Traveling Angler Profile: Fly Fishing the World with Fred Davis

Fred Davis is a traveling angler who has been fishing some of the world’s most exciting fly fishing destinations for many years. A founder of Feathers and Fluoro, he especially loves to fish the salt. Davis recently sat down for an interview about his travels:

Where in the world have you fly fished?

Growing up with a fishing father meant that wherever we went on holiday, we fished. My dad had a fly rod in my hand shortly after my first steps and I was soon tagging along up the trout streams of the Drakensberg mountains in KwaZulu-Natal. By the time I finished university, I had fished all over Southern Africa: tigers in the rivers of Zimbabwe and Botswana to the rocky gullies and forest streams of Southern Cape along with most places in between. It was these forays into our home waters around South Africa, and our neighbours, that instilled in me a love of travel.

During university I took my first trip to the Seychelles, working on a charter yacht and fishing at every single spare moment. That’s were my tropical love affair started with the warm water sand flats!

I made repeat trips to Seychelles and ended up living there for a few years. A six-month backpacking trip allowed me to fish the Caribbean coast of Colombia and then south through jungles and mountains of Peru and Bolivia. From there I loosely followed the Pan American highway through Chile and Argentina trying to catch everything that swam past me all the way to Tierra del Fuego!

After the South American sojourn, I turned back to Africa, mostly with trips locally, seeking out lost trout streams and hiking into the backcountry of the extensive mountain areas that stretch across SA. Budgets were permanently stretched over the years with trips to Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda and Malawi.

Moving to the Middle East was a complete change and it took a while for me to find my feet. I still get very strange looks when casting a fly on the beaches of Qatar, the UAE and Oman – the Omani permit beaches are a 2-hour flight from where I live! Since moving to Qatar trips to Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Indonesia, Europe and Fiji have kept the travel bug at bay!

What is your favorite destination and why?

The short answer is anywhere with fish that takes at least a little planning to get to! But I struggle naming favourites, so I’ll sum up like this:

  • For pure crazy saltwater fishing, nothing has come close to the Seychelles.
  • For getting lost in a cultural experience that will leave you a better person, Central and East Africa.
  • For the ‘living in a daydream fantasy’ experience, chasing Golden Dorado in jungle streams of South America.
  • The most mind-blowing vistas must surely be found in Patagonia!
  • The best place to fish, surf and chill on isolated beaches – the ultimate all-round destination – is definitely Fiji!
  • The DIY opportunity is by far Oman. Stalking permit with the desert at your back on beaches that have no footprints.
  • And of course, South Africa. Getting home to fish the waters I learnt on is always a treat and important!

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

Oh man! Travel, while almost always directed by fishing potential, has become all about sitting down and immersing myself in the moment. Once I learnt that being open, and even vulnerable, enough to know that plans change and that the best moments happen off script, that’s when the travel bug really big. 

The birth of our blog, Feathers and Fluoro, happened while sitting on the steps of the Farquhar lodge tying new leaders for another day of being bashed around by GTs; Peter Coetzee and I didn’t realise it then, but the blog has grown into something completely larger than our original idea and has become an ongoing labour of love that has bred friendship, idea sharing and loads of fun!

A moment of introspection happened on the Dhofar coast of Oman. I watched an old Bedouin man throw a jig with hand line, further than most guys throw a spinning rod, to catch a single big queenfish. After he sat and watched me wave my fly rod and cheered when I released a big queenfish of my own. We sat and spoke, and although his English was broken (but far better than my Arabic) I saw in him a respect and love for the ocean that was contrasted by a deep sadness in how he had seen it change. Later, I ate camel stew with him and his sons in their tent, set up in a valley behind the beach that I was camping on. Humble, hospitable people, it was a striking reminder that often the simple things in life are the most important.

On a lonely low tide Fijian sand bar, an hour before I asked her the big question and in the middle of a serious backgammon game, my wife (then to be) casually pointed out a big tailing fish over my shoulder. Later, after much laughing and champagne, my new fiancé proceeded to hook (and unfortunately lose) and good GT, not 50m from where the backgammon took place! It’s a day I’ll cherish forever!

Finding thug golden dorado, after a long hike and in a tiny stream in the Northern Argentinian backcountry.

Getting to fish with my dad is always memorable. That, after all the years he spent teaching me about fish, the outdoors and growing up, I now get to take him fishing once in a while is incredibly rewarding!

But of course, no fishing trip should be without beer. Whether sharing umqombothi – sorghum beer – with the chief and elders of a remote Lesotho village, cracking a cold one after a long morning wading the flats in the desert heat, the welcoming Cava ceremony (not quite beer I know) in Fiji or stashing a few tins in a mountain stream to keep them cold; the laugher and memories that come with the end of day wind down always makes moments that blur into a lifetime of good memories and friends.

What has been the best trip so far and why?

In 2016 a friend, Allistair Wilson, and I jumped on a plane to Djibouti. We flew in on a rumour of good fish that came from a poorly translated French website and a few random pictures that were trolled off Facebook.  We had a Land Cruiser, a week and a loose plan. The first few days were very tough, fishing wise: it was an overall wild experience. The broken fly lines and rods and what is possibly the first GT on fly in that region made the trip epic enough. But there were a few moments outside the fishing that were rather surreal.  

It was that included sleeping on desolate beaches, hikes in 40degree heat, negotiating with kwat-chewing, AK-47 wielding militia and fishing under volcanoes into tropical waters that fall into the depths of the birthplace of Africa’s Rift Valley.

After a long day of disappointment, we rented a small bungalow on the beach. Just after the fire was lit, a Landie of 5 blonde beauties pulled up and unpacked into the bungalow next to us. Turned out they were UN workers at the Eritrean refugee camp up the road – it was strangely typically Africa; you never know what you will find around the next corner. They had cold beer and we had a fire!

On our last night after the sliver of a new moon had disappeared, we were treated to a phosphorescence show that was otherworldly. It was so bright that we could watch the shoals of baitfish move across the bay. Out of ice, we sipped warm whisky, got lost in the wonders of the African sky and ocean and tried solving the world’s problems.

Do you have any travel coming up?

Unfortunately, with Covid travel restrictions hanging over us, there isn’t much planned. Planned trips to England (and some chalk stream time), Oman (and more permit hunting) and home to South Africa have all been scuttled by the pandemic. But silver linings must be acknowledged and the forced time in Qatar has resulted in us discovering some incredible fisheries along the coast of this small nation.

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

A rooster from the beach in Baja. A wild brown in an English chalk stream.

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

I want to learn about the people who call a place home and the history that shaped them. That and to get to places where there are not many footprints.

What is your dream trip and why?

These days there are two dream trip scenarios.

Tough, DIY, sleep under the stars mission to get to fish water that few people have before. I’ll always be driven by exploring and overcoming the challenges of the DIY type trip. There are often far fewer fish caught but they are worth so much more when you know you did the hard yards to get them.

Or, anywhere with fun fishing where friends/family can chill and enjoy the outdoors. Priorities have shifted over time and with a family that’s soon to grow, I love the idea of introducing my kid to the outdoors and fishing in places that the whole family can enjoy it and be comfortable. (But as they get older, the missions will get tougher and hopefully they’re fall in love with a mission as much as I have!)

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

A few weeks ago, a mate, Luke, and I, jumped on his boat ‘Machete’ in hope of some afternoon Queenfish action. What resulted was absolute mayhem with more bent rods and double ups than a carp derby in an overstocked pond. The only song I can think of is The Hives, ‘Tick Tick Boom’!

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

Good glass and good boots… If you can’t see it, you can’t stalk it. And if you can’t stalk it, you can’t catch it! 

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

Where do I start? The environment faces so many challenges; from poorly planned government policy to the people who blindly or, worse, happily exploit the environment for their own, short term, gain.

While spending time in the backend of developing countries has given me some of the most incredible moments, it has also taught me that nothing is forever, and everything is exploitable at the right price.

As far as fisheries go, the increasing use of gillnets in inland and inshore fisheries is scary. Even worse is the lack or unwillingness of people – especially relevant authorities – to acknowledge the damage that is being done by these poor and unsustainable fishing practices.

And single use plastics! I loathe them. I remember walking the windward edge of the main island in the Farquhar atoll – a place that sees not much more than a 100 people a year – and being absolutely gutted by the amount of plastic waste that the ocean seemed to have vomited onto the island. We made light of it at time by putting up $100 for the person who could find matching flip flops; it was almost won. It has been my experience that the most isolated beaches in the world give a true reflection of what we’re doing to the ocean. Discarded nets and plastic of all shapes and sizes litter these beaches. And with no one around to pick them up and hide the reality, it is clear how much we are messing this up!