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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville

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Travel

Dec 03, 2018

Fly Fishing: My Wild Escape

A physically challenging activity that demands patience and skill, but also takes you deep into nature to some of the world's most beautiful places.

WRITTEN BY

Svenja Wegfahrt

Being born in the Italian Alps, I had an early connection to nature at its best. Playing around in various mountain streams close to my grandma’s hometown 900m above sea level shaped my early connection to the joys of an outdoor life. Later on, I lived in countries like Kenya, Portugal, Pakistan and the Philippines where I gained my passion for traveling and exploring nature. For me, fly fishing is a combination of the two and in a busy corporate work life as a Senior Key Account Manager, I find my mental escape in it. Many of my friends, colleagues and family members could not really imagine me standing in ice-cold water, wearing wading clothes while pouring rain drops down my chin.

Targeting a Baracuda in Los Roques: After spotting a nice Baracuda in the crystal clear waters of Los Roques, Venezuela, every move has to be extremely accurate and quick to make the fish take the bait “fly“, imitating a small fish. Photo by Alexander Keus, Fly Fishing Nation Media, @theflyfishingnation

It all started a few years ago when I met Friedrich, a passionate fly fisher. He convinced me to join him on one of his trips and handed me a rod. At the beginning, I was not sure what to think about fly fishing. In the end, the uniqueness of exploring nature in this special way and the adrenaline rush while fighting a fish made me change my mind. Little by little, I started being interested in the subject and learned to love fish as fascinating creatures. Sometimes, taking a wild fish to prepare a delicious meal at home can be very special, but most of the time fish are caught and released. This is a common practice in the fly fishing scene, as many fishermen are keen on conservation and protection of the waters. Many streams are just too sensitive to take all fish caught, one can ruin a stream within years if not sustainably harvested. There are ways to handle caught fish with special care, for instance barbless hooks or rubber landing nets, in order not to harm the fish. In one of my favorite trout streams, some of the big fish have been caught several times over the years and even have been given nicknames. When handled with care, a fish is able to recover minutes after being released. We heard that once a friend caught a brown trout, released it, and caught the same fish 15 minutes later.

Ghosts of the Flats: Bonefish are called “Ghosts of the flats“ for a reason. These amazingly strong creatures are hard to see in the turquoise waters of Los Roques, Venezuela. The fight is incredibly strong with a lot of line pulled from your reel. Photo by Friedrich Flach

Fly fishing as we know it today has its origins in Great Britain. As a special form of angling, the lure within this technique is always some kind of “fly“. The traditional flies from former days in Great Britain were mainly insects, tied with hair, fur and feathers. They float on the surface of the water to imitate prey for fish species like trout and grayling. The fly itself is too light in weight to be casted with a conventional fishing rod. To cast a fly, additional weight is needed, which is integrated in the fly line – a special rod and reel setup is required. With the technological development over the past years it’s now possible to catch almost any fish species with a fly rod. Together with traditional insect flies, we nowadays have many more fly patterns, such as baitfish, crabs, shrimps or even mice. All of them follow one rule; they are tied with a variety of different materials and are always artificial lures. When I find the time, mostly off-season during long winter evenings, I tie my own flies. Tying a fly requires between 2 minutes and up to an hour, depending on the type of fly. It’s a highly technical, but creative activity, that many describe as a hobby by its own. There are hundreds of books, youtube tutorials and even courses one can learn and get inspiration from.

Yellow Mayfly after Hatch in Scotland: A yellow mayfly during a big hatch at Spey River in Scotland. In spring and during the insect hatches, these flies are one of the major prey sources for various river inhabitants. Photo by Friedrich Flach

One of the challenges is to pick the right fly in the right situation. However, there is more to it than just picking the right imitation of an insect. Weather circumstances such as wind speed and directions, water and air temperatures, possible current and water speed are all factors that need to be considered at the end of the day. Different seasons require different spots and different species require different techniques. For me, the real secret in fly fishing is to understand nature and its circle of life and to act accordingly when fishing. I guess no human being is able to grasp it all, but my goal is to get a better understanding year after year. I love learning from nature, it makes you humble. For me it is a never-ending fascination – the wonders of nature.

Brown Trout from Western Germany: A beautiful brown trout from the western part of Germany could not resist Svenjas nymphs imitation fly. Many insects spend more time underwater before they hatch on the water surface to begin their life in the air. Photo by Friedrich Flach

When people are made aware of my passion, I often hear the same reaction; “What, you fish???” Yes, I do. Most people have the same perception of fishing. Sitting in a camping chair and staring onto the water for hours and hours, waiting for something to happen. That is not fly fishing, not at all. In fact, the thrill and adrenaline rush of a decent fish taking your fly is amongst the most exciting moments I have ever experienced. In addition, it seems that nobody has a clue about the activity really involved in fly fishing. There are times where I easily walk 15km in a fishing day, partly wading through water. It is not as static as people think; I am pretty sure many more people would fly fish if they knew what an exhausting workout it is. It is a combination of a well-timed cast and an accurate loop, as the fly rod curves itself in the air before the line gently touches the water. Repeating this a hundred times a day while concentrating on the hunt can be really challenging. Going home without one single fish after a three day trip can be frustrating and disappointing at times. Just like one of my guides once said: “It’s called fishing, not catching“.

North American Beauty: Another famous representative of the trout family – a rainbow trout in its full beauty. Originally from North America, rainbow trouts can nowadays be found in many European rivers. Photo by Friedrich Flach

Photography is something that is strongly related with my fishing experience. It’s these special moments you want to capture on camera. At first, when I started fishing, I had no experience with photography. As I joined more and more fishing trips around the world, I often had to take photos of my fellow fishing buddies and felt horrible every time I did not get the perfect shot. Sometimes, it feels like the picture of the fish is the most important thing. If you do not get the trophy shot, it’s a bit like you never caught the fish. This feeling kept me going and learning from my fishing mates. Looking at the pictures keeps my memories alive and motivates me to experience new and exciting places.

Where it all Began: A wild mountain stream in the Italian Alps, close to the hometown of my family. I caught my very first brown trout in this little stream and I therefore have a special connection to this magical place. Photo by Friedrich Flach

Glistening sunlight reflects on the water’s surface, where insects are dancing in the late hours of the day. The trees are moving in the rhythm of the wind, there is no noise except for the current of the river. It is MAGIC. For me, this is a form of meditation. Fly fishing is about the connection with the underwater ecosystem, a way of completely disconnecting from my everyday life. Having a busy job and a fast-paced schedule during weekdays, this is my way to unwind. Thoughts of a worried mind get replaced by thrilling thoughts about my next cast, while watching the fly drift over the surface, waiting to be taken by a hungry fish.

People might not realize that I sometimes walk 15km a day while fly fishing. Photo by Friedrich Flach

One of the most exciting aspects about fly fishing is that there are always new destinations to discover. Whether you are passionate about freshwater or saltwater fishing, or whether you want to stay in camps in remote locations or in luxurious lodges, there is a great variety of destinations you can pick from. I have always traveled to tropical destinations during my childhood, however, fly fishing made me discover some untouched hidden secrets. It is the pristine beauty of fly fishing destinations that you get to appreciate, places you would have never seen without this activity. Not only can you choose between different fish species you want to catch, but you can also expand the fishing season with a trip to saltwater destinations, for instance. Many atolls, tropical coastlines and sandy beaches offer miles of shallow water as feeding ground to various fish species. These are called “flats“ and are a prime environment for saltwater fly fishing. Flats fishing has become my favorite discipline when it comes to fly fishing abroad. There is something about the crystal-clear water when the skiff is approaching a group of tailing permit or feeding bonefish which I am fascinated about. These two species are amongst the most sought-after, as the permit is known to be one of the hardest fish to catch on a fly and bonefish are amongst the strongest fighters. It is that moment I had been anticipating for weeks and that makes the hours tying flies and flying around the globe worthwhile.

The fly fishing community can be described as something intimate. When two passionate fly fishers meet each other, there is a special connection between them from the very first second. You can talk for hours to a non-fishing person and he will not understand you. When meeting another fisherman it is different, he knows about your passion and the way you think. For most buddies I have met so far, fly fishing is not just a hobby, they almost get offended by this term. It seems to be more like a lifestyle and influences their whole way of living. For me, it is inspiring to connect to other fly fishers and learn from them. I like it when people do things with fervor.

If you got excited about fly fishing and want to give it a try, I recommend looking for a fly fishing course nearby or contacting your local fly fishing shop. The course will give you first essential introductions and hopefully a spark of passion for this wonderful activity.

In case you would like to get more inspirations about fly fishing or to get in touch with Svenja Wegfahrt, please follow her Instagram account @outoftheflybox.

Cover Photo: Summer Sunset at the German Coast: Casting a fly at the beautiful German Baltic Sea coast for sea trout. During mild summer evenings and at night, sea trouts feed at the shoreline and are more active than during daytime. By Friedrich Flach

 

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Travel

Mar 19, 2019

Is ‘Sidecountry’ a Four-Letter Word?

A team of Avalanche experts define the word, and discuss how to deal with the phenomena. Do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive, or shape the definition and attempt to harness its power?

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This article originally appeared in The Avalanche Review, a trade and scientific journal serving the American Avalanche Association Membership. It was written by Scott Savage, Simon Trautman, Ethan Greene, and Doug Chabot.

Riding in the sidecountry is fun, and it is marketable. Google ‘sidecountry’ and you get 438,000 search results. As more people recreate in the sidecountry, ski areas promote it, equipment manufacturers capitalize on it, riders benefit through new technology and increased availability, the media eats it up, more people want the experience and WHAM! – we are lost somewhere in a very successful feedback loop. Ski area avalanche professionals and backcountry avalanche forecasters, however, are scratching their heads about how to deal with the phenomena; do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive in its tracks or do we embrace the term, shape the definition to benefit our mission, and attempt to harness its branding power to educate the various user groups that recreate in terrain adjacent to ski areas?

One of the great slopes on Gornergrat with plenty of sidecountry opportunities, near the top, with the ever-distracting Matterhorn in the distance. Location: Zermatt. By Doc Searls Santa Barbara, USA

Currently, defining sidecountry is similar to defining pornography; people disagree on a formal definition but you know it when you see it. In our opinion, sidecountry is very useful term for describing a certain combination of human behavior and geography. It is intuitive because most people understand that sidecountry refers to the terrain adjacent to ski area boundaries. This terrain is easily accessed, easily “lapped”, and in many cases highly visible. Observing this reality and thinking about the term in a geographical and behavioral sense is important because it showcases the idea that sidecountry terrain is used differently than backcountry terrain, and as such, suggests that sidecountry users may have different needs than those traditionally addressed in avalanche education. We believe that using the term benefits avalanche professionals by allowing them to relate to audiences and be succinct when speaking, writing, or educating on sidecountry topics.

“Sidecountry is backcountry”

“Sidecountry is backcountry” is a recently coined phrase that is also highly descriptive and accurate regarding particular aspects of sidecountry. Sidecountry avalanche rescue is effectively a backcountry rescue – regardless of the proximity to a ski area, organized rescue may not arrive in time. Since ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain, the phrase is probably an effective tool to communicate avalanche danger, especially to novice and casual sidecountry users. “Sidecountry is backcountry” is a simple message that is easy to understand. There is power in this: power to educate, power to simplify, power to feel that one is addressing the problem. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with a simple problem or a singular, simple user group.

Ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain.

Novice, casual, and experienced sidecountry users have different levels of expertise, attitudes, decision-making techniques, and educational needs. In addition, novice and casual users are highly influenced by experienced users. A cursory look at recent sidecountry accident and near-miss reports reveals that experienced sidecountry users appear to be involved more frequently than the less experienced individuals. The experienced group generally visits the same sidecountry terrain frequently enough to become familiar with terrain features, may actively manage or mitigate avalanche hazard (slope cuts, cornice drops, etc.), and at times may have more intimate knowledge of the slope-scale snowpack structure and stability than local avalanche professionals. Most importantly, an “I’m going there because it’s there and I want to ski” attitude seems to be common; experienced users access the terrain and then decide whether to mitigate or avoid hazard or just forge ahead. Will telling these more risk tolerant individuals that “sidecountry is backcountry” reduce their risk? Will it help us communicate with them? Sidecountry may be the same as backcountry in some ways, but routine sidecountry users and backcountry users are disparate user groups.

Skilled, experienced professional avalanche educators can create effective sidecountry-specific educational programs and presentations. As we have learned while reaching out to snowmobilers, relevancy is everything. Just as force-feeding traditional avalanche education to someone who never gets off their sled is ineffective, so too is drawing a “backcountry box” around someone who skis out-of-bounds 50 days a year, but rarely or never uses skins or established backcountry stability evaluation and decision-making techniques. Sidecountry is a growth market for snow sports equipment and clothing manufacturers, and these companies may be interested in supporting educational and outreach efforts to sidecountry users (their customers). Instead of abandoning or over-simplifying the term, maybe the ski and avalanche community would be well served to take advantage of the strong, established sidecountry brand by partnering with the media and outdoor gear retail industry to accomplish the following:

  1. Define sidecountry as the unique geographical and behavioral issue that it is, focusing on the specific dangers associated with sidecountry recreation
  2. Identify and define specific user groups
  3. Tailor, market, and promote user group specific educational programs

The term ‘sidecountry’ is descriptive, intuitive, and useful. We agree with the recent NSAA Journal Editorial “There’s No Such Thing as ‘Sidecountry’ ” that the avalanche and snowsports communities must better communicate that riders are on their own when they leave ski area boundaries. Our common goals are to educate the public on the inherent risk of avalanches outside that boundary and to help users reduce their risk in this terrain. In our opinion, we can enhance communication by acknowledging the difference in behavior and risk tolerance between user groups, by identifying and targeting the needs of those groups, and by partnering with those that have the marketing and promotional power to deliver the message.

Read Next: Charge Hard, Stay Smart: Guidebook Guru, Fritz Sperry, on Safety in Avy-Prone Backcountry.

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