Article by Adam Klagsbrun
Traveling can often be a daunting task. While some people really enjoy constantly traveling and seeing new things, for others, the experience can be taxing and sometimes a bit overwhelming. Historically I never really enjoyed air travel, mostly due to motion sickness, and that certainly held me back from wanting to travel much overseas on my own.
A few years back I started traveling for work, and I had to quickly figure out how to make the best of these otherwise less than enjoyable traveling experiences. After finally discovering a combination of medications that took care of my motion sickness, I realized I could adopt a completely different mindset about traveling, adding on at least a few days to any trip in order to visit the mountains and some trout water in a foreign place. Looking back, I can’t believe how much I’d missed for so many years… but looking ahead, I see lots of opportunity and I want to share that possibility with other members of the tenkara community, too.
Traveling for fly-fishing has traditionally been a big deal for anyone, regardless of air travel issues… there’s so much to deal with! Between the heavy bags filled with gear – waders and reels to the long and hard to stow rod cases for those big water western rods, the number and size of bags one must carry (and now pay extra to check) makes the whole experience less than ideal.
Additionally, there’s the issue of cost, as well. Many of the typical fly fishing destinations require multiple flights, sometimes a small chartered plane, a boat, and a fancy (often remote) lodge that costs a pretty penny and offers the only amenities for hours (or days) in any direction. The cost of these experiences can range into the multiples thousands of dollars and up over $10K in many cases. No wonder we don’t often think about buying a plane ticket and planning an adventure! But we should… because it doesn’t have to be that prohibitively expensive when you do it on your own, with a little help from the Internet.
So how does tenkara make this all easier? The answer comes in a few forms, not just related to the more packable nature of the gear. This much we all know – the lack of reels, the smaller size of rods and the reduction in the number of different fly boxes and accessories one carries is an obvious benefit. But what of the other benefits of what the tenkara community has to offer?
First, tenkara opens up a lot of water for fishing destinations abroad. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling and fishing so far, it’s that mountainous regions around the world are somewhat similar. Most have some kinds of roads leading up to trailheads or river crossings. Most of those beautiful tumbling mountain streams are open to fishing, and the most important thing – most of them are full of healthy trout. All it takes is a plane ticket, a rental car, and a willingness to go on an adventure.
The Internet, and particularly these days Facebook, has become a powerful tool for fly-fishing based travel opportunities. Instead of having to call a fly-fishing company abroad or use an expensive US-based outfitter, one can use the internet to research good fishing areas, obtain trail maps and make friends…. All of a sudden you have people to fish with, people to show you good water and people with which to share a good time.
Its amazing when you think about it, how far the kindness of a pseudo-stranger can be – as well as the friend that they can become after a shared experience fishing together in a foreign place. So how would one go about this process when planning a trip?
Engage in a Community
If you plan to travel to, say, Italy… get online and join the community there first! Spend some of your time reading other people’s posts and about their experiences. Take note of the people who seem to be doing things the way you do at home, or close to it. Comment on their posts, and ask questions. Become friends online if it feels right. Talk to each other and ask about the other people they know in the community. Spend some time following those people, and be supportive and positive. (IE Don’t talk politics or religion and don’t be that guy that disagrees right away… as I often forget myself!) Most importantly, try to contribute to that community in a positive way. Putting in a little bit of your effort and good will goes a long way.
The more you engage in the community, the more you begin to make real friends and find common interests. Later on, when you announce your plans to visit and fish in the area, you may be surprised at how many people jump at helping you out or want to meet up and show you their favorite local waters. Not to mention that this will save you a significant amount of money that you might have otherwise spent on a guide. That means more $$ saved, or more to spend on meals and your hosts.
You don’t have to go crazy. Eating on a budget abroad is a lot easier than it is here in the US. There is a large supply of high quality daily-baked breads, easy to find cured meats and cheeses, and other kinds of travel-friendly preserves and packaged foods that you can’t even imagine here. $7 at a roadside Japanese 7-11 will get you a meal that actually rivals what you’d order at any passable local sushi restaurant here. $3 in Italy gets you a large chunk of bread with tomato and garlic. $8 for a pizza that you can barely finish… and I guarantee it will be the best pizza of your life.
Choose lodging options that don’t isolate you from the people in the place you are traveling to
Ask your new friends online for some recommendations on where to stay locally. Their advice is worth more than any travel book or discount travel & hotel website. They know what will offer you the best local experience or value better than Google does, guaranteed. And chances are you’ll be happier interacting with locals, seeing more of the culture, and being a part of the area you are traveling in rather than just traveling through it.
Doing things like this is often significantly less expensive as well – local lodging ownership doesn’t always speak English or outsource their marketing to international sources that would reach you here, in English. This is HUGE. I’ve paid, in some cases, less than half of what the least expensive option on hotels.com can offer, and had what was obviously a more rewarding (and comfortable) stay because of it.
Make loose, flexible plans and be willing to change them at a moment’s notice
If you want to engage with your new friends online, recognize the favor they are doing you by sharing their time and information with you by making it easy for them. Do not go into your trip with an exact schedule of when you plan to be on the water and where. Talk to your new friends once you arrive at your destination and let them make recommendations. Follow them where they take you instead of insisting on doing things “your way.”
Pack one carry on bag of legal size, as well as a backpack that you’ll use for fishing and as a daypack. You may carry both of these on an airplane – it is your right as a passenger to have the two items as long as you keep to the correct size on the bags. Your rod tube can be strapped to the side of your pack where the water bottle goes, and secured with the straps on the side of your pack. I’ve NEVER been called out for this and I’ve carried on every flight I’ve ever taken… NEVER CHECK YOUR BAG. Losing your fishing gear or half your stuff is a disaster that will ruin your trip. It will happen at some point, so don’t take any risks.
Additionally, using wool socks and synthetic underwear that can be sink washed every evening will save you a lot of space in your bag. Choose one warm layer, a rain jacket, some travel/hiking pants and the essentials. Try not to pack much cotton. It takes forever to dry and is not ideal for staying warm while wet or for being washed during your trip. Think hiking clothes. You may carry your tackle. There are clearly written regulations allowing fishing tackle on all flights, just toss your fly box in your carry on as you please. Remember to remove any knives that might be in your bag.
Ask for help from the people you are in touch with online. See if someone can help get a license for you. Use your discretion at who you give info to, but be aware that you’ll have to be flexible with this kind of thing if you are to be successful in making this easy for yourself and for the people helping you out, if you know what I mean. Part of making new friends online is about trust, so just make sure you use the proper methods of communication so your info can’t get hacked online.
Have backup plans
Sometimes your hosts’ schedules will change. Be flexible and have a backup plan in case you need to go on your own. Staying near a river and having your own rental car ensure that you can do what you want, when you want, but also that you can adjust to changes in a flash. Offer your new hosts a ride in your rental car… they might appreciate the gesture and you might enjoy learning more about driving into the mountains in a foreign country.
Keep an open mind
Especially when it comes to food. Eat local delicacies and specialties, don’t go looking for burgers and pizza! Things you thought you didn’t like might end up being favorite meals by the end of a trip. Its amazing what an open mind can do when it comes to eating, drinking and having fun. Just go with the flow and you won’t end up frustrated.
Take the GPS option on your rental car!
Wifi is spotty and cell service is expensive. Don’t rely on your phone or Google Maps as you do at home. Your rental car will have a GPS option, and you can easily set the language to English. This will save your ass over and over again if you plan to really explore or drive around in the unfamiliar regions of foreign countries. Its also great because when your host tells you where to meet him or her, and the address looks insane, fear not – GPS knows what to do!
If you don’t spend time learning the language, don’t freak out. It’s ok. Your hosts will understand that you don’t know the language. While it’s a sign of respect to learn at least a few basic phrases like Hello, thank you, etc… you will not be treated any worse for not understanding the language. Fishing is a language of its own. I can recall a few days in Italy where I spent almost the entire day with people who spoke barely a word of English. We didn’t need the language to understand each other. For deeper conversation, download an English translator application. They cost between $10-$20 and can be used OFFLINE even when you have no service. Many times I used a translator app to get into deeper details and discussions. IT WORKS!
Be a good guest
If you are lucky enough to be offered housing or a meal by your hosts or new friends, remember to be on your best behavior! Sometimes it’s easy to forget how our ways are different, so keep your eyes open, do as you see, and try to make the experience as easy as possible for your host. Bring gifts!! Someone is spending time, effort, and in some cases money, to show you a good time, and you have never even met before.
Nothing shows your good manners and brings a smile to a stranger’s face than a gift. It may be something as simple as some of your favorite flies that you made for them, some art, or even something that you find very “American” that is worth sharing. Anything that shows thought will do. A gift is a token of respect and thanks, and goes a long way to building a good friendship or guest/host relationship.
Return the favor
Don’t forget to thank and invite your host to your home and offer the same courtesy and amenities you were offered in return. Friendships formed in this way can last a lifetime and add a lot to your overall experience in the world. On the last day or evening of your trip, offer to take your host(s) out for a meal on you. If you can’t afford this at the moment, at least be sure to offer them an opportunity back in your hometown. I’ve found that often my hosts want to take me out to a nice meal, and it’s the least one can do to return the favor.
In my travels last year I met so many incredible people. The tenkara community is really an incredibly friendly, helpful and generous community – its almost unbelievable, the amount of good will and help you can find simply by contributing, asking questions and connecting with others. Traveling for tenkara is less of a big deal and more of a fun adventure than you might imagine. Next time you book a trip, think of where you might be able to fish – and don’t forget to pack your rod!
Editor’s Note: I realize that overseas travel, or even extended domestic travel may not be in the cards for many right now. That said, many of the suggestions mentioned above can easily be applied to fishing activities slightly closer to home. Whether it’s making new friends, trying new regional foods, or always being flexible with backup plans, I hope you’re able to apply a little of Adam’s advice to your fishing adventures this year.
Adam Klagsbrun is an avid lightweight backpacker and angler of all flavors. Originally fishing small streams in the Northeast USA, Adam has relocated to Colorado where he enjoys all that the outdoors have to offer. Find some of his journals at Of Rock & Riffle.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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