative quality to fly fishing that is magical.

Growing up, there were three sports that generated the most excitement in my family: fishing, golf, and ice hockey.

We loved watching and playing hockey, and although I can golf – I’m relatively good off the tee and not bad on the green; the fairway shots were toughest – it was fishing and boating that were the two fun adventures that really excited us as a group, which, when I was young, was comprised of my father Peter, my mother Geraldine, and my brothers Peter Jr. and Daniel. Years later, three sisters – Michele, Jeanmarie, and Lisa – would arrive.

We fished a lot. I remember week-long summer escapes with some of my uncles and male cousins at Chautauqua County’s Cassadaga Lakes – three glacial bodies of interconnected water.

Staying in a cabin on upper Cassadaga Lake, we caught yellow perch, pumpkinseed sunfish, and the occasional smallmouth bass, all catch-and-release. I never saw the water’s dangerous, sharp-toothed muskellunge, although there were some stuffed and hanging on the wall at Whit’s Boat Livery, from where we rented our small motorboats. There was also the mysterious Lily Dale community to intrigue us.

Because of my father’s business connections, he and my two brothers and I also got to vacation often at a house in the woods on Lake Nosbonsing, which is southeast of the city of North Bay on Lake Nipissing in northern Ontario, 310-miles from Buffalo.

These wonderful trips included my mother. The boating was a joy and the fish were plentiful: northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, small and largemouth bass, and the ever-lurking-in-the-shallows muskellunge, that horror movie monster of fresh water fishing. I never saw a living muskie in Canada, either. We did pan-fry some of our catch.

Knowing about the pleasures of fishing enhanced my enjoyment of “Land Of Little Rivers,” which explores the history of fly fishing, a sport that has a rich British background.

The documentary from director Aaron Weisblatt reveals that in the late nineteenth century, Beaverkill River and Willowmec Creek in the Catskill Mountains region of New York State were considered the key stretches of water that contributed to the beginning of American dry-fly fishing.

The gorgeously photographed movie – the cinematography is by Robert Featherstone – offers some colorful characters, all of whom have informative and entertaining stories to tell about fly fishing in New York State.

You’ll meet men and women dedicated to the art of fly fishing. Some of the film focuses on the epicenter of the sport near the villages of Roscoe and Hancock.

The so-called Land of Little Rivers is an impressive network of tributaries in the Catskill Mountains, a beautiful area hailed as the birthplace of fly fishing in America. It’s become the vitally important meeting ground for anglers – both resident and visiting – who are passionate about the sport.

Our guide is Bruce Concors, one of many legends we meet. Some of his stories arrive with a twinkle in his eye – as if he’s telling tales that could be tall – but they are rooted in history and the fascinating visual record of fly fishing in the region.

Learning incredible fishing lore is the result of listening to Dave Brandt,

the master fly tier and avuncular authority on traditional Catskill fly tying. His knowledge is boundless. I enjoyed Judy Wuff, who’s known as the “first lady of fly fishing.”

There’s also a happy component to hearing stories from Rachel Finn, the chief guide at the Hungry Trout Fly Shop in the Adirondacks, who delights in smoking cigars and drinking whiskey as she teaches men and women on the Ausable River the elements necessary to making sure what’s pleasant about fly fishing becomes ingrained in her students, especially raw newcomers.

Marty Yi, an Iraq War veteran and Wounded Warrior, speaks with wondrous strength, compassion, and believability about his devotion to this unique kind of angling. He says the sport saved his life. Insights arrive in the form of memories from the guides Robert Lewis and Ben Rinker. There are craftspersons, too, including Mike Canazon, who makes custom bamboo rods. And you’ll discover the art of casting the perfect loop. And what it takes to tie the perfect fly.

Fly fishing also has secrets. And long-time friendships. The camaraderie is astonishing. The bonds seem unbreakable. To a person, these are true conservationists. They want their cold waters clean and filled with trout.

A contemplative sense of well-being arrives from spending some solitary silence standing in a river. Concors says to us: “waiting can make you one with the fish. Waiting is a big deal. It takes you to wonderful places.”

The right rod, the correct fly, and the perfect flick of the wrist creates fishing that is sheer poetry.

“Land Of Little Rivers” is one of the best movies of the year.

The film is suitable for adults, teenagers, and older children. The DVD is now available to buy or rent (no Blu-ray), and the movie can be streamed through Vimeo and Prime.


Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at

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