Winter is coming....
Enjoy the ride...
OG outdoor fishing, climbing, and surfing legend Yvon Chouinard is a true dirtbag. If you don't know what that is, it is a term of endearment that fellow core participants of these outdoor undertakings use to refer to each other. It means that one is a true, maniacally committed member of these outdoor undertakings, which usually means sacrificing other aspects of life, financial wealth being a common one. It's not often that a billionaire businessman could ever be an accepted, true member of any of these circles, but the reluctant businessman/dirtbag Chouinard is. If you needed further proof as to his commitment, he just gave away a fortune to help fight the climate crisis. What a bad ass. If you haven't seen it, here is his letter, and some conservation groups that the Speytribe supports to help out our planet, so dirtbags in the future can play too.
As a old soul, I’ve always loved fishing with older dudes. As I approach my own half-century mark, I am actually feeling pretty young as an angler based on what I’ve seen from the old guard over the years. I am eternally grateful and inspired by all of the older anglers that I have had the pleasure of spending time with, both on and off the water. Those who came before us blazed the trails for all of us who have followed in their boot steps , flask passes, corker marks, and boat wakes. I’ve gone from feeling a bit intimidated by old guides and clients when I was just a a punk young guide in my 20s, to slowly turning into somewhat of an old curmudgeon myself. The good news is that I realize that I have lots of good years left on the water after being inspired by anglers who were in the “autumn of their lives,” which is actually my favorite season anyway.
Some legendary dudes:
Ned Long was my first fly tying teacher and fishing mentor. He was an FFF Hall of Famer who wore a patch over a blind eye. Well into his 80s, he could still tie his famous intricate dry fly patterns that I had a lot of trouble with, and I had two young eyes. The grizzly war vet would also not hesitate to loudly call out gear chucking dirtbags for “throwing chicken guts” into fly only water whenever he encountered them. Thankfully they refrained from engaging with old one eyed Ned, as I was often his fishing companion during these rather uncomfortable confrontations. To this day I still refer to every bait fisherman’s bait as “chicken guts” regardless of whatever kooky ass bullshit they are using. Thanks Ned.
Norm Christenson was an OG Rivers of a Lost Coast steelheader, dry fly purist, and North Umpqua Steamboater who still walked up and down those brutal trails in his 80s. Then from there would go on a multi day float trip on the Deschutes or head to Montana for a month. Norm was also an early mentor of mine on the famed spring creek Fall River, who “was not inclined to ever fish a bobber on a spring creek”, lest he would indignify the fish, the fishery, and most importantly himself in the process. Today, his spirit haunts every kook who is now side drifting his beloved spring creek, and if you are guilty of this, enjoy the curse bestowed on you from a true Fall River legend. Pro Tip: Norm took a river nap every day after a gin and tonic and fished into his 90s…lesson from an accomplished surgeon.
Norm on a New Zealand Spring Creek
Logan Shurmer was well into his 80s when I took him on many multi day adventures to remote rivers in New Zealand. He hiked and fished better and with more enthusiasm than most anglers less than half his age. Logan just did both a little slower, which makes more and more sense as I get older. Our many road trips and dinners together gave me belly aches due to his continuous comedic dialogue. He trout fished every day it wasn’t raining in his home waters of Idaho and New Zealand.
These guys taught me so many different life lessons, but a common one they shared was just don’t ever stop spending as much time as possible on the water to stay young…even if involves pain.
Scott O’Donnell had an epic quote about “older dudes” on my first multi-day trip with him down the lower Grande Ronde. We had a group of guys well into their 70s who seriously fished their asses off. We were watching them pounding the homewater on the last night at camp, some were really struggling to still wade and cast with any measure of success or safety. It was more like swimming between aimlessly thrashing the water with a stick, with their faces grimacing in pain with each cast. Almost dark, I was going to try and remedy the final meltdown or pull them out for beer thirty and just chill. But Scott stopped me and said, “What are you doing? Just let ‘em be. Old dudes are always in pain. They just never bitch about it when they’re fishing.”
For further reading on how awesome the old guard is, check out this superb piece from Tom McGuane on aging and fishing. It was first published by The Drake magazine in the winter of 2018 and appears in their January 2019 online magazine that you can view on the link below. This brilliant piece contains humor, wisdom, and important lessons on aging/fishing gracefully. Check out the full article “Flyfishing While Old” here:
Some of my favorite quotes from the piece:
“Wheel me out on a platform. Hand me a size 18 bluewing, pre-tied to a 5X tippet. The only issue is whether the monofilament deteriorates in strength and memory before I do.” Skip Herman
“And I regret the contempt, however faint, that I once felt toward fishermen sitting in chairs on the shores of lakes and the banks of rivers. I can no longer wade in currents. If I’m not on a boat, I’m casting on a chair at the edge of the water” John McPhee
“On balance, there are better ways to catch fish; here in the West, floating in a driftboat is probably the most effective, and easily free-bases ten to twenty miles of river in a day. Now that millennials are making a bit of dough, I often see them go past when they are not running over me. “ McGuane
“First came the wading staff, then the judgment that slow water over a smooth bottom is likely to hold more fish than the deep pockets and fast current against the boulder on the far side.” Tom Brokaw
The Stages of a Master Jedi Guide
Disclaimer: If you haven’t watched Star Wars, or you are a sensitive young Gen XYZish guide, then maybe you should just stop reading now, as the intention of humor in this piece will be lost on you. If your only program is side drifting bobbers and beads, then perhaps seek out a different craft all together, because you are already lost...
Like the Jedi Order, there is a hierarchy in the guide realm that all guides must travel through until they reach their individual, ultimate goal of what it is to be a true master of their craft. Most never make it, which is ok, and quite understandable because very few ever reach a Grand Master level as Yoda did. But mainly because humans don’t live as long as Yoda, and full time guiding for over 40 years is quite impressive...most impressive. But you don’t need to be Yoda to be an effective, bad ass Jedi guide and work your craft at a high level.
Being a huge Star Wars fan, I thought it would be fun to ponder these different stages of the evolution of a Padawan guide on his journey to becoming a Jedi Master Guide like Yoda.
We could simply look at these certain stages in terms of years guiding throughout our guide lifetimes, but it’s not that simple. Like in angling, it’s important to understand the metrics.
Angler 1: fishes 5 days a year for 20 years= 100 days of fishing…Definitely has some experience, kind of like chompy like Cookie Monster Jedi here. Nothing wrong with that, just not really a Jedi, but always talks about how they've been "fishing for 20 years."
Angler 2: Fishes 200 days a year for 20 years=4000 days of actual fishing, now this angler is on the path becoming a real Jedi
Year 1: Youngling.
Overview: “RMF” or “rookie mutherfucker”. With zero to under 100 guide days under your belt, some seasoned clients will actually know more than you. And that’s ok, because your budding enthusiasm is great for beginners and group trips with dudes who don’t fish much.
Annoyances: old guys telling him how long they’ve been fishing for compared to you, even when they suck at fishing.
Relationship status: girlfriend who thinks it’s a cool gig and mistakenly thinks you will make good money and won’t be gone much. You are considering or already have a fishing dog.
Fishing skills: solid nympher, but just needs clients to get ‘em the easiest way possible to gain confidence. Easily drawn to the dark side, which seduces you with numbers and instagram photos of big fish hoisted 6 feet above the water before being dropped into the boat by unskilled client.
Year 2: Reluctant Padawan
Overview: Overflowing enthusiasm and confidence after a whole guide season of experience. If over confident, or just plain arrogant, the dark side gets dangerously tempting. A good way to avoid the dark side is to be thrown to the wolves into a tough lodge or outfitter gig…as a RMF yet again.
Annoyances: getting heckled by every other guide on the river or in the guide house that isn’t a first year RMF.
Relationship status: significant other and dog are both starting to resent you for being away often, unless you bring the dog on your gigs with you, which is a great idea.
Fishing skills: learned to double haul primarily for streamer fishing, but still likes racking up the numbers with clients nymphing to help build confidence. Lost time and interest in dry fly fishing because it’s way easier to get nubie clients into fish by side drifting and nymphing.
Year 3: Reluctant Padawan who thinks he’s a Jedi
Overview: Has defined skills and experience, but real potential for dark side leanings into the common “Super guide” complex. If their only program is water loading and side drifting bobber rigs, you may already be lost to the dark side. In which case just switch to gear fishing…it looks way less stupid and you will catch plenty of fish. Also enjoys racing everyone down the river and having clients only look at their bobber or turn around to check and see if anyone is catching up to them.
Annoyances: Younger guides jumping them in the guide rotation for some reason; anyone putting a boat in before them.
Relationship status: possibly engaged, or recently single due to massive ego.
Angling skills: stack mending expert, does it even when unnecessary, as loud as possible. Hates dry fly fishing because it isn’t as easy to teach as the old water load and stare at your bobber program. Or, is teaching the art of fly casting and angling, on the path to becoming a Jedi instead of just another bobber hucker, which is quite similar to a dime a dozen bitch ass storm trooper working for the Dark Side.
Year 4-7: Accepting Padawan
Overview: finally has experience to back up his ego and understands that they need to respect the older Jedi that have come before them. Seeks out more challenging venues for both themselves and keen repeat clientele. If already turned to the dark side, try to avoid these numbers kooks on the river, because they are already lost.
Relationship status: Single after significant other finally kicked them to the curb, or current one is wondering if this “guide thing” you’re doing is just a phase until you get a “real job”. Very, very happy dog.
Angling skills: finally truly understands how to overhead cast, and becoming interested in actually teaching it, which makes them personally much better at it. Imagine that concept!
Year 7-10 Obi Wan Kenobi: Ewan McGregor
Relationship status: married either to the right person or resentful one who will bail before you make it to the next stage. Dog is still happy if you didn't lose it in the divorce.
Angling skill: highly skilled and well rounded caster, and enjoys teaching it because it is such a critical aspect of a Jedi’s craft. A highly skilled angler in multiple techniques and enjoys implementing them into a more diverse guide program. Those who went to the dark side in earlier stages might have some hope of coming back to the light after realizing being a chompy numbers kook fly fishing guide isn’t that much fun. Or they thankfully just quit guiding and took on a job that better suits their chompy ass personality.
Year 10-15: Guide Assassin Boba Fett
Overview: Pro guide, assassin stage. After 2000 plus guide days, you finally accept the reality that this is your career and you have to accept your destiny. Some will even quit but then go back to guiding again, because it’s way cooler to be an assassin Jedi than work a job that makes much more fiscal sense.
Annoyances: part-time guides who make a bunch of money in some other job and act like a Jedi Master fishing guide. But as Luke Skywalker knew all too well, you can’t simultaneously be a dirt farmer and Jedi Master…you must choose only one. Doesn’t mean dirt farmers can't be awesome guides, but again…consider the metrics.
Relationship status: Single, or if miraculously still married, you hope your wife has a good gig with a steady paycheck and benefits. Old or newest dog has had epic guide dog life and no complaints.
Fishing skills: assassin with a fly rod with any technique, pushing elite with personal favorite. Seeking out challenging venues to further master the craft.
Year 16-20 Jedi Knight: Qui-Gon Jinn
Overview: Captain of varsity guide team. With well over 3500 guide days, you get more choosy with your venues, clients, techniques, and the amount of days you can guide on a particular venue. Mega crowded beats or easier rivers that may have more opportunities become way less appealing. So best to avoid booze cruise group trips on a crowded ass river with shit regulations full of chompy people and hatchery fish.
Annoyances: A handful of a new generation of young punk guides who didn’t pay for their truck, boat, or house and believe the Jedi Order is of little use (except for following them everywhere). The Jedi find their lack of faith…disturbing.
Angling Skill: Continuously seeking out more challenging water and angling situations.
Relationship status: Perhaps a second or even third wife/husband, which is a keeper, and the ever present guide dog. Or, single and living in a Van down by the river...
Year 21-25 Jedi Master Kenobi
Overview: Elite guide stage, and it’s too late to do something else, so fuck it and just keep on fishin. Old school clients are good friends and some even pushing Jedi by now. Almost impossible to work for other people.
Annoyances: Fisheries Management Agencies, overpopulation, climate change, and the quite disturbing over use of plastics both on and off the water.
Relationship status: whoever is with a guide that has been doing it for this long must be the right person and therefore, quite awesome. Whatever dog you have is obviously stoked.
Angling skills: elite in every aspect of the discipline. Enjoys watching good angling more than doing it, but sometimes that’s the only way to watch good angling.
Year 26-30: Jedi Master of the Order Windu
Overview: Bad ass defender of the resource with a profound sense of gratitude for the extraordinary amount of time spent on the water. Rich in life experience, but probably not fiscally.
Angling Skill: Master of every discipline. Personal fishing becomes secondary to protection of the resource, conservation efforts, and wanting other anglers to experience extraordinary moments.
Relationship status: toss up. Single master guides this age with a well behaved dog are a hot commodity for some singles, revolting to others.
Year 30 and beyond: Grand Master Yoda
Overview: Few guides ever attain this stage. After finding enlightenment after so many days on the water, the Master now guides his favorite clients as much for pleasure as he does out of financial necessity, and to simply just be on the water.
Relationship status: Either with the perfect person and dog, or single with the perfect dog and totally content anyway, due to living a life on the water and not having to ever have to work for the Dark Side.
Angling skills have transcended comprehension by all but other Grand Masters. Then finally..
“Soon will I rest, yes, forever sleep. Earned it I have. Twilight is upon me, soon night must fall.” – Yoda
So keep this in mind when some self proclaimed Jedi gives you his card at the boat ramp (lame) who claims that he’s been guiding for X many years… He’s no Jedi, he may be whatever this kooky ass thing is
Epilogue: Most seasoned anglers have all heard of what the progressive stages of what becoming a master angler are. When one starts flyfishing or guiding, at first you just want to catch a fish. Then they want to catch a lot of fish, then a really big fish. Then you wanna get em in more challenging ways. Some never move on from some of these earlier stages, and that is totally ok. A beginner guide or angler can have just as much fun, perhaps even more fun than a Jedi when they go fishing. Just do it in a way that has the utmost respect for the environment, other anglers, and most importantly, the fish.