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The Mongolian Connection - The New AEG Experience

Media Review by Joe Cornwall

 

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The Angling Exploration Group is AEG Media, self-described as a "a group of “Trout Bums”, videographers, fly fisherman, photographers, biologists and writers who have banded together in an attempt to further the sport and revolutionize the world of fly fishing media."  AEG has absolutely accomplished one of their goals and has made a fine attempt at the other. 

 

The obvious passion, commitment and shear energy devoted to the three projects they've released, River Wolf, Trout Bum Diaries Vol. I and Trout Bum Diaries Vol. II, has resonated with the core of the fly fishing world and attracted countless new practitioners to the sport by virtue of their "extreme" mentality.  These guys are definitely hard-core.  There can be no argument that AEG has furthered the sport of fly fishing.

 

As to the question of revolutionizing fly fishing media, I think I'll have to take on a more somber attitude.  I love what they do, but it has been done before.  Lee Wulff was certainly hard-core about fly fishing long before the members of AEG were even born.  R. Vernon Gaddis wasn't called the Flying Fisherman for nothing.  Fifty years ago these fellows, and dozens of others like them, put their reputations, their fortunes and sometimes their lives on the line in an effort to go farther, fish bigger and get the ultimate shot.  I don't say this to take anything away from Chris Owens, Thad Robison, Justin Crump and Brian Jill, the founders of AEG.  Rather I applaud their determination to follow in the foot-steps of the giants who came before them.  It's a lofty target to covet, and one they're working hard to achieve. These guys are the new stars of the sport.  They've earned their accolades.

 

In this, the newest of their productions, the team heads to Mongolia in search of the elusive and endangered taimen.  They are opening new doors to the world of adventure angling, doors that now demand a trip half-way around the world.  Fifty years ago fishing the wilderness of the Maritime Provinces, the icy isolation of Alaska and the sultry swamps of the Everglades were no less of an undertaking. It might be argued that the improvements in travel, communication and recording technology have even made the burden smaller - or at least more attainable.  Again, I don't say this to take away from the achievements of AEG but only to point out that there is a great American tradition of accomplishing the impractical "just because."

 

 

The taimen is the world's largest salmonid—the family of fish that includes salmon and trout. The species can live for more than 50 years, but they grow slowly, not reaching maturity until seven to nine years of age.  They are not known to be exceptionally migratory, but tend to stay in a small section of river for their entire lives. This has put the future of the species at risk due to years of over-harvest and lack of management.  Combine the taimen's need for clear, cold waters, which are rapidly disappearing as the "third world" moves into an industrialized age, and you have a recipe for an endangered species.  Through this production AEG has put the problem of taimen conservancy squarely into the contemporary mindset.  Good job, guys!

 

AEG's past productions are noted for an intense level of "fish porn."  River Wolf isn't all that different with the sole exception that there were less fish to be caught.  The videography, despite fewer opportunities to capture the killer image, has even improved over previous releases.  River Wolf is superbly filmed and presented in a wide screen format.  I made reviewing this disc something of an event, setting up my home theater for a screening in 7.1 channel surround sound with the image projected in 480p onto a large 110" Stewart Videomat 130 professional screen by a Sony HDTV projector.  The content didn't suffer from the movie-sized format.  It popped, impressed and sometimes overwhelmed with its fast cuts, well-saturated color and driving soundtrack.  The black levels occasionally fluctuated and the image quality varied during the course of the production, but this is to be expected from a documentary shot in the field. River Wolf might not be another Planet Earth in terms of production values, but the AEG team doesn't need to make any excuses.  This is the finest overall fishing production I've yet seen. 

 

Perhaps the most startling aspect of River Wolf is the degree to which you become immersed in the Mongolian wilderness.  The whole time I was watching the production I kept thinking how much the icy, barren landscape looked like parts of the American west.  The innovations of the 21st Century have truly made our planet smaller and AEG has delivered a heaping slice of the other side of the world right to my TV screen.  Although I know I'll never walk those river banks, through this disc I felt a sense of empathy and of concern that a place so beautiful and wild might be permanently destroyed in the name of progress.  Of course this isn't our progress to control, so the  realization has a bittersweet aftertaste. 

 

As with the previous AEG releases, this production isn't without humor.  In this disc the team's travails aren't forced on us, though.  In Trout Bum Diaries Vol. II there was a scene in which one of the group was eating ramen noodles with a Gerber Multi-tool.  I assume we were supposed to feel some sympathy that the lads had to forsake even the civility of flatware in pursuit of their dreams.  My personal reaction was to feel embarrassed that a bunch of guys went halfway around the world and forgot to pack a fork.  In River Wolf  we manage to see things in better context.  Watching the team barter for an opportunity to trim some hair from a yak to make a bigger fly, or watching them traverse the tundra on small Mongolian horses brings a genuine smile.  My wife was particularly amused at the scene where the team loads the gear into the train for the long ride; it illustrates the concept of getting a gallon in a quart jug!

 

AEG is doing good work. "Our passion for fly-fishing is evident in our belief in complete conservation. We believe in catch and release and are avid members of 1% for the Planet and AFFTA. Our locations are chosen with the intent to make the environment better for the fish than when we arrived, by increasing awareness through our films. We strive to create a cleaner and more abundant fishing experience for generations to come, one epic adventure at a time."  I applaud the sincerity with which they've pursued this goal.  In the past I've been known to dismiss this type of travel-sport as pandering to the old-school ideas that fly fishing is a step beyond other angling activities; to assert that such a focus is haughty.  I've not completely changed my mind on that score and I still hold the belief that we should think globally and fish locally.  There are a lot of waters right here in the United States that could benefit from increased awareness and an improved environment.  That said, perhaps that's a torch that will be carried by another.

 

 

AEG Media has given us a winner in River Wolf.  The production quality is beyond reproach, the content is entertaining and the images are startling.  No one who claims to have a passion for fly fishing will escape this film without having their heart beat a little faster and their imagination wander a little farther. River Wolf (ASIN: B0016KZTJU) is available for $26.99 from a well-stocked fly shop or book store near you.  Recommended!

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