Life on and off the waters of the Wood River Valley
The Doc of the Drakes
Local filmmaker catches a whale of a tale
The world is full of fishing stories that sound too good to be true. Tall tales about catching fish—and big ones to boot—that seem to be more the stuff of magic and wishful thinking than reality.
So most of the time, that’s exactly what great fishing stories are—fantasy passed off as fact. There’s a good reason why the old angling saying goes: “Early to bed, early to rise. Fish all day, tell big lies.”
But even the worst odds—like trying to beat Parkinson’s and keep on casting days away when you’re in your eighties—still hit every once in a while and a terrific fishing tale is actually based in truth.
The story of the “Doc of the Drakes” is just such a tale. It’s a real miracle in every sense of the word. It’s an incredible and inspiring fishing story that’s actually true—and they’ve got the film to prove it.
The Opening Act
As is often the case when fate intervenes to provide something fantastic, the story behind the making of the short film, “Doc of the Drakes,” begins simply enough.
Bryan Husky, the media and marketing specialist (and a filmmaker) for Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum, got a call from longtime local fishing guide Pete Wood, inviting Bryan to come down that evening to Silver Creek and film some of the trophy trout stream’s legendary brown drake hatch.
Pete warned Bryan, however, that the hatch might already be done for the season and that even if it is going on they might not catch many, as his client that day was Dr. Robert Franklin. Known simply as “Doc” to most folks, the 84-year old native Texan was battling Parkinson’s disease and the steady shaking hands caused by the disease can make it tough to set the hook.
At the last minute, just as another dusk was about to descend, Bryan decided to head down to “the Creek,” figuring he could at least get some solid video of them in their float tubes.
“Call it fate or what you will,” Bryan says, “It was the third or fourth night of the hatch and I didn’t even know if they were going to go off again but I went anyway.”
Luck was on their side and indeed the hatch of the monstrous mayflies went off again. So while Bryan filmed, Pete and the Doc bobbed around in belly boats and cast about as trout rose like heat seeking missiles in search of targets.
But despite getting lucky enough to catch the hatch, Doc wasn’t having any luck catching a fish. As Bryan filmed, trout after trout slipped the Doc’s hook. As it began to grow too dark to fish, Bryan began feeling guilty, thinking that maybe the camera was jinxing the Doc.
“I had a real urge to turn off the camera and a very sincere feeling of guilt began to come over me. I started thinking that I’m ruining his evening on the water,” Bryan recalls, explaining that Doc had barely gotten out of the hospital in time to catch the brown drake hatch.
When they finally decided to call it a day, after a few hours of fishing hard, they did so empty-handed and Bryan left the water rejected.
“I didn’t know if the drakes would return or if Doc ever would,” Bryan explains, with an ache still in his heart—for he may have filmed the Doc’s last attempt at fishing the brown drake hatch and it was a failure. “And I wondered if it was my fault.”
The next day, thunderclouds rolled along the edge of the Northern Rockies and things didn’t look promising. As the day began to wane, fortunately, so did the foul weather and they all headed back down to Silver Creek. But it was more of the same.
“Big fish were eating but none of them would stick,” Bryan says, adding that after watching this challenging scenario for a few more hours he thought of turning the camera away.
“I never try to tell the story. I let the story come to me,” Bryan says, explaining his filmmaking style, as it began to look like this would not be story about catching fish, but rather one about the Doc.
“There comes a time in everybody’s life when unfortunately no matter how much they love what they are doing, they have to quit,” the good Doctor tells the camera during some scenes shot on the shore.
For more than a half-century, Dr. Franklin had been one of the world’s most highly acclaimed OB/GYNs. He was on the forefront of discovering endometriosis, a complex disease that can rob women of a functional life, and during his career he treated more 20,000 women with the ailment. As Doc is famous for joking, he’s gotten more women pregnant in Texas than any other man.
Unfortunately, after being diagnosed with a condition called Parkinson’s some 15 or 20 years ago, as Doc explains, he had to give up his passion for medicine.
“What I finally decided was that you had to turn one hobby, or one love, into another and I was sort of a fisherman all my life,” he tells the camera as Silver Creek slowly drifts past in the background.
“It does make some difference,” he says about fishing with Parkinson’s, but then quotes his fishing guide, Pete. “ It’s okay to have a shake so long as you set the hook right.”
The Final Act
As the last light of the day ducked behind the Picabo Hills, leaving just enough to film a final few moments of Doc and the drakes, he finally stuck one.
A big brown, a real hog of a trout, battled Doc, leaping high into the dying light—and when this happens during the film most anglers who see it let out joyous hoots and hollers and couldn’t feel better had any of them hooked the monstrous brown themselves.
That’s exactly what happened at the film’s premiere during last year’s Silver Creek Film Festival in Ketchum and also when it rolled back through town last winter as the star of the national Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3T). The producers of F3T said it was by far the most popular film of the tour.
“Doc of the Drakes” also won “Best Story” and the “People’s Choice” awards at the highly-contested annual The Drake Magazine film contest.
“When big things happen you never realize how big they really are then,” Bryan says of making the film.
Bryan awoke early the next morning and headed into the office to watch the raw footage, hoping it would be as good as what he witnessed with his own eyes. For as most seasoned filmmakers know all too painfully well, what they saw isn’t always what shows up on film.
And when he got to that powerful moment in the film when the miraculous seems to happen and Doc finally hooks a fish, and a big one at that, he began to well up.
“I knew this had to be something special if I’m tearing up watching the raw footage,” Bryan says with a twinkle in his eyes.
And indeed he did. Bryan (and Pete and Doc) managed to make sure that there’s at least one fishing story out there that may seem too good, too magical to be true, but they’ve got the film to prove it.
It turns out, though, that Doc’s story isn’t over yet. A Parkinson’s disease expert from Europe wound up seeing the film and, thanks to the help of the crew at Silver Creek Outfitters, tracked Doc down. He offered Doc a procedure that he’d been previously been turned down for because he was deemed to be too old. It was successfully undertaken, and once again this summer, Doc, Pete and Bryan all converged on the water for encore.
The sequel to “Doc of the Drakes” will premiere at this Friday’s Silver Creek Film Fest on Friday night at the Sun Valley Opera House. And like a lot of angler’s out there, I can’t wait to see what happens next to the Doc and his beloved fly rod.