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A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd


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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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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Presented byimage

In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

No ropes, no safety net. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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