A glance at jet-setting photographer and filmmaker Simon Kay’s passport – stamps for Colombia, Mexico, Italy, Slovenia, Seychelles, Marshall Islands – makes for envious reading, especially when you consider the species he has filmed and fished for while working with Fly Fishing Nation. So, when Si describes his remarkable trajectory in fly fishing as “from the Cape Flats to the sand flats” it makes complete sense. He chats to The Mission about the fly fishing gear he swears by and a few hard-earned travel rules, tips, and tactics. All photos: Simon Kay, Fly Fishing Nation and Tobias Park.

Over the last couple of years, especially since joining the Fly Fishing Nation (FFN) media team, I’ve been travelling a hell of a lot. This means a mix of fishing and filming, photographing and trying to pack accordingly, with most trips requiring more than one flight. Through the lens of social media, this may look like an amazing rollercoaster of fish pics and crazy destinations… and it is. I’ve just had one of the best years of my life, seeing places that, a few years ago, I had never even had on my bucket list. But, this has also meant being tossed in the deep end.

A lot of work goes into keeping the engine turning. I have learnt masses from the team, in terms of media in the fly fishing world and, more importantly, in terms of the fishing itself. If I look back a year, it feels like looking at one of those teen photos of yourself where, at the time, you thought you were the coolest guy on the planet and knew all you needed to know already. Oh, what a cute 35-year-old man I was back then.

“If the aim is to capture images or footage, I focus on clicking. If the aim is to fish, I focus on flicking.”

I have a rule: I’m either fishing or capturing fishing content. I make a clear distinction. If the aim is to capture footage for even just an hour, the rod stays far away for that hour. This may mean for a whole trip, such as when I shot the floating crab permit film in Mexico, I didn’t pick up a rod for 18 of the 20 days I was there. It’s quite simple: You need both hands to do either of the two well. If the aim is to capture images or footage, I focus on clicking. If the aim is to fish, I focus on flicking.

Fly fishing gear and tackle

I have been fishing FFN “team gear” for most work trips. This is fishing gear (rods, reels, lines, flies, etc.) that stays with the person on the team who is most likely to be needing it for an upcoming trip/project. Most of these projects have been expeditions for bigger fish and all in warmer climates.

There is a lot of stuff in the kitty. These are some of my favourites:

Epic Bandit 10-weight glass paired with a Shilton SR10. I first fished this combo in Colombia for peacocks and payara and the extra weight of glass versus graphite was well worth the confidence knowing that when these creatures tried to pull a dirty under the boat, I could just fight back without having to worry about the rod popping. On that trip I used Rio Jungle lines and Hatch Mono leaders for the peacocks, with fluoro and wire for the payara. These never let me down in any way. I have fished this rod and reel combo a few times since then and just love it. Fresh, salt, it does it all.

“The only waders I have ever owned (and still do) are the Patagonia Packable Waders.”

Sage R8 9-weight Salt. I fished this rod in Xcalak, Mexico for permit. The right amount of fast in all the right places. Perhaps it’s my casting style, but the way this thing casts is just dreamy. Favourite rod of the year. I am yet to put it to the test fighting a big perm. 2024 goals…

Another rod I absolutely love, and which I didn’t expect to fall for, is the Epic Carbon 10-weight. Man, that thing is fast, light, and gives me so much feedback. It feels like an arm extension with a powerful core. I only used it on a four-day trip to Baja California chasing mahi-mahi with Angling Baja and then a second time on the flats of Farquhar looking for bumpies [bumphead parrotfish]. Despite casting at a few small herds of bumpies, the stars did not align but I caught some nice bones and other fish along the way.

“It’s damn cool drinking straight from the river and knowing I’m not risking any tummy issues.”

On Farquhar I fished the Lamson Cobalt rod range (8, 10, 12) and I was (and still am) extremely impressed with what they do at the price point. Fast, easy casting, relatively light and I have come to love the powder grey colourway. I still have those three rods with me, and I am looking forward to trying to get the 8 onto a grunter before I leave South Africa. My first GT on the Cobalt 10 was paired with their Lightspeed M reel (which is incredibly light). I couldn’t believe the way I could apply the brakes to a geet intent on taking me up the beach through the rocky coral. Another cool addition on that trip was that I was using the Cubalaya Fair Chase reel on the 8-weight and had a ton of fun with it.

For my private missions it’s been mainly small stream trout stuff. I always keep my six-piece Redington Classic Trout 3-weight and Stroft tippet with me in the van.

“I always get a few flies at local fly shops I visit and keep my options open that way.”

Most-used dry flies: RAB, Para Adams, Sedges, small white elk hair caddis flies. Then I always have a few basic bead-head nymphs. I’ve been tying rudimentary orange tungsten-beaded, olive-dubbing-bodied nymphs with the little bit of material I have. I always get a few flies at local fly shops I visit and keep my options open that way.

One piece of clobber I can’t live without now is the Patagonia Stealth Work Station. This thing is my carry-all for streams. It does everything, can be attached to anything, and has magnets for fly changes. No words can describe how much I love this thing. Game changer for me.

The only waders I have ever owned (and still do) are the Patagonia Packable Waders and, other than a small leak on the right foot that I just need to seal, they have served me so well. I love how compact they are.

A very large-brimmed straw hat that I found on a street corner in Mexico has become my favourite. Although it may look like a fashion statement, in the high sun it provides so much shade for the face and neck that I often feel comfortable not wearing sunscreen. Even more importantly, the brim is large enough to allow me to view my camera monitor. Double win. I have worn through a couple of these and then just replaced them.

“You need less than you think clothing-wise. Two outfits generally are enough.”

Other items I always travel with are my Patagonia River Salt Wading Boots. Comfortable and versatile.

For sunnies, I use Waterhaul sunglasses, with polarised mineral glass lenses and frames made from recycled fishing nets (that they actually collect themselves around the UK). They look great, but are not the best for low-light conditions. Costa Sunrise Silver Mirror are the best I’ve used for low light although I lost my pair not long into enjoying them. Bonus tip: sunglasses retainers are vital if you use a camera, because polarised sunglasses mean you constantly remove them to see your camera screen.

For drinking water I have started using the Sawyer Filter on trips where I know clean fresh water is not available. It’s damn cool drinking straight from the river and knowing I’m not risking any tummy issues.

Media gear

Gear-wise, my go-to photo and hybrid camera was the Sony A7IV. This was my first dip into the Sony world and I love the images it produces. It’s the right mix of everything for the price: great pics and video quality but not the fastest or most slow-mo. Just a nice balance. My only issue with it is that the other FFN guys all use Canon, making lens sharing difficult. The reason I used “was” when referring to it, is because it was recently stolen and I am yet to decide what to replace it with.

In terms of lenses I go for zooms and I go for compact. A wide zoom, e.g. 16-35, a nice all-rounder like a 24-70, and then something with reach, 70-200, etc. Nothing specific here because I have changed around a lot.

What Lies Above

Simon’s second short film has been officially selected for the 2024 Fly Fishing Film Tour.

What Lies Above tells the story of a unique change in feeding behaviour of permit along the Yucatan Peninsula. An increase in the amount of a floating seaweed called Sargassum being driven into the coastline is creating havoc with tourism and the environment as it piles up and rots. However, a crab that dwells within it, a crab that lives in this floating mass, a crab that the permit in Xcalak, Mexico have learnt to hunt as a regular food source. Join Chase Looney and guide Raul Sanchez on the hunt for permit on the surface in this extraordinary town.

Watch the trailer here.

For film-focused work I have been shooting on the Red Gemini recently. Red RAW is something special.

Then, I always have a small LED light for effect rather than power, a folding bounce/diffuser combo for shaping natural light and a tripod. For sound I have been using the Rode Wireless Go II on talent and just a standard small Sennheiser shotgun mic for run-and-gun stuff.

Travel tips and tactics for fly fishing gear

My approach to packing has evolved and is now pared down to this:

Rolling hard case (think Pelican) for camera gear. This is hand luggage. I was forced to check this in twice because it was overweight. On the second occasion, about a month prior to writing this, most of my camera gear was stolen out of it. It arrived on the luggage belt with the locks removed. So never check this stuff in. A hard case screams “expensive camera stuff for the taking”.

I carry a backpack for my laptop, extra camera gear and other vital stuff. Again, this is hand luggage.

You need less than you think clothing-wise. Two outfits generally are enough. Wear the first and wash it at the end of the day, then wear the other the following day while the first one dries. Always pack a rain jacket.

I use a big 100-litre Patagonia duffel for all my fishing stuff, clothing, etc. Of course, this gets checked. It’s not the easiest to haul around when it’s at that 23kg limit, so I may move to a wheeled duffle soon.

“My approach to packing fly fishing gear has evolved.”

Never take rods or reels with line/backing on them as hand luggage. Some airport security (maybe all, not sure of the rules) classify backing or line as strangling tools and they don’t want those sorts of weapons on board. Not all airport security allows rods as hand luggage. I had often flown with rods until once, in Colombia, when I was told it was not allowed. Because I was already cutting it fine in making the flight I didn’t have time to go back and check the rod in so it stayed at the airport and I flew away. Now I usually check them in my main bag.

That said, we have had rods stolen before that were checked in, so it is a gamble. The best thing to do is ensure you have more than enough time at the airport before your flight to establish the rules and then take what you are certain you are allowed to take on the plane with you.

This story about fly fishing gear first appeared in The Mission Issue 43. See more of Si’s epic pics below, forerver, free free.

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