Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tailing Loops

Observation: I'm slipping. There was a time when I proudly placed myself in that now so often-overused category of trout bum; I didn't make any money, but I also didn't have any real responsibilities that prevented me from fishing eight days a week. Although certainly not the best trout fisherman in the world, or the county, or even this neighborhood (you have to consider my surroundings. Insert appropriate Norman Maclean quote here), I was good. Really good. If practice makes perfect, I was doing my best to achieve a perfect 10 in the trout-nerd subculture.

Fast-forward 49 dog-years. My obsession and "drive," if you can really use that term in this context, has kept me in the Big Sky where I'm managing to scratch out a living rowing boats and keeping people alive and entertained while they catch some trout. A lot of folks say I've got the best job in the world. I agree. Taking people fishing and introducing them to an activity I feel so strongly about is the most enjoyable thing I've ever received a paycheck for, and even if it comes with it's share of ups and downs, there's nothing else I'd rather be doing.

The fact that I love my job is not the point here, however. The point, per se, is that while I have managed to pay the bills while working in the fishing industry, all while continuing to live in the best place in the lower 48, the amount of time I spend actually fishing these days is surprisingly low. And it shows. Sure, I get out this time of year, when the warm weather melts away the seasonal affective disorder and the first stoneflies of the year begin to die untimely deaths in the mouths of hungry, heartless predators. Every spring I'm reminded of why I love this game when I see my skwala disappear in a confident boil: the first dry fly eat of the season. It will always be fun.

But I'm also reminded of how quickly one can fall from grace without practice. I haven't forgotten how to cast; the fly still gets where I need it to be, it just isn't very pretty (I'm a big fan of the overshoot-drag-mend-it-in-to-the-spot technique). And it's not a matter of knocking loose the cobwebs, breaking in to my stride just as the salmonflies pop, because there won't be any time for cobweb-clearing. About the time I remember how to not throw a tailing loop in a 30 foot cast and the big bugs start crawling down my neck, John and Jane Doe climb in my boat, and they don't leave until October. John and Jane don't let me fish very much, and they shouldn't, because this is their time on the water and I need to make a living.

Where this leaves me by mid-season, however, is sitting in my office chair with a fairly comprehensive understanding of where the fish live and what they want to eat, but with a personal inability to catch them myself. I can row the boat for days on end without tiring, and tie blood knots with an efficiency that surprises even me sometimes. But ask me to stack mend a drift in to a pod of risers and you might as well throw a lit quarter-stick of dynamite at the lead fish's nose and hold your breath.

There's an old motto in the guide community that you never want to make a cast with a client's rod, even if they ask you to for demonstration purposes or otherwise. The assumption being, and I've seen it happen many times, that even if a trout hasn't made an appearance all day, as soon as the guide makes a cast, a fish will eat the fly. This can brighten some client's spirits, inject them with a renewed sense of confidence, and place you on a pedestal of Poseidon-like stature in their minds. Or it can piss the fuck out of them and you can kiss your tip goodbye.

I think when it all boils down, however, the real reason behind this old rule of thumb is most guides just don't want to show their clients how bad we actually are with a fly rod in our hands.