Since as long as I can remember I have always wanted to guide or lead people in search of fish. Mostly trout. The early seeds of which were planted in me by my father who brought me along to the trout rivers and streams each spring when I was a boy. My father would put me on his back when it came time to cross the river to reach another hole. He would let me fight a trout he hooked. And I watched him as he gutted the trout and inspected its stomach contents. To a 10 year old boy this was incredible stuff!
Some days, when the water in the river was high and fast and carrying me across was dangerous, he would plop me on a big sandbar next to a big slack water eddy. He would leave me with a can of worms, a rod, and a package of hooks and split shot. His instructions; “Don’t go anywhere and don’t fall in!”.
At the age of 12 I had my own waders and my own spinning outfit and began to understand where to find the trout and how to catch them. By the time I was 16, being on trout streams and learning the habits of the brown trout, was my favorite thing to do.
After high school I moved to the Adirondack mountains to find wilderness and trout. Attending junior college I took forestry classes, learned how to travel in the backcountry and studied outdoor leadership from some of the best guides in the east.
After finishing school I spent the better part of a year in the far north of Canada living off the land in a spruce log cabin on the banks of one of the most remote rivers in Manitoba. I turned 21 about 160 miles from the nearest neighbor. That was 1993.
Starting in 2003, at the age of 32, I began guiding the lakes and streams of the Adirondack region on the weekends. After a few seasons, courting the “big fisheries” of the Salmon River and The Delaware, I found the truth. And the truth, I learned, in a long journey, is that there is no fortune to be found in the trade of guiding.
One of my problems, I realized early on, was that I had a preconceived notion that solitude was a main ingredient to a quality experience in the natural world. The solitude found while wading a remote stretch of river, paddling a backcountry pond, or drifting upon desolate miles of lake, I believe, is a major part of the recipe for a genuine outdoor experience. When I am guiding and the trout are coming to net and I look around and see no other angler anywhere in sight, I measure the trip as a great success.
Those who embark on the path of professional guiding — and the even fewer who succeed at making it work – understand that a guide who perseveres, year after year, is doing it, day in and day out, for reasons beyond monetary. To the few people who spend their energy and time showing others how to catch a trout, navigate a lake, read a stream, to these men and women, the act of leading is every bit as satisfying as the catching. They are not in it for the money.
My guide service provides a modest living. More important, I have found, it provides the opportunity to enjoy great company. Guiding is an avenue for meeting new friends who want to share in the landscapes and environments that I have found myself always drawn to. Often my guest is someone, just odd enough, like me, to have learned that time spent outdoors in pursuit of trout, learning about the places they live, is invaluable. It is time well spent.
Having been trained in guiding and outdoor leadership in both a formal academic environment and through thousands of hours spent in over 15 years of hands-on experience leading others, I still feel uneasy telling people what it is that I do for a living when I am asked. “I am a professional licensed guide. I teach people how to fly fish” I will say.
That response will gather varying reactions depending upon who is my audience. Once I was told, in a fly shop that “real” professional guides only exist out west. Being a guide, amongst my peers, here in New York, is like pinning your picture up on a dartboard at the local pub. In this day and age of anonymous internet forums and social media, where people find it easy to invent themselves into experts on any topic, things can get weird.
To me, guiding is about tradition, ethics and hard work. What it means to be a real guide will never get lost. Because I have learned, in 16 years of licensed professional guiding, that a fishing experience is not improved or enhanced by social media, gear manufacturers or anyone in “The Business” of fly fishing.
A fly rod, a pair of waders, a fly line, all of these things are just simple tools. Like a canoe that carries me into the wilderness. It’s not the canoe that impresses me. It is the place the canoe takes me that is worthy of recognition. Rods and reels, waders and lines, are simple implements that help me bring a trout to hand. They are just things that enable me to engage the natural world of trout.
So if you wear your hat clean and sharp and flat brimmed and your waders cost a thousand dollars and you just got 370 likes on your Instagram with a post of a steelhead caught on a rod that you “pro staff”…well…I am not impressed.
If you burned your damn-near last gallon of gas in an old Subaru to get to the creek after work, and your hat is dirty, the brim bent and torn, your old Hodgman waders leak and the trout in your net is a 14 inch holdover from the creek behind the shopping plaza.
I would enjoy fishing with you.
The conclusion that all serious fly fishers come to, sooner or later, is that trout are about time spent engaging nature in the places where trout live. These special places will burn memories into your mind and you will come to see these places as environments to be cherished and protected for all the generations. The name on your hat, on your waders, on your rod…They will never mean anything.