Story and photos by Bob Dagley
Unlike, Kathmandu, where we watched people bathe, do laundry, and wash vegetables in the same body of water, the glacier-fed streams and rivers in Bhutan were crystal clear. And virtually untouched by fly fishermen, as we would discover later.
We had come to see first-hand the talented work of Bhutanese fly tiers. Renowned for their intricate textile weaving (on display everywhere including their everyday wear), Bhutanese weavers were putting their skill to work tying flies. Our guide was Ugyen, a member of the royal family, and a fly-fishing enthusiast.
Sixty fly tiers, all women in traditional Bhutanese kiras, worked at stations in two separate buildings. The women were already experienced working with the natural fibers of their region: cotton, wool, yak hair, and wild silk. The tables were neatly laid out with colorful feathers and even a calftail or two. Their skill at tying was immediately evident. They were efficient, too, tying about 60,000 ties collectively a month, according to Ugyen.
We continued our discussion of fly tying, fishing for trout, and Bhutan’s legendary mahseer, over dinner at Ugyen’s house. After a palm reading, we feasted on fiddleheads, asparagus, chillies (served as a vegetable and always extraordinarily spicy), dried fish, ema datsi (a chillies-and-cheese concoction that serves as the country’s national dish), and, of course, red rice. All accompanied by a local fermented drink, arra.
The talk turned to fly fishing, and Ugyen was obviously smitten. He could talk of little else. But the concept had not quite caught on in Bhutan. Ugyen knew of only four or five others who fished with a fly. Most tellingly, he related a story that had occurred shortly before we arrived. He was walking home from a most enjoyable day of fishing, with his fly rod in hand. The Queen’s car happened by, and she stopped to chat. “What on earth are you doing?” she asked. Ugyen happily told her he had been fly-fishing. “We could have sent someone to do that for you,” replied the Queen.
Before we left, I gave him a half dozen Orvis Catch & Release pins. He said he would wear one and give one to the Crown Prince. As for the rest? “You’ve given me enough to cover all the fly fishermen in Bhutan,” Ugyen told me.
Fly fishing in Bhutan has come a long way since 2001. It’s now possible to book an expedition to this still-delightful country and fish its remote and sacred rivers. But first you have to stick the landing.