In conversation with Tourette Fishing’s Keith Clover – the evolution from fly-fishing guide to desk jockey. And back again…
I first met Keith in July of 2006. The trip was a recce mission to suss the possibilities of running it as one of Tourette’s offerings. The plan was fairly simple: Use an inflatable raft to drift (and paddle) an 80-kilometre section of the upper Zambezi River, spending three or four days hunting tigerfish and camping wild.
I was at Getaway magazine at the time and Keith had invited me along to document the trip for a story in the mag.
That section between Katima Mulilo and Mombova is of course heavily fished by lodge clients on motorboats, but back then – to Keith’s knowledge – not too many people (if any) had worked the area float-trip style. The beauty of using the raft was we could access the shallower sections where those motorboats couldn’t couldn’t get to. Plus it was just a tad bit wilder than lodge life.
While we got no monsters, we boated lots of small tigers and heaps of good-sized bream. What made the trip however, as it usually does, was the mission and the vibe. To date it still ranks as one of my best ever mag assignments.
What’s been even better though, is watching how – in the decade since – Keith and Rob Scott built their business, from passion job to being one of the most respected outfitters on the continent.
Recently I interviewed Keith for a profile feature on redbull.com. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:
“I started off guiding overland safaris for Jozi-based outfit, Drifters,” Keith explains how it all began for him. “That was after school, during a gap year. This continued through varsity,” he says.
It was after varsity only that he took his love for fly fishing and combined it with his guiding experience and the qualification he’d gained from working for Drifters.
The overland guiding unquestionably helped me gain a keen understanding of the guiding industry. The places it took me and the people I got to meet planted the seed for the ongoing appreciation and commitment I have for the industry. It also allowed me opportunity to visit and fish numerous really remote and pristine African fisheries (I always had my fly rods with me), which was another massive help when we started off – Keith Clover
“At the time – around 2004 – there were zero opportunities to become a fly fishing guide in Africa,” he says. “So along with Rob Scott (varsity friend, business partner and now brother-in-law), who also had a guiding background, we decided to start our own bespoke fly-fishing guiding business, focusing on unique and pristine African locations.”
Those formative years, much like any other business, was very much a case of hands-on guiding and living hand-to-mouth. “We had no set structure to our seasons, just guiding when and where we could,” he says.
Things began to change for Tourette Fishing around 2006/7. “We started developing our own portfolio of unique fly fishing destinations. The guiding work become far more structured around prime seasons, and the time in-between the various seasons was dedicated to getting us much admin and marketing done as possible,” he says.
As the portfolio of destinations grew, it became impossible for Keith and Rob to guide full-time and manage the business side of things. “The shift from fly fishing guides to office jockeys was unavoidable,” muses Keith.
Now however, more than a decade down the line things have nearly come full circle. “Fortunately we are in a position – with a world class guides team and solid office staff – that we can begin to enjoy getting out to location more once again,” he says.
What this would mean is guiding a couple of weeks each season for select clients at prime venues, but also being able to focus on the conservation and community side of the operations, which is very important to both of them.
“Community and conservation are key aspects in all our areas of operation,” Keith says, outlining how Tourette’s primary motivating factor to stay in this business is to use their passion for fly fishing to protect wild and pristine waterways and wilderness. “This goes hand-in-hand with community benefaction. We need local inhabitants to realise the value of their natural resources. The fisheries we work on, have to be worth more to the community in a pristine state, than the short terms gains achieved by over utilisation.”
I think fly fisherman need to realize they have a great responsibility to the environment and communities they interact with when out fly fishing.
You don’t have to go on a high-end, fully-guided fly fishing trip to help contribute meaningfully. The more anglers we have out on the water, fishing responsibly, with the environment and local communities best interest at heart, the better for all involved. So, if I had one wish, it would be that people fished more. More sneaky afternoons off work to a nearby stream, quick weekends away to your favorite location, and if you are so inclined, more trips to bespoke fly fishing lodges and camps. Done responsibly, this can only help preserve these special places.
From the Makhangoa Community Camp in Lesotho, to remote rivers in Tanzania, The Nubian Flats of Sudan and Sette Cama in Gabon Tourette have a pioneered some remote destinations, and they’re not about to stop.