Fly Fishing has the uncanny ability to fill the void in our lives, repair what is broken, and rejuvenate our passion with new perspectives along our journey. It’s a sport with an infinite knowledge base that offers us opportunities of growth whenever we are ready—even for those of us who have made fishing their career.
Kype’s slogan, “Keeping it Real,” comes with a responsibility to address all aspects of the sport, not just the how-to aspect, but subjective topics as well, as they have been proven to be just as important, if not more so. What’s in our heart will dictate our attitude and, ultimately, decide if we are in this sport only to take or to give back as well.
Throw a twenty-year-old fly fishing guide on a river that receives a hundred thousand anglers a year, over a hundred additional drift boat captains...and watch what happens. Over time, the well-intentioned heart of a new guide hardens, and a dominant streak of competitiveness will inevitably flow through their veins—trust me—I know.
Young and green, with misplaced priorities, I found myself striving to be the best guide out there by out-fishing the other more seasoned guides on the river. A skunk was okay, if, and only if, they too were skunked. I set my standard to their level, charged what they charged, and fished the way they fished.
As time went on, however, and with the introduction to other fisheries and regions, I felt compelled to raise the bar and hold myself to higher standards. I’d approach each and every season with the same simple goal in mind: to obtain a perfect season—a season where each and every guide trip resulted in surpassing my client’s expectations by landing fish no matter what obstacles came our way.
Similar to an obsessed football coach studying every last move on film, I’d go over my journals, my calendars, water-flow charts, weather reports—all in hopes of positioning my clients in front of fish the following morning. On those evenings of uncertainty (and each season there are always a few), half dreaming, half awake, all options would replay until the alarm sounded. Eventually, usually over a cup of coffee, a decision was made with the refusal of questioning it any further.
With only two days left in the 2011 spring steelhead season, my calendar reflected a perfect record—thus far—that is, until there was a knock on my door at four-thirty that morning.
“The Creature’s in jail,” the visitor blurted out in the damp darkness outside my cabin door.
“What?” I asked in a raspy voice, still not fully awake and not believing what I was hearing.
Comprised of multiple nicknames, Cisco, T-Wild, Skives, Goof, and of course, the Creature (aka, Creatch), the group of nine young anglers from New York had met me in Steelhead Alley for two days of fly-fishing.
“Dude,” Cisco explained, pointing to the mere six digits inked on the back of his left hand, “It all started when I was getting a chick's phone number, and (out of no where) some guy punched me and Creatch stepped in.”
The complications of Creatch going to county lock-up and the bruise upon Cisco’s brow led to a late start that morning and a nasty skunking—therefore ending my prided streak of perfection.
The following night, after an amazing day of fishing and a most unusual holiday dinner with the remaining eight anglers, I sat on my couch with my calendar and etched in the final numbers of the season, Easter Sunday. Sitting back and reviewing the entire season, I contemplated earnestly why my eyes were continually drawn to one particular day, the only day with a goose egg. Out of an entire steelhead season that consisted of great clients and friendships, amazing moments, rewarding late afternoon comebacks and dozens of trophy steelhead, I was immensely bothered by the one skunk. It was at this time I realized something was very wrong.
The fishing industry has pockets of guides, shop owners, and political figures who compete for control, fish, clients, land and monies. There are guides who compete with each other for pools—cliques of territorial guides who despise the newcomer—and the daily clash of styles amongst bank anglers. The list goes on and seeps into our fisheries, therefore, often creating an arena of competitiveness that can often clash with the beauty of the sport.
I’ve come to realize that unless we are representing our country on the national fly fishing team, excessive competitiveness does not belong in fishing, as it often leads to bad etiquette, bad attitudes, bad internet posts, bad vibes, bad business and bad fishing.
When we can remove ourselves from this toxic asylum, we are able to visualize the sport from afar, and, hopefully, rejuvenate our perspective by reverting back to a time when we first started fishing—a time when our passion was red-lined—the feeling of exploration charged through our hearts as we searched for trout and bass near our homes—the sense of achievement when we leaped from dancing bobbers to a dancing fly line—a simple time in our lives when the only pressure we had was to beat the dinner bell and be home on time. Back then when it was pure, untarnished, unwavering, and as innocent and sincere as a page in The Adventure's of Tom Sawyer—That’s what I’m talking about.
After talking to a few other fishing guides and gaining their perspectives on guiding, it quickly jumped out at me that my unrealistic pursuit for perfection and the intense competitiveness in my heart had blocked my ability to tap into what I consider the most important and precious aspects of fishing—the very things that had hooked me initially—things I had lost touch with over the years—things, perhaps, we all need a reminded of—The river is a source of peace and beauty, a place where we can leave our problems behind, a place where the rat race ends and tranquility finds us. It should, therefore, be a friendly place, a place where we extend a hand and help one another, where respect and courtesy of fellow fishermen presides, where we encourage new anglers to pursue fishing as a hobby, career or religion and find patience with those who merely want to catch a fish, but have yet to learn the do's and don'ts of streamside etiquette. It should be a place where attitudes run parallel with the peaceful terrain and voices harmonize with the soothing rush of the river—a place where we appreciate today's fish, rather than worry about tomorrow's. These are important messages we should all convey to our children alongside teaching them the art of fishing—the knowledge, care and wisdom to supersede.
I express these things that you may learn from my realization, and that you, perhaps, will be as inspired as I am in being reconnected to a perspective of days gone by, in toning down the competitiveness that you bring to the river. If you can find your way to this mindset, I’m confident you’ll better enjoy your time on the water, fish better, be more creative, more successful, and ultimately give back to the sport as your attitude blends with nature, dispersing a contagious vibrancy that will linger on the banks of our rivers.
For me personally, and as far as guiding goes, it may be unrealistic to say I'll have zero competitiveness and/or that my intensity on the river will taper, however, I feel extremely fortunate to be back in touch with something I had missed and desired for many years without ever being conscious of it. I'm confident that my newly inspired mindset will radiate a deeper appreciation for each opportunity to guide for these magnificent creatures and I will do so with a more balanced approach—one that will preserve the color of my hair, allow me to put things in proper prospective, and to make room for enhanced creativity on the river.
As far as my writing goes, it has always been dear to my heart, now even more so, as this experience has taken me to a place I have never seen before—a place I will bring you in an upcoming book due after the new year. Until then...
Most don’t get it. Maybe your cousin or a friend was recently blown away when you told them that you threw a fish back. “What? Then why do you go fishing if you're not going to eat them?” My neighbor Fred just asked me this question the other day.
Some of us are born with nature in our blood while others seem to be born with man-made materials. Some hike nine and a half miles to camp alongside a mountain stream, others won’t be caught dead in a tent.
We will wake up at 3:30 a.m., drive a few hours and go to extreme measures to get our spot on the river and not think twice about it. Why? Is it to catch a fish? As you know, it’s not that simple. We do all this to experience the complete package, from the morning drive to the river, to the afternoon trek back to the car, defeated or victorious.
A prime example is my solo trip last winter on the Sauk. I found myself chillin’ in my truck parked next to a six foot snow bank waiting for signs of life and light. I had arrived way early and still had about an hour left of darkness. Yes, you guessed it—a restless night’s sleep. The anxiousness continued as I sat there listening to a static AM station playing some kind of old rag-time. I killed the engine and stepped out into a foot of snow. It was in that instant when the magic began, like I was a little kid in a winter wonderland.
I stood there in the complete darkness, sipping my cup of joe, observing the sounds and sights above me. Over and beyond the silhouettes of towering Douglas Firs, hovered the monstrous galaxy full of lights. I wondered over to get a better look, hearing only the crunching of fresh snow under my boots and the rushing river in the distance. Standing there, looking up in awe, there was nothing else to do but ask and thank.
The stars began to vanish, so it was time to grab the gear and walk down a snowy tunnel created by the branches of firs. At the end of the tunnel was a little honey hole I knew quite well, hopefully holding a steelhead or two once again.
Sitting on a big boulder and taking the first casts, I watched the progressive glow of the eight thousand foot, snow-capped peak above me until it dominated half the horizon. What a sight!
I continued my drifts in the prime-time of morning—the anticipation built. I was just waiting for that strike, knowing it could be at any second. If it does strike, how big will it be? That is what fishing is all about, it’s the anticipation, it’s the quest, the adventure into the depths of the unknown. It’s about the escape, the experience and the exhilaration only a day on the river can evoke.
It wasn’t too many casts later when I set the metal into a beautiful steelie. The fish fought like a champ, but for a time during the fight, the fish dove down deep and started head shaking. I stood there with my rod bent back, pulsating to the fish’s every move—and it was at that time where it all sunk in and I let out a big “man scream.”
I eventually landed the fish in some shallows near the tail-out. I held it like Mark Messier was holding the Cup in ‘94, with a big ole smile and out of my mind. It was a nice seventeen pound buck sporting a fist-like kype.
Back to my neighbor, “Why go fishing if you're not going to eat them?” After that amazing experience, how could I now kill this fish that had lent his wild essence as my trophy? How could I? There was even more reward in my releasing him back into the wild. To watch him swim out of my bare hands and live another day.
What a rush! The reward of releasing fish is important for us to teach our children, because they are another reason why we catch and release. Let’s make sure we give them the proper instructions on how to release a fish.
One of my top pet peeves is fishermen who move the fish back and forth in the water. This will nearly drown the fish as he gets pulled backwards, forcing water into the back of his gills. Simply hold the fish in the current—no need to move him at all. In a slack current, move the fish forward, then lift him out of the water back towards you, then forward again in the water. This will keep the water flowing into his gills in the same, correct direction through the entire release.
Keep an eye on the gills and make sure they are both breathing. There have been times when fishermen put pressure on the gill plate in an attempt to free the hook. The gill plate can get pinched under, not allowing the fish to breathe. Unless you are freeing a pinched gill plate, always keep your fingers free and clear of the gills. When the fish feels like he has some power, let him kick out of your hands.
While my neighbor, Fred, is taking the day to wax his car and listen to his police scanner, it’s time for me to sit back down on the boulder and embrace that elevated heart beat and the numbing feeling of triumph. “I love the smell of mucoprotein in the morning...It smells like ...VICTORY.”
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