Orvis Trout Bum of the Week XXIX: Jan Eckmann

Jan Eckmann has fallen in love with New Zealand’s trout and the backcountry.
All photos courtesy Jan Eckmann

A couple years ago, we ran a series called “Trout Bum of the Week,” in which we highlighted some of the guys living the good life. . .of a sort. (See the bottom of this post for a link to the previous installments.) This is our second round of profiles. Most of the subjects are guides who have turned their passion into a vocation, spending their time in an outdoor “office” that may include a drift boat, gorgeous mountain scenery, and crystal clear water. Others do have day jobs but manage to spend every other available minute on the water with a fly rod in hand. Whether you aspire to one lifestyle or the other, it’s illuminating to explore the different paths these men and women have taken on their way to achieving “trout bum” status.

Jan Eckmann is a 32-year-old banker from Berne, Switzerland, who spends all of his free time with a fly rod in his hand. He was nominated for “Trout Bum of the Week” status by Orvis CEO Perk Perkins, who met Jan on a trail in New Zealand and was impressed by both Jan’s enthusiasm for the sport and his skills with a fly rod.

1. When did you start fly fishing?
I have been an eager and fascinated angler since I was a young boy and spent almost every free second on all kinds of waters in Switzerland—pike and carp fishing in the Midland Lakes, trout and grayling fishing in the mountain rivers and lakes. As military service is mandatory in Switzerland, I had to do my basic military training just after college, and afterwards I completed Special Forces training as a Long Range Surveillance Parachute Trooper. I those years, I did not have any time to spend on the water, and I also had other priorities. My passion for fishing faded, and when I started a banking career after finishing my studies, I lost it completely.

About four years ago, a good friend of mine decided out of the blue to start fly fishing and wanted me to join him for a basic course. I said yes, and when I held the fly rod in my hand again, my faded passion came back immediately.

Hiking long distances and enduring hardships to discover trout in headwater streams is Jan’s specialty.

One year later, I had the possibility to take a one-year sabbatical break. I took this opportunity to combine my passions of traveling, nature, and fly fishing and planned a one-year-around-the-world trip with my fly rod in one hand, a survival kit in the other, and a rucksack on my back. During this year, I had the opportunity to fish for salmon, pike, and rainbow trout in Alaska/Canada, then Asian carp fishing in Thailand, and brown trout fishing in Russia, Mongolia, New Zealand and Patagonia. In these places, I explored many different waters and fly fishing techniques.

2. What’s your favorite water?
On my around-the-world fishing trip, I fell in love with New Zealand’s sight-fishery for brown trouts in remote headwaters. I have been dedicating a big part of my free time to this kind of fishing. I especially enjoy combining my love for fly fishing and for rural nature. You can’t top sight-fishing in small, very remote, crystal-clear, and almost inaccessible mountain rivers in New Zealand. There you will find huge, both smart and powerful brown trout feeding on dry flies.

It is not just about fly fishing: a real backcountry trip in this wild country is an adventure, a project that has to be planned meticulously! You have to be willing to take the risk of the unknown, and the price you pay is high: you have to hike, climb, and navigate through no man’s land, cross threatening gorges, fight wasps while climbing and sandflies while resting — all that just to get to the one river you expect to hold marvelous browns! You have no streets or even paths to guide you, no souvenir shop on the way, and certainly no fly-fishing lodge to spend a pleasant evening. It’s just you, your buddy, and pure wilderness. I am dedicated to fly fishing in New Zealand and spend every possible free moment exploring new rivers in this marvelous country.

Jan believes that when you’ve put in the work, the rewards seem that much sweeter.

3. What’s your favorite fish to chase with a fly rod and why?
Sight-fished brown trout on a big, single dry fly.

4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
On my around-the-world fishing trip I didn’t have enough money to hire guides to show me how to fish in the different countries. I had to learn how to catch the fish on my own. With New Zealand’s sight-fishing, I struggled in the beginning and I was not able to catch a wild brown trout for weeks. Luckily, one evening I met two Finnish fly fishermen in a parking lot. The two fishermen laughed at my frustration, cheered me up and took me with them for six days, and taught me to fish the Kiwi way. They showed me everything I had to know, and the only thing they wanted was a friendship. I have already been back to New Zealand with one of them twice.

5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
I have plenty of them! Every time a trout gets spooked by a bad cast or a wrong fly pattern. You are travelling on the other side of the world and then walk, climb and stumble through native bush for days just to get to a remote river. Then you finally spot a feeding trout — in the headwaters, the fish numbers are normally very low — and then you spook it and it can take many hours or even days to find the next feeding trout. That can be very frustrating.

In the crystal clear headwaters the brown trout are big, majestic and poised. But they are very smart, and you usually have just one cast to present the right fly at the right spot with a perfect measurement and a very long leader. If you fail to do so, the trout spooks and is never seen again. If you succeed, you will get the reward of a slow, massive, and accurate take of the trout. If you strike and feel the movement of the trout, all the hiking, climbing and exertions are forgotten, but I guess this would be the memorable fly-fishing moment.

New Zealand seems an easy place for a trout fisherman to fall in love with.

6. What do you love most about fly-fishing?
Fly fishing is not just an aesthetic method to catch fish. It is much more, some would even say fly fishing is science. It is an attitude towards life where you continually live and learn. In my opinion, fly fishing is a combination of chess, art, hunting, and golf.

7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
My favorite piece of gear is my F3W Danielsson reel. This handmade reel from Sweden is my oldest companion and brings me luck on all my fly-fishing trips.

8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
The unweighted Pogo Nymph from the world famous Stu’s Fly Shop near Queenstown, New Zealand. Not many trout have seen this half-floating and very simple pattern. But it works wonders, as a dropper on a dry fly or heavy nymph.

Jan plans to spend two months chasing these beauties in 2015.

9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
Difficult to say. Every fly-fishing trip has its good and bad parts. What’s ultimately important is that you can enjoy the time with your friends in nature and always respect the fish, its habitat, and nature. It is not the number of fish you catch; it is about the experience you make in the wilderness, of matching your forces with your prey. I’d rather do a long and difficult backcountry trip and not catch anything than go on a lazy urban fly-fishing trip and catch ten browns a day.

10. What’s your next dream destination?
Christchurch on January 24, 2015! I am going back to New Zealand for two months with my Finnish fishing-buddy. We would like to explore some new rivers and realize a video project.

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