Rasmus Ovesen is a traveling angler who has been fishing some of the world’s most exciting fly fishing destinations for many years. A talented photographer and angler, Ovesen is the marketing manager for Flyfish Europe A/S. Ovesen recently sat down for an interview about his travels:
Where in the world have you fly fished?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled a great deal as a freelance fly fishing journalist and photographer. I’m a fairly radicalized trout nut, so I have spent a great deal of time targeting trout – and by extension salmon and char, across four continents. I have fished all over Europe, have charted numerous rivers and lakes throughout Canada and the US in addition to having made a handful of trips to Argentina, Russia and Mongolia. In recent years, I’ve strayed more and more, however. Albeit reluctantly, I’ve somehow developed a taste for the salt, and as a result I have done quite a number of trips to Belize, Venezuela, the Seychelles and other tropical destinations – for giant trevally, permit, tarpon and bonefish.
What is your favorite destination and why?
That’s a really difficult questions to answer. Being a trout addict, I would probably have to say either Mongolia, the Northwest Territories & Nunavut or Iceland. These destinations offer pristine wilderness experiences that seem to become increasingly rare as I get older. I particularly enjoy the time travel-like aspects of journeying into the outback and find it thrilling to fish places that have been fished very little – and to catch fish that have never seen a fly before.
For the sheer comfort of wading shimmering sandy flats, and the adrenaline-laden thrill of catching big apex predator fish on steroids, I would have to say Cosmoledo; perhaps the most diverse and technically demanding tropical destination, I’ve ever fished. That place is heaven on earth, and it seems to exert an ever increasingly magnetic pull on me since I’ve settled in Oslo, Norway; a place where the winters are bitterly cold, depressingly dark and painfully long…
What is the most memorable travel experience you have and why?
I think my trip to Mongolia with Mongolia River Outfitters was one of the most memorable ones. It was like a journey back in time, and I got to meet so many incredibly warm-hearted and hospitable locals, got to share in their cultural traditions and familiarize with their ancient way of life.
There was something truly fascinating about the Mongolian wilderness, the vastness and ruggedness of it – and its historical and cultural gravity. It was a humbling experience to fish an ancient river system for a fish species forgotten by time and to drift almost 200 kilometers of river without running into other people than a few nomadic herdsmen. Also, it didn’t hurt that I caught my biggest-ever taimen; a brutal 125cm fish on a 9’ 10-weight – with my brother, Anders, by my side.
What has been the best trip so far and why?
Wow, there’s another extremely difficult question to answer. They’re all good – and for different reasons. If I had to choose one, it would have to be a trip I did to Slovenia in 2011 with my good friend Klaus and our local fish-finder and all-round superhero, Jure Ramovz. It was a late summer trip where we fished a number of different rivers including the Soca, Baca, Koritnica and Idrijca in search of marble trout; a trip that took us through – and via, some of the most beautiful areas and cultural sites in Slovenia and provided unforgettable culinary impressions along the way.
I had already visited Slovenia on several other occasions, but this trip started a completely new trend. I was dehydrated and sick on the very last day of the trip and was sleeping in the car while Jure and Klaus hit one last spot that had experienced a sudden influx of turbid water from a tributary.
Suddenly I was abruptly awoken by the phone ringing. It was Jure telling me to haul my butt down to the river. Klaus had just hooked up with a big marble trout. I then scrambled to the riverbank in time to see- and congratulate Klaus on landing an immaculate 4-kilo fish. I proceeded to shoot a few pictures as Klaus released the fish and prepared to head for the car – but Jure wouldn’t have it. He insisted that I make a few casts. I did and almost immediately hooked into an even bigger marble trout. The fish turned out to push 6 kilos and it served as a great lesson. It impressed on me the importance of never giving up and to always fish hard – till the very end. And since then, I’ve caught an almost eerie amount of last-minute trophy fish – sometimes on the very last cast.
Do you have any travel coming up?
All my planned international trips last year were cancelled – except for one I made to Slovenia in early January for hucho hucho. I had quite a program lined up; with trips to Cameroun, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Siberia being the highlights.
Seeing as the Covid-19 pandemic remains an unpredictable and looming factor, I’ve mostly just planned local trips this year – for seatrout, brown trout and salmon. I do have trips tentatively booked for Greenland, Iceland and Russia, but who knows if those plans will come to fruition. I’m obviously dying to travel, like everyone else, but I stick with the travel recommendations of the Norwegian government. Time will tell what they look like when summer finally arrives.
No matter what happens, there’s comfort in knowing that there is plenty of great fishing in Norway. It’s just that the distances are so vast!
Is there a specie that you are dying to catch? What is it about that fish?
I’ve already crossed hucho hucho, hucho taimen, marble trout, softmouth trout, lenok trout, Dolly varden, bull trout and amur trout off my list – in addition to all the other, more wide-spread, trout, char and salmon species across the globe. But I still haven’t caught a sea-run taimen; a parahucho or “ito” as they’re locally known. It’s an altogether fascinating fish that inhabit some of the most remote parts of the Russian Far East, the Sakhalin Island and Hokkaido in japan.
Historically, parahucho grew to more than 100lbs, but nowadays they’re fairly rare – and one needs to venture on a relatively daunting expedition into the unknown to catch one. I have a thing about hucho, and I find the sea-run hucho particularly interesting because of their anadromous, and very perilous, life cycle. I guess, to a certain extent they remind me of the seatrout (or sea-run brown trout) I grew up fly fishing for in Denmark (only much bigger of course), and it would be a dream come true to finally catch one – perhaps especially by wade fishing in the ocean.
For the sheer aspect of revenge, I’d like to return to the Seychelles to hook up with another “fork-tailed devil” – or milkfish. Milkfish are, perhaps, the most dogged, powerful and tireless fish on the planet. And they’re spectacularly acrobatic too.
On previous trips, I’ve hooked up with a total of 11 milkfish, and have been defeated every single time. Some of them were simply too big, while others were lost after long fights due to circumstances beyond my control. The most recent one I enticed to eat – at Cosmoledo, was hooked on the flats and almost in the net when a sea turtle appeared out of nowhere, swam full-speed into the leader with fatal consequences…
When you are not on the water, what do you want the most out of a trip and why?
I’m a dreamer, and I always long for the next big adventure; the escapism of it, the renewed connectedness to nature and the perspectives that traveling allows me to regain. It provides me with incredible thrills while at the same time reminding me of my place in life, the place I call home and the people that make it so.
I love the whole process of realizing a trip: From the inception of the idea and all the involved research to the planning, preparation and execution of the trip. In the words of Hans Christian Andersen: “To travel is to live”, and I rarely feel as alive as I do, when I’m on my way to a new fishing destination full of promise and allure.
When I plan a trip, I typically do so because I have a hidden agenda. I absolutely love to fish, and I truly enjoy the escapism of it, but I rarely ever fish without my camera and notebook. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to carve out something that resembles a career for myself as a freelance fly fishing photographer and writer, and – as a result, I always have an article idea or a long-term book project in mind when I plan new trips. (The only exception is when I’m invited to fish one of those rare “secret rivers or lakes” that aren’t meant for media scrutiny).
I still haven’t gotten past wanting to catch big fish. But I’m much more balanced in that regard now compared to when I was in my 20s. And every now and then I find myself venturing into remote areas with tiny creeks that support only small but beautiful fish. Beauty, it seems, has become a goal in its own right and, in my pursuit to capture it with my camera, it has become this constant reminder to appreciate all the things in life that could, otherwise, have been taken for granted.
Gratitude, essentially, is a choice; one that puts you on a path towards happiness. So, having grown up in a working-class family with very limited means, I’ve made that choice and – having done so, I’m constantly reminded of my fortunes as a fly fisherman, father and husband.
What is your dream trip and why?
It would have to be a trip to the Sakhalin Island in search for parahucho or a trip to the Tugur River in Siberia in search for massive hucho taimen. The fighting power of a taimen might very well pale in comparison with an Atlantic Salmon or an Icelandic Iceage brown trout, and their beauty doesn’t begin to compare to that of a brook trout or dolly varden – but few fish are as mythical or as brutal. These primeval and voracious creatures live in some of the most barren, remote and geographically distinct areas on earth – and they’ve thrived there, immutably, for ages as the world around them has become increasingly unrecognizable. The fact that they are the largest living salmonid and that they can be caught on either topwater flies or streamers the length of an underarm only makes me itch more for them.
If one song were to play in a video short of your most recent fly fishing trip, what would it be?
My last, real, fly fishing expedition was a spur-of-the-moment solo mission to Northern Norway in search of seatrout. I got on a plane, flew to Tromsø, rented a car, drove for hours along hidden-away fjords flanked by craggy, snow-clad mountains and explored lots of exciting fishing spots. It was a great adventure and one of the songs that was most frequently emanating from the car speakers while I was driving to-and-from was Radiohead’s Amnesiac-single, Pyramid Song.
The harrowing, arhythmic drive of the song’s eerie piano theme, the otherworldly instrumentation layers, its dystopian lyrics, and the preternatural, lamenting vocals, somehow, seemed oddly fitting of my erratic attempt to escape the early Covid-19 lockdowns and finding myself a bewildered stranger in a majestic but inhospitable foreign place.
What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave at home?
I’ve gotten to the point where I love seeing the world through a lens. As a result, I would never leave home without my camera.
As a kid, my dad tried to teach me how to take pictures with my mind: to freeze certain sceneries, backdrops and moments in order to better store memorable experiences in life. Unfortunately, unlike my dad, I wasn’t very good at it and, to this day, I still get this panicky feeling that certain things haven’t happened (or will eventually get lost or blurred out) if I don’t have images as a means of documentation. The downside, of course, is that I now rely more on my notes and pictures than on my memory. And so, you’d have to forgive me for not being the sharpest of impromptu fish story tellers.
As you have traveled, what environmental issues have most concerned you?
Oh boy, where to start?! When I was a kid – growing up in Denmark, we’d go ice fishing every winter. Now, 30 years later, there is hardly ever any ice on any of our lakes – and people are experiencing more and more averse and unpredictable weather. On a climate level, I hear many of the same stories elsewhere in the world when I’m traveling.
Having fished plenty of tropical destinations – as well as coastal realms across Northern Europe and North America – I’ve witnessed, first-hand, the littering of our oceans with plastic waste. I’ve been chocked to visit some of the most remote atolls in the Seychelles only to find them completely littered with waste plastic brought there by oceanic currents.
In southern Europe – and particularly in the Balkan region, I’ve also seen frightening amounts of plastic in local rivers and lakes. Generally, in a lot of European rivers (and fjords), pollution and poor water quality due to agricultural and industrial waste seepage is an issue. The same goes for habitat loss due to agriculture, construction work and dam projects.
More than 2500 hydropower plants are projected to be built in the Balkan region alone, in an area that has some of the most unique, biodiverse and breathtakingly beautiful rivers in the world. Species like the marble trout, softmouth trout and hucho hucho will end up balancing on the brink of extinction if nothing is done – so I recommend anyone to go follow and support Riverwatch (https://riverwatch.eu/en), Save the Blue Heart of Europe (https://balkanrivers.net/en) and Balkan River Defence (https://balkanriverdefence.org)