Notes from the world of fishing travel by Yellow Dog Flyfishing CEO Jim Klug
Needless to say, the past year has been an interesting one for the destination angling industry and for international travel in general. In the early months of 2020, Yellow Dog was coming off our busiest travel year ever – kicking off a celebration of twenty years in business and enjoying our position at the top of the industry after two decades of hard work, perseverance and delivering great customer service.
And then? … Boom. The world shut down, travel imploded, and life changed in an instant. The majority of 2020 was brutal for so many people, with unthinkable economic impacts, the loss of countless lives, and damage inflicted upon numerous types of businesses. The travel industry was hit particularly hard, and Yellow Dog – with a large focus on international travel – was forced to navigate some very difficult months. While small business loans and programs designed to keep people employed provided some assistance here in the United States, international fishing lodges, guides, outfitters and support businesses were largely left to survive on their own. Many of the guides we’ve fished with and come to know over the years were dealt a serious financial blow, with literally no work and no income for most of the year. Some guides were forced to sell their boats, lodges terminated large numbers of staff, and many in the fly fishing community left the industry all together. Every international operation (along with many domestic operations) was hurt by the shut-downs, widespread cancellations and the lack of travelers.
But with 2020 in the rearview mirror, ramped-up vaccination campaigns, and more of the world now re-opening, things are turning around. Which of course begs the question, what does the year ahead look like for international travel and for destination angling in particular? I can tell you that what we have witnessed and experienced here at Yellow Dog since the beginning of 2021 tells us that we are in for a very wild ride!
As of March 31, 2021, Yellow Dog just closed out a record-setting first quarter. It was as if someone flipped a switch in early January, and people are now booking and reserving trips at a pace we’ve never before seen. Trip dates are being snatched up as quickly as toilet paper was selling out ten months ago, and the biggest challenges for the year ahead will unquestionably revolve around availability. If you are thinking about planning a trip for the near future – or even 2022 or 2023 – my advice is to start the process NOW! Getting out in front of the demand will ensure prime dates and great guides at the best lodges and destinations. “Last-minute” trip planning – while still possible – is going to be more of a challenge than in years past. If you know that you want to travel and fish in the near future, then get a jump-start on the planning process and get your dates and destinations on the books.
As for “post-pandemic positives” that we are likely to see in 2021 and 2022, there is some good news that should excite destination anglers. The first and most obvious positive is the environmental benefit that comes from literally shutting the world down for months on end. Global satellite images from space in late-2020 showed pollution levels that had dramatically decreased from those of only eight to ten months earlier, showing how nature can heal and recover when we simply reduce our footprint and let the planet do its thing (even for a relatively short period of time). For anglers, the effect of this “global rest” has been evident and abundantly obvious over the past several months in the quality of the fishing and the behavior of fish that we’ve witnessed across the planet. As destinations have reopened and anglers have returned to waters in Alaska, Belize, the Bahamas, the Yucatan, Costa Rica, the Seychelles and numerous other destinations, they have often times experienced off-the-charts fishing and numbers that had not been seen in years.
Here in the US, numerous guides, outfitters and fly shops enjoyed a record summer season last year, as people were forced to cancel ambitious vacation plans and instead road-trip and explore by car. As a 30-year resident of Montana, I can honestly say that our rivers, boat ramps, campgrounds and parks were more crowded and used last summer than anyone could have imagined. And the summer ahead will probably be even busier – something that is both good and bad, depending on how you look at it. Sure, we all hate a line at the boat ramp, and we work hard to avoid highly-trafficked rivers. But think about all of the people that found their way to the outdoors (and to the sport of fishing) this past summer that otherwise would have stayed away? Or those that perhaps found their way BACK to fishing after years of lapsed participation? Yes, it will mean more people on the waters in the years ahead, but it also means there will be more people speaking up for and giving a damn about the issues our sport depends on. Increased public access. Clean water. The protection of public lands. And the value of intact river ecosystems that are under constant threat from irresponsible development, mining or pollution. In a time when conservation routinely bats last, it has never been more important to have voices speaking up on these issues, and it is a well-known fact that people support, promote, fight for, and vote for the things they are connected to.
As to what things look like for fly fishing travel and destination angling moving forward, we know that the next few years will be busy both at home and abroad, as anglers take to the water in record numbers. With more people heading to home waters here in the US, it will naturally lead to an increased demand for international travel, as anglers search for new, less-pressured fisheries. This of course creates a fantastic opportunity – as anglers – to expand our horizons, broaden our fishing resume, and explore new destinations and options. For 2021, 2022 and beyond, consider thinking outside the box. Explore the Yellow Dog destination website and catalog, and don’t be afraid to contemplate new and unusual destinations that you might not have previously considered. Jungle fishing in Bolivia or Brazil. Taimen in Mongolia, Brown trout in Iceland or Chile. Tigerfish in Tanzania. Fishing can take us to so many amazing places, and new adventures and angling explorations can lead to new friends, life-long memories, and fresh stories to share upon return.
BUT HERE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW …
Regardless of your destination, we are absolutely recommending that anglers begin their planning and booking processes earlier than normal for the foreseeable future. For lodges and operations in the Seychelles, Bolivia, Cuba, Argentina, prime permit destinations in the Caribbean and others that were already in high demand, it is crucial to look ahead and plan well in advance. Even destinations in the US West, Alaska, Belize, the Bahamas and the Yucatan are likely to book up early in 2021 and well into 2022. Our recommendation for those that know they want to get back out there is to start the process now.
While the pandemic is by no means over, we are for sure on the back end of what has been an extremely difficult stretch, and it is wonderful to be able to look ahead with optimism and the promise of future travel. We are enthusiastic and excited for the years ahead, and on behalf of the entire team at Yellow Dog, we are here and ready to work with you – and for you – whenever you’re ready to get back on the water.
Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures – CEO