Fly fishing. Some learn it from their fathers or grandfathers. Others learn it from their mums. A few are just innately good at it. Others chase it and spend years learning it…not for profit, not to be the best, but just to learn, and have something that fulfills the self. That accomplishment of figuring something out, the satisfaction of learning and be able to apply a skill and it be successful. Some people spend their entire lives looking for something that brings their life joy and gratification.
I consider myself very fortunate. Despite the hardship my family and I have overcome since my lady. Got started at 18 right out of school. Became adults together. People still think we are young and my lady and I laugh. Just starting out our 30’s with 3 kids under out belt, college degrees, debt, bills, the crap that builds up with life, my lady and I have a few things figured out and some experience with life compared to others our age. We’ve been homeless, poor, living out a car, hotel rooms, bumming up with parents, if my 20’s taught me anything it was how to survive. A few years back, my lady and I made a plan. A very adult plan. We cut the fat, got serious, and stopped fucking around so to speak. We set a course, checked our barrings, and struck out on a new adventure…our adventure.
Fly Fishing, it seems, found me right when I needed it. Fly fishing was and has been one of the only constant things in my adult life. I stumbled upon it, and a long relationship began. I sought it out, chased it down, I needed to know everything I could about it, to understand it, to find out all its secrets. Not to be the best, not to eventually guide and make money, I did it because I was drawn into it. It called to me. It pulled me in, like a big ‘ol 2’fer trout on the end of your line that won’t give up. Every time I thought I was ahead of the game, it threw me a curve ball, typically right when life would throw me one as well. I couldn’t get enough of it. I always wanted one last cast, one more bend, one more run. No matter what obstacles were there I kept working my way up river. Life was no different.
Now I’m not gonna get into all the negative and bad shit that befell my family. It doesn’t really matter anymore. But it should be pointed out that I would not be the man I am today with the reservations, resolve, and perspective I have without those years of hardship and in a sense I am grateful for them. Because, what is life without hardship? What is fly fishing if the trout does not need to be tricked? The most memorable fish, have come from some of the hardest to reach spots, the longest and toughest days, and when you least expect it after hours, days, months, hell years, of hard days…then…it happens….and every bad day is worth it. The journey to that day becomes the story, it becomes the focal point of conversation. The trout that came of it is secondary, what came before, the lead in, that is what becomes memorable. Life is no different. At least not for this trout bum.
The skills required to pursue such places and such memorable stories and trout waiting to be made and tricked, they do not just appear. Unless you are like my son and are just somehow a tuning fork for trout. But I was not so inclined. Fishing was very hard for me. I was very bad at it for a very long time. I didn’t catch my first trout for almost 4 months after I started. But as many know, when you get that first trout, one of two things happen. You either get over it, or you become addicted. I was of course the latter. And I hit it hard.
But I was horrible at it people. Missed everything. Just didn’t get it. Didn’t understand what I was doing. But that pull, that feeling that something was lurking under that root wad that was life changing, something no other person had ever caught or seen. I had the bug, I was drawn into fly fishing like nothing I had ever experienced in my young life. At 30 that hasn’t changed, maybe more controlled, but that need, that pull to the river and what lies beneath has not lost any of its lust since that cold February day over 10 years ago now. When I think back to how I was during those first few years and what I’ve seen and done, some of it such a blur, that I can’t do anything but smile. No matter what life threw at me, the years have been filled with some absolutely amazing fishing.
I was able to experience things that anglers twice my age with way more skill still strive for. With no money mind you. I learned early on that you don’t need money to enjoy all that fly fishing has to offer. Expensive gear and fancy accommodations are not a necessity for fly fishing, in fact, in my opinion they are a distraction. Sleeping under that stars, the river rambling in the background, the birds in the morning, the crackle of the fire, and the sounds of the night, those things are not present in a hotel room or a resort and fly fishing is best experienced as a whole package. I was able to visit places and fish them, way before YouTube and FB, and digital cameras, on a shit budget, with cheap gear, and hand tied flies, sleeping in the back of my truck or on the ground along the river. Gone for days at a time, being completely irresponsible as an adult and skipping work and class to do so. The PNW was my playground and I played hard. My lady always vigilant and supportive of my trout bum behavior. When kids got thrown in the mix…we adapted our lives to accommodate both my insatiable appetite for chasin’ trout and having a family.
It’s not like I didn’t put effort into school or my family, but like many from my generation we got dealt a shit hand and had to make due. We were in college thinking it was a necessity for a good life. That’s bullshit by the way. We grew up thinking that was the path we needed to take. Looking back on it…a lot of wasted time and money. So when it all went to hell in ’08 and the aftermath of trying to become a regular adult with a standard 9-5 career went down the toilet, after literally 100’s of job interviews, passed up left and right for more experienced and seasoned individuals I developed a distaste for that lifestyle and the reasons for needing one. As we grew closer to our 30’s my lady and I made another big change. This also was when I had a resurgence of fly fishing in my life. I was fishing more than I had ever before at this time. I began delving farther and farther into the world of trout and insects, the connection between mountain, river, fish, land, human, all that…stuff! I couldn’t stop. With everything that I was told life was supposed to be, then real life giving me one hell of a dick punch, I decided…fuck it…I’m going fishing. It wasn’t until recently that I thought of putting the skills I had been learning and the trout I had been chasing to work for monetary gain.
With life kicking me when I was down and a push from the best woman in the world; I took the plunge and went full into the business of guiding. Struck out on my own, that college business stuff giving me the confidence and skills to do it, so there is that from the college debacle. Being an adult is seeing positive out of shit situations. Or maybe that’s just the trout bum in me, hell at this point they are interchangeable I guess. I knew right off the bat, that the time and patience I had put into learning the ins and outs of fly fishing and the years of fishing a ridiculous amount had prepared me on a skill and technique level. The life that lead me to that point prepped me for the rest.
I learned to teach, I learned to run a business and how not to run one. I learned who to trust and who to cut out of your life. I learned from many different people, but developed a strong intuition and technique of my own in the process. I learned to never stop learning. That the skills necessary for being a fly fishing guide must be exercised like any other muscle. This includes the mind as well as the body. I learned in my first year that this is a people business, not a fishing business. My time as a musician and entertainer prepared me for that. My guide trips are gigs, and I play them to the best of my abilities every time I sit at the oars. I took all that hardship and turned it into a tool set. Cut out what was unnecessary and focused on what made me happy and have confidence in myself that the money would figure itself out over time.
Business takes time, and must be built, one client and one trip at a time. Just like catching the most persnickety and wildest of trouts takes time, patience, and a strong skill set with an aptitude for thinking like a trout. Everything that led me to today was prep…the preseason. People ask me how I keep my energy level up the way I do. They ask if its just a show…its not, when trout season starts I start, when it ends I take a breather. Its my life, and if you can’t get excited about life then what the hell are you doing. I get to live, I’m not chasin’ bills, and I don’t have a lot of stress in my life other than the little things.
The off season is for rest, reflections, preparation, and to focus on the other things life gives you, like kids and shit. The off season is long though. But I’m young still and about half way through the off season…I get anxious…I feel that call, the pull, the river enticing and inviting. The trout…oh the trout…intoxicating just to watch, habit forming and very addictive to trick and become involved in their world. The satisfaction I feel knowing what it took to be able to enjoy fly fishing as life. It’s not just a business for me, but my business is hand built, like my flies making it mean something more to me than just financial stability. It’s mine, I’m building it, I’m putting in the work and time, that little slice of American Dream for myself I guess.
It’s funny, I talk about business, but in reality I’m thinking about how I can skate through the early season by only taking as many trips as necessary so I can fish myself. When you work in your passion you don’t get to enjoy it as much. Like the artist constantly working on commissions instead of their own artistic pieces. Like having to play cover tunes at a gig when you have a library of originals. Luckily I love my job as much as I love fishing. But I do get burnt out. On a people level and a skill level. When I burn out on people I fish with friends or solo, or go see a movie. When I burn out on clients missed fish…I go fish.
I bare witness to many a missed fish by clients. It breaks my heart, but its also part of the fun. I do have days where I know that skills I have honed over the years are what are needed for a particular fish or situation. Some people just aren’t on the level yet. I do my best to get clients close, and many times it works out…well….a lot of the time actually now that I think on it. Ha…sweet. Anyway, when I start to feel like snatching the rod out of a persons hand and doing it myself. I take a break and fish myself. If you tried to book a trip with me the last week of October, I was taking one of those breaks. I fished everyday for a week straight. Slayed trout too. There are times that those skills need to be practiced, to be tested, tuned up, and enjoyed. I didn’t learn all this stuff to not go fishing. I add and test skills and techniques as well. Constantly learning and retooling and tuning. As I’ve gotten older and life has simplified, I find myself wanting to fish even more. I know that I cannot be an effective guide if I myself am not an effective angler. Those who teach should also do. If this is life…I wanna do it right.
Fly fishing is so much more than business or hobby to me and my family. It is our lives. From the food we eat, to the cloths we wear, to the conversations at the dinner table, and the adventures we have as a family, its what we do. My lady and I are already planning shuttle stuff, prepping the kids and house for trout season, the days are getting longer, the river starts is quiet call. Our whole lives revolve around the river here. It’s a good place to be. The journey here wasn’t easy…but nothing worth a damn is easy. 2’fer trout don’t just trick and catch themselves they require patience, skill, time, a developed angler, and a few big fuckers missed that haunt you. Prep work. Life. Fly Fishing. Boom.
One thought on “A fly anglers life. Part 1”
Had the pleasure of taking a trip with you a few years ago. Now live near the Lower Deschutes in Bend chasing redbands….
Just in case you were curious….I read all your posts. I enjoy the raw, emotional, unedited writing. Refreshing in a world of overscripted marketing garbage….