My wife works for a big financial firm and when we go to holiday events with her co-workers, I dress up and look every bit a part of their regular social and work environments. Nearly anyway, minus the sandals, cracked and smelly feet, dirt under my finger and toe nails and gash on my face from latest spey cast gone askew with 2/0 hook.
As we begin to have a few drinks and gather around to chat, the obvious and inevitable question comes up, “What do you do for work?” The reaction to what comes from my mouth ranges about as far as you can imagine.
“That is AWESOME!”
“What is fly fishing?”
“No, I mean now, not what you did in Colorado.”
“Can you do that here?!!” “Can you stay busy and make any money?”
“What would you guide for here, there aren’t any trout streams are there?”
“Do you have a card?”
“Have you seen ‘A River Runs Around It?” No, I haven’t!
“So is that just on the weekends?”
“I thought they only fly fished in Montana?!!!”
“You must eat a lot of fish!”
“How do you keep the insects on the line when casting?”
“I fly fished once, in Montana, 20 years ago….” or “I have fly fished for 20 years, a day a year anyway.”
“Where do you take people? ‘We go everywhere, Puget Sound is one of our favorites.’ You can fly fish in saltwater!!?? What lives out there?”
I think you get the point, not a job those in the 7th largest city in the U.S. can really even conceive of having. And to be totally honest, sometimes I wonder why or how in the hell I came to do this. There is so little that is similar about this to what I did in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states with one exception, every direction you look there is water beckoning to be fished, maybe more so here and there in lies the start of the problem. There, in the Rockies, it was EASY in nearly every way. Here it is a bitch in nearly every way, allow me to point out how.
1. Guiding in the Rockies meant having to basically only know trout, that is it. Maybe a few different rivers, launch points and a little navigation and real rowing in a few select locations.
2. Longest drive I ever had was about 40 minutes from the shop to the river for a day trip.
2a. No traffic, not the stand still on 4 lane freeways we have here anyway.
3. Meet at a luxurious 7-8 am usually at the shop.
4. Back from a full day by about 6pm at the latest.
5. In the bar drinking again by 7 at the latest.
5a. Could leave car at fly shop over night and just walk down in the morning to meet next day’s clients.
6. If drove after drinking, knew town marshall by first name and typically had a few drinks with him the night before in the same bar.
7. Went to bed each night KNOWING we were catching fish the next day.
7a. Most likely big fish too!
8. Sleep well knowing the above!
Here in Seattle anyway, we need to know a bit more. There are way too many great fly angling opps in our area to pass up by simply guiding one river. Besides that, when your home river is blown out (or closed!!), which happens here frequently, how do you pay the mortgage? So here are a few of the things we as guides in this urban world need to be great at in order to be successful:
Pre 1. Washington did not win the big resident trout mega lottery, we have a ton of small fish, it is why Sage makes the 000wt.
1. Which way traffic is worst and at what times and how that coincides with where we want to take clients.
2. Must be proficient in all facets of local saltwater, spey casting and anadromous fish, mostly steelhead, resident trout in more than a handful of streams and creeks, tailwaters, freestone and spring creeks. All entomology associated with each, deep familiarization with all equipment coming out that is applicable to each.
2a. Did we mention Pike, Muskee, Bass and Carp? All are here and just waiting to be guided on a fly rod.
3. In the steelhead world, know all launch points on a dozen rivers, which ones fish at what time of year and at what flow.
4. Saltwater, must know at least 30 different beaches to begin to be successful all year in all weather conditions. Knowing which beaches are out of wind, which ones are blown out due to nearby creek flowing in and each of these 30, at least, at every tide level from -4 to +11.
5. In the trout world around here you can live like many by the whims of the Yakima River, one of our only trout managed rivers in the state and certainly the most well known. The Yak still has a dozen float options on it to know well. Wild rainbows here are very fickle so you better know your bugs or it will be a slow one!
5b. The what to do when someone is there I have to laugh at because while in destination fisheries, you have more people focused on fishing while there but it will never compare to having nearly 3 million, or more, within 2 hours and 1-2 percent of them focused on fishing. Most of them NOT fly anglers either so not only do you have nothing in common with them, they hate you much of the time. 1 for guiding but secondly for fly fishing. When was the last time you had a person walk over to you with a rock in their hand and say, “You need to get the hell out of here, this isn’t a fly fishing river, go somewhere else, NOW!”
6. The nitty gritty. The 3 things you NEVER talk about with clients — Religion, Money and Politics. Well, here you better be capable of it because most are going to bring it up at some point in the 4 hours you spend in the car with them that day. Yes, 4 hours sometimes of window time, not 15 minutes where you barely even get names of each other before you are on the water.
7. The tough shit. Get ready for months of swallowing your pride as you come up with reasons as to why your clients didn’t catch fish in either the salt or one of the dozen steelhead rivers in the area. This happens often in both so good night sleep the night before only happens with some help from alcohol or Tylenol PM, both if you are winter steelheading.
7a. Winter steelheading from Seattle, you either head north, south or west and that can change on a days notice. Up at 3am, get client by 3:30-4am, be on water by 6:30am with shuttle done, stand beside them in 35 degree water, in leaky waders with sleet or sheets of rain at least coming at you, always head on too. Then the long car ride back either sneaking sips of whisky from a flask between oncoming headlights that look like a cops or speeding excessively to get back and end the horribly uncomfortable silence…
7b. Wondering why you are the only boat on a stretch of river where there should be 30. It is the upper Hoh or other O.P. watershed and the water is just on the drop from the latest flood levels it reached a couple days ago. Come around a corner and, OH S–T, is that a log across the river? Not just any log but a virtual old growth tree, can you say portage of an aluminum drift boat with only 2 of you, and he is 70+ years old? This is only a bi monthly worry…
7c. Wear equipment you bought from the rep who tells you that some guy who guides 3 months a year in a low-pro glass boat in Montana tested these and said they were the bomb!
8. Our regulations book is the size of a small city phone book, 146 pages long this year! So on top of knowing all the above, you better know what is open, when, for what, where those boundaries are for everything. Get a lawyer.
9. Driving in downtown Seattle. Pick up at the Four Season’s, great, can you navigate the myriad of one way streets, bus only lanes and turn your SUV and boat trailer around in their barely limo sized pull through?
10. Did you check the ferry schedule last night? Each season brings a new first boat time at each dock, not checking may leave you sleeping for an hour in line waiting for the first one, clients love that especially when you get them up at 3:30 am!
11. Do this for 20 days a month and keep a girlfriend.
11a. It is now illegal to talk on your cell phone while driving here, blue tooth acceptable but how often are we using that?
12. Maintain yourself, boat, car, house, animal if you have one, squeeze in a concert and a couple nights out with buddies when you think you can handle the repercussions the following day.
13. Care. Care that your client each day still has the best time possible on day 23 of the above in a single month.
I know we aren’t the only ones who do this in urban environs, this is more of a nod to those who live in Miami, L.A., San Fran, New York, Portland (wait, Oregon doesn’t count as they have steelhead), Denver (doesn’t count either, you have half a dozen trophy trout waters open all year within 40 minutes of town), Boston, New Orleans and the rest of our brothers here in Seattle who love the lifestyle and can hack it, smiling.
I did my tour on the 3/day-2/night guide trip circuit where you are the guide, the chef, the doctor, entertainer, oars person, naturalist, geologist and geographer all in one. I used to complain about how hard that was, little did I know. When I get the chance to go back and do these trips in Colorado, MT, Oregon and elsewhere, I relish this time as it feels like a vacation…
Anyone want a job?