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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

Sep 25, 2019

Hiking in the Tetons: When a Teenager Discovered the Power of Nature

On a family camping trip in Wyoming, a future environmental journalist writer witnessed nature’s raw power.

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WRITTEN BY

Millie Kerr

As soon as we began ascending Wyoming’s Hoback Peak, black clouds appeared on the horizon. My family had only been camping for several days, but I’d come to expect the sky’s mid-afternoon mutation. The problem was, our guide had us climbing the region’s highest ridge, not traversing lower ground as we had on prior days when thunderstorms were a near-certainty. Every step up the mountain amplified our distance from clusters of trees, whose towering crowns and fallen trunks offered protection from direct and ground lightning.

“Should we turn back?” I asked my father. My lone ally on this treacherous vacation (our first and last llama trek) shrugged, “Not unless Loren pipes up.”

From the moment I met him, our guide Loren reminded me of a juvenile golden retriever refusing to be trained. His boundless energy betrayed naïveté, or was it something else?

We continued hiking upward. The higher we climbed, the closer we came to those ominous clouds, now enveloping the sky.

I was only fourteen—and a wispy sliver of a girl—but I never let age nor size get in my way. “Loren,” I shouted, “The storm’s coming. Shouldn’t we go back now?”

He paused for a moment, sniffing the charged air, and responded, “We’ll be fine. It’s not heading our way. Onward and upward!”

Within minutes rain began to fall, morphing into hail as lightning struck the apex of a nearby mountain, an alarming reminder that we trekked vulnerable terrain. Entirely exposed and the tallest objects in sight, we’d become mobile lightning rods.

To find cover, we needed to make our way to higher or lower ground, and I ascended more slowly than the others. In a pinch, they might be able to scramble to safe cover, but what if I couldn’t keep up?

The storm quickly escalated, and I knew that I had to descend even if it meant traveling alone.

“Loren,” I yelled into the wind, “Can we please turn around now?” to which he answered, “We have to get to higher ground to find cover. Follow me, everyone, and hurry!”

My mother and brother rushed after him. I tugged at my father’s shirt, begging him to retreat with me, and he acquiesced.

Without discussing the consequences, he relayed our decision to the rest of the group, urging everyone to join us, but Loren insisted that anyone able to continue to follow him to elevated turf, to more expansive tree cover than what we’d find below.

I’d already lowered myself to the ground, preparing to inch downhill like a crab. My dad rebuked then joined me. Two slithering bodies covered in mud, we ignored the painstaking switchbacks plodded the previous hour, reaching a nest of trees within minutes. We removed our packs and perched atop hefty logs; thunder, lightning, and behemoth hailstones raging all around us.

Then we held hands and prayed and waited for the storm to pass.

When it did, my father and I emerged to altered terrain. Tromping across icy slush, we spent a seeming eternity looking for camp. The llamas, our packhorses for the week, had scattered, and our tents were blown over, their contents dispersed like bits of city garbage.

We located the jittery animals and tied them to nearby trees before setting to work on our tents. These tasks afforded a momentary distraction from nagging questions: Were the others safe? Had we made the right decision? When would they come back, and what if they didn’t?

Suddenly, movement on the horizon. My Dad and I jogged up the banks of a mild ridge, peering into a vast post-storm haze. “Mom! Jeff!” I shrieked.

They shouted back, but with their calls came the distinct sound of laughter.

“It was no big deal,” Loren bragged minutes later as he wrenched off his jacket and mud-soaked boots, “We found cover in no time. You should’ve stuck with us.”

At the time, he seemed to be posturing—saving face—but over the years, my perception shifted: I no longer see doubt on Loren’s face. The man wasn’t merely a risk-taker—he was arrogant. He stared directly into the eye of a storm as though he were its equal match, as though his survival that day made him stronger than nature itself.

You can follow Millie on Twitter and Instagram.

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