Embracing adventure in unspoilt wilderness is nothing new to diehard anglers, but now you can do so in the lap of luxury says Bryce Hubner
In terms of fly fishing, there is an imperfect but solid rule of thumb: the more remote your location, the better the fishing. And for those in search of a more luxurious experience, fly fishing opportunities are now manifesting themselves in increasingly remote and romantic locations. It usually requires some effort to get to a place where the fish are biting, but help is at hand thanks to family-owned Orvis, the world's preeminent fly fishing company. Founded in 1856 by Charles F Orvis, the Vermonst-based business was purchased by a group of investors, headed by Dudley C Corkran, following the Great Depression of the 1930s. Leigh H Perkins became the company's third owner in 1965 and his son, Perk Perkins, was named president and CEO in 1992.
Orvis gives fly fishing retreats an "Orvis Endorsed" stamp of approval – an industry badge of honour and a great indicator of whether you're headed to a place that's a cut above the rest. The company endorses everything from exotic locations on the saltwater flats of Mexico to the world's best rainbow trout fishing on the South Island of New Zealand. "We go and inspect lodges around the world," says Dave Parker, MD of Orvis Travel. "They must meet certain resource criteria – for fly fishing and whatever else they're offering. They must also meet a variety of criteria for conservation, supporting local conservation efforts in a sustainable model. Of course, the management, food and lodging must also be of a standard that is very high-quality."
The quintessential fly fishing holiday
If this is what you are after, you should look no further than Firehole Ranch in Montana, an iconic testament to the American west's fly fishing tradition. Located very near the borders of Yellowstone National Park, the 640 acre ranch was built in 1947 with the express purpose of hosting anglers – it's situated within casting distance of the most highly esteemed trout waters in the Rocky Mountains: the Gallatin, Madison, Henry's Fork and Yellowstone rivers, respectively. An abundance of gold medal streams and your proximity to the geysers and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park lend an almost ethereal quality to the Firehole Ranch experience. Robert Redford must have known this; he shot most of the fly fishing scenes in A River Runs Through It on the Gallatin River.
"There's an old saying among fisherman that I always come back to," says Rowan Nyman, Firehole's head fly fishing guide. "'When you step into a trout river, it's always a pretty place.' I definitely think that's true; I don't know of any world class trout water that isn't absolutely beautiful." Nyman adds that fishing a place, rather than merely surveying it, inspires a profound appreciation for the natural world. "As a fisherman you get to experience these settings rather than simply observe them. An angler in West Yellowstone might be casting to a rising cutthroat trout while buffalo and elk are grazing right behind him. That's a dynamic that [folks] who are just passing through don't get."
A motorboat shuttles you across Hebgen Lake, which rests in front of the ranch, to meet your guides each morning. From there you drive to whatever river is on the day's menu, where either a drift boat or your own two legs will help you navigate the distance between fishing holes.
The tranquility of the ranch is serenely augmented by its rustic-but-refined quarters. The main lodge features a comfortable library and boasts bold views of Gallatin National Forrest and the Henry's Lake Mountains – it is, indeed, a quintessential "ranch" of the American west. In addition, the property features 10 similarly appointed cabins with wi-fi internet access.
You will also eat very well. French chef Bruno Georgeton and his wife, Kris, have been creating the ranch's cuisine for more than 20 years, infusing Montana's cowboy culture with more than a bit of gourmet class. Dinner might start with duck ravioli in cream of pesto sauce, graduate to a charbroiled buffalo ribeye chop that's topped with chipotle rosemary butter, and finish with lemon sorbet and fine dessert wine. Not bad for being stuck in the woods.
"The Firehole Ranch is the grand dame of them all," says manager Chris McCoy. "I can't really put into words how beautiful this corner of the world is. To understand it, you just have to be here and watch the day rise and end."
Helicopter fly fishing
At Minette Bay Lodge in British Columbia, Canada, anglers can get a completely different perspective. Guests are afforded access to a fleet of helicopters, replete with fishing guides and pilots who are yours to command. "Most of our fishing is helicopter fly fishing," says Howard Mills, Minette's owner and operator. "If anglers don't like the weather on one river, they're a short flight away from another. You may use the helicopters for whatever you like. We had an elderly party from the Royal Household here, and they flew from riverbank to riverbank."
The lodge's helicopters give you access to thousands of square kilometers of remote wilderness and waterways, and that means you're casting to steelhead trout, cutthroat trout and all five species of Pacific salmon – perhaps even in the same day, if you're lucky. "Of course, the season directly determines what you're fishing for," says Mills. "Our guides always know what's working and what's not. But you can usually pursue several species during one visit."
After wrestling fish and mountain-hopping, you'll return to the charming and well-appointed Minette Bay Lodge. Constructed in Victorian fashion, it's made still more decorous by the impeccable service and gourmet food that Mills and his staff provide. "At the end of the day," says Mills, "our guests will freshen up, have a few drinks and maybe play a game of croquet while the chef prepares dinner. We have a good wine list, lots of brandies. It's really quite genteel."
Five-star luxury and 21st century exploration
If helicopters on their own are not enough, then climbing aboard the MN Atmosphere and setting sail for the coast of Chile may be the better option. The Atmosphere is operated by luxury adventure and ecotourism company Nomads of the Seas, and there's nothing on the planet quite like it.
"What we do is a combination of five-star luxury at night and 21st century exploration by day," says Nomads founder and owner Andres Ergas. "And the variety of what you see and do is immense, because we're changing locations every night."
The Atmosphere embodies the perfect marriage of luxury cruiser and exploration vessel, merging opulent design and spa treatments with features that include an onboard helicopter and a jet-boat. You'll sleep while your captain and crew guide you to a new destination each night, where the ensuing day meets you anchored next to whales and penguins amid austere fjords. But that's just the beginning: the true appeal of the Atmosphere comes in disembarking.
"We use the helicopter and the jet-boat to shuttle to other locations in Patagonia each day," says Ergas, "and we have about fifty other boats stashed in the wilderness that we'll use on waters throughout. You will not see other people, and because we're always scouting as we go, you may fish water that's never been touched by man – not even us."
Ergas is an engineer and former investment banker whose family once owned controlling interest in Banco de Chile, among other things. He says the Nomads concept emanated from a desire to combine his love of exploration, fly fishing and Patagonia with luxury travel. "When I worked in the financial world I spent every moment of my free time flying or fly fishing in Patagonia. Somewhere along the way, I decided that I wanted to make a network of lodges in the south of Chile. When we did a feasibility study, though, we couldn't make the scale of five separate lodges work; so we instead [designed and custom ordered] a ship that's able to cover the different parts of Patagonia all by itself."
While he talks about the cushy extravagances that set Nomads apart, Ergas also stresses that his operation is not a place for the faint of heart. "This is not passive vacationing. This is very active, theme oriented travel. There's a sort of huge contrast between roughing it and exploring during the day, and then being really pampered at night."