Profile: Fly Fishing Photography with Jess McGlothlin

Jess McGlothlin is a photographer who has traveled to a wide range of destinations to photograph fly fishing (and fish some along the way). She recently sat down for an interview with The Venturing Angler:

Where in the world have you fly fished?

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to six continents and fish on five of them. Often I’m on camera duty—it’s all work travel—but bring rods along and typically get a few casts in on the side! Each location teaches me something: French Polynesia, Samoa, Cuba, the Peruvian Amazon, Belize, Japan, Kenya, Sweden, Russia… they’re all so different and filled with awesome people who chase fish.

Even at home, fishing throughout North America, I’m astounded by the variety of fishing and the passion of anglers. I can be chasing stripers off Martha’s Vineyard one week and then back home in Montana stalking carp the next, which is lovely.

What is your favorite destination and why?

Hard question! My favorite is usually whatever is next on the books. That said, I had a fantastic shoot in Swedish Lapland last summer, chasing pike, trout and grayling—something special about fishing through the night under the Arctic light. Really good people, in a remote, gorgeous setting.

The South Pacific will always be near and dear to my heart, and I’ll readily go down there any chance I get.

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

In 2017 I was part of an expedition making the first stand-up paddleboard decent though Amazon River tributaries in Peru’s Madre de Dios Region. We had an awesome team—mostly Peruvian professional whitewater athletes—and it was my first time in the Amazon. Spending days on the water, sleeping out in the jungle and even the logistics of getting where we needed to go on the river (and then back out again) was a staggering experience.

Good people make any trip memorable, but I’ve found it’s the ones that really challenge you both physically and mentally that are memorable. Type 2 fun.

And, of course, I brought along rods. There was fishing. And it was grand.

What has been the best trip so far and why?

In 2015 I traveled with Costa Sunglasses and the IndiFly Foundation on the first trip to Anaa Atoll in French Polynesia. It was an exploratory trip, but everything came together—good crew, gorgeous place and stellar fishing—and it’s been exciting to see what’s happened now at Anaa (such as Costa’s Kio Kio film released this year).

I ended up with decent coral cuts on my feet (through my wading boots) and paid a lovely visit to the island’s tiny medical ward, which was an experience. Eventually my feet swelled so badly I couldn’t fit into my flip-flops for the travel home, so was that person walking through LAX barefoot, holding my shoes. It made for a memorable finish and I was on such a mental high after the shoot I just really didn’t care.

Do you have any travel coming up?

Always, thankfully! Shooting and fishing a lot in the West this year; I’ve been gone so much the past few summers that I need to be home for a while to shoot content during the season here. But getting a few fun projects in, including a trip out to Martha’s Vineyard for the catch-and-release tournament in June. Then it’s back to Montana for shoots, travel for trade shows and just general business, and some backcountry work.

Eyeballing a couple interesting bigger trips for Q4 2019 and into 2020, but can’t say too much about them at the moment. Good things on the horizon.

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

I’d love to get into a parrotfish. They’re just funky-looking and I would love to get one to hand for images. The weird species are always the most fun.

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

I’m always looking for compelling cultural stories when I travel. So much of a trip does happen off the water… time spent at camp, exploring the local culture and even the act of travel itself. My goal as a creative is to capture all those little moments that shape the experience… the fish “glory shots” are part of the job, but honestly one of the least-interesting things to shoot.

I’m starting to take on a few trips that don’t have a fishing component, and it’s been enlightening. Did a project last May on the Syria / Jordan border, which was a significant change of pace. While the core of my work will always be in the fly-fishing industry, I’m definitely pushing beyond that… there are so many important stories to be told in the world.

What is your dream trip and why?

I’m super keen to get back to the Middle East or Africa and explore fisheries there. Dream trip? Team up with a solid group and do some exploratory work in a unique fishery in those locations. Forget the fancy hotels… the good stuff happens where the maps end.

You’ve been around for some time. What keeps the spark going when it comes to fly fishing travel? What excites you about your work?

This year marks a decade of this work for me. No day is ever the same, which keeps things fresh—hugely important for any career! I think what really keeps me going is the fact there is still so much to learn. Whether fishing or photography, I’m never going to learn it all and I’m really enjoying gathering new skillsets as I go along. There are so many regional nuances to this sport we love… I used a fishing tactic I learned in Hokkaido, Japan, while night-fishing here in Montana a few days ago, and it worked. It’s fun to see the cross-cultural learnings like that.

So much to learn from different people in different places, and that’s both incredibly exciting and encouraging.

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

Beyond the camera gear? My first-aid kit. I’ve cobbled together a decent kit over the years (it lives in a beaten old dry sack, and always goes in my travel bags) and have yet to have a trip where I don’t use something from it—for myself, fellow travelers or even camera gear (medical tape works wonders when cameras fall apart in the field). Can’t get the job done unless the body is functioning!

To learn more about Jess McGlothlin, please click here.