October 20, 2021
This article was originally titled "Five Crucial Travel Tips" in the Aug-Sept 2017 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine.
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” That was some of the best advice I’ve ever received my father. His approach to adventure is both daunting and practical. More often than not, it’s all an exercise, and training you’ll never need, but if you do need it, that little bit of planning and foresight can salvage a trip or even save a life.
I was recently chatting with some anglers in a Bahamas airport—they had fished at a lodge I won’t name—and their boat broke down while they were out fishing. There were no tools, radio, satellite phone, life jackets, or first aid kit on the boat. I never want to leave my safety in the hands of those I don’t know. Good operations are prepared and have an action plan to deal with any contingency. But if you do much international fishing, you will eventually encounter someone who isn’t adequately trained and prepared, and you might be the one example that falls through the cracks.
1. Get Emergency Insurance for Fly Fishing Trips
The least expensive, yet most valuable item traveling fly fishers can purchase is medical evacuation insurance. Accidents, injuries, appendicitis, heart attacks, strokes, infections are all highly unlikely, but potentially catastrophic. To protect against these types of life-threatening events, I use Global Rescue when I travel, and I recommend it for all guests visiting my lodges. It is the only company I know of that guarantees evacuation from the point of injury.
A few years ago at Abaco, Bahamas, I went to bed with a red insect bite on my thumb and woke up to a black digit, oozing pus, and a red streak running up my arm. After a quick call to Global Rescue, they flew me home to North Carolina for medical treatment. From the initial phone call to being on the ground in North Carolina took less than six hours. The level of professionalism and service blew me away. My emergency became their emergency, and they spared no expense in getting me medical attention in the United States as soon as possible. I’ve carried a Global Rescue medical evacuation policy annually ever since that event.
A week of coverage from Global Rescue is $115. That’s cheap, as the alternatives of going without this type of insurance can easily hit six figures. A few months ago, a guest at Bair’s Lodge on Andros Island needed a medical evacuation. He slipped a disk in his back, was in an immense amount of pain, but he had no medical evacuation insurance. A Florida medical team flew over in a jet to pick him up, but it took an astronomical credit card bill to make it happen.
Jim Klug from Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures and I were in the Venezuela jungle when Hugo Chávez died. Soldiers showed up in our fishing camp, making us extremely nervous about our safety and security. We were in an extremely remote location, and still the unrest in the country was obvious. We used Global Rescue security services to help us secure a safe route out of the jungle and away from problem areas. Part of the value is knowing you have a capable and knowledgeable team behind you.
2. Pack a Fly Fishing First Aid Kit
Your first line of defense in case of minor medical emergencies should be your own first aid kit. If you’re adequately prepared, you can deal with most accidents and just keep fishing. The best lodges are well prepared for cuts, sprains, hook punctures, and bites, but many are not.
While chasing permit in Xcalak, Mexico one day I jumped out of the panga barefoot to get a better shot. I missed the permit, and ended up needing a handful of stitches to sew my foot back together. But the “first aid kit” on that boat consisted of a napkin and a cold beer. Thankfully, I had my own first aid kit back in my room, and there were half a dozen doctors staying at the lodge. Because I had that kit, I likely received better medical care on the beach than I would have got in a hospital in Cancun.
I also used my first aid kit to patch up guide Marty Sawyer, who got bit trying to slip a noose around the tail of a lemon shark. While I was patching up Sawyer, Carter Andrews managed to land, photograph, and release the shark without the help of his wounded guide.
I pack a small but mighty first aid kit designed by Mike Tayloe of Finns West. Tayloe taught an advanced wilderness first aid course for me and all of my guides in the Bahamas. I learned more from Tayloe than in my previous 20 years of first aid courses, because he provided a practical approach to solving issues that actually arise on fishing trips in remote areas.
Tayloe also helped create a perfect first aid kit for me, with tourniquets for life-threatening injuries and Imodium and Cipro for bouts of Montezuma’s revenge. It’s an essential travel item for me, and should be for you as well. Tayloe has done the heavy lifting, and created a couple of first aid kits tailored to anglers and guides called the Guide I and Guide II. You can find them at conterra-inc.com.
3. Stay in Touch
Medical evacuation won’t happen if you can’t call for help. I take a satellite phone and personal locator beacon (PLB) everywhere I go. Maybe it’s overkill, but at less than a pound, the peace of mind is worth it. Satellite phones are much less expensive than they used to be. My Inmarsat cost less than $600 and I get 200 minutes a year for $200, and that covers a year of travel. The battery lasts three weeks, and I can send a text message to my wife to check in and let her know everything is okay.
I was recently in the jungle of South America, off exploring and camping 12 miles from the nearest village. One of our guides was bitten by a snake, and we had no idea what type it was. I pulled out my satellite phone and called my wife with a quick “I’m okay but I need you to Google ‘venomous snakes of the Amazon.’” My first aid kit and satellite phone meant we were able to keep fishing without the risk of returning to the village at night.
A small PLB can quickly send your exact coordinates in the event of an emergency. They cost as little as $300 and can help you get out of a jam if you’re lost, or you need help and don’t know exactly where you are. Don’t take these devices to Cuba, I’ve had both my satellite phone and PLB confiscated on entry more than once.
That’s the serious side of being prepared, and it’s not to scare you, it’s to help you have more fun, and have less worrying on your plate when you’re on vacation. It doesn’t take much effort to think about where you are going, do your homework, and take steps to protect yourself if everything doesn’t go as planned. You can also mitigate your risks by traveling with hosts who do that work for you.
4. Practice Fly Casting
Gearing up for far-flung trips is half the fun. We all love tying flies, prepping our gear, buying new stuff, talking to your local shop about it. Anything you can do that involves throwing down your credit card is easy. People are good about making the right purchases—what they often don’t do is get outside and cast.
Flip Pallot in the 2016 October-November issue of Fly Fisherman said it best: “Sadly, their credit card won’t take them the last 40 feet.” In other words, you may have the best gear and guides on the planet but the finale is up to you. You have to get those feathers and string in front of the fish all on your own, so one of the best things you can do to make your trip all you hoped for is to practice your casting. Also, if you’re practicing the wrong techniques, you aren’t helping yourself. Take some lessons and get some good coaching so your skills are equal to the adventure.
5. Get a Good Book
Learn about the place you are visiting. It will improve your experience in every way. When you leave your home water, a fishing trip is never just a fishing trip. The fishing is the thread that ties everything together and provides inspiration, but to make it worthwhile, you need to also love the adventure, the people, and the history of a place. Don’t go to the Amazon without reading The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. Before you fish in Mongolia, learn and read all you can about Genghis Khan and how he changed the history of the world.
If you can’t read up beforehand, bring it with you. A well-matched book makes for good entertainment and can help keep you from boiling over when your bus breaks down and you have a couple hours to kill. Wind from the Carolinas by Robert Wilder, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, and One River by Wade Davis are a few of my favorite travel books, but every place has literature associated with it, even if it’s just a Lonely Planet travel guide. It will foster a deeper appreciation of the place and the journey, and likely make you a better person because you’ll realize it’s not just about the fish. Get out there. Explore. Have fun and learn something new. And be safe.
Oliver White is a partner in two fishing lodges in the Bahamas, Abaco Lodge and Bair’s Lodge in South Andros. He travels extensively, hosting small groups in exotic locations and guiding in the American West. He cofounded IndiFly —a nonprofit that works to help indigenous people use sport fishing as a method of conservation.