Back in the mid “90s” I started a long standing tradition of heading west, in the month of March, to fish the western slope of the Great Divide. A very good friend of mine, John, invited me out for an all expenses paid week stay at his home. How could I resist the panoramic view from his mountain top home over looking the Roaring Fork Valley, and a week of trout fishing including three days with a guide? Far from being new to trout fishing and having fished the state of Colorado for ten years, as a resident back in the “70s” I was looking forward to the trip. I hadn’t fished west of the Mississippi since 1982. Besides, I had never fished trout with a guide before and was looking forward to the opportunity, and possibility, of learning some new tricks, or should I say techniques.
Upon my arrival, John informed me that we were to meet the (who shall remain nameless) “Guide” over a few beers at the Rainbow Bar and Grill, an establishment right on the bank of the Frying Pan River in downtown Basalt; which I will add, was, at that time owned by my good friend John. The purpose of the meeting, as John stated it, was because the “Guide” wanted to get to know me. I thought that a little strange, but what the heck could a few beers hurt? Early that evening we met with the usual introductory hand shake and small talk, to break the ice. Seated at a small table, with beers in hand, the inquisition began. The “Guide” wanted to know all about my experience as a trout fisherman, and made it perfectly clear that he was not about to fish with somebody who thought they knew it all. Before my first swig of beer had reached bottom the “Guide” had made his point perfectly clear: I was to forget everything I knew about fly fishing and was to follow his lead exactly. It was all I could do to keep that first swig from coming back up and being spewed out in a fine mist of disbelief. OH BOY!!! I can’t wait.
The next morning we picked up the “Guide” and headed to the Roaring Fork, to, and I quote, “practice on catching some White Fish”. We headed to a long private stretch, thanks to John, to a spot the “Guide” knew was full of White Fish. While getting set up at the truck the “Guide” examined my equipment and found the rod, reel, and line, totally unacceptable. He then assembled an old beat up Sage (a model I can’t recall) of different length and action to mine, and the reel handle was opposite to my preferred side. While handing his rod to me he casually mentioned that if I broke it I was going to buy it.
We crossed the Roaring Fork at a spot from which I think the Roaring Fork got its name. It was a waist deep maelstrom in which the three of us crossed, locked arm in arm. I’m convinced it was a test to see if I could maintain my footing, and if not, could I swim. We did make it, but I had my doubts. Finally on spot I began to fish with the “Guide” standing at my left shoulder. We were nymphing with a ton of weight in a deep pool, and he was convinced that casting lessons were in order. After he had destroyed what had taken me a lifetime to perfect, I was flogging like a beginner. What really got me was when he said, “I think you’re getting the hang of it”. Thoroughly convinced he had me on the right track I was then allowed to start fishing. He instructed me on how to hold the rod, where to cast, how to mend and lead the drift with the rod tip, what to watch for in the indicator, and when to pick-up and cast again. I might add that he did this all day, and I felt like a robot. The mantra was: cast, mend and lead with the rod tip, pick-up and cast again. Additionally he would interject with his sapience by telling me when to set the hook. I started snagging White Fish right off the bat, every time he said set, but I was told that until I started catching them in the mouth we were not going to fish for trout. Finally I caught enough White Fish, in the mouth, that I was allowed to graduate to the trout, and so we moved on.
You’re moving too fast, you’re making too much noise, you’re disturbing the water, the fish can see you, on and on it went. I felt like I was standing on needles and pins, everything I did was fraught with incompetence. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we caught a lot of fish that day and some dandies, and I did enjoy learning how to fish the “Guide’s” way, but I have since reverted back to my bad habits and am doing quite well thank you. On the walk back I slipped on a slippery rock, if you can imagine that, and fell on my ass, but I managed to hold his rod high and it came through unscathed. He took his rod away from me and carried it back.
Fast forward four or five years ago:
I pulled off onto a parking spot along the Frying Pan River, no one else in sight. As I was slipping into my vest another vehicle pulled in and parked in front of me. Out stepped three guys, the “Guide” and two clients. I stood in amazement as they scurried to beat me to the spot that I planned to fish. I didn’t think the “Guide” recognized me so I stood on the high bank watching them fish. I was close enough to listen to the “Guide” instruct one of his clients: cast, mend and lead with the rod tip, pick-up and cast again.
P.S. Please don’t infer that I hold guides with disdain, I have since fished with some excellent guides, one of which hooked me up with my largest Rainbow to date. I have spent time guiding both out west and here at home, and I have run into some real, (you know whats) as clients. I’m sure that if this story were told from the “Guides” perspective a much different story would be told. As a matter of fact I think I could write that story using little imagination.