When I first started fly fishing I really didn’t have much use for a guide. Given my age at the time, my macaroni and cheese, top ramen budget would not have allowed me to hire a guide anyway. I learned how to fly fish using the scientific method; effectively identifying almost every way NOT to catch fish. My lack of stealth coupled with a tendency to always find myself standing in the place to which I should be casting, and using tippet heavy enough to reel in a Land Cruiser, often times left me wondering why on earth I had given up the night crawlers and Balls of Fire that were so successful in my youth. I looked upon guides as unreachable gurus who sold the experience that I so desperately pursued. On occasion, I would come upon a guide carefully instructing a client, and sit on the bank just within earshot hoping to poach a word of wisdom or two. While this made me uncomfortable, a feeling likely shared by the guide and his client, I was fascinated by a person who could verbally instruct someone from snapping flies off into the bushes all the way to the point of actually landing a trout. Typically, it only took one sharp gaze from the guide for me to get the message and move on. A couple of years later, a brother-in-law who was always gifted at catching a lot of fish became a guide.
Suddenly, I knew “one” which seemed to make them more human. He and a couple of other guys took me on trips to places like the Madison and the Green, etching indelible memories on my very being. Several years later I moved to Idaho and met a coworker who quickly became a friend. It turned out he was married to a guide who also became a friend. Fishing with him in his drift boat was akin to fly fishing graduate school. I learned how to read currents while floating on them, spot and identify raptors overhead, use the wind instead of fight it, how to row, the ever important skill of making a sandwich fit for a drift boat, and the value of a good straw hat. Slowly I began to realize that guides are not riparian leprechauns fleecing the dollars from the wallets of unsuspecting, yet all too willing Sports. These people are Sages of hard earned knowledge; passionate protectors of the very waters from which they have been taught so many valuable lessons. I recognized that they have forged a connection with the river that only dog owners can approach in understanding.
Most start guiding for a variety of reasons; the mystique, to get girls, chasing dreams, trying to find themselves, etc. Most only last a few seasons before they either accomplish their goals, find that there are not many girls to be gotten (re: MANtana), or just get sick of what ultimately is a lot of very hard work. Others find themselves watching the years blow by like exit signs on a kamikaze cross country road trip. I guess that is the point, they find themselves. They become part of an elite group of our species that “just get it”. No longer encumbered by the hollow or vain pursuits which infect and distract so many of the rest of us. They take great joy in helping their clients to feel the joys of angling; appreciate the precious resource that make the art of fly-fishing possible, and form a personal connection with those who will allow themselves to drop the firewall for a few hours.
At the end of a day with a good guide, you feel like you have made a friend; having shared something that is truly special. Good guides seem to have achieved something that is truly God-like; the ability to enjoy the very passion that drives them, vicariously. To laugh, cry, cuss, and rejoice with a client as if they were the ones holding the rod is something that I am only beginning to understand as I guide my family in their angling experiences while seated on the sticks of my own drift boat.
To Mark, Ed, Leslie, Brian, Monty, Mike, Jimmy, Pete, Shawn, Marc, Steve, Dustin, Dave, Brian, and Craig; I thank you for your guidance both on the river and off. My angling journey continues to be a source of strength, humor, and inspiration as I navigate the turbulent waters of life.