Zimbabwe’s finest, fly fishing guide Cullan Ashby, guides everyone from Hollywood stars to oligarchs on Indian Ocean flats or pristine Atlantic salmon rivers. Between cheap beers at a Vic Falls backpackers on a brief visit home, we managed to get him to answer our burning questions for The Mission Issue 43.

5 best things about where you guide?

1. The beach bar on Alphonse Island on a Tuesday night. It usually gets quite loose, especially if a couple of guides are taking it easy the following day.

2. Tomba beat on the Ponoi River in Russia. Something enchanting about the place; renowned for holding some of the river’s biggest fish.

3. The banya (sauna) at Ryabaga camp on the Ponoi. No better place to unwind after a full day of battling the elements in the Arctic circle.

4. Lollipop Wreck on St. François Atoll. I’ve had some of the most incredible sessions out there over the years. Brandon Poole even saw a ghost there once.

5. Paulie’s Island on Astove Atoll. Caught my biggest GT on fly standing on that cliff. There are some giants that swim by there. Burnt into my memory.

5 items you don’t leave home without before making a mission?

1. My Canon R6. I really enjoy documenting my guiding/fishing. There’s no better way to do it than through the lens of a camera.

2. A tin of Zam-Buk. I am lost without the stuff; pure magic for cuts, insect bites, chapped lips, you name it.

3. A pair of pliers with good cutters. I have an old second-hand Orvis pair that ninja/ex-gillie Dave Marshall gave to me during my first season in the Seychelles back in 2017. They are bulletproof and still cut braid.

4. A spare Buff. My pet hate is having a wet Buff and I usually end up swimming more often than I’d like.

5. My Garmin inReach. Thankfully I am yet to press the SOS button, but knowing it’s there does keep my mind at ease, especially on exploratory trips. The text and GPS functions are used daily.

5 bands to listen to on a road trip?

1. So Kindly.

2. Ben Böhmer.

3. Rüfüs Du Sol.

4. Crazy P.

5. UB40.

5 things you are loving right now?

1. The smell of the first rains after a long dry season in Zimbabwe.

2. The Springboks’ Rugby World Cup win.

3. Packing the bags for the Seychelles season. T-minus two days!

4. Stacy, my Land Rover Defender 300TDi.

5. Shoestrings Backpackers bar. The cheapest drinks and loudest music in Victoria Falls.

5 indispensable flies for saltwater?

1. Pillow Talk.

2. My Flexo. The ones I pinch off Kyle Simpson’s desk when he’s not looking work pretty well, too!

3. Yousuf Crab.

4. Flaming Lamborghini.

5. Alec Gerbec’s Reaper.

5 indispensable freshwater flies?

1. PTN.

2. Branko Killer. A very special parachute fly designed by good friend Branko Gašparin. A must-have for anything and everything Slovenia.

3. Red-eyed damsel.

4. Ponoi Nail/Hammer. Goes against everything that a traditional Atlantic salmon fly should be. It gives me great anxiety if my clients decide to fish anything else.

5. Zany Zambo. If you emptied my tigerfish fly box into the river and filled it with these I wouldn’t even blink. FCFB (Fuck Clousers Fish Brushflies).

5 favourite destinations globally?

1. The Seychelles Outer Islands.

2. The Ponoi River, Russia. Arguably the best Atlantic Salmon fishery in the world.

3. The Zambezi River. My home waters. The place where it all started.

4. Slovenia. A hidden gem.

5. Spain. Cheap, amazing food, highly underrated fishing, and some of the nicest, most generous people I have ever met!

5 most difficult guiding/teaching experiences so far?

1. Fellow Alphonse Fishing Company guide Graham Hayward and I managed to sink the same skiff three or four times in a single week while on a live-aboard trip in the Amirantes last season. No guests were onboard, and no one was hurt. We learnt a lot about ourselves in a short period of time.

2. Trying to convert a two-handed Spey caster into a single-handed saltwater angler. It is usually much easier the other way around – bonefish it is!

3. The ultra-neap – a tide that, for no apparent reason, stops water from coming onto the flats. Said to be manifested by Satan himself.

4. Flats blindness. When you can see everything but nothing.

5. The Ponoi Skunk. “Blank on the best salmon river in the world? Surely not?!” It happens to the best of us, and you better have your wallet handy because there’s a bottle of vodka on the guide’s table and guess who’s paying?

5 best things you have picked up from guiding?

1. Being able to travel the world. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would have the chance to travel to, let alone fish, some of these incredible destinations at my age. Guiding was my only chance and we’ve been in love ever since.

2. The fishing comes second. Looking after people is a skill, it’s the difference between being a good guide and being a good fisherman. Some of the best days I have ever had on the water we caught little to nothing. Some of the worst days I’ve had we landed a fish of a lifetime.

3. Go slow, go far. At the end of the day, most of our clients are out here on holiday which is something that is easily forgotten. Save the intense days for the guys who are after it. You often find that slowing down your approach entirely will give you just as many chances anyways. This goes for everything, not just the fishing.

4. Maybe means no. You constantly have to remind yourself of where you are. Taking risks in remote places is not a good idea. Whether you are jumping the surf line with the skiff, taking a boat through a sketchy set of rapids, or making a call on an ocean crossing, there are only two answers: Yes we can do it, or no we can’t.

“It’s a team sport”

5. It’s a team sport. Guiding these isolated destinations is no easy feat. We are away from family and friends for very long periods, have little time to ourselves and are somewhat disconnected from the real world. If someone’s having a bad time or not being at team player, it can be felt immediately and often brings the rest of the team down. It takes a special kind of person to survive out in these places. I take serious pride in being involved with some of the industry’s leading operations.

5 worst things you have picked up from guiding?

1. A perpetual raccoon tan from having a pair of sunglasses glued to my face 24/7.

2. Crocs are actually quite cool apparently.

3. I can open a bottle with pretty much anything, teeth included (sorry Mum).

4. Russian tot measurements. I thought Zimbos could drink!

5. Hobbit feet. Wearing wet boots for more than nine months of the year is unhealthy, kids.

Receive the rest of Cullan’s infinite wisdom and see more pics in The Mission Issue 43, below – free, as always.

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