Traveling Angler Profile: Fly Fishing the World with Matt Harris

Matt Harris has traveled to 37 countries (and counting) with a fly rod and is one of the most accomplished fly anglers in the world. He is also an outstanding photographer. Matt recently sat down for an interview about his travels:

Where in the world have you fly fished?

I’ve been lucky enough to fly-fish in the following 37 countries:

Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Chilé, Colombia, Cuba, England, Fiji, France, Germany, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Ireland, Madeira, the Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, Monte Negro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Russia, Scotland, the Seychelles, Slovenia, Spain, Tahiti, Tanzania, Tobago, the USA & Alaska, Venezuela, Wales and Zambia. 

What is your favorite destination and why?

I love every type of fly-fishing environment.

Just a few of my MANY favorites include:  

Hunting permit with my dear friends and world-class guides Coki and Bemba on the crystal clear saltwater flats of Jardinas de la Reina in Cuba with Avalon;

Targeting the huge brown trout in the magical landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island with my old mate Craig Simpson.

Wrestling with the huge GTs that swarm the flats of Cosmoledo in the Western Seychelles with Keith Rose-Innes and his team of brilliant guides at the Alphonse Fishing Company.

Catching stunningly beautiful roosterfish on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula with my friend Lalo aka Alonso Irineo Aviles Leon Big Tanzanian Tigerfish in the Mneyra and Ruhudji Rivers with Keith Clover and all the brilliant mob at African Waters…

Tangling with Dorado, Peacock Bass and Arapaima in the Amazon Rainforests with pioneering jungle anglers Rod Salles, Marcelo Perez, Rafael Costa and all the brilliant team at Untamed Angling.

And many, many more besides…

I’d absolutely hate to have to choose just one. However, if I HAD to pick a favourite spot, I would have no hesitation in choosing the Yokanga River high up in the Arctic Circle, on Russia’s Kola Peninsula.

I first fished the Yokanga in 2001. Despite my absolute novice status and the brutally harsh, early-season conditions, I had an unforgettable week. Through sheer stubborn tenacity and a willingness to listen to my brilliant guide Vova, I caught 13 big Atlantic salmon averaging almost exactly 20 pounds, including three beauties each weighing over 30 pounds.

I absolutely fell in love with the river.

On that first trip, the savage beauty of those big, chrome-bright fish and the wild arctic tundra that they return to every year stole my heart. I have returned every year since then, and I have caught – and lost – some unforgettable fish. Twenty years later, the fish of the Yokanga are still simply the strongest and wildest fish I’ve ever hooked anywhere in fresh water, and battling them in the powerful maelstrom of the Yokanga is still as utterly exhilarating as it was in 2001. In 2020, I met the new owner of the fishing rights, Alexey Strulistov, a passionate salmon angler and a committed conservationist. Alexey invited me to become General Manager and to help him protect and nurture the precious stocks of the Yokanga. I was thrilled. Alexey has instigated a comprehensive anti-poaching regime and we are working together to do everything we can to allow these special fish to flourish in the years to come, and to allow as many anglers as possible to experience the special thrill of tackling these unique fish without harming the stocks.

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

I have thousands of very special memories from a lifetime in fishing. One that stands out is catching the first Super Grand Slam ever recorded at Jardinas de la Reina in Cuba in 2009 ( a permit, snook, bonefish and tarpon in one day ) with my guide and friend Bemba. Bemba was so thrilled, and still  has the IGFA certificate on his wall at home. My 37 pound salmon on Yokanga in 2019 was landed after an epic battle with my friends Ed Azanerok and Phil Trask and is a memory I will always treasure. Perhaps the singularly most memorable experience was landing a huge tarpon in the jungle at Tapam Lodge in Nicaragua in 2017. I saw the fish bust up on a mullet school and made the best cast of my life to put the fly right on its nose. The fish took instantly and cartwheeled into the first light of the dawn. It looked enormous. I can normally beat a big tarpon in around twenty minutes, but it took me 2 hours and 5 minutes to bring this incredibly deep-bodied fish to the boat. My guide Bismarck and I jumped into the river to grab it, and I’m proud to say that after a few quick pictures it swam off strongly. We clambered back into the boat and Bismarck passed me an icy beer for breakfast. It was 7.05 am. I’ll never forget it. We had no way to weigh it but it was a true leviathan and a fish I will always remember as long as I live.

What has been the best trip so far and why?

Another tough question…I could site any number of special adventures, but perhaps the most remarkable trip was to Cosmoledo in the far Western Seychelles in 2005. It was the early days then – the fish were as green and as innocent as we were…huge GTs were everywhere, and with the brilliant guidance of my old mate Keith Rose-Innes and his excellent guides Tim Babich and Paul Boyers, even our gang of hopelessly inexperienced saltwater flyfishers caught an extraordinary number of fish. On the last day, we traveled to Cosmo’s little sister atoll, Astove, and according to Keith, our guide for the day, my friend Tim Marks and I caught 52 GTs between us. That evening, waving away our protests of total exhaustion, Keith dragged Tim and I out fly-fishing for tuna, and despite the voracious tiger sharks, I managed to wrestle out most of a big yellowfin’s carcass into the little Zodiac with a seventeen weight rod. That tuna fed the entire boat with sashimi, and as we downed a million ice-cold Seybrew beers and sailed into the sunset and headed for home, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. Good times!

Do you have any travel coming up?

Hahaha – good question – Cuba in May? I have booked the best boat on the best tides for a gang of friends and have everything crossed we’ll make it.

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

I’ve been lucky enough to catch most fly rod targets, including some of the crazier species like red-tailed catfish and Bumphead Parrotfish, but I still crave hooking a Marlin on fly. I’ve come close at the amazing Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala but normally a big Pacific sailfish gets in the way, and I haven’t hooked up yet. Why Marlin? They  are just the ultimate adversary a fisherman can target, and to hook and land one on fly is something that only a few lucky ones will realize. I dream that it will happen but I won’t cry myself to sleep if it doesn’t happen…I know that I’ve been lucky and I am grateful for everything that fly-fishing has given me.

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

Unlike some, I really don’t care too much about fancy food or five star comforts…Good friends are what really makes a trip. I remember a trip to a remote camp in the jungle just before lockdown with my dear pals Rod Salles, Breno Ballesteros, Matty Roberts, Tim Marks and Bill Cowin. The fishing was ultra tough but sitting round drinking a few cold beers and a gallon or so of good rum every evening and laughing long into the night made the trip special. That’s what I think we all miss most.

What is your dream trip and why?

A week on the Yokanga in early season. Those big salmon just get my pulse racing like nothing else that swims – er, apart from Mrs H, obviously….

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

Due to the virus, my last trip seems a long time ago…it was to the Yokanga in September 2020, so I’d have to choose Baba O Riley by The Who. The first few bars always give me goose bumps. I always play the song through my noise-cancelling headphones on the tarmac in Murmansk, just as the duty free whisky makes the rounds and I hear the rotor blades of the big Mi8 helicopter start up. We are about fly out of the craggy old concrete city and head for the Yokanga. It’s the best day of the year.

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

The hip flask that Mrs H ( my wife Cath ) bought me a few years ago. It goes with me everywhere and it has an inscription on the back that makes my heart sing. I’ve read it a million times. What does it say? Hahaha – Mind your own business…

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

The decline of the Atlantic salmon.

Salmon fishing is dumb, blind fishing for a quarry that doesn’t even eat – it CAN’T eat –  once in fresh water. However, once you’ve hooked a big Atlantic salmon and seen what they can do in heavy water – once you’ve put your hands on one of these heroic creatures and imagined their epic journey across the wild waters of the North Atlantic ocean, you will INSTANTLY appreciate just how special – how miraculous – they are.

A big LIVE Atlantic salmon, sparkling and sea-liced and fresh from the sea is hands down the most beautiful fish you will ever see. They are emblematic of all that is wild and free. To see these iridescent wonders of nature so savagely traduced by the selfish, short-sighted idiots who run intelligent first world economies that can afford to the right thing –  countries like Norway, Canada and, yes, the UK –  is utterly heart-breaking. Salmon-farming, climate change, pollution and netting in both fresh and salt water are all responsible, but while we still kill fish with rod and line, we render our demands for others to stop killing these precious creatures absurd. We MUST adopt 100 per cent catch and release fishing if we want to persuade others that killing ANY Atlantic Salmon is no longer sustainable.

To check out more from Matt Harris, please click here.