It’s been a busy few weeks on the road — first was Dallas for a project, then I traveled up to Martha’s Vineyard to fish in the 26th annual Catch-and-Release Tournament, and finally I made my way down to southwestern Louisiana with Visit Lake Charles. While each stop was a working stop, it was such a pleasure to put down the camera for a bit and fish with old friends in the Catch-and-Release Tournament.

We had an A-team-level group: old friends Jackie K. and Tom Z. from Orvis HQ in Vermont, Aron and Todd C., a savvy father-son team from Rhode Island, the famed Coop from Coop’s Bait & Tackle in Edgartown, Mass., and new fishy friends Ty and Paul. It’s always a true sprint weekend — between scout-fishing, actually competing in the tournament from 7PM to 2AM Sat.-Sun. and fishing on our own, we averaged about three hours of sleep a night, and by the end were all a little delirious.

Happy and delirious. I’ve had the pleasure to fish this tournament once before, when I was staff at Orvis HQ, and recalled long, cold nights backcasting against a heavy wind. This year we lucked out with the tournament night — after being treated to one of the more spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life (you can’t create light like that in post-production), we had a night of calm winds, brisk but not cold temperatures, and fish. A lot of fish. In the seven hours I managed an even 30 stripers — all schoolies, but damn are they fun. Nice to fall back in love with fishing a little bit.

All in all, our team managed 164 fish in the tournament night, and an impressive 701 fish were caught in total. Our team fished in the one-fly category, banking all our hope on a single “secret” fly that, suffice to say, proved itself to be something akin to magic. (Kudos to Ty for tying up a bunch the afternoon before we hit the water!)

It was a weekend of moments: a near-full moon setting over Lobsterville Beach at 2AM, eerily huge in the nighttime sky. Bunkering down into damp sand to try and catch a few shivery minutes sleep as we waited for the tide to change. Jackie’s epic-level gin and tonic bar, open at all hours of the day. Todd’s chili that kept us all going… somehow. Going to bed every day as the sun rose and the birds began to chirp, knowing that in the few hours we’d be up and at it again. Getting giggly-tired at some point… when everything seems funny somehow and exhaustion is comfortable. And more rainbows and fire-red skies than I could put into words.

A few of my images made it into the Martha’s Vineyard Times this past week — including a very special moment where two deployed sons who usually fish the tournament Skyped in from Kansas and Kuwait to see their dad.

The ocean steals a bit more of my heart every time I visit her… from the brisk waters off Martha’s Vineyard to the murky warmth of the Gulf of Mexico (stay tuned for a report about my Louisiana visit, including fishing off rigs in the Gulf!). Combine the sea, good friends, happy fish, and a gorgeous location, and life is grand.


Matador Network: Peru’s Cloud Forest

by Fire Girl Jess on June 8, 2017

Stories from last month’s Peru trip are beginning to trickle out. Happy to see this photo essay come to life on Matador about the Cloud Forest — a very unique part of our journey into the jungle.

“Peru’s Cloud Forest, where highland clouds meet the jungle, is a day’s drive from Cusco and is one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. Wayqecha, a biological station run by the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), is the ideal home base while exploring this diverse ecosystem.

Here, the eastern slopes of the Andes meet the Amazonian lowlands. Tremendous climatic changes occur as the landscape sweeps from snow-capped mountains to the treeless plains and dry valleys of the altiplano, before a sudden descent into steep cloud forests and the broad expanse of the low-lying Amazon floodplain. This topographic complexity has resulted in an exceptional array of habitats sustaining a vast number of species.

We explored the Cloud Forest recently with Apumayo Expediciones and the team from Wayqecha. Here’s what we found.”

See the images here.


Memorial Day

by Fire Girl Jess on May 29, 2017

Take a moment today to think about Memorial Day. It’s not a “grill and party” holiday, it’s not just a four-day weekend.

It’s important to remember that without the brave sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, we would not have the freedom to do what we do — own our own businesses, build our futures, and, yes, play outside with our families.

Take a moment to think on that today. Happy Memorial Day, all.


New Adventures

by Fire Girl Jess on May 24, 2017

I’m wrapping up my time at Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures this week. The position has evolved to a full-time, desk-based job, and I’ve got enough irons in the fire that I’m not willing to relinquish my own business and the growth there.

And so it goes. My time at Yellow Dog has been educational; it’s a fantastic team and I’ve learned so much from many people in the little Bozeman office. I’ll still be somewhat involved on the photography side, but for now it’s time to turn my focus onto new projects.

New adventures, new places, new people.

I’ll be taking on a few more clients on the writing / marketing side as well as photography, so if you’re interested in working together, shoot me an email! I leave tomorrow for a three-week, three-destination line of projects, but I’ll be stateside and easy to reach. For those in the fly-fishing industry, I’ll be at IFTD this July — let’s talk!


“The Jungle Will Change You.”

by Fire Girl Jess on May 15, 2017

Relaxing mid-float. Manu, Peru.

A new friend shared those words one night last week, as we sat by headlamp in a open-walled hut 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’d become soaked in a tropical downpour as we unloaded the rafts, and everyone was slowly, oh-so-slowly, drying out.

“The jungle will change you.” I believed it then, and I believe it even now more.

Jungle living, high-class.

I’m a few days back from Peru and still trying to settle back into the “routine” (such as it is). I’ve always believed that travel changes us… I’m never the same person returning to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport as I was when I left. That’s the beauty of it, I think. Seeing new things, meeting new people… it expands our horizons.

Trekking across the Andes at 13,000 feet.

Though it is somehow inadequate to merely say this trip changed me. It did a lot of things — affirmed some large decisions I’ve been mulling over, reminded me of the power of solid people, and humbled me in a way few environments have done before. The general consensus among our group was that the jungle is constantly trying to eat you in some form or another… be it parasites, bugs, or larger creatures. It’s an unforgiving environment, and one that you have to come prepared for. Luckily we had a veritable “A-team” on this trip (thanks to the wisdom of Pepe at Apumayo Expediciones) of river-savvy Peruvians and a few foreigners.

It’s rare that I laugh my way though much a trip, especially in what sometimes was rough conditions. But with this crew I more often than not found myself grinning and giggling… good people make all the difference. The team completed SUP first descents on several rivers, and the trip was a resounding success. But more than that, we had fun. So much fun. I feel like I have a new set of Peruvian big brothers and uncles.

I spent a day on each end of the expedition in Cusco, tucked into the Casa Andina Hotel right off the Plaza de Armas — the cultural and historical hub of the city and, in reality, the ancient Incan empire. The hotel was a supremely cozy place to pre- and post-trip rest, and it felt supremely satisfying to wash off more than a week’s worth of DEET at the end of the trip.

Alvaro on Wayqecha’s canopy bridge.

Once on the road, we spent several nights at the Amazon Conservation Association’s Wayqecha and Villa Carmen Biological Stations, learning more about the various layers of the Andean Cloud Forest and Andean foothills. Both stations were well-outfitted and provided comfortable surroundings for the team to get out bearings and study up before descending further into the jungle. (Peruvian food is stunningly good, and fuels one for plenty of hiking, paddling… whatever may be in store!) Wayqecha’s (the name means “brother” in Quechua) canopy walkway, accessible with a short, half-hour hike into the woods, provided a stunning, swaying view of the surrounding mountains, including the very headwaters of the river we’d later be floating.

I’m constantly astounded at the connection water has to more water… it all flows together eventually, I like to think.

We then dropped into the jungle, meeting muddy waters (1-2″ of visibility!) and hot temperatures. The team performed beautifully, meeting the calmer, darker waters with laughter and plenty of bug spray. We camped several nights in the jungle, and were treated to superb camp cooking from various members of the team. Offer good food in great company, and it doesn’t matter where you sleep.

I’m just beginning to parse out the stories and images from this trip to publications — stay tuned for details on where you can read more about this exceptional expedition. Already I’m itchy to return to Peru and explore more of the vast jungles with newfound friends… hoping to get back soon.

In the meantime, June is shaping up to be one massive run of travel — I think I’ll be in Bozeman a total of six days or something of the like — so there will be plenty of stories coming your way soon.

Huge thanks to the following for making this trip possible:
Apumayo Expediciones
Casa Andina Hotels
Amazon Conservation Association

Jungle transport 101. Pepe Negro doing it right.

When you find a natural hot springs in the middle of the jungle… you relax.

Walking in the footsteps of giants in Cusco.


Peru Day 1: Exploring Cusco

by Fire Girl Jess on May 1, 2017

Made it into Cusco early this morning after a day’s worth of flying from Bozeman to Salt Lake, Salt Lake to Atlanta, Atlanta to Lima. Then catnapped for five hours in Lima before the plane to Cusco. The downside of living in Bozeman — it takes a journey to get anywhere.

The altitude hit me as soon as I stepped off the plane; my respiration a little faster, my head a little light. I’ve been taking my time exploring Cusco today, walking and just letting my body adjust. A couple hours of sleep midday helped, too, and now I’m packed and ready to head inland tomorrow. The plan is to explore the “Cloud Forest” tomorrow — hopping up to an altitude over 13,000 feet — before then descending rapidly and floating tributaries of the Amazon as we make our way into the rainforest.

Supposedly there are some class IV rapids between us and our end point, so that should be interesting.

Cusco has been fantastic. The culture, the hugeness of the scenery, the history. Very humbling to walk around, look at the hills, and think of those who have looked at those same hills over the years. There’s so much color in this city, and I’m looking forward to bivying back here once the work is done and I take a deep breath and truly enjoy it.

I won’t be in contact much until we’re back in Cusco on the 10th… stay tuned for updates then!


The Inertia: Exploring Samoa

by Fire Girl Jess on April 28, 2017

Really happy to see my first piece with The Inertia run today! The Inertia sells itself as the “definitive voice of surf, mountain and outdoors” (it lives up to the claim) and  I’ve enjoyed reading the site for years. A photo essay from last March’s trip to Samoa just ran on the site today, and I look forward to working with the Inertia editorial team more in the future!