Sportski Ribolov, Croatia
Photography and Flyfishing Come Together
by Aleksandar Vrtariæ
– How and when did you start fishing? Tell me something about that «love affair». Well, When I sit down with my dad and look at pictures from when I was really young, there are photos of me standing on the edge of various lakes and rivers with a fly rod in my hand or holding fish. Whether those were staged or not, I have no idea but it looks a lot like I started extremely young. I probably remember showing serious interest when I was around 8-10 years old.
– Why choosing flyfishing? Good question actually, never been asked that before. I have been an athlete all my life and in every sport I played, I was always driven to be as good as I could possibly be. When you look at all other forms of fishing, there isn’t the depth of aptitude required to be extremely proficient as there is in fly fishing. The bio mechanics of fly casting and the management skills required to properly and effectively handle your line on the water are very unique to fly fishing. You are never the best or even the best you can be, so there is always room for improvement. I appreciate this aspect alot.
– Among flyfishermen, flyfishing is often described as art. Why is that? I honestly believe if you asked 100 different fly anglers that question, you would get at least 50 different answers! I don’t think I can even give just one reason but if you blend all these together, I would say this is at the core of it. The skill to not only cast the fly line and keep it aerialized but also be extremely accurate with the end of it. I am always in awe of great casters because visually, the tight but smooth loop is very captivating and inspiring. On the fly tying side of the sport, art is 100 percent of it. Much like asking Van Gogh and Picaso to paint the same landscape or person, you would end up with 2 extremely different views. In fly tying the same thing exists as there are literally hundreds of caddis patterns, much less how many mayfly patterns exist, thousands. All because there is a different view within each person of how that fly should be portrayed on the water. The final aspect is more all encompasing. In order to be a successful fly angler (success measured in this case by catching fish) you must be able to combine the fly casting, line management, fly selection, presentation, reading the water correctly, standing in the right place, accuracy of the cast, knowledge of various knots and the appropriate timing for their application and use and enjoyment/respect/appreciation of the environment all in a single small moment of time. Add to this that every time you change positions or cast to a new spot, that all those elements change even if only slightly and you must adapt to those changes prior to presenting the next cast.
– You are teaching flyfishing. What the basics that someone needs to learn? What makes a good flyfisherman? Great question and I will try not to write a book attempting to answer. Obviously being a good fly angler requires some physical skills such as hand eye coordination and timing. Everyone can get lucky every now and then but being able to identify what fly to tie on when and why is a huge part of being consistently good. As mentioned above, line management is something everyone is always working on and you are never not capable of becoming better. Those aside, I believe there are sides to fly fishing that I think go unspoken and rarely taught by instructors. I see a lot of anglers, guides included who get into a mode of tunnel vision and they can only see what has worked in the past or what should work now. They often times are not capable of breaking out and trying something new and totally different, to the point of it being absurd. Having that ability will always allow anglers to be a chamellion in the world of fly fishing and capable of change at any time, whenever necessary. I personally believe all the text book stuff is easily learned over time but all too often I see people always reverting to what has worked in the past and not exploring other options. This exploration is what has brought about some of the best products made in this industry and made some celebrity anglers quite well respected around the world. This will sound a bit contradictory but reverting back to what has worked in the past and making it work again is also a great mental tool to utilize as it creates confidence in you abilities. This confidence allows anglers to do the exploration spoken of earlier and be successful there as well and thus learning more and putting new tricks into their bag to call on at a later time. So really they go hand in hand, you need confidence to explore and you can’t really explore without confidence in your skills. You could probably just say that and it would cover it!!
– You are also a Winston Fly Rod Pro Staff member. How did that start? I spend a lot of time on the water, usually around 200 or more days a year. During this time, you begin to see where manufacturers are cutting corners and where others are making the best product they can by pouring their hearts into them. I have evolved my likes for certain products because I believe they are making products that help anglers be better and enjoy their experience to the fullest. Too many are just marketing machines that don’t really care if they make a good product or not, they know it sells anyway so why work hard at it. I was asked to join Winston after the B2x series came out. The first time I cast that rod, I was beside myself. I had never cast a rod that well suited to my casting stroke before. While still working in a shop part time, I began to do my own little experiements with customers by putting the rods they thought they wanted in their hands but also having them cast one of the Winston B2x. For about a year, every person I did this to bought the Winston, with only a couple exceptions and those were based on money. After seeing what a difference that rod made in many peoples hands and talking with the sales rep and the company, I decided to join their team because I believe they truly love the product they make and I think that is rare and imporatant, especially in this industry.
– Imagine someone who is just discovernig flyfishing. How would you help a person like that to get a good tackle? What qualities mark a good flyfishing rod? Had you asked this 10 years ago, I think the answer would have been quite different. The dynamic of the industry has changed because many have realized they needed to find a way to get more people interested in fly fishing, make it more affordable but also have the entry level equipment not be garbage at the same time. Technology has allow for new and old rod manufacturers to produce quality rods at much lower prices. I always tell new anglers that when deciding on what to buy, figure out your entire budget first. Once you know how much you can spend on rod, reel and line, then spend the majority of it on the rod because it is the tool that is used the most, by far. Then, go cast as many different rods as you can. Cast them with different lines on them and do it somewhere you are comfortable with the person who is potentially selling you the equipment. Everyone’s casting stroke is different so therefore any rod might be perfect for you and the only way to know is to cast them, not wiggle test in the shop, I mean cast them. Many new anglers say, „Oh, I can’t tell the difference so what does it matter?“ Well, fact of the matter is most can tell in about 5 minutes or less, especially with a brief explanation of rod actions and what they are intended to do for you. Rods also cast different with different lines on them so I also recommend making sure you are casting an appropriate line on the rod as well. With all the different action rods and lengths came a whole wave of new lines to match up with them as well so it isn’t just as easy as buying a fly line anymore either. That said, keep it simple in the beginning as well, no need to over think everything as you have the rest of your life to make this sport confusing and difficult. Just buy what feels best to you, not to your friend or a sales person.
– What sort of fish give you the most pleasure and most challenging drill? Any fish really. Again the depth of the sport enables anglers to make even the most simple fish catch a challenge. I enjoy native species in small, remote mountain streams and making a cast from far away as possible. Trevally are what really get me excited about being in a battle, they kick you but and your equipment will regularly fail on you so I find them quite thrilling as well. Bonefish and permit and tarpon are all a good time also, but none of them will ever be a trevally! Finally, I think steelhead have to be my favorite. Partly because I grew up around them all my life and I now have a deep appreciation for what each of those fish has endured to come back and grab my fly. They are also an underdog as they are not a commercial fish so they don’t get the spotlight of attention for protection and over fishing that salmon do in this part of the world. All in all though, when you are standing waist deep in 35 degree (F) water, the sleet is hitting your face hard enough to remove skin, you feel a moderate leak in your waders and your gloves are back in the truck when a steelhead pulls on your line, it all goes away!
– “To reach a higher level, a fisherman must understand nature and water and learn that fishing is not about trophies – it’s about loving nature.” I read that somewhere. What do you think about that? I am all about that and it really is the mantra my business is about. We strive to educate our clients on the beauty of nature and of each fish they do catch but even when the catching doesn’t quite keep up with the fishing, myself and my staff are talking about the different trees and shrubs along the river, turning over rocks and showing them the bugs at different stages of their life and explaining a little bit about the geology of the area and finally why places like this are so critically special to our life as humans on the planet. Why we need these places to be here as long as possible and how we can ensure their survival.
– Tell me something about sport fishing. Why is so important to practice catch & release fishing? Well, there are many reasons. Which you choose to subscribe to or believe in are up to each individual angler. One reason I explain to some of our clients to want to keep fish is that I view the fish to be my business partners, why would I want to kill them? Secondly, I don’t need to live on the fish I catch, therefore I have no other reason to warrant my killing them. More and more anglers are taking up this sport and as they do, more pressure is on our streams to provide the entertainment value to keep them in it. Some view this as a negative and in some ways it is, but I view it as a positive. More new anglers who get into the sport are getting in and immediately subscribing to the catch and release ideal. Because so many people in this sport allow themselves to be heavily influenced by others (for better or worse), this puts an incredible amount of pressure on those killing fish to discontinue doing so, or they will be viewed negatively by their peers.
– As for photography, how important it is to you? For many people, myself included, a well composed photograph is much more than a picture, it is the proverbial trophy for which many came fly fishing for and that doesn’t necessarily mean a photo of the fish they caught. I think before most people go someplace on a trip, they have in their mind what the destination is going to look like and how it will be laid out, whether the place lives up to that vision, is party the onus of the photos taken and their ability to capture the best aspects of the fish, water, mountains, flora and fauna or sun rises and sunsets. I spend a great deal of time trying to take several very nice photos on each trip to present to our clients afterwards if they are interested. Personally, I believe that is a part of a guides job, to document the highlights of their clients trip.
– What is your personal favourite photo and where did you take it? I have a bunch of favorite photos. Many of them are favorites because they were taken of great friends, they were being in the right place at the right time with the intuition to be ready for a photo and some have been well planned out. Some are favorites because of how the subject felt after they received the photo and others because of the happenstance leading up to and during the photo, if that makes sense. Sometimes funny things happen when trying to set up for a great image and it will always be a part of the picture for those who were involved. That is the real beauty if photographs, the story behind them. I honestly can’t choose a single favorite image, I will send along some of my favorites to share with you though.
– As for fishing location, what are the ones you rather remember? Another hard question. I tend to better remember the ones where more effort was put into getting there. Adventure travel is my favorite aspect of my job. Getting to a lodge in Chile once, what should have been a 3 hour drive turned out to be more like 10 hours because of all the unplanned occurrances along the way. Throwing my rod tubes in front of the plane in Belize so the plane couldn’t leave the runway until we got on. Right now, my favorite place to go every year is the John Day River in Oregon for steelhead. We have a bunch of private access to the river and getting into these places is not easy sometimes. We have almost had to stay the night down in the canyon because the road was in bad shape trying to get out. It is high desert climate and the canyon is beautiful, the river sort of lazily meanders its way along in no real hurry. The closest town has 500 residents, most 4th generation ranchers and of course the fish are stunning. It is my single favorite place to go every year and likely will be for a long time. Part of that may also be that my very good friend runs the operation down there and it is time on the water with him and our clients that make it so special.
– Knowing a certain water makes fishing easier. What helps when you find your self in a location you’ve never been before? Are there some things that can make fishing more succesful in situations like that? As I mentioned before, being able to take the skills you have confidence in and at the same time have an open mind to new ideas will allow you to change your tactics to be successful in an unfamiliar location. Everytime I fish somewhere new, I learn something I can apply back home, it just makes me a better angler and guide, no question. Another thing I didn’t mention above, and I find this happen with clients in saltwater locations as well as freshwater ones, is always be aware of what is happening around you. This is difficult for the angler who is bent on catching every fish and he doesn’t notice a 1000 pound bear 10 feet away! Anglers like this are not looking up into the air or on the water behind them or at the bushes across the stream so they don’t notice a new hatch coming off, or maybe the only hatch of the day and it comes and goes without them changing what they were doing, a missed opportunity. I think when we take people out and are teaching them to enjoy the surroundings, they are becoming better aware of the fishing elemnts as well, whether they know it or not. One of my favorite stories is a client and I are standing in the little stream in the mountains of Oregon and he asks me, „why would trout hit a mouse patter, how to mice get into the water anyway?“ Only moments after he had asked me that, he noticed this branch across the creek swaying up and down a little more than the others and on it was of all things a mouse, sitting eating something but precariosly perched above the water. „There is my answer“, he said with a laugh. I didn’t even have to point it out, and when anglers notice little things like this while fishing, they are inherently going to be more successful in a new fishery than someone who doesn’t.
– Thank you very much for doing this interview. Greetings from all Croatian fishermen! Aleksandar, thank you so much for allowing me to speak my mind to you, your publication and all of your readers. I have so few opportunities to speak openly like this in such a short period of time, it is refreshing to be able to voice my views in the hope that maybe one or two others will either share or be inspired to share similar ones. Please let me know if you ever find yourself in my little corner of the world, it would be a great pleasure to share some of our fly fishing and scenic splendor with you in person. Have a peaceful and enjoyable 2007.