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In the Fall of 2015, as I was floating and fly fishing on the Madison River outside Bozeman, Montana with my fishing guide friend Mike Mansfield and the topic of an international fly fishing trip arose. It seemed like a no brainer idea. As we cast for brown trout that day on our home river, dreaming while weighing the pros and cons of such an endeavor quickly got us thinking seriously about it. It had been eight years since I had last left the country to backpack, fly fish and travel around South America with my brother Eric. Those types of trips that put you outside the familiar and one’s comfort zone tend to always be life-changing.

“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life” – Michael Palin

“The bite of the travel bug,” a saying that often is reiterated on the backpacker trail holds a lot of truth. I know both my brother and I felt it. Alas, as we returned to the states from our 2008 six month trip and reintegrated into our domestic life, it was a feeling that never quite left us. My brother Eric would go on to be a bush pilot in Alaska while I would continue on to pursue my career as a photojournalist in newspapers throughout the American West supplemented with weekend fishing trips throughout Northern California, Oregon, and Montana as my escape from the daily grind.

Fast forward to last Fall, I had since left the newspaper life behind me and was two years into running my own photography business in Bozeman, Montana. Having just finished up my busy season of photographing weddings, portraits and a steady run of commercial work and assignments for national environmental non-for-profits, the sudden suggestion of another international fly fishing trip seemed like a damn fine idea and one to take seriously. Eight years had been too long of a hiatus. Further brainstorming of how we could pull off such a trip ensued. It just so happened that Mike had recently met up with a local guide friend of his that was running a fly fishing operation called Mongolia River Outfitters in remote Mongolia and suggested we look into making a trip a reality. I had never been to Asia before and though the thought had crossed my mind to venture to that part of the world, all too often the excuses and reasoning for not going due to career or other distractions has always got in the way of pursuing that dream trip. No longer.

As luck would have it, the outfitter friend of Mike’s was in need of revamping his photography for his fishing business operation and upon further discussions and conversations, he decided to hire me to document the experience. It was settled. We were going to Mongolia in the Fall of 2016. Let the trip planning begin.

Over the course of this year, we were able to amass a small crew of able fishermen friends to join Mike and I on this trip of a lifetime to pursuit one of the largest salmonid river fish in the world called taimen on a fly rod. It wasn’t exactly a hard sell. Traveling abroad to explore nearly eighty miles of the pristine Onon River in the remote Mongolian countryside near the birthplace of the legendary ancient Mongolia Emperor Genghis Khan. Ummm…Yes, please. We would be floating through the world’s first Taimen Sanctuary and cast for taimen, lenok, and trout on a fresh stretch of river every day while staying in a well-appointed ger camp every evening. Remote wildness cushioned by an authentic Mongolian camping experience. This was going to happen and as the months wound down to our departure date, we could barely contain our excitement.

The plan was to fly from Seattle, Washington to Beijing, China then board a plane to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. As with any big trip overseas, visas had to be applied for, our passports renewed and our gear for the trip packed up. At last our departure date had come.

After making our 18+ hour international flight on Hainan Airlines, we arrived at the Beijing airport. It was there, exhausted and in total culture shock, where we encounter our first hiccup of the trip. The Chinese version of TSA employed what appeared to be a bunch of fresh out of high school young adults. We got held up at the security check due to the numerous “suspicious” fly rods we were hauling and had to argue for them not to be confiscated as dangerous carry on items. There was a lot lost in translation and we were unwilling to have the rods (expensive and essential to the fishing trip) leave our sight. As a compromise with the Chinese authority, we took shifts guarding our precious cargo at the airport police station for the two hours until they could escort us with our rods to our connecting Mongolia flight. During that time kill, Mansfield took out his Orvis fly rod to show them what was in the metal transport tubes. He may have even made a sale to a passerby Chinese fisherman. The reasoning of our Chinese customs agents was questioned quietly amongst our group numerous times as we watched other international travelers make it through security with their fishing rods with no hassle. I guess we were special. They say it isn’t an adventure until something goes wrong. We swallowed our frustration and made the most of it.

Eventually, we made our way through the Chinese red tape and made our flight to Ulaanbaatar. Located in central Mongolia, the city of Ulaanbaatar has a population of over 1.3 million people and accounts for almost half of the country’s total population. Its history is a complicated one. Originally, it was set up as a mobile monastery-town at its peak having upwards of 20,000 practicing monks and as per tradition in Mongolian nomadic society, the city’s physical location changed dozens of times throughout the centuries as supply and other needs would demand. The city served as a cultural and commercial center. It would go on to be a midway point on trade routes between China and Russia with populations and government control from outside Chinese and Russian forces fluctuating throughout the ages. By the early 1920s, the country had fallen completely under Soviet Russia and it wasn’t until the year 1990 that opposition parties and numerous protests of citizens allowed the country to be free of their Russian rule. The city is now on the rise to be the new hub of 21st-century establishment within the country. The Soviet influence on the city can still be seen today. A mixture of tired old concrete soviet buildings intertwined with Mongolia ger camps. Driving through the city was to bare witness to some of the worst dysfunction of modern day traffic. Fender benders and car crashes seemed to be a norm for the locals and obeying street lanes and traffic lights appeared to be optional. To say the least, it isn’t the shiniest of cities I have ever visited but as we discovered on our 24-hour layover it did hold some gems.

The thought of having to juggle and coordinate the travel arrangements of five fishermen seemed like one hell of a hassle, so prior to leaving the states we opted to hired a travel agent to book our flights, hotels and even get us a travel guide for the times we would be in the city. We would have a day in the city to decompress, take in our new surroundings and explore some of the sights. The morning after our late night arrival, we met our guide Nana, a young Mongolian college girl who would be escorting and showing us some of the sites around the city. After breakfast at the hotel, our tour guide took us to The Gandantegchinlen Monastery, a Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery in Ulaanbaatar. In the 1930s, the Communist government of Mongolia, under the influence of Joseph Stalin, destroyed all but a few monasteries but thankfully spared the Gandantegchinlen Monastery. It reopened in 1944 and has continued as the main functioning Buddhist monastery as a token homage to traditional Mongolian culture and religion. With the end of Marxism in Mongolia in 1990, restrictions on worship were lifted and the site now receives quite a number of local visitors and tourist today. The Tibetan name translates to the “Great Place of Complete Joy”. It was pretty cool. Over 150 monks take up residence here and their chants could be heard as we approached the steps. Here I found some locals lighting prayer candles and the main attraction, the Avalokiteśvara, the tallest indoor statue in the world at 26.5-meters-high. Russian troops dismantled the original statue in 1938. After the end of the Soviet era, the statue of Avalokiteśvara was rebuilt in 1996, funded by donations by the Mongolian people. It was quite impressive.

As our day continued we sampled a Mongolian BBQ restaurant for lunch and spent the remainder of the afternoon resting from our long flight and preparing for the start of our fishing mission. Early the next morning, we met our additional travel companions for the fishing trip, a Texan and two brothers from Australia and boarded a small plane to fly two hours northeast into the remote Mongolia steppes towards our home for the next week, the pristine Onon River. -M

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Fall in Montana and Wyoming has been exceptionally pretty this year. Perhaps it’s the small number of rainstorms that have allowed the colors to linger on the trees longer. It might just be my favorite time of year. I’ve been venturing over into Yellowstone National Park on my days off with intentions of finding spawning brown trout. While landing browns has been minimal, we did get into some sizeable rainbow trout. It’s been a while since I’ve brought my camera on a river trip and this time managed to snap a few picks in between my own casts. Hanging out with my buddy Mike and his college amigos gave me an opportunity to vicariously fish through my camera lens watching other anglers again. A familiar post. It was good to get back in the saddle but I must admit, I felt rusty. Still, I liked some photos that I got. Here are a few that stood out to me. I see more rivers on the horizon. Thanks for looking. Tight lines. -Mike

I’ve been in Montana for a little over a year now after moving here from California. While the normal routine in the past was for me was to always bring a camera out on my fly fishing missions, for 2012, I decided to take a break. I’ve stayed pretty busy at the newspaper throughout the year and my weekends became my place to get out and step away from it all. I wanted to be totally present and just study my new Montana surroundings. Also, I was too busy having fun fishing myself to set my rod down and make images. This past weekend I got after it, fishing two days in a row – one on the Madison River with my buddies Jimmy and Camille and the second floating the Yellowstone River with my buddies Sky and Ryan. The decision was made to bring along my camera. While I primarily fished throughout the weekend, I did manage to snap a couple pictures and even got the big brown trout I caught documented on camera (thanks Ryan for taking the picture). Look for more fly fishing photos throughout the year. The fly fishing photography hiatus is over. I’m ready to start documenting the Montana rivers again. Here we go. -M

Happy New Year everyone! I ended my 2012 on a high note and have been working hard to keep the momentum going into the new year. As always, I’m looking for ways I can develop and grow in my photography and I hope to improve on some things for the new year. So far so good. Here are some of my favorite images I’ve made so far in 2013. Thanks for looking, -M

It’s never too cold to fish. Back in December I headed up north for another weekend steelhead mission with my friends Ryan and Rich. I am not a morning person but when there is an opportunity to float on the Rogue River, I somehow find the motivation. Coffee helps. We left Ryan’s house early in the morning for the long drive north into Oregon and met Rich stream side as he was putting the boat in the water. I love how different a river can look and feel in the middle of winter. The color palettes stream side take on pastel hues and there is this cold, beautiful stillness to the landscape. It was a nice change of scenery. In between swinging assassin flies on our spey rods, I took the time to photograph the guys fishing. Being out there in the cold was worth it. After years of steelhead fishing in northern California and Oregon, I finally ended up catching my first adult steelhead. Thanks for looking, -M

Back in November the urge to get out on the water over came me. In the last six years of living living here, I’ve come to really love winter steelhead fishing in northern California. Especially on the swing. I feel fortunate that some of my good friends share the same passion. This trip was my maiden voyage of my sweet new Echo Spey rod. I drove up with my buddy Allison (my partner in crime from my Alaska trip) from Davis and met my Redding friends Kara and Justin to head over to the Trinity River for a weekend of chasing chrome. Had a great time. Here are some of my favorite images from the weekend. Tight lines, -M

Again, special thanks to my sponsors Patagonia, Glacier Glove and Echo Rod Company for all of their assistance and their fantastic gear.

Ever since landing my job in Fairfield, California I have been hard pressed to get the time to go fly fishing. Regardless of the direction I could head, it would be a solid 2-3 hour drive to get to some decent trout streams. And with that knowledge, there always seemed to be something else occupying my attention. It was maddening. So when a scheduling change up at work allowed me a four day weekend, there was only one thing on my mind. I needed to get my line wet. My brother Eric is a pilot up in Alaska and after one of our weekly phone conversations, the idea of a road trip came up. One of the perks of his job is his ability to fly for free on Alaskan Airlines. I proposed a weekend fishing mission to the greater Yosemite National Park/Eastern Sierra mountains and he jumped at the idea. Weeks went by and all the necessary preparations were made. I picked Eric up at the San Francisco Airport around 11 p.m. and we decided to push on (4 hours) through the night driving all the way to Mammoth Lakes. Having never fished the area before, stopped at one of the local fly shops in the area called The Trout Fly and ended up getting the scoop from Granite, one of the knowledgeable guides in the shop. For the next three days we fished the Upper Owens River, Hot Creek and the Tuolumne River within Yosemite National Park landing countless 10-12 inch rainbows and brookies. Nothing to do cartwheels over, but it was a great opportunity to scratch the fly fishing itch, make some cool night photographs, explore the pretty scenery and catch up on each others lives while sharing a bourbon bottle between us.