Talk long enough with seasoned anglers and eventually you’ll hear someone say, “there’s an art to fly fishing.” That’s a curiously poetic phrase. They’re usually talking about technique, presentation or tying, but it’s interesting to see the correlation one makes between angler and artist. The Black Gnats are equally interested in this connection, so we’ve started a recurring section called “The Art of Fly Fishing” to highlight the unique stories and individuals that bring these two worlds together. This week’s featured artist …

Jim Klug

Interview by Garrick Dorsett

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You may not know his name, but if you’re a contemporary fly-fisher, you have definitely seen his work whether you realize it or not. Jim Klug is one of the top photographers in our sport. He captures images from around the world and brings them to us in magazines and on video. In 1999, Jim combined his passion for travel, photography, and fly-fishing and created an international business: Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures. His most recent undertaking was the creation of Confluence Films. Jim and his business partner, filmmaker Chris Patterson, have figured out a way to give the fly-fishing world something new: they create films about fly-fishing adventures based solely on the beauty and aesthetics of our sport. One of our favorite films created by this dynamic duo is a 2008 film called DRIFT. The images in this film filled our heads with inspiration and pure excitement to go out and fish. DRIFT was followed up by RISE in 2009, by CONNECT in 2011, and most recently by WAYPOINTS in 2013. We here at the Black Gnats are true fans of Jim’s work, and we’re eagerly awaiting what Jim has in store for 2014.

Black Gnats: Who or what inspired you to get into fly fishing?

Jim Klug: Mostly my grandfather. He was a pretty legendary fisherman from the Midwest who wrote a Chicago-area newspaper column for more than 30 years called “Setting The Hook with Warren Klug.” As a kid, I spent a lot of summers with my grandfather, and we literally fished every single day on the Illinois lake that he lived on. For me, at that young point in my life, there was nothing better. When I was 12 or 13 I picked up a fly rod for the first time. From that moment on, I was totally addicted. Being the dedicated spin fisherman and gear-chucker that he was, the fly rod probably made my grandfather cringe a bit, but I think he was happy that I was so into fishing at that point.

“When I was 12 or 13 I picked up a fly rod for the first time. From that moment on, I was totally addicted.”

BG: Who or what inspired you to get into art?

JK: I had been interested in photography from a young age, but I guess you could say that it really took hold when I started to travel the world for fishing. I first recognized that there was an opportunity to create a business and a career that revolved around destination angling when I was about 29 years old. That lead to the creation of Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures in 1999. Prior to starting Yellow Dog, I had been a casual/hobbyist photographer, but as the business began to grow, I realized the importance of having great images to help promote and sell the offerings that we had and the destinations that we represented.

The funny thing is that I initially became serious about my photography for business reasons, trying my best to shoot what I needed without taking too much away from my fishing opportunities. These days, however, I am much more likely to be found in great fishing situations with a camera in my hand instead of a fly rod. Although I never thought I would ever hear myself say it, it has now gotten to the point where I get just as much satisfaction out of shooting great images and great fishing situations as I do fishing them myself.

“… the most challenging and surprising aspect of making these movies is the amount of work that goes in to doing it right.”

Another fun side project that I am involved in is Confluence Films, a small fly fishing film production company that I own with my friend, Chris Patterson. Prior to meeting Chris, I never really had the desire or the ambition to get involved in film making. The idea of the Confluence Films partnership and the movie projects themselves pretty much originated with Patterson. He came from a long and serious background in film, and he was the one who came up with the idea of creating a multi-segmented, multi-destination movie that focused on the beauty of the sport, the people that you meet in this sport, and the places that fly fishing takes you.

The great thing about our partnership is that as the owner of Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures – a company that specializes in international destination angling – I knew a lot about great destinations and places, and I’ve had a lot of experience traveling to these interesting places. With Chris’ extensive background in outdoor and action films, he was able to bring these people and places to life in way that really showcased all of the amazing things that make fly fishing what it is. This ended up being a great partnership. We’ve both brought key elements to the table, and we both play very different roles in the process of making these films.

I would have to say that overall, the most challenging and surprising aspect of making these movies is the amount of work that goes in to doing it right. Neither Chris nor I ever want to release a film that “cuts corners” in any way – be it with production value, cinematography, content, or great stories. As a result, each film takes a ton of time and a lot of hard work to create. When each movie is completed, however, and you can sit back and view the finished product in a theater packed full of excited people, then it’s all worth it. To date we’ve released four full-length fly fishing films: DRIFT in 2008, RISE in 2009, CONNECT in 2011 and WAYPOINTS in 2013.

BG: When did you realize that your passion for art and fly fishing could be combined?

JK: When I first started Yellow Dog, I was shooting a bit – mostly for fun. I realized pretty quickly that I needed to seriously up my game if I was going to be traveling to these destinations and shooting materials for the company. These days, I definitely shoot more than I fish, and I can honestly say that I enjoy it just as much.

“These days, I definitely shoot more than I fish, and I can honestly say that I enjoy it just as much.”

BG: What’s the most inspirational body of water that you’ve fished and why?

JK: That’s a question that I get a lot, and one that’s always hard to answer!  I would say on the freshwater realm that the rivers of Patagonia are collectively up there for sure. I really love Argentina and Chile. Alaska and Kamchatka are definitely on that list as well. And of course Bolivia is incredible on so many levels. For saltwater, the Indian Ocean, Belize and the Yucatan are definitely on my short list of favorites. Coming up with an all-time favorite is pretty difficult. I would say that it is more like an all-time “Top Ten.”

BG: If money were no object, and you could do only one thing, what would it be?

JK: Travel. No doubt about it. There are so many places that I still want to visit and see. For me, experiencing new cultures, seeing amazing landscapes, meeting new people … collectively there is nothing better. Now that I have young kids, traveling with them has become something new and exciting as well. We are doing at least a couple of family trips each year, and I am also trying to do trips with just one kid at a time.

“For me, experiencing new cultures, seeing amazing landscapes, meeting new people … collectively there is nothing better.”

This past fall I did two weeks in Belize where I was visiting lodges, shooting photos and making the rounds for Yellow Dog. At the last minute, I decided to bring my seven-year-old daughter along with me. It turned out to be a great trip – one of my favorite of all time.

BG: If you could fish with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

JK: Hard to say. Teddy Roosevelt would be near the top of the list. Hemingway would be great to fish with and probably even more fun to drink with after the fishing day was over!

BG: Where do you see the future of fly-fishing?

JK: Well, the first thing that I would say is that the pristine, untouched, and perfectly healthy fisheries and ecosystems are getting harder and harder to find these days. It is more important than ever that we protect and preserve these places for future generations. That sounds a bit like the bad tag line from a “save the pandas” late-night infomercial, but the fact is that it is a hell of a lot easier to protect something and keep it great than it is to restore and completely rebuild something that used to be great. Whether you’re talking water quality, fish populations, or habitat, it seems that more and more these days we hear about efforts that sadly have to focus on “recovery” and “rebuilding.” For that reason, it is more important than ever that we identify areas and waters that are still untouched, healthy, and ecologically significant, and then do everything we can to protect and preserve these places.

“… it seems that more and more these days we hear about efforts that sadly have to focus on ‘recovery’ and ‘rebuilding’.”

BG: How does your medium accentuate your artwork and how does it relate to your style of fly-fishing?

JK: I really try to focus on shooting fly fishing-related images, which at first seems pretty obvious. I guess that I want my images to easily be understood by anglers as images shot “by a fly fisherman, for fly fishermen.”  So often these days we’re seeing super-artsy, new-age-type imagery that, while beautiful and well-shot, is hard to relate to on an actual fishing level. A new magazine cover comes out. “What is it?” you ask?  “It’s a macro-shot of the statoconium of a bonefish, de-saturated, treated and post-edited with a burn process in Photoshop.”  It’s super-cool that people are creating this kind of art, but it is definitely not my medium. Since I am lucky enough to travel internationally to some pretty cool places, I always try and shoot images that are directly related to the area: the people, landscapes, waters and of course the fish themselves. Travel photography that, whenever possible, tells a story and shows as many different aspects of a location as possible. If I had to characterize or label my style, I would probably call it “adventure-angling-destination-landscape-travel-photography-in-off-the-grid-places.”

“… I always try and shoot images that are directly related to the area: the people, landscapes, waters and of course the fish themselves.”

BG: What would you say to someone interested in fly-fishing but is too intimidated to start?

JK: Honestly I would say jump right in. Stop in a local, specialty fly shop, walk right up to the counter and tell them that you don’t know anything but that you want to become a fly fisherman. Specialty shops are the greatest resource out there, and all of the good ones are excited to teach people who are new to the sport and happy to get them started right. 

The second thing that I would say is that fly fishing is so much cooler than people realize, and can be about so much more than casting a 5-wt rod on your local small stream. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing better than fishing home waters and finding great fishing close to where you live – but there’s a big world of fishing out there. The people you meet through fishing, the time spent on new waters, the opportunity to fish different places – all of these things are important.

“The people you meet through fishing, the time spent on new waters, the opportunity to fish different places – all of these things are important.”

I would have to say that the most rewarding thing for me – and the thing that has probably kept me in this industry for so long – would be the places that fly fishing has taken me. I have been fortunate enough to fish all over the world, including some pretty strange and exotic locations. The more I travel and the more I experience, the more I want to see. One of my favorite quotes talks about the fact that “No one ever regretted a life of adventure.” I think that is as applicable today as ever.

Be sure to check out the rest of Jim’s photography at his website [klugphotos.com] and go watch a Confluence Film, if you haven’t already! Jim Klug Outdoor Photography is on Facebook, too.

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