Dave Jensen started fishing before he started first grade, and it’s been central to his life ever since. He now runs Flyfish Alberta and Fortress Lake Retreat with his wife Amelia. In May, they were named 2011 Orvis-Endorsed Expedition of the Year.
When they’re not hosting clients, the Jensens like to kick back, relax, and watch a little TV. I’m kidding, of course; in fact, they spend practically every non-working day fishing themselves. When it’s winter in canada, they head to the South Island of New Zealand to chase big browns in the backcountry, often hiking and bushwhacking for miles across demanding terrain, all the while while shooting photos and videos to document their experiences. Dave’s got some great stories, ideas about fly fishing, and even a touch of the philosopher in him, as you’ll see in his answers to our probing questions below.
When did you start fly fishing? When I was five years old. Our family had a concrete plant in Revelstoke, BC, Canada, and there was a small stream (Tum Tum Creek) with rainbows in it flowing through the property. Every day for many summers in a row, I watched Looney Tunes cartoons until noon and then fished the pools below the house for the afternoon. By the time I was eight, I was wandering a long way and many hours from the house. It wasn’t like a grizzly was ever going to eat me, right?
What’s your favorite water? This is a tough one to answer, but I would have to say of all the waters I’ve fished with my wife Amelia, none come close to the backcountry, beech-forest-lined, brown-trout streams on the South Island of New Zealand. At the peak of summer, the cicadas are deafening, the sun filters through a full canopy that tempts you to look for non-existent monkeys, and the gin-clear water shimmering in that filtered light begs you to keep moving further into the wilderness. I can’t think of any other place that is so enchanting, so full of hope, excitement, life, energy, and full awareness as these rivers. The tuis, bellbirds, and fantails are lovely.
What’s your favorite fly rod quarry? Brown trout because they offer us the opportunity to sight-fish for them. And because the larger browns are so predictable to locate, they afford us some of the best videotaping opportunities of any trout.
What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment? This past year’s trip to New Zealand provided me with perhaps my favorite day––it was spectacular. We did the research on a remote river. The track we were on had no information about river access, and for two hours I was absolutely anxious as I practically ran onward, feverishly seeking a way to get to the river. We could hear it well below us through the forest, never getting a glimpse of it.
Finally, we opened to a vista of the river, and it was clear we were not even close to fishing. I became ornery, as I knew the weather would hold for only for that day, with heavy rain the next. This day was sunny, the first perfect day in weeks, and I knew the fish would be going. We hurried onward. After three hours, we came to a crossing, but the river only teased us as it went upward through another gorge. We forged ahead, the trail getting as rugged as my attitude.
By the fouth hour, we opened up into an open valley, choosing a lunch spot beside a long flat. We sat on a knoll and began to fix lunch. Before the bread was opened, a brown cruised past. I flipped my fly out, and the fish moved 10 feet to suck it in. As I fought it, another came to inspect the commotion. I released the former and flipped my fly 15 feet to the latter, and it smoked the fly. Amelia saw another coming for a curious swim past and hooked it up. While she fought hers, I hooked up another. We looked at each other in disbelief and decided to wolf down lunch.
I put my rod away for the entire day after this and simply spotted fish and enjoyed taking photos and video for my wife. She landed over three dozen browns of considerable size. Browns were coming 12, 15, 20 feet to flies cast intentionally farther and farther away, landing with thuds to induce lateral-line pick ups. It was awe inspiring. It simply was amazing to be present––physically, emotionally, and mentally––to enjoy such a day for my wife.
We only were able to fish 4.5 hours before we hiked out five hours to the highway. My GPS said we’d hiked and fished 32 kilometers that day. And the next day, the river blew out. There is nothing better than to forego your own glee in favor of giving way to someone who shares a passion and love of life, and who shares everything in your life with you.
What do you love most about fly fishing? The photography and videography involved, taking the time to not only work the fish, but to take the time to try to capture the moment the best we can. In order to do this, I need a very compassionate and skilled person to fish with, and I am very blessed to have a wonderful fly fisher and video/photographer in my wife, Amelia. Together, we share moments that relatively few get to experience, and our choice of lifestyle allows us to host trips to our lodge and guide company, but also to spend half our year fly-fishing various regions of North America and New Zealand together. Without someone who so deeply shares my passion for the moments we experience, we simply wouldn’t be able to bring the photos and videos home to share.
What’s your favorite piece of gear? The Orvis Safe Passage Backpack. We use it 8 to 15 hours a day for three months straight on our annual trips to New Zealand. It is indestructible. We’ve bush-bashed some of the meanest beech forests, lawyer’s bush, matagouri, and flax swamps, as well as the monsoons the island gets every two days, and the packs barely show any wear. We also use them about four months straight packing lunch, gear, camera gear, and fly-fishing gear when hosting wade trips on Alberta trout waters. I’d recommend this pack to anyone in a heartbeat.
What’s your next dream destination? The whole notion of dream destinations is gone from me now. I look at the reality of the situation at the destination. I know myself, what kind of fly fishing I enjoy. Do I want to perpetually cast big, heavy streamers? Do I want to cast into heavy winds? How many days of the style of fishing at the destination will I really enjoy before it gets repetitive? The reality is that each destination has its upside and its downside, and only by listening to yourself––knowing what style of fly fisher you are and what you truly enjoy––will you be content with fly fishing.
Forcing a trip, having unmet or unrealistic expectations, not being true to your abilities, and so many other things can really impact our fly fishing. I guess the real answer to this question is that I hope to continue in our business to bring people to their real destination, which is true enjoyment of fly fishing. I look at “dream destinations” in two parts. 1. The dream is simply that, a dream. The realities of conditions and ourselves (personalities, abilities, etc.) seldom line up to meet that dream. 2. The destination really reflects ourselves, and the destination of self is always worth pursuing.
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