Fly fishing is in Keith’s blood. His grandfather, Harry Stewart was “the OG fly fisherman.” He grew up fly fishing in Scotland, moved to Rhodesia after World War II, ran Troutbeck Inn, and founded Stewart’s Fishing Flies before settling in South Africa. Thanks to his father and grandfather, Keith has been fly fishing for over 35 years with 24 of those years spent fishing and guiding in over 25 different countries.
Today, he spends the majority of his year in the Seychelles Islands located off the east coast of Africa. Here he’s pioneered fly fishing tourism and established Alphonse Fishing Company, making this one-of-a-kind fishery available to dedicated fly angers, but with the utmost care for the ecosystem. He lives an adventurer’s life, having inherited his grandfather’s intrepid spirit as well as his Fosters of Ashbourne reel and split cane fly rods. We’re proud to have this passionate fly anger, guide, lodge owner, and conservationist, and all-around full-of-life guy in our YETI family.
How do you up your game year after year?
In my early guiding years it was all about catching as many fish as possible on any given day no matter how much you do or do not enjoy the day. Lots of fish will solve all problems, right? I believe that you naturally “up your game” when you progress from a driven, competitive nature to an understanding that fly fishing is the career choice you have made in order to enjoy life. Time slows down, attention to detail and tentativeness increases, and client experience follows that same upward trend. The progression from fly fishing guide to lodge operator is an important one if you are ever to understand how to run a guide team or fly fishing operation. As your passion grows for the areas you fish and you have lodges, you become more aware of the environment and its sensitivities, initiating a necessity to conserve. Conservation is at the heart of all our destinations we operate at and it can never be increased too much. I’m going to up my game year after year through conservation by educating people on the effects of what we are doing to our planet by simply choosing what we purchase.
If you could do anything better, what would it be?
Spend more time with young people that aspire to become fly fishing guides. Train them how to become a guide for the right reasons and how to become a ambassador for conservation by the way they act on the water.
Give us a little insight into what it took to make the remote Seychelles Islands a fly fishing destination.
It's been a long journey, 24 years so far to be exact and we are just getting started. I started on the outer islands by putting together groups, hosting and guiding them while marketing the outter atolls for what they are. The interest grew and the Seychelles became and annual trip for many anglers. It was a natural progression to change from a live-aboard catamaran to a lodge.
How does having a lodge help conservation efforts?
A lease helps with making more of a concerted effort to conserve the areas. The purpose of the Cosmoledo Eco Lodge is to establish sustainable ecotourism in line with the Blue Economy as well as to conserve and monitor the area. One of the most important reasons for the camp is to have a year-round presence monitoring the environment to deter the foreign commercial fishing activities which have been taking place. During the months from May to November when the Eco Camp closes to guests, a team of Island Conservation Society rangers and scientist stay on location with our skeleton crew to monitor the area, which is funded by Alphonse Fishing Company and Blue Safari Seychelles.
Talk a little about the eco-lodges your team has set up:
We set up a temporary and minimalistic camp constructed with recycled shipping containers. The entire container is covered with a sail to create shade and cover from the rain. It’s a concept that I hadn’t seen done anywhere else and echoes a sense of responsibility as almost everything used in building was recycled. The main central area is a tent that is placed on sand and some of the furniture was made on location from recycled timber that was used to pack the machinery. The entire camp was assembled in 21 days and can be removed completely without leaving any trace of humans behind.
What are some of the challenges in keeping human impact light?
The hardest part of sustainable conservation is juggling the amount of pressure you put on a fishery with that amount that is needed to fund operations. Our objective at all our destinations is to make a positive impact by protecting and monitoring the entire ecosystem, both marine and terrestrial through sustainable use. We have scientific programs monitoring the fishing to guide us in a responsible way. We have reduced fishing pressure by launching our sister company Blue Safari Seychelles that generates income from marine activities like diving, snorkelling, dolphin and whale watching, manta snorkelling, nature walks etc.
I'm passionate about preserving the destinations we fish and places emphasis on responsible practices that will ensure these amazing and fragile ecosystems are protected for future generations.
Who are your heroes? Who do you look up to?
All of the pioneering fly fishermen that laid the groundwork for us to be able to work in this incredible industry – Flip Pallot, Lefty Kreh and Trey Coombs.
What haven’t you accomplished that you aspire to do in your lifetime?
I have not yet been able to accomplish all of the conservation efforts that are needed on the outer islands of the Seychelles to ensure the areas are protected for generations to come.
What part of you, or what you do, reflects a spirit of restlessness?
I’m always looking for the next new fly fishing place to explore. As the world evolves there is always room for improvement, which means I’m never content with the experience I offer my clients.
If there is any love-hate relationship with any aspect of what you do, can you describe what that is?
I love to fly fish but hate to over-exploit. There is a fine line between sustainable use to protect the area. I’m happy to walk past fish without even casting or avoid an area if I think our presence will be detrimental to the environment.