Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hammocks, Wasps and Trout, oh my.

It’s been far too long since I last wrote a post, and this past weekend’s overnight trip to Switzerland’s central alps provided the perfect fodder and inspiration. First, a little background.. in exactly a month, I’ll be leaving with my fishing buddy Mark for our 8th annual trip. No ordinary fishing trip this time, as we’ll be dropped off via heli in the Swedish backcountry and left to our own devices for 5 days. Although Mark possesses countless admirable qualities befitting his influential role in international commerce, he’s also the kind of the guy who shows up for an alpine fishing trip in loafers. So when he sent a text message saying he was all set with a headlamp and a yoga mat, the weight of responsibility already on my shoulders got slightly heavier. Not only was I now in charge of the trip planning, it also fell to me to make sure this hirsute husband and father of two returns to Singapore in one piece. I needed to spend a night in the woods and test some of my gear, and why not combine a night in the woods with a little much needed exploration of some unfamiliar waters?

When I arrived Sunday, I immediately went to Sascha’s restaurant to say hi and get a cup of coffee. He suggested a good spot for me to sleep, and as soon as he was done with work, we headed over and I set up my hammock in a mossy grove of pines on the banks of a beautiful river. He graciously invited me to dinner at his place, so I left my hammock (this is rural Switzerland, it’s not going anywhere) and headed to his house for a delicious couscous dinner and a bottle of wine. Sascha’s cooking never disappoints, and it isn’t every day you get a chef cooking privately for you. Around dusk I said my goodbyes and headed back to my hammock in the woods. I should have spent the last few minutes of daylight more productively by hanging my tarp, but I couldn’t resist hopping down to the river and taking a few casts at the rising fish in the fading light. I grabbed my bamboo 4 weight rod and tied on a winged ant because, to be quite honest, I only give much of a thought to fly selection when I really have to. I didn’t bother with waders, so I rolled up my pants and chased some rises in the chilly alpine water barefoot. The winged ant ended up being the right choice, and I quickly landed two nice browns of around 13 inches, a good sized fish in this river. 

Setting up my Hennessey with a nice view.

All set, except for the tarp.

Nice brown on a winged ant at dusk.

I grabbed a previously stashed ice cold beer from the river and headed back to my hammock to end the day. Rain wasn’t forecast, but I didn’t want to take any chances so I staked out my hex tarp and as I pounded in the 4th stick with my hatchet, I felt a searing pain on my hand and arm. I must have pounded the stick directly into a wasp nest. In the dark. I ran from the wasps, tripped over the guy wire, spilled my beer, and got tagged by the wasps on the back of my neck, and my side in the process. I was now standing a good 40 feet from my backpack and my hammock. I googled “how many wasp stings will kill a human” and read some encouraging articles about people being stung to death by wasps before deciding I could probably handle one or two more, so I ran back and forth, grabbing everything I could and quickly and mercifully located a new pair of trees. I hung the hammock, my arm swelling to the point that I had to remove my watch. Dejected, puffy and beerless, I sat on a tree stump and decided to make a cup of tea. Another good friend of mine, also named Mark, (let’s call him Mark K.) very generously gave a me a cool little white gas stove that he ordered from a company called White Box Stoves. A nifty little recycled aluminum canister, you basically fill it with white gas, let it burn, and wait a minute or so until the vapor inside the canister ignites and sends flames out of all the holes in the side. It worked great both for coffee/tea as well eggs the next morning, and it’s tiny, light, and uncomplicated. Its definitely found a permanent home in my kit. Testing out a new piece of gear improved my spirits somewhat, and though I was still in considerable discomfort thanks to the wasp stings, I crawled into my hammock and under my surplus Swiss military wool blanket and let the sound of the river below and the distant jangling of sheep bells lull me into a fitful sleep.

My second hastily selected campsite. Thankfully I had a hammock, as a quick relocation
would have been much more of a pain in the ass with a tent...

Somewhat irritated and still in pain, but warm and cozy under a wool blanket in my hammock.

I was up early the next morning. Earlier than usual, which for me, is really early. Around 5:30 I crawled out of my hammock and made a cup of coffee with my aeropress, and some eggs cooked in olive oil. I scarfed down the food, and immediately made use of the two hours I had before I had to go catch minnows for transport to a high alpine lake. (As a member of the local fishing club, we’re required to help out occasionally, something which I always find rewarding anyhow)

I put on my waders and boots and scrambled down to the river at this obscenely early hour. I don’t think I’ve ever wet a line before 6 AM before. The first cast with a flying ant and I hooked into a keeper-sized fish. And the second. And the third. I should fish at dawn more often, I thought. I moved carefully through a long section of pools in this smaller gorge with good success, and then headed back to camp to pack up and head to my car. Thanks to my hammock and gas stove, I literally left no trace of my night there, just the way I like it.

My camp in the morning..

while boiling water for some much needed coffee..

followed by some eggs.

First fish of the morning..

I’ll spare you the details of the awkward hours spent chasing minnows at a scenic mountain lake and skip straight the evening’s fishing. Nonetheless, a big part of the reason for my trip here was my obligatory work for the local fishing club, in my case, catching minnows destined for transport to high alpine lakes as trout food.

My minnow catching companion.

I was able to wear my watch again the next morning, but the swelling was still visible.

After depositing the minnows in a prepared tank, I had a decision to make: fish a river I’ve fished before and love, or explore some of the other many, many waters of our fishing club? I opted for the latter. I made my way to a smaller tributary and immediately lost a fish in the first pool. I fished upriver for a few hours, the bright sun didn’t dampen the trouts’ enthusiasm for dries, but I did spook more than I normally would. Nonetheless, many browns up to about 12 inches were caught. This section ended in a beautiful and very deep pool, impassable for someone without ropes and gear. The pool held an appropriately sized (read: big) brown that smashed my ant.

The last pool of the day.

 I took a few photos, drank in the sights and the sounds, and headed back downriver and home, sunburned and tired, but very content. 


  1. What a story, great to hear that your beerless start improved drastically.

    1. I could have done without the wasps but at least it made for a good story. :)