Jim offers some advice for the angler travelling beyond Australia’s shores.

As the impacts of Covid subside and life returns to a form of normality, the opportunity to travel is re-opening all around the world. After a couple of years of being unable to go where and when we liked, travel to many of the best fishing destinations is back on the agenda. (Russia excepted!)

The following notes are from a lifetime’s travel experience, and will hopefully give a new generation of anglers an insight into a few of the joys and pitfalls.

Once upon a time, travel meant joining a club and going away for a day or long weekend in a van, or perhaps a trip by railway or even horseback. Over the last sixty years, all that has changed with the advent of the modern motor car, freeways, cheap airfares, fishing guides, fishing lodges – and even specialised travel agencies dealing only in fishing destinations.

Social media, the internet and YouTube have also had an impact. Everything is now at the fingertips of the angler who wishes to plan either a local, interstate or even overseas angling trip. It’s all there. The advertisements, the reviews, the maps, the film clips, and even the friendly local guides who post photos of their ‘amazing fishing results’. The list can be (and often is) endless.

It’s worth getting a trustworthy assessment of what to expect – a Google search won’t always provide that.

Do your research

But beware. Some of the negative posts will be from the opposition. Some of the positive posts will be paid promotion. So, it is still the best advice to meet up with an angler, tackle dealer or angling journalist you know and trust, who has actually been there, or knows someone who has. And planning and preparation still have no equal in ensuring a good trip.

A few things can so easily go wrong. I remember a trip to Alaska to fish for Coho salmon, also colloquially called silvers. In its advertising blurb, the lodge all but guaranteed silver success during the week we had booked. My fishing mate and I arrived after a series of flights from Australia, to discover the silvers hadn’t entered the rivers yet. Instead, we had to satisfy ourselves fishing for rainbow and Dolly Varden trout, and Arctic char – species we had caught previously. As this was specifically a trip to catch silvers, we weren’t happy.

Had we spoken to anglers who fished Alaska frequently, we might have learnt that the run of Coho salmon was quite often later than the lodge advertisements promoted. No refunds were offered…

An Alaskan chinook from a more successful trip.

Another problematic period occurred when a friend and I were returning from a golden dorado fishing trip in Paraguay. On our way back to Australia, we had decided to detour for a couple of days to Easter Island to see the famous statues. All went well until we went to catch our flight to Tahiti, which in turn would connect with our flight home. On the runway, the aircraft (an extremely old Boeing 707) was ‘hijacked’ by the locals who were unhappy at the announcement of a doubling of their airfares back to the mainland Chile. It was a friendly hijack – kids in sleeping bags, a few Mini-mokes under the wheels of the aircraft, and lots of banners informing Lan Chile, the national airline, they were a mob of crooks.

It was seven days before flights returned to normal. My travelling mate, a farmer, had his bride screaming down the phone that his sheep were all getting fly blown and she couldn’t cope. Eventually, we were able to get a flight home via Hawaii. My mate didn’t have a US visa (essential in those days) and all hell broke loose at the Honolulu airport. Little disasters one after another, and another traveller lesson learnt: be patient and accept the things you can’t change.

We eventually arrived home and after some intense discussions, our travel insurer agreed to pay all the extra costs and more.

Travel insurance

Which brings me to travel insurance: it’s essential and it is important to purchase the correct level. Hospital fees in the USA, for example, can be horrendous if something goes wrong. Read the fine print carefully. Medivac insurance to get you home might not be part of a normal travel policy, yet in some cases, it is imperative. A friend of mine slipped on ice in America, hit his head and was in intensive care in a coma for weeks until he was medevacked home to private healthcare in Australia. The cost was hundreds of thousands of dollars, but fortunately fully covered. He made a complete recovery, thank goodness.

While America offers amazing flyfishing experiences, decent travel insurance is a must.

On a less dramatic but still important note, another handy hint is to develop a list of items to pack for your trip. Some of the fishing travel companies have lists on their websites, which you can use as a guide to make your own. With no checklist, it can be very easy to forget things, and this can reduce the enjoyment of a trip markedly.

Foreign laws

Remember, if you’re travelling in another country, the laws may be very different to those in Australia. Don’t expect the Australian Embassy/Consulate to assist you if you break the law. If you do, however, be very polite and remorseful. After a wonderful few days drifting down the Madison River in Montana, I remember driving through the giant redwood forests of Oregon on my way down to see a fishing mate just south of San Francisco. Suddenly, a police car with sirens wailing beckoned me to pull over. My crime was speeding, so I jumped out of the car… only to discover a handgun pointing at me. I said, “Hey mate, there’s no need for that!” The officer asked where I was from and immediately re holstered his weapon. However, he commented that you should never get out of a car when pulled over by the police in America. I apologised, then went on to explain that’s what we did in Australia. We talk to police face-to-face, which was true at the time.

Ten minutes later, we were in a roadside diner having a coffee. He had a sister living in Perth and wanted to know about life in Oz. I learnt from him that I could collect points for traffic offences in America on my Victorian driver’s license. Needless to write, I was let off. However, he did say if an Aussie traveller pulled over by the police in some parts Los Angeles jumped out of his car, he might be shot!

Another altercation with the police was in Cardiff, Wales. I was looking for a tackle store that was one of the UK’s largest mail order retailers at the time. I managed to drive the wrong way down a small one-way street and got caught. When the copper asked, “Didn’t you see the arrows?”, I replied, “I didn’t even see the archer!” To which, with a grin on his face, he asked where I came from. I told him, and explained I’d been wanting to use that one-liner for years, and he had given me the perfect chance. When I asked what the fine was, he just laughed and said he was heading back to the police station to tell the lads about the idiot he’d met from Australia. He did give me the right directions and the store was just around the corner.

Tipping and local courtesies

Do your homework with guides and hotels. For example, learning whether or not your fishing guide is planning to supply lunch, could save you from a hungry day. And find out if they are happy for you to drink a beer or wine.

A BC steelhead. To tip, or not to tip? Get the local lowdown before you arrive.

Get the tipping right. In America, tipping is expected at 20% in restaurants and sometimes even added to the bill as a service charge. Check it out. Yet in some Asian countries, particularly Japan, tipping can be seen as an insult. Published travel guides will help in this regard.

Be nice to airline check-in staff. A mate of mine, protesting in a loud voice about a delayed flight and missing connections, abruptly found a hand on his shoulder and a gruff voice from a handcuff, cosh and gun-toting security guard. He asked my mate whether he wanted to travel today? That quietened him down!

Many years ago, I was heading home from Denver after a visit to the annual Fly Tackle Dealer Show. I was standing in the queue, waiting to hand my bags over and collect my boarding pass. A very gaunt and craggy-faced little old American woman was ahead of me. The check-in clerk was an African American: tall, slim and good-looking with a kindly face; he had a real presence about him.

This old lady gave the poor bloke the most racist taunting ever. I was shocked at the vicious tirade and when it came to my turn, I expressed my surprise and tried to console him, although he didn’t appear to be too distressed. He laconically commented that every now and then, these things happen. Anyway, I drew out a kangaroo pin and said I’d be delighted to make him remember an Australian. He thanked me, handed back my passport and boarding passes and told me when I got to Los Angeles airport, all I had to do was walk left or take the free bus for one stop to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. He also gave me the directions to the best bar for a drink. In his velvety soft voice told me, with the drawl only Americans from the deep south have, I was booked all the way to Melbooorne Oooorstralia and my bags were too. He then added with a twinkle in his eyes, “You know the lady before you? Shee’s goin’ to Deee…troit City and her bags are goin’ to Aaa…nchorage Aaa….laaska.”

In today’s digital and electronic world, these things are supposedly less likely to happen, but the moral of the story is, be nice to airline staff!

A couple of pics from the album. Done properly, flyfishing travel offers memories to last a lifetime.

Travel can be the most exciting experience ever. It can also be the greatest nightmare. There are a few pitfalls but usually they won’t happen. The history, the geography and the scenery of different nations and places is all a wonderful experience. And the fishing will be very different from home, whether it be for species like bonefish, permit, tarpon, golden dorado or Pacific north-west salmon. The food and drink can be a new experience too. My advice is to try it all. Absorb yourself in it. After all, it is part of the rich tapestry of an angler’s life.

And finally, don’t miss out by not introducing yourself to strangers. You will be amazed at the friendships made, particularly with the like-minded at a fishing lodge. Such connections might expand your horizons even further.

Carpe Diem