So many have said so much about fly fishing- so much for this “quiet sport”. -Glenn Smith
“The first rule of flight club is you don’t talk about fight club”. This is one of the many famous quotes from the Brad Pitt movie, Fight Club. There is a wisdom in this quote. Some things are best kept to one’s self and those that know the secret. I believe this deep into my fabric of my soul.
I spend a lot of time writing about the “experience” for fly fishing, what it means in the big picture? and how it can change you when you are living in “the moment”, as you follow the perfect drift to a splashy strike of a big brown. What I don’t like to do is gloat about it.
Recently we had our annual guide meeting at Taylor Creek, the fly shop I guide for. When I say guide meeting, I really mean, a bunch of pretty unkept guys and gals with mad fishing skills, drinking cheap beer, giving each other a full rationing of shit and listening to what is expected from us as guides and ambassadors of the shop. I have been to countless gatherings like this. This is also the time when the veteran guides, more or less, stake claim to our seniority and rank in the shop. Yes, it is a pissing match between people who fish for a living. I smile and get a kick out of every one of the “meetings”. It is just plain fun.
But a topic was brought up by the guides this year that I wasn’t expecting to discuss. It was the matter of not publicly “advertising” the amount of fish you and your clients caught on any given day. To not walk into the shop and blurt out “We got 10 to the net” or “Man, we killed it today!” This, I thought, was progress and something I take very seriously. Let me explain why…
As guides, it is our job to help you catch fish. I have always joked with my clients by saying “You can’t catch fish on your own, you don’t need me standing next to you, talking and not catching fish…” There is more to that quote but I will share this some other time. The point is simple: We will catch fish. But what exactly does that mean? Will we catch a 100 fish? Will we catch 3 fish? I believe that numbers are all relative to your clients expectations or the “total experience”.
We, as guides, should do exactly that, guide. Sure it is important to catch fish, that is what we do but it is not our job to assume that the only thing our client wants is to catch countless fish.
Case in point: I have had days on the river when the fishing was off the hook, and I have had days that it was difficult to even buy a strike. We have those swings out there, so if I am on my own, I continue to walk, wade and cast as the day passes by. If it’s slow, I find another spot. If the fishing is on fire, I stay. It’s that basic. But when out there with a paying client, guides think that their purpose has changed. They feel compelled to prove that they are fly fishing gods of the universe and all swimming creature are at their complete beck and call. We all know that this is not true and the that the only thing that has changed from your normal day out fishing is that a few extra people are tagging along. The difference is you are being paid for your knowledge, not by your fish count. With that said, why the pressure on numbers? Are you out there to stroke your own ego by vicariously upping the number of fish your client is catching? Does it challenge your manhood? Are you less of a guide than you thought? Do you think that you will impress the shop and other guides by how many fish you brought to the net? Not at all, not even close. Your client only knows the experience you are giving them and their own past history fishing; and the shop only cares if your client was satisfied by their day out on the river with you.
The definition of satisfaction is:
“sat·is·fac·tion noun \ˌsa-təs-ˈfak-shən\
: a happy or pleased feeling because of something that you did or something that happened to you
: the act of providing what is needed or desired : the act of satisfying a need or desire
: a result that deals with a problem or complaint in an acceptable way”
If your client wants to learn how to become better at casting, and you teach that, they will be satisfied.
If learning about the habitat, history of the area, insects, how it relates to our sport and the environment, they got what they wanted, they are satisfied.
If you get a client that only wants to catch big fish and a ton of them, do that. But be prepared to address this expectaions if the fishing happens to be slower than usual. What else will satisfy this client?
So to wrap this up, when you walk into the shop or at the bar next door, your fish count does not matter. Anyone who has been fly fishing for most of their lives and guide for a living, truth is, we don’t care. Every fly fishermen should remember one thing, an average or below average day to one person could be an amazing day to another, quote me on that. Let your clients do the bragging because they paid for the right to do so Our reward, as professional fly fishing guides, is knowing a job well done, securing a future repeat client and hopefully a decent tip to put towards our cheap beer that we love so much.
Keep that tip up,
“Man, it’s really sticky!” That was the first thing out of my mouth when I landed in Belize as I stepped off the plane (and I use the term “plane” lightly). Belize is one of those places where you take a commercial jet to the mainland then “climb into” a small, commuter plane either ran by the government or by a disgruntled expatriate collecting a pension in order to get to your final destination. I traveled to Ambergris Caye with a short list of things to accomplish: One, to sight fish Bonefish in the turtle grass; two, to make close friends with a hammock; three, to get a guided flats boat and hunt Tarpon and Permit; four, to try as many local beers available, and number five, to repeat the first four tasks everyday for a week.
This story came back to mind recently because I was reflecting on why “we”, as fly fishermen, go to great lengths to seek out the most exotic places, only to catch fish that we don’t keep, eat or mount on our walls. It is kind of odd, really. So I started to think of my first of many Fly Fishing trips I have taken, and a trip to Belize, 20 years ago, helped me solidify the reason for this passion/obsession. Sure, the reasons are numerous: the beach, the perfect weather, the bikinis, the topaz blue waters, the tropical fruit and the delicious drinks that can be made from them… Come on, there is no down side to an exotic place. But I was not there for a tan, I was there to hunt big, powerful fish with a fly rod.
So, back to the story of Belize:
In less than 20 minutes from the airport, sitting in a topless 1976 jeep with original tires, I arrived at the hotel. It was surrounded by a 10-foot stone wall that separated “their country” from “our perfect country”, at least on the inside. On the inside of the wall, ice and buffets; on the outside, Watermelon flavored Fanta and families without shoes. After I checked in with the front desk staff, sporting my tropical shirts, broken english and big smiles, they assigned me a room, complete with palm trees, flowers and a hammock within staggering distance from the bar. My list was getting checked off much quicker than I had imagined, perfect.
Once I got settled in (aka beer in hand), I started to make inquires with the concierge/jeep driver about where I can wade for Bonefish and who was the best LOCAL Tarpon guide to hire for a day. The information came quick. The answer to the first question was, “over there”, as he pointed out of the lobby towards the flats right off the hotel’s beach, which was convenient; and the second answer was just a walkie-talkie chat away.
He buzzes whomever was on the receiving end of his CB, a distorted voice responded, “ahhhchhhhhaeee haappppchheeeeee ah ttooo, and OUT” I have no idea what he said, it could have been the local language, slang or a bad connection. My guy, I call him that because somewhere within our 20 minutes together driving, I came to trust him, whatever his name was, and how can you not trust a 270-pound guy who appears to be related to everyone on the caye? He told me that the static voice guy said, “be ready tomorrow and on the dock at 6:30 am“. OK then, I thought to myself; no guide name, no boat name, no nothing. I wasn’t sure if I was going fly fishing or being set up to lose my money, rod and anything else I may have had of value. But it was only 12:15 pm, and I was eager to get my line wet. This is my first time fly fishing the salt. I am a trout guide; a born and raised Colorado native. This was all new, this salt water thing, I was excited. For this occasion, I tapped into to my “pro-deal gear” and geared up with a brand new Sage 9 weight rod, an Able reel, new line, a mortgage-amount of saltwater flies and 2 months worth of casting experience at a local park. All I needed to believe is that I got this saltwater thing under control.
I put on my flats booties, my fishing shorts, a small waist pack, grabbed a cold beer from the beach bar and headed to the flats. (By the way, this beats putting on waders, boots, gravel guards, vest and driving to a river for two hours.) I recalled my research and discussions with my friends that have guided saltwater about what to look for when spotting Bonefish. Impatiently, I casted at anything and everything that moved or caused a shadow, just to cast and to see if, in fact, I could really cast the distance necessary to fish for any saltwater species.
I’m fighting the wind, I’m getting tangled in my line, the rocks are sharp…I am just floundering out there. I didn’t event think that there would be coral and rocks out there, I was hoping for white soft sand. Then something happened, at about 40 feet and the wind at my back, I see a tailing Bonefish, just like they said. Its tail just out of the water, a bit of cloudy water around him from nuzzling in the sand and grass. This was it! My first Bonefish and my chance to acquire that “in-the-know” nod.
So I pulled myself together, calmed myself down and tried to remember everything I read, videos I watched and advice I was told over and over by experienced guides. Rule number one, “don’t line or spook the fish”. I am getting ready to cast my line, away from the tailing fish, trying to gage my distance, which was just past the fish, just a leaders length. I feel good about it so I load up my rod and shoot the fly line and fly to the exact spot I was aiming for. I land it and, more importantly, the tail is STILL there. I didn’t spook him. I put the tip down and start to strip, fast then slow, I didn’t really know. I stripped it past him and nothing, I mean nothing, not a turn, not a move, nothing. But what that meant was I still have a shot at this fish. Back to casting, one big pull back, sent line out forward, sent more line out in the backcast then shot the fly right over the fish. I started stripping and then something happened that I didn’t expect, he ate my fly.
Everyone tells you how to spot, cast and fight a Bonefish, but no one really tells you what to expect when a fish like this takes your fly. Imagine this, you cast at a Mini Cooper and you hook the bumper, then, exactly at that moment, the Mini steps on the gas going directly away from you. That’s the feeling, more or less. The fact is, I was not prepared. Once I set the hook, he took off. I had my drag of my reel set way too strong, which resulted in me diving in after my rod after it had been ripped out of my hands by that little freight train of pissed off. Luckily, I got a hand on my rod before it escaped completely and quickly loosened my drag and away we went. The fight begins.
As he swam away, I had the rod bent so much that I was waiting to hear that “gunfire” snap that you only hear when a rod breaks under pressure. Thank god that didn’t happen, but I was waiting. Reeling the best I can, letting it run when it wanted, reeling again, I was making progress. All I could compare it to is a foul-hooked Whitefish; strong, unmanageable, and angry. As I slowly got my first ‘Bone near me, I realize that I don’t have a net… rookie mistake, so I slowly work my way to the beach and bring that #6 bundle of muscle to the shore, reach down, release the hook from its mouth and watched him swim away never looking back at me. I was pleased.
I didn’t take any pictures, have no prize to show for my heroic efforts, just the cold beer I drank while watching the turtle grass, closely, for some kind of movement.
Be sure to hit me up this Saturday. I will tell you about the Tarpon experience I had the next day.
So what do you want to do for a living? This question is asked to most everyone as they grow up. The people that usually ask this question are people who believe that they have found their path, their purpose and somehow feel they know all the best methods to achieve success.
I am here to tell you that they don’t.
If these guidance experts are truly enlightened, they will be wise enough to realize that their advice should be more of a suggestion of sorts or a catalyst for action, not a platform to preach their personal gospel to their own personal success.
I have 18 years under my belt as a professional fly fishing guide. I make part of my living by teaching the skill of catching & releasing fish. The other parts consist of cooking things (as a professional chef), building things (as a General Contractor), designing things (Furniture, Flowers…), solving things (as a Consultant). The fact is, I have done everything that my student counselor never even suggested.
I would wager that there is not a single career guide book written that would suggest “You should pursue a career as a fly fishing guide” or “Your skill set suggests that you should be a jack of all trades”. There are many of us out there that was given career options that were more suited for the advisor than they were for people they were advising.
The truth is, I found myself as a guide by chance and bit of bad luck.
In my beginnings, I became a chef, working in amazing places and evolved into a top-shelf ‘private chef’ in Aspen, Colorado, with a cliental that could not be rivaled, all without formal culinary training. My food is really good but my personality is better. Making my way in that industry came through good relationships, honest interest and wanting to get really good at the craft. Secondly, I also liked the image of the chef, being in the social mix, being the guy that made a restaurants reputation. Another perk that was appealing is I tasted and ate what I made, and it was free. That was very important back in the day, because I was flat broke at that time in my life.
All was going as planned (if to say I had a plan), then I was struck with terrible news, I had heart issues. The chest X-ray from a routine check up discovered that I had a leaky bicuspid aortic heart valve. In short, being told that I had a big heart was no longer a compliment, it was now a real problem. Open-heart surgery was inevitable.
After meeting with specialist I was given three choices:
1) Have the valve replaced within a month,
2) Wait and have a heart replacement,
I was actually excited to hear this, I like those kind of choices. Clear cut and no room for indecision. I choose door #1.
I am not to going into what happened with lengthy details, sympathy stories or life changing religious experiences, I’ll leave those to a yet to be addressed medical blog. The long and short of it all is, I weathered the surgery and all is good. Except one thing, I was told by my Doctor after my recovery to change my lifestyle, to limit the stress in my life. Hmmm, as I hummed to myself, wondering what I’m going to do now. The fact is, anyone in the elevated, highly skilled culinary world knows, it is nothing but a high stress, high pressure occupation.
But changes had to be made. I had to find another career, so I reflected back to all the career aptitude test I have taken throughout my lifetime. The Myers-Briggs test, self-help books on changing careers, my high school aptitude tests, anything that could give me some sort of direction.
After reviewing my results, my best career fit was, according to the test; a hair stylist, an architect, a graphic designer and my favorite, an Assassin. Best part is, I have done something in all of these fields, accept the Assassin thing, unless you consider hunting turkeys a hit man job.
Here is the reason I am bringing all of this to the forefront of why I am concerned about advising someone about there future. I believe that the people who are quick to give career advice forget to look at the person as an individual and not just a common type of person that fits the career profile. A great counselor understands fundamentally that a person would rather find or discover their spot in life by accident, or take to the game of career “Twister” and choose a different spot of different colors on a daily basis, spin the wheel for a new color and see where they end up.
I grew up living in my dads work shop, tinkering with everything i could get my hands on. Woodworking, building bike, tearing apart motors (and rarely getting them back together again). I made plaster sculptures, knitting and countless Estes Rocket, model cars and planes. I did it all. When summer showed up, I went fishing with an Uncle maybe twice a month. Who would of known that I would be a professional fisherman as a living? I didn’t.
Recently, I looked in all the career guide books, no mention of Fly Fishing guide as an option, I knew I loved fishing, as a hobby, but a career? You hear the stories from Pitchmen and Bakers, “My Passion is buttercream” or “I live for making the perfect plumbing fixture”. I get that, but I would say most people can’t really pinpoint their passion. I never once uttered “my passion is fly fishing” or “my life’s works to create a perfect method to catch a fish”. It never passed my lips, until I took a close look at what really made me happy and why it did. That’s when I started to think about my “love” of fly fishing.
Having a passion for something is best, but the way I looked at it, fly fishing gives me great joy. I am content on the river. I also like teaching others and take joy in their successes. All of this was discovered because of circumstance and happenstance. I had a really bad thing happen to me that I thought would never happen, but it did, unexpectedly.
I live in an area that is known for its fishing, Basalt, Colorado. There are four major rivers within 60 miles of each other. The Frying Pan, The Roaring Fork, The Colorado and The Crystal. Every one of them, perfect fishing habitat and beautiful. I reflected back to what I knew was engrained in my psyche as a tinkering, fishing kid and looked for options that could possibly be new career. I asked friends about their favorite unexpected job they have had or ever had. I looked at my hobbies, I paid attention to what magazines I would grab from the book store. Then I looked out my back door, talked with my local fly shop, Taylor Creek Fly Shop and the rest is history. Thank you Tim Heng, a Fly fishing guru and the guy who gave me a chance.
I love helping people find a direction, not a path. (You might say that is my passion). You can never be sure of exactly, pin point accurately, what they are best suited for. Are they up for a climb or better fit for a stroll? If you feel the need to guide, advise, or try to help someone find their path, take a moment to ask the right questions and not dictate.
Instead of saying:
“I think you should be a doctor, it’s a good living and you can make some serious money.”
You should maybe ask: “Do you like helping people? How are you about solving problems? Why do you care?” and so on.
If a person seeking advice on how to become a structural engineer and wants to design bridges but lacks in basic math. You might say “well, you have to be good at math, I don’t think thats a good fit for you.”
A good counselor would not advise against it but would try to understand the reason why they would enjoy that career and look outside the box.
I believe that what you choose to do for a living can be dictated by situation, by your ecosystem, by happenstance, by luck but mostly by how wide you keep your eyes and mind open. I would never have thought that I would spend my days with a rod in my hand, a fly in my line and an office that is supplied be nature.
If you are ever asked to advise someone about career choices or what they should do for a living? Be sure to reflect back to your own life and see if the advice that was given to you fulfilled your expectations of what your life has become.
The internet is or can be a wonderful thing. Most the time it’s “redunkulous”, as the kids say, but then there is content out there worth digging for. It must contain great info, be well produces and not include a single cat or some dude being hit in the privates with various objects, but if there was a video of a guy being hit in the nuts BY a cat, well that is a different CATagory, Ha!
Please enjoy this find on Tenkara and wet flies.
On a side note, I will be posting my take on fly fishing how to and the Zen of the art here very soon!
Best and tight lines
It is a bright, sunny day and I am a meager 6’4″ guy trying to be stealthy, trying not to spook fish. It begs the question, “Is creeping around, being as quiet as I can, really make a difference in my catch ratio”?
Truth is, I don’t know… but how can it hurt. I prefer more of a quiet fishing experience, no yelling, no Yee Ha’s or Yoo Hoo’s, just quiet action. I know that it is exciting to share with everyone around you that you have a massive, potential state record trout on the end of your line if, in fact, it is true. But take it from me, don’t do that. What’s the point? To cause envy? Jealousy? To be the P. Diddy of the river? More like Kanye West really, arrogant without reason.
I subscribe to the soft little voice in my head that say’s “I know this is awesome, I want to do that again” school of thought. It’s simple. It makes me happy and keeps me from a) looking like a dick and b) being called out if, in fact, it is NOT the record breaking. Nothing is really worse than being the guy who called “fish” for no reason.
So, be quiet, be sneaky and be humble. Only good things will come from this technique.
There is a new kid on the block that seems to be shaking up what we “dyed in the wool” fly fishermen hold sacred. It has us questioning our technique, our skill, our pride of years of practice of becoming seasoned anglers. This “Kid”, this trend, is called Tenkara.
Tenkara is not a kid at all; in fact, it is very old. It is a fishing technique that originated in Japan hundreds or millions of years ago, when a pole, a short line and a lure were all you needed to catch a fish. A fishermen back in the day would take this basic combination tool to their streams, catch and keep some fish, and live happily ever after.
Now let’s fast forward a bit. Fishing has become a sport. Fish are caught for the enjoyment of the chase and the fight, and then they are put back in the river for the next fishermen to catch. The equipment has evolved as well. We now have micro-technology rods with specific line speeds and weights, made with exotic woods and sterling silver. Reels that have more engineering involved than the first lunar module and fly lines that float and sink at our will. And a selection of flies for sale that the shear number available surpasses the actual number of living insects. Amazing. Evolution is grand.
Tenkara is here to put a bit of perspective back into our primal needs. It is here, I think, to stay. John Gierach is behind it, Yvon Chouinard is an advocate, and guess what, I think I will follow suite.*
*By no means completely
If you have taken anytime to read some of my other blog posts, you will understand why I would gravitate towards Tenkara. It sums up my deepest personal values in a compact, retractable, graphite package. Please let me explain.
I have spent my entire fishing career pondering exactly why I love fly fishing. As you would expect, there are countless reasons: the hunt, the riddle, the fish, the surroundings, the peace and quiet, mastering my skills, showing up my friends, the stories, and simply, being part of an exclusive club. After a hiatus away from the river, it became clear that there was something I was missing. It was the religion of fly fishing I enjoyed, the Zen of the process I loved, the unity between me and my environment that keeps me coming back. Then, enter Tenkara.
A few years back, Daniel Galhardo of TenkaraUSA set up shop ( I will provide the link to his site to explain his history). My good friend Frank, a fishing and motorcycling buddy of mine, who, also in fact, seems to be in the forefront of undiscovered cool, introduced me to this new style of Japanese fishing. The equipment is simple – it is a smallish telescoping rod, some nylon line, a bit of tippet and a Tenkara fly, which is a sparse wet fly. There is no reel and no ferrels. Think Huckleberry Finn meets the 20th century.
I was intrigued. I asked Frank if he would let me use his Tenkara rods/pole/graphite sticks or whatever you want to call it, and go fishing. He excitedly said yes and made plans to meet at my shop. Frank shows up right on time carrying what appears to be a short metal tube that looked more like an extra long holder for a “Churchill” cigar, one small flybox and a 3-inch custom looking spool wrapped in multi-colored filament, and that’s it.
I have all of my gear which is a 5-weight rod and reel, and a fully stocked vest as well as a lanyard…just in case. I placed my rod in the back of his truck, carefully feeding it through the back window to protect the tip. He stuck his Tenkara rod in his back pocket. I have a similar feeling when I go skiing with my snowboarder friends; I carry my boots, poles, and skis. They wear their boots and toss their board in the truck. Very easy, unincombered, and very Zen.
So we take a drive up the Frying Pan looking for some good water to try out this new technique. Frank is pretty easy about where we go and was open to my suggestions being that is what I do for a living. We stop near the 7 mile marker where there is a great mix of pocket water and good runs, it was perfect.
Frank brought two of his new fangled rods, each of different lengths and flex. He hands me the “soft” one then proceeds to give me a short tutorial on how to set this thing up. It is a series of simple slipknots from the tip to the fly. The Tenkara flies are sparse; a hook, some thread, a forward facing hackle, again, simple. When I looked at them, it all started to make much more sense.
He had a process that he liked to follow. Keep the rod retracted and tie on the end of the line, then slowly extend the rod as you carefully unwind the line from the spool. Deliberate, thoughtful. Then we chose a fly and tied it on in my traditional way, a modified clinch knot. We put on zero weight, you fish these flies more like a wet fly, not so much as a Dry or a Nymph.
We hit the river and away we went. The way you fish this rod is as if you are high-sticking pocket water. Sharp, laser-focused casts with emphasis on the action of the fly and less focus on line control. Up to this point, there were very few differences between Tenkara and fly fishing, but this is one of them. There is no “ten to two” motion, more like “ten to noon” motion but curt, prompt, decisive.
At first, I wasn’t really loving this. It seemed rudimentary. I felt amateur, like a kid with a long stick and a leader on it hoping something possibly will take my “bait”. Then, suddendly (and finally) I had a strike. My focus changed. My thoughts went from the rod and awkward process to wondering why I got a fish to take that fly. On my next cast, I stuck him; instinct set in and I reached for the reel, but there was no reel to be found. Calmly panicked, I lifted the fully engaged, beautifully bent rod above my head tin attempt to lead the fish to calmer water. I maneuvered the rainbow to the nearest eddy, carefully grabbed the line and brought him to my net. Grabbing the line this way is taboo in my world as a guide but I apparently common in the Tenkara world. Funny thing is, this is the part I fully enjoyed. It made me realize that I need to take ALL variables into account: where I stand, what I am going to do when I get a fish, looking long term at the short term process and recognizing problems and solutions before you need them. I couldn’t just horse him in or let him run into my backing, I had to antisipate where and what he was going to do with only 12 feet of line attached. I had to think of my positioning and my next ten steps. Nothing is more Zen, becoming exclusive with your environment, simple process for a complicated task. Pretty cool.
I will say this, I will not give up any of my rods and gorgeous reels and replace them with Tenkara rigs, but I will for sure have them as part of my routine as a refreshing change of pace. One thing is for sure, you will find me on any day that the hatch is going strong with a single short line and a long rod pulling fish off the top looking as if I had reached Nirvana. It is that cool.
Be sure to look me up at Taylor Creek Flyshop if you are in the Roaring Fork Valley if you are interested in learning Tenkara and enjoy another level of river philosophy.