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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt


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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

Jan 15, 2019

Not Your Father’s Ski Trip: Jackson Hole, WY

Inspired by images of her dad’s Jackson Hole college ski trip, the author heads north to tour the Tetons and tack a few pictures to the family scrapbook.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The author’s father launching a cliff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort cerca 1987

This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.

Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.

The iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, cerca 1987
Corbet’s Couloir: a timeless classic
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, cerca 1987

In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbiesnew territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits.  In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

Finding deep snow on Headwall
Pillows aplenty on the Crags

After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.

Cloud inversion over the Teton Valley from the top of Mt. Glory
Top of Mt. Glory

My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.

Exum Guide and new father Brendan O’neill

  Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.

The Spoon Couloir visible on looker’s left of lower Disappointment Peak (center)
Bootpacking up the Spoon

Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest

To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.

Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.

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