In the past six months, I’ve received a volley of emails from prospective photographers and writers, asking a variety of “how do I?” questions. I’m always happy to help, and love to see people taking the leap into the professional creative world. To that end I’ve penned a few articles and blog posts about in the past. This one, “So You Want to Be a Professional Fishing Photographer or Writer?” went from a casual late-night blog post to a requested magazine article in the blink of an eye.

Thanks to the advent of the internet and the burgeoning social media realm, we’re in a world of content generation. All those articles, listicles and funny tidbits you’re reading? Someone, somewhere, wrote them. Quite possibly in their sweatpants on the couch. Or barricaded in a corner of the local coffee shop consuming one too many lattes.

Contrary to popular belief, writing isn’t always sexy. It’s not usually this moment of divine inspiration; the heated all-night writing sessions that Hollywood would have us believe are the norm. Oh, it happens, sure. I penned one of my favorite pieces in the back of a Mi-8 helicopter trundling over the Russian tundra years ago.

But the reality of most writing is remarkably unsexy. Example? I have a contract to write a series of location-feature articles for a state bureau. It’s basic content writing, and when I first started the project I’d sit down, stare at the page and think, “I really don’t want to do this.” Now, nearly at the end of the contract, I’m left wondering just when I wrote this massive quantity of articles. It just happened.

Sure, sometimes your fingers will start to tap, your mind race, and you’ve got to pen something NOW. But the rest of the time, here are a few tips and tricks that have come hard-earned over the years.

1) Just get something on paper. Write drivel. Transcribe Russian. I don’t care. Write.
I’m notorious for just starting to write random things on a paper. Ever since I was in grade school, it’s been a way to distract myself, to let my brain process and think. I literally have shelves of notebooks filled with writing that will never see the light of day. If we’re ever in a meeting and you see me writing, I’m not ignoring you. I’m processing the project. It could be a to-do list, it could be the beginning of a historical essay. The lure of filling blank paper with words is just too tempting, and my brain’s working as those characters appear.

So, when you find yourself staring at the blank page, just get something on paper. Line out your workout for later in the evening. Write three sentences about your last trip — what you saw, felt, smelled. Pen a poem. Last week I was stuck on an advertising campaign for a client; I picked up my pen and paper and transcribed the Russian alphabet and basic words. Next thing I knew, my brain had churned over the campaign and I was ready to get it on paper. Just fill the page… I don’t care if it’s garbage or not.

2) Create an outline.
This is one of my favorite content writing tricks. Especially if it’s a topic that requires research, I’ll do my homework and then organize my notes into a basic outline. From there, it’s far easier to create a coherent article. This builds off the point above… you’re just getting something on paper, and an outline makes a big project seem a little more “biteable.”

3) Move yourself.
Sometimes you need to physically move. Leve the computer, abandon the notebook, and go for a walk. If you’re in an office, go get coffee. Squeeze in a workout if you can. In my days at Orvis headquarters, I’d go throw dries as brook trout in a nearby stream. This winter, the rowing machine is my go-to for mulling over new projects. Physically moving your body puts you in a different brain space, allowing your mind to subconsciously mull over creative projects while your body is occupied with something else. Keep a note-taking device nearby… I’ve definitely been that girl in the gym madly making notes on my phone as an idea crystalizes.

4) Choose your soundtrack. Consume caffeine.
Good music helps. Coffee also helps. Not a coffee drinker? Pick your poison… tea, water, kombucha, whatever. Fuel up and get those words on paper. Stream your music so you’re not constantly having to flick through songs and interrupt your creative flow. My happy space this week? Too much black coffee, a big jug of water and the Atomic Blonde soundtrack on Spotify. Next week the music selection could be Mancini. It’s anybody’s guess.

5) Write More.
As cool as it sounds to say writing is truly divine inspiration, it’s not that sexy. Writing is a habit, and like all habits, it needs to be nurtured. Write often. Write a variety of content. Stuck on the commuter train? Pen a poem. Long flight? Give yourself a prompt and write a 2,500-word short story. Tired and just not feeling it today? Too bad. Write, dammit.Some of the hardest writing I’ve done is on international assignments. When we’re in some remote corner of the world, it’s past midnight, I only have a headlamp, my body is screaming for rest and we have a 4AM wake-up to break camp, the last thing I want to do it take detailed notes in my notebook. But when we’re exhausted our brains do funny things, and I know that by the time I get on the plane ride home and feel like I have time to write notes down, I’ll have forgotten the visceral details that make stories truly compelling.

You can look back over my notebooks from years past and you’ll see notes like “f-ing tired” “fishing sucked” “peppermint-scented air” “too many snakes” “nurse provided antibiotics; not sure what they are” and “this is f-ing awesome.” (These were all literally trip notes from the past several years.)Write what you feel, even if it’s in little phrases. Take notes on maps (I have weird maps on my office wall from all over the world, smeared with dirt and blood and who-knows-what, but they’ve earned a place on the wall). Those comments will jolt you back into the moment later, and you can expound and get the article written on the long plane ride home. And, years later, you’ll be glad you did.

One more tip? Always, always jot down the names of place and people when you’re on location. Have the locals look at your list to ensure you’re getting the spelling right. Note nicknames, funny local terms, whatever. You’ll forget by the time you wish you remembered.

Now go forth and write, be it from the couch, the local coffeehouse or the far corners of the globe.

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Lessons Learned in 2017

by Fire Girl Jess on December 29, 2017

I stood at the window today, watching the snow fall onto the bare trees lining the Gallatin River, and pondered the past year. The events of 2017 have been anything but expected — it’s been a bit of a topsy-turvy year; I’ve emerged with a few more scars and a plethora of lessons learned (or confirmed).

Thanks to everyone who made these lessons stick. Several years ago, I never would have dreamed I’d be looking back at a jungle SUP expedition in the Amazon or a curious, earthquake- and typhoon-laden exploratory fishing trip to Hokkaido. More and more I’m reminded that the adventures are balanced by the people you undertake them with, and at the end of the day it’s not the solo trips that stand out starkly in my memory, but the long, cold nights walking Martha’s Vineyard beaches with friends, bumpy jungle roads undertaken in the back of an open-bed fright truck with laughing friends and pre-dawn morning hunts with my brother.

Life’s about learning, and 2017 brought plenty of lessons (some harder than others):

  • Always pack the passport. Trips lead to more trips.

  • Pack enough bug spray – and treat your clothes with all the chemicals. It’s better than flesh-eating tropical diseases.
  • Coffee makes the world go ‘round.
  • Tokyo airport seafood Yaki Udon is legit.
  • Japan’s regional airline Air Do serves legit butter potato soup as a drink option. I’ll now be forever disappointed in Delta’s drink cart.

  • Language barriers really aren’t barriers. Smile and make it work.
  • Writing will always seem like some kind of odd magic. Filling blank paper with words is immensely satisfying.
  • Fishing is universal. Regardless of location, regardless of language.
  • Stand-up paddleboards make legit fishing photography platforms — the ability to freely move boat-to-boat is a game-changer.

  • Never leave the camera at home. I literally dream about witnessing something incredible and reaching for my camera, only to realize it’s not on my shoulder (had this same dream last night, actually).
  • Look at opportunities outside your self-defined boundaries. A new industry, a new client. Push far outside your comfort zone.
  • Value your good friends. They’re hard to find.

  • Get everything in writing. At least twice.
  • Don’t waste time with people who don’t value your work. Life’s too short for that shit.
  • The hard decisions become surprisingly easy when you just make ‘em.
  • Write goals down. In five years you’ll be doing stuff you’re only dreaming of today.
  • Put the hours in. Prioritize wisely… there are only so many hours in the day, and at some point you have to choose what’s really important.

  • Always eat the local food. Even if it’s unrecognizable.
  • Be selective in burning bridges. Sometimes things loop back in the strangest — and best — ways.
  • Always travel with a water filter… there’s some nasty stuff out there.

  • Keep a notebook and a pen handy at all times. Ideas strike at weird moments.
  • Sleep helps.
  • Don’t be an ass… nobody wins.

Thanks to everyone who made this year exciting — from awesome new clients to steadfast old ones, to folks who simply stop by at a trade show to people who take the time to email a note. None of this could happen without the roster of awesome clients, anglers, and editors who are patient enough to put up with “the girl with the camera.” You all make it worthwhile.

Here’s to 2018!

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2017: The Year of Change

by Fire Girl Jess on December 28, 2017

2017 has been a year of the unexpected. And, yes, it’s been an… interesting year. Plenty of lessons learned, and change seems to have been a constant theme.

The good?

  • Surprises around seemingly every corner
  • Working with stellar teams in unusual places — i.e the story below
  • Quiet, early dawns in both hemispheres
  • Fresh or salt, always watching water
  • Reunions with old friends, and making many new ones
  • A variety of incredible new clients who, if I told myself 10 years ago I’d be working with, I’d have called bullshit
  • Roughly five months of the year spent away from Montana on various shoots and projects
  • Many new fish species checked off the list!

The bad?

  • Surprises around seemingly every corner
  • Business partners who aren’t what they seemed. Lessons learned.
  • Housing in Bozeman (and roommate living)
  • Not enough hours in the day
  • First camera lost on a shoot… it’s now a handy paperweight

Thanks to all the clients and partners I’ve been able to work with in 2017 — you make it all worth it! No matter the jet lag or the rough sleeping conditions, it’s all an adventure when you’re with the right people. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with incredible clients and to meet fascinating people along the way, often in the strangest places. I look forward to more of it in 2018!

In the spirit of this year’s yin-yang theme, I penned this piece for the Adventure Travel Trade Association this summer after an adrenaline-filled trip to Peru documenting stand-up paddleboard first descents down several Amazon tributaries. It’s always an interesting writing exercise when I have the opportunity to get a bit more personal with a project. Here’s a teaser; read the full piece here.

“People are changed by the jungle.” The words came from the darkness next to me in the open-walled hut, tinted with the lyrical tones of a Peruvian accent. We sat by headlamp, collapsed on benches and the rough-hewn floor; listening to the myriad of insects and birds outside in the darkness. The sound of pans and low voices talking in Spanish came from the teammates cooking dinner nearby, lit by the candle suspended in the rafters.

We were all exhausted; soaking from a late-afternoon deluge as we’d stopped to unload the boats for the night, and worn from a week of travel. But it was a satisfied exhaustion, one where life is just as it should be. Things are simple — in the midst of good people in an exceptional place, it’s hard to be anything but satisfied.

“People are changed by the jungle.” I believed it then, and I believe it even now more.

I had started the journey needing something. I didn’t know what, but something. It had been monumentally frustrating few months — a client I’d moved across the country for had reneged on his promises, and I was coming to terms with the fact that my life was about to take another drastic segue. I was frustrated with people in general, disappointed in myself for not seeing the lies earlier, and dealing with an immense amount of anger that I wasn’t sure where to direct.

And so when the opportunity arose to join an expedition into the Peruvian Amazon for a series of stand-up paddleboard first descents, it sounded oddly like something I needed. I bought a ticket…

Read the rest (and see images!) here.

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Announcement: Joining the Keepemwet Ambassador Team

by Fire Girl Jess on December 22, 2017

I’m pleased to announce I’ve formally joined the Ambassador Team at Keepemwet Fishing! I’ve followed Keepemwet Fishing since its inception, and firmly believe this is an initiative the industry needs to get behind. Whether I’m teaching fishing photography workshops or shooting for commercial clients, the keepemwet principals apply — and photos of fish in situ are so much more interesting than the traditional ‘grip and grins’.

I’m thrilled to be part of the Ambassador team and support this movement.

When shooting fish, keep these tips in mind, and remember to get creative with your photography… it’ll pay off in your images!

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Fieldsports UK Feature: Japan’s Golden Char

by Fire Girl Jess on December 14, 2017

Thrilled to see this piece hit the streets, and in Fieldsports’ storied holiday “fireside” issue. I had an incredible trip venturing to Hokkaido this past October to document the emerging fly-fishing scene in this rural, cultured land. Huge thanks to everyone on the ground in Japan who helped make this possible — I look forward to venturing back to this incredible place some day, rod in hand!

Part of the beauty of travel is the way it reminds us of universal constants:

Some truths are quite simple. One I learned along ago, is that fishermen, regardless of the language they speak or if they ply their trade in fresh or saltwater, are truly the same the world around. One rainy morning, I find myself in the backseat of a Toyota, Nofuji and Takada talking quietly in Japanese in the front as we trail a military convoy through the countryside. We stop at a countryside pit toilet for a break and, after a stroll around, I look back to see both men peering over the edge of a bridge down the road, looking into the river below. I laugh, realizing it’s a familiar sight I’ve now seen on several continents. Regardless of language, regardless of location, fishermen will always look to the water.

Read the full piece on my website.

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Taste of Winter

by Fire Girl Jess on December 13, 2017

“I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape—the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it—the whole story dosen’t show.” -Andrew Wyeth

We’re getting out fair share of powder these days, and early mornings are rewarded with quiet country lanes and snow-laden trees. While I’d always prefer flip-flops and hot summer sun on my face, it’s hard not to get into the spirit of things.

And even if I don’t have the “big camera” along for a ride, my beaten old iPhone 5 will make do.

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Equestrian: An Athletic Partnership | Life Refined Magazine

by Fire Girl Jess on December 4, 2017

Really loved writing this piece (and pulling images from my own archives) on luxury lifestyle / wealth management publication Life Refined. Long ago in a galaxy far away, I used to make a living on this side of the equestrian world, and it’s still near and dear. The feeling of being atop 1,600 pounds of horse over a five-foot jump isn’t easily described, but I gave it a go:

“It’s oddly quiet as 1,600 pounds of horse flies six feet into the air, clearing the massive jump with ease. The one-two-three beat of the canter is broken by a sharp intake of breath—the only sign of the impressive effort taking place on the grassy field before me—and then the massive bay horse lands with a similar expulsion of air, ears already pricked toward the next fence further down the field. The nimble beat resumes as horse and rider make their way to the next obstacle, the coiled energy of every stride somehow reminiscent of a large, predatory cat…

[Final paragraph] Ears pricked, nostrils flaring, pace quietly competent, a large gray horse canters past in the warm-up ring, looking for all the world like he’s clocking in for a day of work. Work that he loves, work that he knows. There’s an ease to the way his alert ears flick back and forth from his rider to the surroundings, like he’s taking in the scenery while keeping the job foremost in his mind. Seasoned riders say some horses are bred to the job and do, indeed, love to work, claiming that the mounts get bored without the challenge of work. Taking in the ring before me, filled with several top-level horses from around the world, I can’t help but agree.”

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