As executive producer of the International Fly Fishing Festival, Chris Bird travels across the world, putting on 170 shows. However, the Whitefish stop on this tour holds a special, personal significance for him. It may not draw 900 people like Ogden or Denver, but Bird insists that Whitefish’s crowd of 150 embodies the heart and soul of fly fishing.
“The Bird family is very, very fond of Whitefish,” Bird said. “We know how much culture exists in Whitefish and how appropriate it is (for us) to be there. The people that are there, it’s a community and that’s what we’re there to serve.”
The 2023 festival, hosted in partnership with the Lakestream Fly Shop, is Sept. 30 at Whitefish Middle School. The event features eight films, running for a total of one hour and 50 minutes – all different stories, tied together by this year’s themes of adventure and community.
The festival has been running annually since 2011, but partnering with local fly shops is a more recent shift that seeks to ground each show in the local community.
“We’re essentially the travelling circus – we come into town, we entertain people for a couple of hours, and then we go into the next town,” Bird said. “What we’ve missed in the last decade is recognizing that the local fly shops, Lakestream or others in Whitefish, are the caretakers of the local community. So, we’re going through a process right now where we’re getting in touch with fly shops and saying, ‘creating community is so important to us, how can we work together’.”
In addition to coordinating ticket sales and venue, Lakestream Fly Shop also organized a raffle and swag giveaway to occur at the event, with all proceeds benefiting the Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation. The organization helps veterans connect with nature through fly fishing and other activities.
Nick Haas, Lakestream’s manager, said that the sport is often solitary. So, the idea that northwest Montana’s fly fishing community can come together over this activity and give to charity is unique.
“A lot of us fly fisher folk like to be secretive and keep things to ourselves, so it’s just a cool opportunity to see what else is happening in the world of fly fishing,” Haas said. “Get together with like-minded people, whether you know them or you don’t, and watch a movie together. We fly fishermen all kind of speak the same language and we don’t get spoken for a bunch, so it’s really nice to see that you can do cool things with this sport.”
Bird said that what’s special about the films is that they’re not widely accessible on the internet. To experience them, audiences must come to the festival.
“There’s a lot of folks that don’t get to go fishing every week or don’t get to travel around the world to go fishing,” Bird said. “So, these are experiential opportunities to have them see the world through the lens of these cinematographers. Expect about two hours of the most stunning cinematography and storytelling anywhere in the world in fly fishing.”
Bird emphasized that the most important goal of the event is to bring communities together. He hopes that seeing these films will inspire audiences to take full advantage of the fall fly fishing season.
“I think it’s about connecting and reconnecting,” Bird said. “So come out, see the film, but be prepared to catch up with an old neighbor, an old friend, or an old angler that you haven’t talked to for a while.”
The Whitefish screening date for the 2024 Fly Fishing Festival is slated for early next year, so after this weekend, audiences won’t have to wait long to see the new set of films.
“Just being outside, stepping into the water, there’s this feeling of freedom when you stand back for a moment, just close your eyes, and breathe in the air,” Bird said. “January, February, March I am itching to fish. So, this is just one of those things that you can use to scratch the itch a little bit.”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.