I thought it might be useful for all of you if I just detailed some of the major points that I, anyway, feel are important. Letís regard it as a checklist for the travelling angler.
1. Go with a reliable operator. There are operators out there who operate a cut-price service in order to attract customers. Cut-price doesnít always mean inferior but it can be. Try to check references and testimonials. Has the operator a history in the area? How many trips has he organised? Can you speak to any former clients? Photographs? E-mail references?
2. If youíre travelling on your own do your homework meticulously. My own advice is that until you are experienced, forget mounting your own expedition Ė there are just too many loopholes.
3. Always try to go for the best possible fishing window whether youíre travelling alone or with a group. Remember that all fishing weeks are rarely equal and a huge amount can depend on such questions as the time of the monsoon, the moment the fish migrate, spawning patterns, floods, temperature changes and a myriad of external factors.
4. It goes without saying that you check on the necessity of a visa. Also make sure your passport has at least a year to run.
5. Check with your medical practice that you receive all the necessary injections. Donít go over the top Ė you can look like a colander Ė but it makes sense to cover all the major risks.
6. Make sure that you tackle-up 100% adequately. Get the best quality gear that you can for the job that youíre facing. Donít skimp on necessities like line, hooks and so on. Take spare rods and reels. Remember that there may not be a tackle shop within a thousand miles of your destination.
7. Donít skimp on the rest of your gear either. For example, youíll need good Polaroids, good quality clothing whether your destination is hot or cold. Get the best quality sleeping bag if one is required. Make sure your boots are up to the job. Always get the best. Remember you wonít get any second chances once youíre at the location.
8. When you get your air tickets or whatever, check them thoroughly. Make sure both your in and your out tickets correspond with any connecting flights you might have to pick up. Make sure thereís plenty of time for this. You might have to collect your luggage, for example, and change airports. Flights can obviously be badly delayed. Try to take no chances here.
9. When youíre packing ensure you stick to the luggage weight restrictions. This is normally 20 kgs and donít go over it or youíll find in many airports that you are surcharged. And this can be quite considerable. (I once had a guy arrive for a Mongolian expedition with 72 kilos of luggage Ė when we unpacked him we found heíd even taken a pressure cooker!) Also make sure that your case, bag or whatever is strong and secure and lockable. Remove any stray straps that could foul the airport system.
10. When you are packing think of some essential and often overlooked items. I always stick in a roll of loo-paper for example. Donít forget extra batteries and your own personal treats. You wonít be able to buy a Mars bar in Siberia! A bottle of Deet and a mosquito net take up no space and you just never know. A whistle is a good idea in case of emergency. Pack yourself a small first aid kit. Take your own, clean, sterilised, unused hypodermic Ė again you never know. Binoculars are essential really if youíre going to appreciate the local wildlife. Donít forget a knife and some scissors Ė always useful.
11. Make sure that your travel insurance is really first-rate. You really will need this on occasion and itís not good to be sick in Venezuela without the insurance to back up the treatment. If you are travelling around Europe especially make sure that you go to your post office and fill out your E111 form Ė that passport to free or reduced cost emergency medical treatment in most European countries. A lot of people either donít know about this or overlook it.
12. Get your money sorted out well in advance. It can be a scramble at the major airports after youíve checked in. Also they might not have the smaller notes that you require. Remember that dollars are hugely useful in most areas of the world. Make sure that youíve got plenty of reserve on your credit card limit. Invest in a money belt. Those that strap round underneath the shirt are particularly important for more remote and potentially dangerous regions.
13. I like to check in early. Donít be last minute. The sooner you are there, the fresher the staff will be and the more thorough and efficient your treatment is likely to be. Donít forget a smile either. They deserve your thanks because some of the flight arrangements can be very tricky indeed.
14. Long haul flights can be a pain but try to view them positively. After all, your expedition has begun and itís all part of it. Learn to relax and enjoy quality time out of lifeís normal rat race. After all, you canít be phoned, faxed or e-mailed and the pressures of everyday work should start falling away. A sleeping pill isnít a bad idea if youíre going a long way, especially over night. Walk around at every available opportunity Ė weíve all heard the controversies about deep vein thrombosis and my advice is to take no risks! DO try to avoid alcohol, coffee and tea in favour of lots of juice and water. You might love your meat but youíll find that a veggie meal is easier to digest.
15. Itís always a good idea to pack a phrase book of the local language. You might very well find that the camp staff are not proficient in English in certain areas of the world. Itís always polite to make an attempt to converse in their own language.
16. In many places youíll have your own personal guide. He is likely to have been chosen because he knows the river well, has vast local knowledge and will be a bright, personable guy. Do get on with him. If you build up a relationship your trip will be much, much more enjoyable.
17. If youíre with a group consider team spirit. Be a team player. Leave any selfishness firmly at home. Remember that you canít hope to be king of the river every night and just to want to be so will lead to inevitable disappointments.
18. Be happy Ė and why shouldnít you be, this is an adventure after all Ė doesnít cost anything and helps the whole spirit of the group. Some complaints are justifiable but donít moan just for the sake of it because youíll simply upset everybodyís harmony.
19. When it comes to the fishing always take the advice of the guide or the locals. Itís their water, theyíre the experts and youíll be an idiot if you donít follow what they say. Youíll also appear rude and arrogant. As you get to know them and the fishing conditions then by all means graft on your own experiences and knowledge. That way, by the end of the trip youíll have a composite of their knowledge and your additions. This is probably when youíll start catching the best fish.
20. Check, check and re-check all your gear. Do away instantly with frayed line, suspect knots and dodgy hooks. Remember that you could hook into the fish of your entire lifetime next cast.
21. If you do and if you find yourself playing perhaps the biggest fish of your life, donít let it take control. Itís tempting to let your knees knock, your arms go to jelly and the sweat pour from your brow but be firm, be positive and be brave. More fish are lost through feeble playing than firm playing. Youíve got the best gear available, trust it and the chances are the hook hold will stay good to the end.
22. In all probability youíll be catching wild fish, perhaps fish straight from the sea or fish that have never seen man, bait or tackle before. For some reason, Iím quite convinced that the trauma of capture is greater for such creatures so do release them very quickly and painlessly. A quick photograph by the margins of the river and then wave them goodbye. If at all possible, use barbless hooks.
23. Having said all that, Iím going to say something quite the opposite. If youíre in a very poor country Ė Africa or India, for example Ė you might find it both humane and politic to give a fish to the local pot. We are all, of course, sport fishermen but there are times when the welfare of some local children has to take priority. A smaller Nile perch or mahseer, for example, can really provide essential protein.
24. Take gifts with you for local populations, especially in Third World countries. Avoid sweetsÖobviously dentists arenít to hand! Concentrate on such things as pens and notebooks Ė always in short supply.
25. When it comes to the end of your trip consult your operator but if in doubt try to tip with presents rather than money. Chances are that youíve got some clothing that you could leave behind or good quality socks even. Itís tempting always to tip your guides the most but remember all the background staff as well Ė the cooks, the cleaners, even the boy who draws your water at night.
26. Always be careful what you eat when youíre away from First World countries. However, my experience of camp food is one hundred percent favourable. Iíve never actually been ill in the jungle, on the mountain or whatever. The real moment to be careful is when youíre back in the city, awaiting your international flight. Itís tempting to go into a modern hotel and think the food will be safe. Itís now that you wake up at three a.m. with that desperate churning in the guts! Be warned, take care and donít eat anything that you are dubious about.
27. When it comes to water, donít drink from streams unless you absolutely know that they are pure. Take boiled or bottled water. Think about some vitamin supplements Ė they make boiled water taste better. Fizzy water I prefer to still Ė that way you can tell if the bottle has been tampered with.
28. Itís tempting if youíre out in the wilds to let hygiene go a bit. Try not to. Make sure that you keep yourself clean and that any cuts, even small ones, are treated. Otherwise you can quickly find irritating and even dangerous infection setting in.
29. Obviously all rubbish is removed. Absolutely everything. Donít even leave a cigarette butt in the wilderness. You know the old saying Ė take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints and thatís an absolute law.
30. Believe it or not, the question Iím asked nearly the most is about toilet arrangements! Yes, truly! Well, my advice is to take care in some of the international airports in poorer areas of the world. Certainly have your own loo-paper to hand. When in camp, try to use the communal dunny Ė even if it is a little on the noxious side. Take a couple of deep breaths and in you go! If youíre caught short out in the wilderness then make sure that you have loo-paper with you and, that in a high wind, it doesnít blow away out of reach! When youíre finished bury everything or, preferably, burn the lot. And I mean the lot!
Well, thatís about it. There is, obviously, a whole lot more to be said but I guess if you read and apply these thirty rules you wonít go that far wrong. Remember that if youíre on a plane to Mongolia, India, Montana or wherever then youíre off to paradise. As a mate of mine said, donít you just feel the luckiest man in the world? You certainly should.