This is the first in a series of blogs reflecting on the Summer of 2020.
I had the privilege to shadow a number of guides from Angler’s Covey on different guided trips this summer. Collectively, those opportunities gave me an inside look at the “day in the life” of a guide. Of course, this is only a snapshot, or rather a collage of snapshots, that offered a glimpse into the guide’s role on guided fly fishing trips. What stands out the most in this collage of images: the flexibility and mental agility of the skilled guide.
Director of Services, Jon Easdon, in reflecting about the summer of 2020, says the most surprising element was how busy the summer became even in the face of the quarantine. Colorado’s “safer at home & in the vast, great outdoors” efforts were important during the pandemic. “Right at the beginning of May, when we were able to open for guiding, it was like somebody rolled a grenade in the room and the smoke is just now clearing [at the middle of September]. I was surprised at how busy we were – in the shop, on the river. People everywhere.”
With people really wanting to get outdoors, the guides at Angler’s Covey saw an influx of first-time fly fishers, people wanting to learning the sport. “We had a lot of dad and kids. That was really cool.”
The guide’s role is to offer an experience on the water that the angler would not be able to achieve without the guide’s services. That role is motivated, too, by the desire to shape a trip that meets the guest’s expectations for their day.
Of course, the guides have to meet a logistical element first. The guided trip begins with a conversation with the client on the phone to get an idea of skill levels and the type of experience they are interested in having. Once they meet at the shop on the day of the trip, the mundane tasks of getting waivers signed and getting clients fitted with boots and waders have to be completed. And, for now, let’s not even talk about the work that goes into preparing for lunch on the full-day trips.
|The guide’s day starts early.|
The beauty of a guide’s work really shows once they get to the river with their clients.
Maybe the day begins with some quick lessons about handling the fly rod, rigging it, and then the guide models how to cast effectively. The guide’s first assessment is skill level of the clients. And let’s face it. Sometimes our self-assessment is a bit off from our actual skill level. A skilled guide observes and teaches, moving the newcomer to a higher skill level or even helping an experienced angler hone their skills to reach a higher level. A guide’s first role, it seems, is instructional.
Youtube videos, A River Runs Through It, magazine and newspapers articles all make it seem so easy: that fluid motion to cast a dry fly, the adrenaline rush of the fight, the beauty of the fish in the net. Newcomers to the sport commented to me about how challenging fly fishing turns out to be: rigging the rod, managing all that line, reading the river, making a great cast, setting the hook, playing the fish.
A first-timer gets instruction to make
that natural drift.
Skilled guides flatten that learning curve – regardless of the skill level of the angler. Just like world-class Olympic athletes still have a coach, experienced anglers benefit from the instruction that a guide offers. Whether it is getting a better drift in a technically challenging stretch of river or adjusting for difficult flows on our tailwaters, experienced anglers can grow their skills with feedback from an observant guide.
One of the qualities that stands out the most with skilled is guides is their mental agility. They are problem solvers. When they get the guest to what promises to be a productive hole or run, the work begins.
Part of the agility of a guide is in how they adjust to a variety of conditions once they are in the middle of their trip. They consider the skill level of the guest. They adjust to the conditions on the river: flows, other anglers on the river, time of day. Many of the guides either seine the river to see what food sources are available or check under rocks for the day’s menu.
They are continually in the process of solving the equation — what changes need to be made to make the day more productive? –– sometimes before the angler is asking the question. And skilled guides adjust accordingly. The guide’s responsibilities – provide the most productive flies, get the client to a promising hole, offer instruction for success –– transfers into the guest’s hands: make the cast, set the hook, play the fish, get it to the outstretched net in the guide’s hands.
Cast, set, to the net.
It’s about relationships.
This young angler is hooked.
Finally, but maybe most importantly, the guide is skilled in creating positive relationships with people. What I witnessed this summer is that guides are ambassadors for the sport of fly fishing. The guide may be the first to introduce a newcomer to the sport. The guide serves as an example for stewardship of our resources, provides a model of fly fishing etiquette on the river with other anglers, and may serve as that first coach in a new endeavor.
When the day is done for the guest, the transition into the next day begins. There’s an old saying, “you never step into the same river twice.” This is even more apparent with the guide who, ultimately, provides a service to each and every angler: with a new day comes a new river, with a new guest, with new expectations, and with changing circumstances on the river.
Of course, the summer of 2020 added a new element as people sought outdoor experiences to safely move out of quarantine. Very rarely did the conversation go too deeply into the pandemic, masks or no masks, hand sanitizer and hand washing. Being on the river provided nature’s own social distancing.
“You could see, really, on trips, that this was going to be their solace. They knew that this was going to be their escape, unplug from that for awhile,” Easdon says.
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