Shutterbuggin’ with Austin Trayser

The very first cover image(pictured below) I helped choose as photo editor of The Flyfish Journal was from a photographer I had never heard of. A well established photographer, Brian Grossenbacher, who has held several TFFJ cover shots, sent me an email saying I should check out some work from a buddy of his. Austin Trayser. Ever since, Austin has been sending in great images from around the world and we keep publishing them. I reached out to Austin with a pile of questions, and got a pile of great stories and insight in return.

Above photo of Austin courtesy Bryan Gregson


Photos: Austin Trayser

The Flyfish Journal: You’re originally from the midwest, is that right? And now you live in Bozeman, MT?

Austin Trayser: Correct. Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, IL. Now in Bozeman MT.

TFFJ: How were you first introduced to flyfishing?

AT: My family first starting coming out to MT in the early 90’s. I was introduced to flyfishing then. My dad came to Big Sky with a friend from from Chicago and fell in love with the West. He brought us out here the following summer. I was three or four at the time. He’s got video of me catching my first fish on the Gallatin River around age 5.

TFFJ: You’re guiding too right? How’d you get into that and is it something you see yourself doing for a while, or is it a temporary thing?

AT: Living in Big Sky in the summers, we spent a lot of time down at the local shop, Gallatin Riverguides. The owner, Steve French, and his family took our family in as part of theirs. Steve is no longer with us. My dad and stepmom helped run the shop when he was dying of cancer. Anyway, he used to hire me to help out with casting lessons. Most people would laugh when a 12-year old came out to be their instructor. Steve would tell them to shut up and listen! That’s where I learned the patience it takes to be a guide.

I’ve been guiding in MT for about 8 years now. Mostly in the Bozeman area and surrounding rivers. I enjoy it. But I see myself pursuing photography and videography as more of a full time gig. Guiding is great, I love being on the river, but it doesn’t do much for me as far as developing professionally goes. Ya know? I’m a pretty good guide as of now. So what’s next? Being a better guide? Great. With photography there is less monotony, and I feel like I can pursue my creative passions, and actually develop as a creative professional.


TFFJ: What is your favorite way to catch a fish?

AT: I love sight fishing of any kind. Spotting bonefish on the flats or roosters cruising the beach. Saltwater is the best. I watch a lot of bobbers and dry fly eats during the summer. So when the season starts winding down, I’ll move to throwing a two-hander and swinging for trout on the Yellowstone and other rivers. The tight line grab is incomparable. Big fan of throwing mice and floating baitfish patterns too.


TFFJ: Tell us a bit about how you got into photography…

AT: There were a couple 35mm camera bags lying around the house as a kid. So I started with those. I remember using my brothers’ old canon and a zoom lens to photograph ducks at a lake near our house. I won a youth photo competition with an image of female mallard in flight. I was shooting 200 speed film, but was able to track the bird in the air with a slow shutter. That was pre-technical knowledge and understanding shutter speeds etc. But it worked!

I’ve been stimulated by nature as long as I can remember. And growing up in MT was a killer opportunity to be thrown right into the mix. I consider myself a fairly visual human, with a good imagination of how I want things to appear behind the lens.

I took classes in high school like everybody else. Working in the dark room was lot of fun. But it wasn’t until College that I started taking it more seriously. I was taking business classes at MSU here in Bozeman, but doing poorly, as I would spend most my time hunting, fishing and photographing. Economics and accounting classes were thrown out the window when I could spend mornings watching the sun come up on the East Gallatin River with flyrod, shotgun and camera in hand. I ended up transferring to the University of Montana and applying to the school of Journalism. They have a photo/multimedia program that teaches storytelling, how to run a camera, and apply all the elements like audio and video to create a total package. I really enjoyed that because I was able to put together stories on whoever and whatever I liked. U of M was a great stepping-stone into doing this professionally. I would encourage anyone interested in photo and video to check it out.


TFFJ: Who are some of your favorite photographers or guys/gals you’ve felt have been mentors/influences, etc?

AT: I learned everything I know about portraiture from a book called “The sixties,” by Richard Avedon. It was given to me by a professor named Keith Graham. Super clean and perfect exposures. My dad was always photographing us as kids, so I guess I stole some of his style, and his ability to utilize good window light. I follow a lot of travel/adventure photographers like Chris Burkard, and Morgan Maassen. Guys like Mark Montocchio too.

My first real mentor with video was RA Beattie. I was introduced to him and tagged along when he shot a series of short films called “The Midwest Tour.” He taught me a lot about rolling tape, and filming fishing specifically. Since then, we’ve shot a lot together. Sailfish in Guatemala, Casa and Playa Blanca in MX, Bull trout in Oregon, a few of the Simms ICE OUT film competitions. We won the first year with a hilarious short called “Flyfishing Mystery Theatre.” You might check that one out…

(Ed. note: Austin is the one bravely eating the deviled egg…)

Since then, I’ve been photographing and filming a lot with Bryan Gregson. He’s a killer photographer. Super technical and has a crazy work ethic. Been in the business a long time too. He also recently moved to the Gallatin Valley so he’s just a short drive away if we need to run ideas back and forth and drink yerba mate(A traditional tea from South America). Bryan and I shot an ad campaign for Hatch Reels featuring one of their pro staffers in Wrangell, Alaska. We’re working on proposal to shoot four more this year.

TFFJ: You had an extended trip down to South America, can you tell us how that was? What brought you there, what happened, etc. I struggle at first, when I’m in new environments, making photographs, I feel it takes me a bit of time to learn a place before I can really start to make the images that I want, or before I know the type of images that I want to make.

AT: Not sure where to begin describing my stay in Patagonia. But I guess we’ll start at the beginning. I got a message from a named friend Jennifer Cornell. She said her boyfriend had a lodge down in Patagonia(Nic Fin Patagonia) and was possibly looking for help. I called him about a week later. Standard fish talk for a few minutes. Then he asked me if I wanted to move to Chile for the winter. I said absolutely. He called a couple days later and said he would send money to help with the ticket down there. I had zero expectations hopping on the plane here in Bozeman. I barely knew what Patagonia was, or where to find it on Google Earth.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into… Southern Patagonia Chile is the wildest place I’ve ever been. And I’ve been to some crazy places. The landscape is a safari of microclimates. From west to east, across the country you have the South Pacific Ocean, the Andes Mountains, massive glaciers, lakes, river valleys, deserts and rainforest. In an hour’s drive from our lodge you can be in any one of those areas. Throw in the fact that we’re very close to Lago General Carrera, you’ve got one of the most diverse climates in the world. And that’s only a small section of land in the Rio Ibanez, Cerro Castillo National Reserve region.

I was hired to work around the lodge, and do a bit of guiding. On my third day hanging with my boss Skip, he more or less broke his left hand. We were going to plant a boat in one of our lakes, and Skip ran over a cut tree stump driving the Hilux. His middle and ring finger were crossed and stuck that way. He made a cry like a warrior and ripped his fingers back in place. I caught my first Chilean brown half hour later. That started the list of things “I’ve never seen before.” I ended up guiding a lot more than expected with Skip’s hand messed up. He was later nicknamed “One Paw.


The lodge is built like a treehouse on a rock cliff above Lago Tomangito(Little Tomango) right next to Lago Tomango, or Lago Central. A mini half dome granite wall sits to the north side of our lake. The southern cross rises right above it during the night. From day one, it was clear that I had two options: work as hard as I possibly could, or go home. Nut up or shut up, man up, things like that. I learned more in four months than I have in 27 years. How to pump water out of the lake to drink, how to build jet boats, how to drive jet boats, how to chop wood like a Chilean, how to run and fix generators, califones, diesel trucks and how to put up with intense weather and large waves on wind blown lakes. There were multiple life/death situations taking the catajets across the water during inclimate weather. Skip and I became a hell of a team by the end of our time together.


I tried to photograph a bit of everything. The camera came everywhere with me. Most the free time I had was in the trucks, heading to the lakes. Our small beat is quite overwhelming in itself, so there was always a subject, or changing light and landscapes. I photographed a lot at night, also.

The best photographic opportunity came at the end of my stay. We were done with guiding guests, so Skip and I did a big loop around the majority of Lago General Carrera. We packed the hilux and boat up with extra fuel, food, sleeping bags, a chainsaw, rods, and camera gear and headed out. It was new territory for the both of us, but we were eager for adventure. It took a total of five days, but we saw everything from marble caves to the full moon rising over a place called Fachinal. We even ran the boat across the General to check out a river we’d been scoping on google earth. We had heard rumors of the river holding “grande salmones,” so we had to go… It had a few silver platino salmon in there. Not the giant browns we had hoped for. Getting back across the lake was probably the scariest experience of my life. Running the boat a few miles across in 5-6 foot waves. Landing on the other side felt like we had just squashed a lifetime of fears.

TFFJ: You play music too…or at least you’ve sent in images of a guitar that I assumed was yours … anything organized or is it just for yourself type thing?

AT: Correct, I play the guitar. Acoustic, electric, a little bass. Taught myself to play the slide guitar. Ya know? Like Duane Allman and Derek Trucks. Those guys are the best. We had a band in college called Yeti. A power trio that played original tunes that I wrote. Mostly rock, funk and blues jams. I sang (poorly) just to break up the grooves and guitar solos. I jam with some friends in the Bozeman area, and in Chicago when I’m home, but not in a gigging band currently.

TFFJ: I’ve seen a few frames of a new project of yours, where you are making portraits of women in rivers. They are beautiful, what I’ve seen so far. Tell us about that … where’d the idea come from … how it’s going … and where can we see it when it’s done?


AT: Thanks for the compliments. I’m pretty excited about it too. I bought a water housing for my 5dMKiii a couple years ago. Always wanted one, but they are not cheap to buy. I follow a lot of surf photographers on social media, and have seen some cool photos of women in the surf. I just transferred that idea into my own style and onto the rivers and lakes we have in the area. It took a long time to actually have a chance to shoot the first one because of my guiding schedule. It’s been a ton of fun. Most the models are just friends of mine. Had a very positive response with images I’ve shared so far. Winter is almost here, so we’ll see how many more I get done before the snow begins to fall consistently. I’d like to see a collection printed, or make a short zine. Still looking for the right publication to publish the series. Hopefully Monster Children. A badass surf/skate publication out of Sydney/NYC/LA. They have wonderful videos too. monsterchildren.com


TFFJ: Winter plans, new projects, trips for the coming year taking shape at all for you yet?

AT: I’m currently shooting some footage for a film about carp that RA is producing. So far I was sent to Traverse City to film on the flats of Lake Michigan. After that, he sent me to San Diego to film carp with your buddy John Hendrickson. And a day of fishing for Makos on the fly, to show that the same guys that are fishing for makos are fishing for carp. We caught six sharks in one day. I even caught one. Got a sick clip of a mako doing a full aerial in 240 frames per second. Can’t wait to see it on the big screen.

I’m heading to Idaho next week for a few more carp filming days with Jeff Currier and Mike Dawes from Worldcast. Should be fun. After that. I’ve got a few more guide days, then heading to Denver to meet up with my good pal and AK/Chile guide Kent Davis. He’s been in a few of my published images including one from Baja a couple years ago. We’re going to spend some time with his family, and fish our way up to MT. We usually do fall fishing/photo tour and catch up on our favorite rivers.

The second half of OCT I’m going to work for RA in Bend OR editing the carp footage we’ve compiled, and get to know the two guitar companies and mandolin companies he helps run. Bedell, Breedlove, and Weber. We’ve talked about me going to work for him full time and being his media sidekick. Shooting a Hasselblad in the studio, videos for their websites, and potentially a more creative project documenting musicians that play their instruments. If I take that job, that means no more going to Chile for the winter. So, it’s up in the air. Hopefully we can work something out.

After OCT, just heading to Chicago to spend time with my family around Thanksgiving, wrapping up any film projects, then back down to Patagonia in December.


TFFJ: Where else can we see your work, aside from appearing on the cover and within the pages of The Flyfish Journal?

AT: I’ve published images in a variety of print magazines including American Angler, The Drake Magazine, Outside Bozeman, Outlaw Magazine. As well as photos in Orvis catalogs and a few websites for outfitters. My video work can be seen in a lot of RA Beattie’s films for Simms Fishing and in the Flyfishing Film Tour.

Austin’s Website: http://www.traysermediagroup.com

Austin’s Instagram feed: http://instagram.com/traysermedia


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