Sunday, 13 November 2011

Brian O'Keefe Interview

When planning a major flyfishing and photographic adventure, it is easy to overlook something. Especially when  planning such a trip from scratch for the first time. I thought it might be wise to talk to some people who have done this before to gain some first hand knowledge of what is really involved. 

Brian O'Keefe is a well known fly angler and photographer from Powell Butte, Oregon in the USA. He has travelled the world extensively since 1973. His photographs have been published in periodicals such as: the Los Angeles Times; the New York Times; the Miami Herald; USA Today among others. Some of his work has graced the covers of  Field & Stream; Outdoor Life; Fly Fisherman; Fly, Rod and Reel; Fly Fishing Salt Waters; Fly and Fish Magazine; Outside Magazine and Mens Journal. Brian also works as a tackle rep for Scientific Anglers in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. 

I would like to thank Brian for taking the time to answer the questions below, as his answers are both informative and interesting.

FWE -   Do you have a favourite place to both fly fish and photograph, and why? 
Brian - Cuba is a favorite because of endless habitat and great fishing. There is a good chance at big bones, permit and tarpon, also. The water is very clear for underwater shots and the weather is generally quite nice. Add great food and drink and it is a really fun place. 

For freshwater, my list would be Alaska, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Alberta/BC, Canada, Montana. I have not been to Kamchatka, or many fishing places in Europe or South Africa. North Western Australia is very high on my list!

FWE -  What is the most remote place you have visited? 
Brian - Bikini Atoll. I was the first angler to be given permission to fish there after the atomic/radioactive security was lifted.

FWE -  Generally in remote waters, do you find the fishing is up to your expectations? 
Brian - Yes, most of the time. However, there are many remote destinations where the local people have netted or sold fishing rights and there is actually better fishing in Florida, Colorado, etc because of fisheries protection and intelligent regulations. Generally, non-populated or sparsely populated places, like Alaska, New Zealand and parts of the western US, have great fishing.

FWE -  What are your main considerations when researching a possible new location? 
Brian - Fishing quality, scenic value, weather, logistics, safety and an interesting culture (did I mention good beer?!!!).

FWE -  What do you consider are some of the biggest challenges involved in planning a fly fishing and photographic trip to a remote, relatively unexplored waters? 
Brian - Infrastructure - guides, good boats/fuel, transportation, communication and safety. Sierra Leone, during their last war, was a bad time to be there tarpon fishing. 

FWE -  When you visit a remote area with no professional guides or tourism operators, do you use local sources such as native “guides” if there are any, or do you simply rely on your own pre trip planning? 
Brian - Both. When an experienced guide is available, that makes a huge difference. Someone who can help with the local language, transportation, etc is a huge asset. I have done a lot of trips where I just winged it. I have found lobster guides who helped, commercial fisherman who helped and dive boat operators who dropped me off and picked me up.

FWE -  Do you have an equipment backup plan for both photographic and fly fishing gear while away, as obviously in a remote location you can't access shops to buy replacements if for example you drop a camera or break a fly rod? 
Brian - For cameras, these days there are several high quality point and shoot cameras that are a great back up, and sometimes the go-to camera. In particular, I like the high end Panasonic Lumix cameras with the big zoom telephoto/Leica lens. Still well priced, at around $500 US, but remarkable quality. And, I take a couple spare rods and lines. The worst problem I had with gear was on a trip to the Bahamas. A local guy with a boat dropped me and a friend off, for a week, in a offshore reef and island/flats complex. My wading boots were new and rubbed my feet raw. I did most of the trip in my socks and eventually got a sharp object in my foot and then got a bad infection.

FWE -  What resources do you find most useful for researching? 
Brian - Google/Internet, Google Earth, dive magazines and websites, private airplane guidebooks and airport location maps.

FWE -  What measures do you take regarding Safety & health when visiting remote areas?
Brian -  I avoid stupid mistakes like getting line cuts on my hands, knife cuts (especially when cutting limes for rum drinks!!), being careful with sharp fins and teeth on fish, being careful around rusty stuff, broken glass, coral, etc. I keep a skeptical eye out for con artists, drug smugglers and thieves. I have been around people who went crazy with a machete. I avoid really drunk people who get political, belligerent, weird, etc. I have been in almost every kind of boating accident or predicament. In some places I take extra spark plugs/wrench. I watch out for too many mosquito bites in the tropics. I got dengue fever in Venezuela. No fun. In a new place, I do not eat everything on the menu. Grilled seafood and beer, can't go wrong!!

FWE -  Have you ever found yourself in a potentially life threatening situation? If so what happened? 
Brian - 
1) I was filming permit with an old fashioned movie/film camera in Belize and was lost by the dive boat. I drifted and swam for 3 hours in rough seas and very little hope for rescue. I found a small reef with a light pole and waited there for a boat to find me.

2) Also in Belize, but 25 years ago, I was on a flat, 18 miles from the mainland and the guide went back for the boat. On the way back to get me, his motor conked out and he drifted out of sight. 5 hours later, in the last light, with the tide coming in and the flat getting too deep to wade, he finally found me. 

3) I was exploring some remote rivers in southern Belize and Honduras with two 'wild and crazy' guys. Way up one river we came across a big pile of 'stuff'. I knew it was a lot of coke or pot. I told the guys what are you going to do if it's drugs? They said they will have to kill me. I said how about taking me to the nearest town and coming back for the drugs. OK. 

4) I have been nose to nose with several bears in Alaska. Less than 4 feet away. Snarling, spitting, on their hind legs. But, they did not swing or bite. I backed off slowly and all was well, except for my bar bill that night. I have had to run from bears a couple times. Experts say not too, but I disagree. Sometimes in the woods, a zig zag running pattern will buy you a little time. The bear will track you with their keen sense of smell, but hopefully you can get back to a boat, or plane or cross a river, before they catch up. You have no idea how fast you can run with waders, a fly rod, etc. 

5) I have been on trips where others were seriously injured. A friend fell and slid off a cliff, 30 feet. Broke his back, femur and lesser body parts. It was a huge rescue. I have been close to freezing to death once and been around people with bad hypothermia. I've been robbed, marched off at gunpoint by military, had a knife against my gut by drug runners and more that a couple close calls with sharks. Please don't show this to my mother!!

FWE -  What type of stratergies do you put in place for getting out of very remote areas in case of emergency, and have you ever had to use them? 
Brian - Proper planning and common sense go a long ways. I have been on Alaska 100 mile float trips and some people brought terrible equipment. No planning, or too cheap to do it right. I don't use a Sat Phone, but I know people who do and they are well priced now. 

On a bluewater trip off the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, I was helping a friend with his 65 foot sportfisher. We had all the latest electronics but we encountered a 'perfect storm'. One system from Equator and another from Hawaii and we were in the crosshairs. For three days we fought the towering seas. One time a huge wave knocked the boat over and the props came out of the water. The boat bounced back, but we lost the fridge that was bolted to the floor and every plate, glass, bowl, etc and ripped off the stabilizers. Oh, and that was Christmas Day!! There was nothing anyone could do to help us, but we made it. Fishing was slow!!!

FWE -  Is there a "bucket list" of places you must try and get to and fish/photograph? 
Brian - 
1)  North Western Australia. I worked in Wundowie, 70 miles from Perth, in 1974. I heard about the remote towns there, but never made it. 

2)  Ireland for fishing, photos, pubs and to see my homeland. 

3)  Slovenia/Bosnia/Croatia - fishing, photos, culture, people, food, fun. 

4)  Iceland - Isn't that where the super models come from!!?? 

5)  Tasmania - I have met some super nice people from Tasmania and read about the fishing. Snakes?!! 

6) I would like to bum around South Africa. I learned how to order beer in Swahili, now I need to put it to use. 

7)  Golden dorado in Bolivia. 

8)   Kamchatka for rainbows on mice flies. 

9)  Another trip to an Indian Ocean bonefish/GT destination. 

10) Austria for trout and grayling.

FWE -  If so, are there any particular ones on the list that stand out and why? 
Brian - North Western Australia - It sounds like a very interesting and beautiful fishery. I like the rough and tumble Western Australia lifestyle and the big flats, big fish and cold beer combo.

FWE -  What is your current camera system and why did you choose it? 
Brian - I use mostly Canon gear. I made the switch to Canon the year of the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. My friends who were shooting there tried all the auto focus cameras and liked Canon the best. They have been quite durable and reliable. I am sure most current brands would be more than adequate.

FWE -  What lenses do you currently use, and what are your favourites, both specific lenses, or types/focal lengths? 
Brian - I use just a few lenses, I am not a gear freak. I use a 10-22 Canon zoom. It is the same as my 17-35 that worked on my film cameras. I don't have a full sized sensor camera, so the 10 to 22 is my wide angle lens of choice. I use a 70-200 2.8 a lot. It is a workhorse and tack sharp. It is 20 years old, also. I have a fixed 300, but I only take it in the car or boat. I have a 100 mm macro, a decent flash and that is about it for above water. 

I still use a film camera for underwater shots - the Nikonos V. My "pro' camera cost me $350 on ebay. I'm a fishing bum!

FWE -  What do you focus on in your photos (no pun intended)? Technical, capturing the moment, getting something unique, other? 
Brian - All of the above. The 'day in the life' stuff, big wide scenics, fish head close ups, action/casting/jumps, plus food, people, culture, transportation, etc.

FWE -  What is next for you? Surely you are planning on going somewhere in the near future. 
Brian - My next trip will be to the Bahamas. An annual trip, easy to get to for us and the fishing is good and the water is clear.

FWE -  Do you have any other tips, because despite all the questions above, I most likely missed something that may be useful when planning the Flywater Exposed trip? 
Brian - Only that sometimes a great trip can be because of the people you went with or met. Being over-organized makes the trip seem like work. Stay loose, go with the flow and be flexible, courteous and helpful. I like bringing small gifts for kids and dropping in on schools. And, I like it when the guide fishes!!

To read more about Brian O'Keefe and to see his work, please visit his website.

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