Nov 16

Interview with Jess McGlothlin – The South Pacific

If you have picked up a fly fishing anything lately, you probably have seen photos taken through the lens of Jess McGlothlin or you’ve read an article written by her hand. She’s got a keen eye for composition and seems to be just about anywhere where things are happening in the fly fishing world. She has Jess McGlothlin Media and is also part of the Yellow Dog Flyfishing team. I did an interview with Jess to hear about what she did down in the South Pacific. It isn’t a place you think of when it comes to fly fishing, at least not now, but maybe you will.

Jess, I’ve seen some photos you took from a fishing expedition to a location in the South Pacific. Where was it, exactly, that you went and, most importantly, how was the fishing?

I’ve been lucky enough to be on a few South Pacific trips in the past couple years. I did an expeditionary trip to Samoa for YETI and Outside Magazine this spring, but the trip that, to me, epitomizes the South Pacific was exploring Anaa Atoll in French Polynesia with a team from Costa del Mar and the IndiFly Foundation. Anaa is a small atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago, about one-and-a-half hours’ flight northeast from Tahiti.

In a word, the fishing was good. Really good. Kind of great, really. Healthy and happy bonefish (some big boys), bluefin trevally, bohar and all manner of reef fish, napoleon wrasse, and other species. I talked recently to a friend who returned to Anaa and he reported some strong GT fishing.



The South Pacific is just not on the radar screen of most saltwater anglers outside of a few, well known places, like Christmas Island. What do you think the potential is for that region based on your experience?

I think the potential is huge. I’d love to get back in the area and spend an extended amount of time exploring — there are fisheries that are not quite on most people’s maps yet. In the States we hear more about Christmas, Rangiroa or Tetiaroa, but after the traveling I’ve done in the past several years, Anaa is the place I’m trying hard to get back to. A variety of species, friendly locals, and a strong “adventure” element… the South Pacific ticks all those boxes. And give me undeveloped locales over tourist zones any day.

From the trip to Anaa Atoll, what was the highlight?

The final day of the Anaa trip, my photo clients looked at me and said, “You’ve shot all week, now it’s your turn to fish,” and handed me a rod. I couldn’t argue with that. I caught a bonefish and a bluefin trevally and then happy went back to the camera, more than content.

It’s rare to go to a place where there is so much photo fodder. Not so much a plethora of subjects in the traditional sense — you’re on a small island with limited inhabitants — but in terms of the sheer beauty of the place and its people. One day we took a break from fishing to spend some time getting to know the village, and ended up participating in patia fa, the highly competitive local sport of throwing homemade spears at a coconut suspended high on a pole. We just hung out and threw spears and stuff for an afternoon— how awesome is that?

And, yeah, I could have stayed another month just to shoot photos of the fish.



You shoot some mean photos. I’m wondering what sort of considerations you take when you head somewhere so remote in order to not have the whole trip go sideways on you.

Something always goes sideways; that’s a given. On this trip, I ended up in the little atoll clinic (luckily the rotating, listing French nurse was there at the time) with toe and foot infections from coral cuts. I ended up losing both toenails and by the end of the trip I could barely fit my feet into my flip-flops for the flight home. Part of the game, and there’s no question in my mind the images were worth it.

In planning any shoot, I sit down with the client beforehand and develop a shot list so I know what their “must have” shots are. This list can be as short as a half a page and as long as ten. If logistics allow, I sit down every evening with clients while on location to review shots and ensure they like what they are seeing. Typically we do it the first day or two, then they know they’re comfortable with what we’re shooting and it’s less of a worry. It’s always a good sign when the client starts to bring beer to the photo review.

I’m lucky to travel frequently enough to have developed a “gear list” with items I know I’ll need. It varies location by location and job by job, of course, but the basics stay the same. I take meticulous care of cameras on location — in saltwater locations they get swiped down with a damp cloth then dried each night, lenses and filters carefully cleaned, batteries charged, and memory cards backed up three times then cleared. If I don’t have time to do all that and sleep, then I don’t get sleep. It’s pretty simple.


The trip you took was associated with IndiFly. What is that program and where are they working?

IndiFly is one of the better ideas I’ve seen come into the fly-fishing community. As a photographer and writer, to me it’s the ideal combination of what really got me into photography — humanitarian work — and fly-fishing. The organization’s website perhaps sums it up best:

“Indifly is a 501(c)(3) organization protecting the world’s greatest fisheries while providing sustainable livelihoods for indigenous peoples. Indifly’s mission is focused on the conservation of natural resources, food security, poverty alleviation, and sustainable livelihoods in these communities.

We accomplish our mission by assisting indigenous communities around the world transition from non-sustainable practices. Most often, through the development of sustainable* community owned fly fishing ecotourism operations. *economically/environmentally/culturally.”

Add in an accomplished, intelligent group of leaders and it becomes something special.

American anglers seem to want a good adventure that ends with a great meal and a comfortable, bug-free bed. How do you think the South Pacific meets, exceeded or falls short of that?

It depends where you are going. Where we were on Anaa, the lodging and food were excellent. We slept in well-furnished huts with real beds, hot water, electricity and all the comforts of home — really, I was quite impressed. There was even a small TV in one corner (I never turned it on to see if it actually worked). The food was very local (raw fish in coconut milk, various stir-fries, all manner of seafood, etc.) and extremely good. We even had French vanillas creamer for our coffee, and fresh eggs and homemade chocolate croissants every morning. So Anaa “exceeded,” big time. I lived nicer there than I do when I’m back in Montana.

Other places, it depends on how you set yourself up. I’ve slept on the beach and been chewed up by bugs, stung in the neck by a scorpion in my sleep, and returned from trips with my fair share of various tropical fevers. It depends of what kind of care you take of yourself, and if staying in fancy resorts is your thing, typically the lodging and food meets most American standards. Personally, I prefer to stay, eat, and work with locals as much as possible — I think it’s the only real way to get the true feel of a place and you meet some of the best people.

It feels like everything that can be discovered, every fishery that can be know, is known already. Do you think there are places still left to be explored?

I like to think so. Maybe it’s romantic or naive or silly, but I like to think there are still some kick-ass fisheries out there waiting to be explored. I can only hope I’m lucky enough to be on the teams that pioneer them.


Do you find it hard to be behind the camera when the fishing is good? How do you deal?

“How do you deal?” — I love that. I’m getting better at it. If I’m on a big commercial shoot, I may not ever pick up a rod. The job has to come first. But it’s hard sometimes. Being out on a flats boat all day can be nice, because when the light is really awful on a bright, hot day, I can usually use that time to shoot underwater work and maybe pick up a rod.

Several weeks ago I was an instructor at a Belize On-the-Water Fly-Fishing Photography Workshop for Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures. On the first day, I was in the boat with a student and he wanted to shoot, so I fished. It was a treat! One permit to hand and I was a happy camper for the rest of the week… it’s amazing what just a short stint on the rod can do to improve morale. It’s hard to be in these places and not fish, but part of the gig. And it makes those times when I can all the better.

And when the fishing is good, it means I have a lot to shoot, usually in a short space of time! My brain gets clicking and busy… and there’s something just as satisfying sharing the moment with the camera in hand. I know those moments will be documented for some time to come — and that’s what makes it all work.


Awesome Jess. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Hope to share the water with you in the future (always good to share a boat with a photographer… way more bow time!). 

Jan 12

Bonefish song from Nonouti

Yeah… Nonouti… I had to look it up. Nanouti is part of Kiribati and a part of the Gilbert Islands.

A little about the fishing…

That doesn’t look totally like my kind of fishing.

This looks a bit better.

Oct 10

Kanton Island – Kiribati

I was reading an old article on Reel-Time about bonefishing and saw something about a remote island in Kiribati (Christmas Island is in Kiribati).

Note: Christmas Island is not the only bonefishing location in the South Pacific. Kanton Island, located approximately 2,2 00 miles west from Christmas is in the process of opening a full-scale bonefishing operation as soon as the operator can arrange dependable flights onto the island.

Looks like that dependable air service never quite made it there… this article was written in 1996 and today it does not appear that there is an active guide or lodge operation on Kanton Island, although I think I found the operation mentioned above… still waiting for investment.

It might not be totally ready for full on development… with just 24 people living there including children that have sever calcium deficiencies.  Things were looking pretty grim there in May when a Brit named Bond (not making that up) stopped by and found the population in a dire straight.  Might not be a totally wonderful island paradise if the supply ship gets stranded and doesn’t make it there for a few months.

The look of the island would suggest that it might have some of the same issues that Penrhyn does in terms of lack of tidal flush and high water temps, but that is only a slightly educated guess.

I see one inlet that means no real tidal flush.

Still… I’ll bet it’s pretty.

My guess is that we’ll  hear a lot more about places like this in 20 years when other favorite destinations have been degraded and depleted.  All it takes is a reliable transportation link to open these places up… and then to beat them down under a few million flip-flops.

I wonder how many other places like this there are in the South Pacific. My guess is that there are more than a couple… some with bonefish, some with former bonefish populations (if you had to survive on fish for a couple months, you might pick bonefish since they come into the shallows).

Kanton… I don’t think we’ll be hearing much from you for a while.

Oct 10

Anna Atoll in French Polynesia – Scott Mitchell

I was wondering what other little gems there might be in the South Pacific.  I’m sure there are a loot of them out there, just as I am sure that more than a few of those gems have been or are being destroyed by netting… those are the days we are living in.

I found this site with a story about Anna Atoll (my daughter’s name is Anna, so it caught my eye, although they later refer to it as Anaa).

I cast a metre ahead of the fish and did not have time to react as the bone bolted to the fly, took it and departed so fast I didn’t see the loop in the line go around the butt of the rod. It was all over in seconds with the 6 kg tippet breaking so sharply that the line recoil-ed back up the rod.

via See the whole post here – GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

Aug 10

Restoring Palmyra Atoll – NYTimes.com

Back the 4th of July I posted up a little story about bonefish on the far-far away atoll of Palmyra in the South Pacific.  The New York Times has finally caught up with my semi-journalistic prowess and put up a great little story about the atoll, complete with some links to some more conservation goodness.  Check it out.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium institutions hope to restore the lagoon system. Researchers have mapped changes in the atoll through time and are measuring water flow and the amount of silt suspended in the water to determine how these factors affect biodiversity.

via World War II Still Shapes Atoll’s Ecosystem – Scientist at Work Blog – NYTimes.com.

There's bones there.

That's US soil there.

Aug 10

Playing Tour Guide: Aitutaki

I thought I’d look around and see what I could find on the intertubes about Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, home of Butch Leone, our interview from this last week.

Here’s one of the clips I found.  It isn’t about bonefish, but it is about where they are found… a beautiful place in the middle of the South Pacific.