Respect. Something my generation has a hard time with. We don’t get a whole lot of it, and we demand too much of it, it seems. Respect is earned. It does not grow with age, you can be a royal asshat and be old. Respect is earned through action, how you speak and treat others…including trout. Respect is important to me, because for the 11 years of my adult life I have had very little in many things…except fly fishing.
I fish a lot. Put more time on the river both professionally and personally than most. I have high regards for wild trout above all others. And the West Slope Cutthroat holds a special place in my heart. They possess me, wild trout, all that they encompass possesses me, intoxicates me, I hold them in awe. Interacting with them, angling for them, it brings me into their world. I get a taste of that wild raw nature that so many of us seem to yearn for but never truly connect with. I facilitate that connection professionally, and I chase it constantly personally. Respect has been given to me in the angling community because of my passion. And fellow anglers receive that respect from me because of theirs. Respect doesn’t mean I like you, there are plenty of people in the angling community that I don’t like…but I respect them as guides and anglers. Which is why you will never see me arguing, fighting, or otherwise being an asshat on the river. No matter how crowded or ridiculous it gets out there…and the past two summers were not free from tense encounters with other people on the river let me tell you.
I don’t always get to pick who I fish with. Many times my clients have no idea what they are getting themselves into with me. The big, loud, beardy dude who knows too much about fish for his own good, who gets more excited for fish on flies than his clients, the guy who spends most of his free time fishing, snorkeling, working with these wild animals. For those who have went with me, its an experience, and no matter how many fish hit the net, its fun.
But there are days, when I do get to pick who I fish with. And I am very selective in who I choose to spend my personal river time with. Many times I spend it solo, as a lot of the time I am the only person I can stand to be around riverside after days and days of new faces and skill levels. Other times its my kids, my lady, but not often enough as I tend to be very selfish when it comes to my personal fishing time. But there are days when a fishing companion is what I am after. There are less than 5 individuals I call on a day off to come fish with me now. They know who they are. I’ve stopped fishing with many people this past year. Mostly because when you fish enough with someone you start to learn more about them as a person and sometimes you learn that they just aren’t the type of people you want to share the river with. Some people change when they go from river to home, others don’t. People, just like trout, can be finicky persnickety bastards that are just hard to figure out or deal with.
I fish with people who respect the trout. Maybe they don’t respect trout for the same reasons I do, but they have a respect and awe for them that mirrors mine in some form. I don’t go on the river in my free time to slay trout. I don’t need to slay trout anymore…I did that for years, and realized that catching all those fish didn’t satiate me. Then I started exploring more water, targeting different fish, learning everything there was to know about my quarry. The connections of the ecosystem that I use as a playground all started to show themselves. And respect for wild trout and their homes grew and became an integral part of me as a person.
I fish with people that respect life. You won’t see me out on the river on my day off with the other guides that don’t share the same passion I have for the river and trout. I’ve stopped fishing with people who use fly fishing as a way to lie to their loved ones, skirt responsibilities, or make every riverside adventure one that is fueled by beer and drunkenness. I’ve used fly fishing to escape life…but at the end of it, I find myself with a clearer perspective of things. Every major decision I have made in my adult life can find fly fishing at it’s root. Some people fish just to catch fish…I don’t and there is more to fly fishing than that. I don’t wanna spend my free time fishing with people like that. That’s what trips are for. Whether I use fly fishing to relieve stress, to think, or just to unplug and connect to something wild and natural, fly fishing and chasing wild trout has been a constant for the past 11 years in my life and it means so much more to me than just catching fish.
Respect is earned from people and trout. I used to catch all the fish…like all of them. Before instagram, facebook, youtube, gave the world ‘proof’ of the fish you caught, there was a scruffy young adult chasing trout and catching every single one he could find. Big, little, didn’t matter, if it rose or flashed, I went after it. I got really good at it. After a few years of it…I got bored. It wasn’t until then that I started to see the other things that make fly fishing so unique. The places anglers get to see, the tactics used, the science, the bugs, the life that needs to be understood to really become a through and through fly angler. Sometimes you gotta look up from the river, take your eyes off the fly for a second, see what it is that you are really doing.
It is something I see every one of my clients strive for. They ask all the questions that let me know they are thinking about it. That Zen State of Fly Fishing that so many look for. When the catching becomes easy. And let me tell you, its not the fly you use, its not the perfect presentation, none of that matters in the end. That Zen State comes when you understand it all. You can’t reach Zen without becoming Enlightened. I spent several years working towards that ‘Enlightenment’ and you can see the results when you fish with me. Both personally and professionally. Some think I am different in the boat when I’m not with clients…they’d be wrong. I don’t need an audience to be excited about trout, its not a show, its real, organic, I can’t control it. Sometimes I don’t even know I’m doing it until someone shows me the video of it. That comes from a place of deep respect and understanding of what is going on when I cast a fly to a trout. Its amazing in every sense of the word when you get a wild trout to commit to a hook tied with feather and hair. Amazing…tricking a wild animal into thinking something is real but it isn’t. Its not like hunting, not like skiing a big run, not like climbing that summit, or making that long distance trek, fly fishing is incredibly unique in its very essence. Its not a method of fishing to feed oneself, its a completely useless endeavor that so many seem intent on chasing. Why? Its fun first and foremost, and tricking a wild animal appeals to my primal instincts. Fighting a trout and releasing it only makes me want to do it more. Understanding the how and why that trout decided to eat that fly is part of the path to that Zen state. Its roots are in respect, education, and skill. But at the end of the day…you have to be open to the corny and cliche notion of…”Hey man, this is really cool. The river, the trees, the fish…ya man…I can dig it.”
That respect for the trout and their home is a large part of that Zen state. Understanding how it all works together, from the weather, to the hatches, the water temp, the season, the species of fish, everything and more come into play to make that trout eat that fly. To me…that shit is really cool. Some days luck is a factor, but more often its knowledge and a little skill that put trout in the net and smiles on faces. What is more fulfilling than figuring out all the intricacies of something and seeing the results come to fruition? Every cast, every rise, every trout to the net is a step into that wild world that we as anglers always seem to be trying to get into.
As a guide, I can take someone who has never cast a fly rod or even seen a fly before, and lead them into that world. As a guide I get off on it. One of the only ways this sport challenges me is to work with new anglers and get them to that point. And let me tell you, there isn’t much that is sweeter than a rising trout to a fly, a gasp from a new client, the look on their face when the rod bends and that wild animal says hello, and the client meeting that trout face to face. Even some of the experienced anglers I have taken out have similar reactions to these wild fish here. Clients that show that raw and unfiltered passion for this sport and the animals it engages garner my respect and I earn theirs.
A handful of people get calls from me to fish and it doesn’t cost them anything. Some of them were clients at one time, others met just walking the river bank on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve lost some angling companions as well, some because they would rather drink than fish, others because they lied to their loved ones about what they were doing. Some because they saw me as a free boat trip to get some photos for their facebook. Some that have left a void in me that can never be filled no matter how many trout I catch. Those that I do call now I have the utmost respect for in terms of fly fishing. They may not be the best anglers, they may not catch very many fish when we go, but they get it…and if you don’t get it…then you don’t get it. It can’t be explained, it can be shown, and some people see it and others don’t.
A lot happens on the river…its my opinion that too many people are missing out and that’s part of the problem. The river slows everything down. It makes you think about things. Some of the best conversations and discussions I have had in my life have been in a driftboat casting flies to trout. We need more of that; more respectful and meaningful conversations and discussions with a slow pace, cool heads, and the sound of a river and a rising trout in the background.
Hope to see ya riverside.