So You Want to Be a Fishing Photographer or Writer…

by Fire Girl Jess on August 14, 2017

Packing up after the job is done. French Polynesia, on assignment for Costa Sunglasses.

I get at least two emails or social media messages a week. “Hey, what you’re doing looks like a lot of fun. I’m A) about to graduate or B) looking to leave my corporate job and want to travel the world to shoot photographs of people fishing. How can I get your job?”

It’s always flattering to have the public view one as an expert in, well… anything. And I’m more than happy to share the path that lead to me to where I am now. It’s an ever-evolving proposition, and I’m sure as hell learning something new every day.

Every conversation, be it a phone call, in-person, or via email, however, beings with this simple warning: it’s not as glamorous as it looks. In between the monster fish, beautiful locations and far-flung locales, there’s plenty of sleeping on grimy airport floors, getting tested for tropical diseases and eating whatever food might be on hand (readily identifiable or not. When in Rome, and all that.).

On island time, even with an infected foot. French Polynesia.

There are also the 3AM work sessions, glazed eyes from photo editing days and exhausted writing stints where I stare vacantly at a blank sheet of paper until I just decide to start writing gibberish. Stability is a forgotten thing — I keep a “go bag” packed for last-minute trips (see some of my favorite gear here), and keeping a steady relationship is challenging to say the least. I pay rent even though I’m gone anywhere from four to six months of the year.

So, yes, while it may look glamorous and exciting — and it can be both, though glamorous isn’t often the adjective I’d use — realize there’s a cost to those good moments.

On assignment for the Wall Street Journal, Bozeman, Montana.

Still thinking about becoming an outdoor / fishing photographer or writer? Read on; here are five tips to help you on your way.

1) Most important of all: be willing to put the work in. In my early years, I worked three jobs while teaching myself how to shoot. There’s no way to gain an instant skill set in this world… to be a professional, it takes long hours in the field, plenty of research and learning on your own and a willingness to set aside other aspects of your life in order to make it work.

Put the ego aside and realize you’ve got a lot to learn. We all do.

2) Develop your own style. The end goal is for someone to be flipping through the latest fishing magazine, lay eyes on one of your images and immediately know who shot it. A distinct shooting style sets you apart from your peers — and it’s something editors and commercial clients will look for. I’ve gotten some jobs because of my style, and had clients turn me down for others for the same reason. Sometimes it’s a good fit, other times it’s not, and that’s okay.

Your own style is a personal decision; don’t just copy how someone else shoots. Experiment, see what feels right, and make it your own.

3) Learn other aspects of the industry. This is especially true if you want to become fly-fishing-specific media. You need to know what life on the other side of the lens is like. Some of the best moves I made early on in my career were working in lodges internationally and fly shops around the U.S. This helped me understand the challenges on the other side of the lens, and also helped establish credibility. Now, I can arrive at a lodge for a shoot and honestly say, “Hey, I’ve been in your shoes. We’re good.” Everyone relaxes.

Also, do yourself a favor and learn how to cast. It’s hard to look like a professional in the industry — in any matter — if you can’t fish yourself. The first day out with a new guide on location, we’ll chat about the battle plan and expectations, and then I’ll casually pick up the rod for a little bit. I’m by no means a rock star caster, but I can get it done. When a guide sees that he’s with someone who knows what they’re doing, the day mellows indescribably. Learn to fish; you don’t have to be the best in the world but at least cover your basics. You won’t be respected it you don’t put in the effort.

Moving gear to the floatplane pickup. Shooting with Bristol Bay Lodge, Alaska.

4) Take notes. So, you only want to be a photographer… forget all that writing stuff. Okay. You should still pack a notebook and pen (or a phone with note-taking capabilities). Take notes — names, places, distances, fish habitat, funny phrases, etc. Good, complete captions are key — editors will appreciate if you have the correct information, and plenty of it.

5) Just shoot. So, you’re not flying halfway around the world to cover an exotic fishery. Grab a friend and head to your neighborhood river. Play with light, play with fish, play with moving your feet and capturing different angles. Just play. Shoot subjects other than just fishing. You’ll be amazed at some of the images that you come away with.

Make friends with your gear… you’re going to be spending a lot of time together.

Perhaps the biggest rule of all is to do what feels creatively right. I don’t know how many times I’ve been out shooting and see something spectacular through the lens, then just feel a goofy smile cross my lips. You’ll know when it feels right. And sometimes those shots take a lot of effort — technical set-up, lighting, hiking in long distances, wading deeper than your comfort level, ignoring that pesky little blacktip shark that keeps cruising by, etc. — while other times, it seems as easy as pie.

Pick up your camera, get on your feet and shoot. Learn how to use your camera — get it the hell off auto. Network within the industry. Don’t be afraid to work… it’ll take you far. And, at the end of the day if you decide being a professional is just too much, don’t let it dampen your creativity or your love of fishing. Everyone comes at this lifestyle differently, and that’s the beauty of it.


Hit List: My Favorite Summer Outdoor Gear

by Fire Girl Jess on August 6, 2017

Foxy the trout dog keeping watch during a summer backcountry trip.

Somehow we’re into August — just where did summer go, exactly? — and I’ve been making the most of a few weeks back in Montana. Spring and early summer was mostly spent on the road, and finally I find myself back in Big Sky country for a little while, waking to smoke-scented skies and that late summer haze.

One benefit of being home for a stint is there’s nothing keeping me from getting up with the sun, getting gym and work done early, and heading up into the mountains for a bit of recreation. While the hills around Bozeman are lousy with tourists and yuppies, there are still some places where it’s possible to escape the crowds. I’ve been loading up the stand-up paddleboard for a bit of evening fishing, logging mileage on evening hikes and exploring a few backcountry creeks brimming with healthy populations of cutthroat trout.

Along the way, I find I keep reaching for the same gear over and over again. It’s the same when I’m traveling — I find basics that I can trust, and use them repeatedly until they run out or literally begin to disintegrate (it’s been known to happen). This is a non-photo gear list… this is for all the general outdoor folks looking for gear that “gets it done.”

Here are a few things I’ve been reaching for again and again this summer:

  • BOTE Breeze Stand-up Paddleboard. Water makes me happy, and any excuse to spend more time on (or in) it is a worthy endeavor. This inflatable SUP has been strapped to the roof of my Subaru at least three days a week, and is proving to be a fun, stable platform for either recreational touring or fishing. Last week I managed a breezy downwind run on a local lake, aiming the board to run with the wind and fishing as the wind pushed me. Effective and fun… though the paddle back up-wind was a workout. (It also proved to be a stable carrier for a YETI Tundra stocked with beer while floating with a group of visiting guides from Alphonse last week.)
    This has been my year of the SUP, apparently, with a Peruvian Amazon SUP expedition this May and then a SUP bass fishing multi-day in June with Mia Sheppard from Oregon’s Little Creek Outfitters. I’m excited to see what further adventures we undertake… the board folds up to fit inside a backpack, so I foresee many flights to tropical locales in the future!
  • SealLine’s Blocker Dry Sacks (in the photo above) have made life on the SUP easy… I just throw what I need in the bag, clip it to the SUP, and go. The 15-liter size is perfect for sunscreen, my wallet and keys, and a snack, and the white color doesn’t heat up like a dark-shaded sack would. I have total faith in SealLine’s welded-seam construction (read: no worries when I catch an edge on the SUP and flood my board), and it folds up small enough to fit in my pocket, making it a no-brainer for travel.
  • Zinka Clear Zinc Oxide Face Stick: Blame the fact I’m turning 30 this winter, but I’ve finally realized that red-level sunburns are not the healthiest thing around, and I’d better act like an adult and up my sunscreen game. After a long search of looking for a zinc-heavy product, this 50 SPF Zinka formula goes on fairly clear and gets the job done. As a bonus, the twist-up applicator means I can put it on without worrying about sunscreen gunk getting on my hands and then the cameras!

  • Alpine Start instant coffee. When a couple boxes of these instant coffee sticks showed up in my mailbox, I was intrigued. For years I’ve been lugging around the Starbucks Via instant coffee sticks; they’re a great way to ensure I’ve got access to daily caffeine (important when I’m working) and easy to share with fellow travelers. (A guide in Alaska several years ago put me onto the trick that you can just shoot down the powder… not ideal but gets the job done for long days on the water!)


  • YETI Rambler Tumbler in seafoam (’cause color, you know). Speaking of coffee; the YETI Rambler is my morning go-to coffee mug. It’s then washed and left to dry by the sink, only to be picked up hours later for it for a lunch or dinner smoothie. Easy to clean, insulating (no more wrapping dish towels around my smoothie cups!) and pretty darn cute, it gets daily use when I’m home in Montana and usually ends up traveling with me on the road as well.
    The Magslider lid means I can dash out the door with a full mug and not worry about losing the majority of my daily caffeine intake to the interior of my Subaru. Bonus: it doesn’t get too funky if I forget to wash it and it spends an afternoon in the car… or a week, as evidenced when I downed coffee on the way to a recent flight and then left the cup in the car. Alpine Start’s Original Blend is a comfortable medium roast that’s not overly acidic, and is quite good even just black —  critical for travel! The little packets can easily fit into a packet or camera bag, ensuring easy caffeine consumption regardless of the circumstances.

  • Summertime means I want as little get as possible to lug around (it’s hot out) and versatility is key. The Loon Rogue Quickdraw Forceps have become part of my summer arsenal; the cushy grip doesn’t slide around if my hands are wet or sweaty, and the scissor / flat geometric jaw hemos get the job done when changing flies, releasing fish that have taken the fly deep, or even fixing that runaway strap on my camera pack. And the carabiner finger loop means I can clip them anywhere – pant loop, camera bag, sling pack…
  • Keeping on the theme of simplicity, the Helly Hansen Sensei Singlet has become my new favorite gym / SUP tank top. The easy fit and breathable fabric let me focus on the job at hand, whether that’s sneaking a cast to that lurking cutthroat or logging miles on the trail. (It packs to practically nothing, too.)

Photo courtesy Patagonia.

  • Those who know me, know that I practically live in an ancient teal-colored Patagonia Nano Puff. That jacket’s been around the world in the past five years, and has the wear-and-tear to show for it. Duct tape patches periodically take up residence on the threadbare elbows, and it’s got more than one rip from fly barbs and general travel. Suffice to say, I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of the jacket.
    That’s why I was so stoked to have a new Tough Puff Hoody from Patagonia arrive a few weeks ago. An angler’s upgrade to the original Nano Puff series, the Tough Puff fits just a bit better than my old Nano (longer   in the sleeves and the waist, which means it’ll stay put under waders) and features a two large chest pockets that will soon be filled with small fly boxes, lens caps, and other random items of the trade. Bonus? Stretchy fabric. That makes me happy… no doubt this jacket will log some serious miles in the seasons to come. (Is there such a thing as a jacket passport?)
  • Little known fact: a long time ago, I sold hiking and hunting footwear in an outdoor store. Shoes are always something I’m keen on, and I’ve been eyeballing the Olukai ‘Ohana flips for years; this spring I finally broke down and bought a pair. There’s a reason you see people who own Olukai own more than one pair… the sandals are functional (non-marking and uber-grippy) and the sole is like an orthotic. Comfy and functional for the win… these are my go-to. This past week they went from meetings in Los Angeles to the river in less than twenty-four hours, rocking both circumstances in the plane rides in between with admirable comfort.


*** Full disclosure, some of these items have been sent my way, others I’ve paid hard-earned money for. At the end of the day, they’re all products I’d buy again and recommend to friends!


Big thanks to the gang at Outdoor Hub for including me on their list of 7 Badass Outdoor Women to Follow on Instagram! Here’s what they had to say about my work:

Jess McGlothlin
It’s about the journey, not the destination. Jess McGlothlin captures the essence of this philosophy through her travel photography. She stays so focused on capturing these images that you’ll rarely see her step out from behind the lens. Many popular outdoor figures tend to focus on that glory shot, holding the trophy fish above the water’s surface, or basking in the full realm of emotions after a successful hunt. However, very few of them capture the little moments that build up to that pinnacle of the outing —a YETI cooler and a case of rods on their way to checked baggage; the rainbow of colored thread carefully displayed at the local fly shop; a pelican perched on a pylon; and the moment of anticipation when a hook is being baited, or a fly is being tied to the line.

Jess has taken text and photography both to task, with a large collection of contributions for print publications, calendars, websites, advertisements and travel guides. McGlothlin is as much a journalist as an angler, creating a visual with words and images like a modern-day lady Hemingway. Her website serves as a platform for her writing, imagery and media contributions. Check it out!”

As someone who are up reading The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls, being likened to a “modern-day lady Hemingway” is heady praise. Thanks for the mention, Outdoor Hub!


Avoiding the Big Rivers: Summertime

by Fire Girl Jess on July 25, 2017

I’m usually not one for crowds. Give me a good group of small people and I’m happy; a big group of obnoxious people and I’m out of there. So summertime in southwest Montana presents significant challenges: if I want to go hit my favorite coffee shop downtown, I go at 7AM while the tourists are still sleeping it off. Hiking any of the trails near town involves a heavy amount of eye-rolling, and I’ll never cease to be amazed at the bad pickup lines in bars from guys just looking to “have a fun vacation.”

It also translates to the rivers. The Gallatin, Madison, Yellowstone and many other larger rivers in the area become a veritable bumper-car scenario of recreational floaters and anglers. Rather than battle the crowds, it’s nice to hoof it up into the mountains, jump off the trail and get into the creeks. I had the chance yesterday to go play with my awesome sister-in-law Kaitlyn on a nearby creek. It was small but oh-so-cold water, and we both emerged with scrapes on our legs from bushwhacking, plenty of fish to hand and happy grins on our faces. There’s something soul-happy about casting three-weight fiberglass rods to small eager trout in icy cold water.

(These are all shot on my aged-but-still-kicking iPhone 5; the “good” images go into the database.)



Really happy to see this piece come to life on major travel lifestyle AFAR. May’s expedition with Apumayo Expediciones was one of the best water-based adventures I’ve had to date — thanks to the Peruvian team who made it happen!

Here’s an excerpt; read the full piece on

“The air is hot and heavy in the Peruvian Amazon, and when I take a deep breath it tastes of plants, decay, and sweat. Hot sub-tropical sun falls on my back as I trail my toes through the chocolate-brown water. Sweat drips down my face, and an ambitious sand fly lands on my neck, defying the layers of DEET I’ve applied in the hours since dawn. I slap it away and watch the water ahead as we seek out the best path for the SUP boarders trailing us.

I’m in the middle of the Amazon, floating down one of its several tributaries on this once-in-a-lifetime experience thanks to Pepe Lopez. The founder of Cuzco-based Apumayo Expediciones, Lopez is our fearless leader on this expedition. On the surface, our mission is simple: to explore rivers near and in Peru’s Manu National Park to determine if it would be feasible to create a stand-up paddle board (SUP) adventure tourism program to showcase the area and the river.”


Chasing Smallmouth and SUPs on the John Day

by Fire Girl Jess on July 18, 2017

Fishing photography 101: learn to work at unusual desks.

It’s been a whirlwind of a month so far. I kicked off July with a trip with Mia and Marty Sheppard of Oregon’s Little Creek Outfitters, tackling a rather mellow multi-day float trip on the John Day River. Three days spent photographing gorgeous scenery, bountiful bass and laughing anglers while riding up stand-up paddleboard down the river was a good way to kick off the month! The “real” images are off to several magazine editors (these are iPhone shots in the post) — stay tuned for those stories!

(And who knew SUPs were such awesome mobile photography studios?!)

After the Oregon trip, I flew back to Bozeman for a few days before heading south to Orlando for the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show. I always love this show — it’s an awesome week of business, catching up with old friends, making new ones, and just generally a solid reminder of why we do what we do. Thanks to everyone who took the time to meet!

There are some very interesting projects underway… the rest of 2017 (and beyond) is going to be a wild ride.

The basics. Give me a fly rod, cameras and water and I’m happy.

Best place to crash after a long day on the water.


Interview in Poland’s Sztuka Łowienia

by Fire Girl Jess on July 8, 2017

Excited to see this interview come to life in the Polish fly-fishing magazine, Sztuka Łowienia. Fun to talk a bit about the work and why I work in this (sometimes… often…) crazy industry.

Thanks to Arek for reaching out with the opportunity (and for sending me these images of the magazine!)

I’ll be at IFTD / ICAST this coming week; look forward to seeing many of you there!