Traveling Angler Profile: Fly Fishing the World with Bessie Hudgens

Bessie Hudgens fly fishing golden dorado

Bessie Hudgens of Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures is a well-traveled angler who has fished some of the world’s most exciting destinations. She is the program director for New Zealand and assistant director for South America for Yellow Dog and is thus an expert on some of the most exotic fly fishing spots in the world. Hudgens recently took on an interview for The Venturing Angler:

Where in the world have you fly fished?

A fly rod has taken me to some pretty extraordinary destinations in my life, including Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Africa, Cuba, the Bahamas, the Cook Islands, New Zealand and, of course, all over the US. Phew, that’s a lot of packets of airline peanuts!

What is your favorite destination and why?

I hate to be too predictable, but it would have to be New Zealand. Not just because of the enormous brown trout, the friendly people and the magnificent scenery, but also because it is the place I called home for nearly three years and it changed my life irreversibly for the better. Every trip I take back to New Zealand makes me yearn to be back there again, discovering new corners of the country’s beguiling backcountry and lapping up all the charms of the “Kiwi” culture that I miss so much. But of course, the fishing will always be there and it is second-to-none if you fancy shovel-headed brownies coming up for dries in gin-clear water amongst the most jaw-dropping landscapes that Mother Nature has ever created. And who doesn’t like that? New Zealand is truly a trout angler’s nirvana.

As a side note, my time in New Zealand came to an end when, wrought with worry and fear of being rejected, I left my job and made plans to finally come home (after duck season, of course). Ironically, I was approved for a two year visa after I had eliminated myself from the workforce, but more exciting plans had already been set into motion by that time. While this was all happening, I contacted Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures to see if they would be interested in having me develop their New Zealand program. Lo and behold, it all came together and now I set up fully customized trips to New Zealand and work with eight different lodges as well as dozens of resorts, transportation companies and a range of tourism providers to help clients leave their worries back at home and enjoy their New Zealand holiday the way it ought to be enjoyed! You can see our various lodges by clicking here.

Bessie Hudgens fly fishing

What is the most memorable travel experience you have and why?

Maybe watching one of the Tsimane Indians in Bolivia shoot a fish with his bow. Out of a dugout canoe. A moving dugout canoe. Clearly, I remain captivated by that whole experience. However, another travel experience that has always stuck with me was my spontaneous trip to the Cook Islands in 2014. I was living in New Zealand at the time and my younger brother was over visiting me. We decided to go to the Cook Islands to try our hand at saltwater fly fishing following four days of hard partying for the Rugby Sevens tournament in Wellington (google this to get an idea). This quickly evolved into the most fun fishing trip of my life! To begin, we each landed a couple of double-digit bonefish during the trip as well as a pair of XXL GTs—two lucky achievements that spawned our shared love for saltwater fishing for life.  My brother and I have always been close, but it was quite the comedy to be staying at a resort that continually believed that we were honeymooning (same last name… I guess I can’t blame them).  So while the towel swans and flower petals got a bit old after a while, the coconut ceviche did not. This local delicacy, combining my two very favorite foods, served alongside lots of cold beers and beachy cocktails in one of the most beautiful tropical settings I’ve ever experienced, kept us both on Cloud 9 for days! And now, all this time later, I actively send lots of anglers to the island of Aitutaki to chase these jumbo bonefish and enjoy all that this South Pacific gem has to offer.

Bessie Hudgens bonefish fly fishing

What has been the best trip so far and why?

It is really hard to put my finger on just one trip, because they all have their special memories associated with them. But for this interview and every other one I have ever done the answer always remains the same: Bolivia. I’ve been enamored by Amazonia since I was young, so to finally be immersed in that primordial environment was truly incredible–breathing the heavy, humid air, hearing the thousands of insects sing from within the jungle and observing the magnificent flora and fauna that I only knew from pictures. But aside from the butterflies and the macaws and the lush natural beauty of the place, the fishing is something unto itself—especially for those who appreciate classic freshwater angling. To fish gin-clear, free stone rivers in the heart of the rainforest for wholly exotic species that are known for their ferocity and size is really adventure that can’t be beat. Whether it’s the aggressive Golden Dorado or the permit-like Pacu or even the mighty Yatorana, there is no shortage of diversity or excitement in the fisheries of Tsimane in Bolivia. But on top of everything else, the opportunity to encounter the native people of this remote part of the world is what truly completes the experience. Their gentle and curious personalities, their fascinating culture and their total mastery of jungle life is so cool to witness and it is the one detail of that trip that really stuck with me. I really can’t say enough about these beautiful and resourceful people and I have so much respect for the simple lives that they lead. A few of the men taught me how to shoot their specialized bows one day and I brought a set home with me that is now on display in my living room (next to the set that my husband brought home from his trip, years before). He would definitely agree with me that this is the most badass trip on offer, anywhere in the world!

Bessie Hudgens trout

Do you have any travel coming up?

I have a friend’s wedding coming up in October in New Orleans, so I will try to sneak in a few cheeky days of fishing during that trip so that I can finally catch a redfish—a biggie on my bucket list!  But other than that, I’m fully focused on bird hunting season and not travelling again until March 2017 when I go to the Seychelles for my honeymoon (fishing, naturally)!

Is there a specie that you are dying to catch? What is it about that fish?

Well, I already spilled that answer in the last question, but since I have such a long list, the other big one for me is an Indo-Pacific permit. I am perpetually bewitched by visions of their gilded backs and sickle-shaped tails (that make many of us go weak in the knees). This, combined with the general mystique of permit fishing and the unique destinations that these ones inhabit make this specie so intriguing to me. I’ll never forget how I felt when I caught my first Caribbean permit and I think the only way to surpass that high would be to catch its Indian Ocean cousin. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

Bessie Hudgens permit fly fishing

 When you are not on the water, what do you want the most out of a trip and why?

I always want perfect weather! Because when the weather plays along, even the most significant setbacks on your trip just feel a bit more benign when the sun is shining. I do know that is an unrealistic expectation, however, so the other thing I want most out of a trip is a good friend or family member along for the fun because these people are always the catalyst for a good time and good memories!

What is your dream trip and why?

I would really love to go to fish the Ningaloo Reef around Exmouth in Western Australia. There are so many different species that one can catch over the course of a week or two in this unique area, and yes, one of those is an indo-pacific permit! The brilliant diversity of this fishery is something special on its own, but even without the fishing, W.A. is a fascinating and remote part of the world that so few have ever experienced and I believe that is what makes it so interesting to me. I have also always wanted to visit the nearby Kimberley region to see all the gorges and waterfalls hidden throughout the vast expanses of red moonscape. I love Australia, but I have never been over to the wild West Coast which I think epitomizes the true ruggedness of that great continent.

Bessie Hudgens Yellow Dog

If one song where to play in a video short of your most recent fly fishing trip, what would it be?

As fun as it would be to say I was fishing to sailfish on the fly while “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana blasted in the background, my last international fly fishing trip was really pretty sedate and tranquil. I was alone in New Zealand, spotting and stalking individual trout in the river, so I think something like “Oronico Flow” by Enya would be more appropriate. (Note: I just looked that video up on youtube as I wrote this and I had a good belly laugh).

What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave at home?

Chapstick! But gosh dangit, that’s the thing that is most easily forgotten and most people would not classify it as “gear”. The piece of gear I treasure the most is actually my camera—you never know what kind of epic moments you might be able to capture when you’re out on the water. And I’m not talking about another grip-and-grin photo (though it is nice to have a camera on hand if and when you land the fish of a lifetime).

Bessie Hudgens tarpon fly fishing

As you have traveled, what environmental issues have most concerned you?

I hate to say it, but it’s us. This is a controversial remark from someone who is literally in the business of selling fly fishing trips. However, my intent is not to say that we as anglers are the problem and that by fishing, we are exploiting the Earth’s resources. We aren’t. Rather, I say this as a call to conscience: as anglers, we must remember that it is our responsibility to be stewards of the resources that we cherish as sportsmen (and women) rather than reckless and passive consumers of these resources. They will not be there forever if we don’t all do our part. Maybe that means bringing a stainless steel water bottle from home rather than going through six plastic ones during your day on the water. Or, maybe that means organizing a fundraiser for a conservation organization that matters to you. We must all be advocates for the whole range of issues that affect the places where we recreate, taking active steps to leave them better than how we found them. These consecrated places that we cherish as anglers cannot talk, so we must do the talking for them. And we must also do.

To check out more from Bessie Hudgens and Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures, please click here.


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