In what’s rapidly becoming an annual tradition, I spent a chunk of this past summer on the road with my buddy Mac. We made a Canadian trip that followed hot on the heels of a few stellar days I spent on Idaho’s Henry’s Fork, and amid all the truck time, weaving back and forth between our temporary base of operations in British Columbia and the half dozen rivers we explored, we had plenty of time to b.s.
Our ongoing conversation was circuitous, rambling over flies and rods and fish - the Westslope Cutt, we both decided, is a hell of a trout, and may be, in it’s own way, as handsome a fish as you’ll ever run across - along with politics, religion, the economy, women, marriage, wilderness and any number of other subjects that seemed germane at the time. We always tied things back into fly fishing, though, and buried in there amid all his other thoughts, Mac mentioned that the thing he missed most about working on the Henry’s Fork, where he and I once guided, was the camaraderie.
If you’ve spent much time with them, or if you’ve worn the yoke yourself on occasion, you know that guides can be a close knit bunch. Rivalries and egos aside, the vast majority of guides share a common love for the sport. If there’s a palpable difference between guides and the larger fly fishing community, it’s likely in the degree of sheer, unbridled passion. Most anglers really enjoy their fishing. The majority of guides, on the other hand, lust for it, immerse themselves in it, eat, sleep & breathe it, until it occupies an inordinately large share of their waking existence and turns a relatively normal lifestyle into a slightly crazed walk on the razor. Slip one way and you fall into wild-eyed dependency, where breathable waders and certain brands of fly rods take on a decidedly unhealthy importance. Slip the other and your passion dies, leaving you wading through incessant tedium with nothing more than a bit of cash to offset your fall from grace.
If there’s a “Eureka!” moment in a guide’s life, it’s when he (or she) discovers that he’s balanced on the sharpest of edges and he has to make a conscious choice about what to do next.
I don’t have any regrets about stepping away from guiding - my decision helped keep one of the great love affairs of my life from slowly turning to dust - but Mac was spot-on with his comment about missing the sense of camaraderie. If I was going to change gears and start a new internet business, I’d figure out a way to hook up ex-guides with the best possible fishing partners, folks who either guided some themselves back in the day, or who run awfully hot when it comes to fly fishing.
That’s the one thing that all my fishing buddies have shared over the years. That sense of passion. It ties you together and transcends differences, transcends egos, even transcends words. I might be wrong, but I think it’s because fly fishing is so … “real". We’re essentially mainlining a connection straight to the natural world and I honestly don’t know how you could ever top that.