Earlier this month a group of Fort Collins, Colorado-based flyfishers fused the ancient arts of beer drinking and hackle stacking for the first in a series of "Iron Fly" events.


Loosely based on the Iron Chef TV show—but with more drinking and lots of yelling—contestants are presented with mystery ingredients from which they craft flies to be scrutinized and judged after the... er... drinking and yelling.

On Wednesday night more than 60 tiers, onlookers, and barflies crammed Tony's Bar & Rooftop for the sophomoric effort presented by Pig Farm Ink. The night's surprise ingredient? Halloween remnants plucked from the mean streets of Fort Collins.


Jay Johnson, who co-founded Pig Farm Ink alongside Matt Schliske, Mark Brown, and others, says the two Fort Collins nights have been a catalyst for good times with friends, as well as introducing new people to the sport—planting the seed for an Iron Fly movement that's set to go nationwide.


"At least a third of the people we're seeing just want to learn more about flyfishing, and several are tying their first flies ever," Johnson says. "Ten other cities start Pig Farm Iron Fly tying nights next month, with more e-mails and messages coming in everyday."


More on Pig Farm Ink, Iron Fly, and bitchin' tattoos, here.

[Photos by Russell Schnitzer photography]

John Wark's vertigo-instigating work bucks the confines of terra firma in exchange for a rarefied view: one that starts high in the sky, via the cockpit of his Husky A1 bush plane. Those images—including recent shots of Ma Nature doing her best to drown Colorado during last month's biblical flooding events—continue to be featured everywhere from the pages of National Geographic and The New York Times to regional magazines, newspapers, and television stations.

So what ingredients go into framing the ultimate top-down image? Wark says impact is the goal. "Disaster has a good deal of ready-made impact, but really pulling in the viewer requires aesthetic elements, as well." When Wark pulls the trigger from 1,000 feet, for instance, he's factoring in framing, angles, lighting, and other details that go into capturing a compelling story.

"Anyone can take a picture of someone crying," he says, "but will it be a great, sad, and moving photo? Probably not, unless luck or skill and training has been introduced."

Wark recently sat down with The Drake. Here's his story.

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The Drake: What came first, the camera or the plane? And how did you end up combining the two into your current vocation?

John Wark: The camera. I took photos early, about age 10 with my own darkroom. I bought a commercial photo studio in 1992 and became a professional photographer. My dad [Jim Wark] was a pilot, and when he retired from his career as a mining executive around 1993 he started taking pictures from his bush plane, the same plane I use today, a Husky A1. He would travel around North America in the Husky taking photos, eventually in all 50 states, Canada, and Mexico. I had my own business, but we ended up working together on many projects. About 10 years ago I started flying and as dad slowed his flying I picked it up.


The Drake: I imagine fiddling with apertures and f-stops in the air could present potential problems/safety issues? How have you dialed in your system?

JW5 LJW: The Husky A1 is a tail-dragger bush-type plane. Used in backcountry flying it's very good for aerial photos. It will fly slow, has plenty of power, is stable and very responsive. The procedure is this: I see a photo-op. I position the plane as needed to get the composition (going higher/lower and around for the angle I want). Once I get there, I pick up the camera, usually a Nikon D800 and I take the photo. It takes about 3 seconds to get a photo. No fiddling with settings as they are all preset for conditions at the time. It's true that there is a level of multi-tasking, but it's quite manageable, especially when one is familiar with their camera and their airplane.

Being a backcountry pilot who flies into canyons with tricky winds and short rough strips means I have acquired a fine sense of the airplane's attitude, performance and what I can and cannot get away with.


The Drake: Your client list includes high-profile editorial and television work, corporate entities such as Boeing and Goodrich, and... artist. Where do your shooting priorities lie these days?

JW: I have great corporate customers who use me for mostly ground-based work, in factories and showing processes, people and products. The media groups are usually aerial customers for the news cycles that come and go. My priorities are where the clients take me, but my personal work is almost all aerial right now as there is so much potential and not many others doing this.


The Drake: Your aerial work is a mash-up of man-made and unmarred environment. As subject matter, what is it about earth's sinuous arteries that appeal to you?

JW: When I'm flying around shapes grab my attention and rivers are so varied and their effects on the land can be so significant that they jump out. There is sometimes an organic feel, sometimes geometric or fractal, but whatever it is, when I see it I respond and try to capture the essence of what I'm seeing or feeling. Contrasts of texture, color, or subjects get me too. I like both man's work and nature's work. I also like to see decay.... buildings lost to time, etc. It reminds me that we are here for a spell then gone.


The Drake: In addition to rivers, what features make up some of your favorite subject matter and why?

JW: Patchwork of farm fields always get me looking. I like to compress farm landscapes with telephoto lenses to create abstract images with their color variations and positioning the shot to create unexpected border lines or circles. I also look for shots that I call 'aerial street shooter' shots. I always have liked street photographers who capture everyday life in compelling ways, such as Winogrand, and Friedlander. I attempt this from the air and have a good number of shots that have not been seen. And nature is always a favorite, I try to fly after storms or early or late in the day, the mountains especially look good under these conditions.


The Drake: NPR recently ran a series on your stark "Flying Above Colorado..." shots. What inspired you to get out and document the Waldo Canyon fires and flooding events on the South Platte and Big Thompson rivers?

JW: Any subject matter with potential for unique images is right up my alley. Smoke can make for dramatic scenes, and when there is real disaster unfolding the image are even more. Reuters and Associated Press and The Denver Post will call me directly sometimes and ask me to get stuff for them.

Thanks to an armed populous wielding image-capturing devices of all calibers the "outdoors photographer" has become a dime-a-million lately. But most of us have never inhaled the intoxicating chemical fumes of a stop bath, nor spent much time wrapping our brains around the nuances of f-stops and apertures... because, quite frankly, it's hard to find a reason. The advent of digital has allowed us to click-click-click our way to awesomeness and delete-delete-delete the rest.

This vortex of images has also made reaching career photographer heights that much more of a daunting climb; forcing professional photogs to work harder, longer, more creatively... and often for less.

Sounds like hell right? Well, according to Drake contributor Bryan Gregson (see Spring 2013 cover and much, much more over the past couple years) it ain't all bad. There's been some great fishing, new friendships forged, and an escalating client list that proves that his journey, one spurred by a busted knee back in the day, was always worth taking the shot.

Here's his story.

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The Drake: Talk about your experience in the ski and snowboard industry and early influences in the SLC-area.

Bryan Gregson: Those were the days... [laughs]. Thinking about those times makes me feel old. Looking back I was extremely fortunate to work with some of the big names you see today. Everyone was young and hungry, loving it for what it was... pure fun. Camera equipment was all film back then. I was living with photographer Will Wissman at the time, after I blew my knee during a night shoot... I miscalculated the landing off a building in the dark.

After surgery, I started working for Will by default. It was an easy transition, we'd already been working together for a few years and I knew the routine and his style; scenic with action. I also rode a lot with Ash Christensen and, as luck would have it, found myself working with Ash and Absinthe Films, along with their top riders.

Ash's brainchild backcountry cable camera was groundbreaking. It was absolutely crazy, I'm surprised nobody was killed or seriously injured. Justin Hostynek hit a tree going head first at full speed once. He had a safety line rigged on him, but the super 16mm camera was ripped apart on impact. At that age being surrounded by people who were doers, who had drive and who had an intense passion to follow a vision, was inspiring. The most important things I learned from all of them about capturing a moment on camera is hard work, sacrifice, and integrity.

The Drake: How did you get your break in the flyfishing industry?

BG: Brian O'Keefe [with Catch Magazine] gave me my first big break and, ironically enough, down the road it was his online vision that led to the largest commercial paycheck for me with Volvo. I guess you never really do anything for free, what comes around goes around, O'Keefe is the man. Tom Bie at The Drake has been, and still is, a tremendous supporter. Slowly other editors and manufactures gave me a shot. I didn't set out to be a flyfishing photographer, it just kind of happened. I suppose when you really get down to it, the flyfishing industry is a big, but small family. For the most part everyone wants each other to succeed... or so I think and hope.

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The Drake: What year did you leave Salt Lake, and where did you go?

BG: That's a 10-part question [laughs]. I left SLC summers when I was 15-ish. I've lived all over... Utah, Hawaii, Cape Cod, Montana a few times, and Idaho once. At first I moved back to SLC from Hawaii only for the winter months. The spring and fall were spent flyfishing and summers I was commercial fishing off the East Coast. The fishing took a dive, I left the snow world and I found myself with time to once again explore my born state of Utah. Down the road the battle for public waters and public access started and when the state government closed over 400 public waters to recreational use, I needed to move if I wanted to continue to just fish and shoot.

At the time John Malovich put me in contact with the great folks at TroutHunter fly shop. The crew there basically saved my life. Rich [Paini] gave me a job doing media stuff, sometimes shop work, and I've guided a few days... although I retired from guiding after a 7 long days [laughs]. The training with camera and rod I received on the Henry's Fork was humbling and truly invaluable. I love that river, the people on it, and the life it's given to me.

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The Drake: You've been an integral player in the Utah Stream Access Coalition (USAC)—even since you've left the state. Where do you stand on the Utah public access debacle?

BG: Utah's waters belong to the people, plain and simple. The Utah Supreme Court has reiterated it time and time again: the public has a right to recreate on and in these waters. My home waters are in Utah, and as the law stands right now I am a criminal if I fish the waters I grew up on. I stand firmly behind the mission of USAC, because they are fighting against a movement that is trying to privatize this public resource, and hand it over to a few wealthy landowners. What happens in Utah influences the rest of the country—South Dakota ran legislation last year that was a mirror image of what we're fighting in Utah. People are watching to see what happens there, and that's why it's such an important fight to win.

What keeps this same bad legislation from coming to Montana or Idaho? That's a scary thought. In the words of Bob Marley, it's time to get up and stand up.

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The Drake: You just moved from Island Park to Bozeman to take a job with Yellow Dog... how has the transition been?

BG: It's been big move for me. I'm sad to leave the mighty [Henry's] Fork and the incredible tribe there. It's only a few hours away, so I'll be spending many days back on that side of the continental divide. I'm also excited to be working with Yellow Dog. It's a great team full of dynamic folks. Jim Klug has always been very supportive of my path over the years, and has been a huge help to me with the steam access issue..

I'm lucky to have a friend with a spare room and a bunk-bed. I'm currently living in what travelers have dubbed the "blue-room". It's full of gear bags, a computer, and I shoved the rest of my stuff into a shed. It works for now... don't mind at all. I do mind all the stop lights and traffic. I grew accustom to living in a small rural town of 200 people I suppose. I'll get use to it.

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The Drake: Who are you shooting for today? And what are your inspirations on the water?

BG: I've been working closely with Patagonia lately... photos, video, and research and development. They've shown me a remarkable amount of support. It's inspiring and humbling to see how one human's heart and determination can actually change the World for the better. I'm also working with TroutHunter lodge and products, Yellow Dog Fly-Fishing Adventures, Hatch Outdoors, Scott Rods, Korkers, Adipose, Rainys Flies, Warpath Flies, Casa Blanca Lodge in the Yucatan, and Las Pampas Lodge in Argentina.

I have spent my entire life chasing inspirations around the globe, in one form or another. At one time my inspiration was to just push the adrenaline limits of water. I've almost drowned a few times and have been buried under snow. Nowadays, I find myself sitting on top of the mountain peak a little longer to admire the view, taking extra time getting into the lineup, and sitting on the shoulder to admire and touch the waves as they go by... and I've grown to love standing in the river without casting, especially in the early morning.

The hoarding phenomenon was evident as John Custer peered into his refrigerator. The right side of the door was jammed with a varietal of hot sauces. These sauces - many way, way past the date of expiration, hailed from distant and exotic locations - the islands of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

Looking out into the standing room only crowd packed into Kitsumkalum Hall in Terrace, British Columbia, Shannon McPhail, Executive Director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition (SWCC), needs a reality check. She asks the crowd, just shy of 1,000 people: "Is this actually happening?"