Meeting a guide for the first time can be a little like going out on a first date. All your fears and insecurities rise to the surface: Should I have worn the Columbia shirt? Are his / her eyes always so bloodshot? Did I floss? Is my rod big enough? How to overcome these insecurities, leaving your guide on Cloud Nine and breathlessly looking forward to your return? For all those socially challenged anglers out there: Fear Ye Not. Here is the Fisherman’s Etiquette for Dummies.
Step One: First Impressions: Arrive on time. Like most dates, guides appreciate punctuality. Few things say ‘ I respect you as a unique and vital being’ like being on time. Besides, it is your own best interests to maximize your time on the river. Just because you guide looks and smells like they just crawled out from under a dumpster out back of Safeway, when it comes to a day on the river, they are more organized than Napoleon on the eve of Borodino. How else to explain the following phenomenon? No matter the weather, no matter how late you left the shop, no matter how slow or red hot the fishing, you always arrive at the take out at five o’clock precisely. The reasons for this are many and complex, but basically revolve around the fact that a guides blood / alcohol level requires more tinkering than most. Therefore, failure to be back on their favorite barstool by the time the sun goes down can have devastating physiological consequences.
Step Two: Parking Lot Etiquette: OK, so you’ve breezed into the parking lot on time. A firm handshake, eye to bloodshot eye, you are confident that your date is off to a great start. But how to build on this momentum? Firstly, try not to arrive with too much baggage, both emotional and physical. Have you ever watched a guide fish on his / her day off? They are mostly minimalists. They know that it is not the weight of your vest or the size of your rod that will catch you a fish, but what you do with it that counts. Your oversized suitcase full of every rod and reel combo known to mankind may give you a warm glow, but to your guide it says: Too much money, too few clues. Also, once you are in the parking lot, the clock is ticking. The longer it takes to organize your stuff, the less time on the river to use it. [ Remember the blood / alcohol thing ] On more than one occasion, I have stood by while the fisherman takes more time selecting his gear than Tiger Woods lining up the Masters’ winning putt, only to get to the river and discover that of the twenty five reels they brought to the shop, they left the right one in their other vest.
Step Three: Talk is Cheap: A day with a guide can be like a freshman dating a senior. You are all sweaty palmed, but your date has been there done that. One sure way to plummet your stocks is to start name dropping the rivers you’ve fished, or the number of 45lb King Salmon you’ve landed on a five weight, only to wrap your first back cast around the oar blade as your reel falls into the water because in your breathless commentary you forgot to tighten the reel seat. Remember, there is time for pillow talk, and time to let your rod talk.
Step Four: Bring Beer: Marketing demographics tell us that your average fly fisherman is of above average income, education and, by extension, intelligence. Then how come so many of us have failed to make the connection between fishing, good times, and cold beer? If I had a dollar for every time the following scene played out during my guiding career, I would have been able to pay for some poor sap to row me down the river: A hot day, the boat parked in the shade of a cottonwood while I retie a leader, and the fisherman says ‘ Boy, a cold beer sure would be great right now! Well, Duh. Nothing says ‘I love you’ to a guide more than a cold frosty one once in a while, especially when it is the guide that is doing all the work after all. And what better way to spend those hot, languid afternoons when the fishing is slow than to swap yarns over a brew? Like Pavlov’s Dog, the mere mention of your name will have your guide salivating at the prospect of your return.
Step Five: If You Can’t Bring Beer, Bring Women: OK, minds out of the gutter for a few seconds. While months and months of continuous male company can wear a little thin, my reasons for saying this are noble and pure. As the predominant gender of the fishing species, we males can learn an awful lot by spending a few hours in the presence of the smarter sex. Aside from the obvious benefits of varied, intelligent conversation, we also learn things like it is OK to go more than fifteen minutes without a strike before plunging into a deep and morbid psychoanalysis of all that is wrong with you and the world. Or that casting is about finesse and timing rather than the size of your bicep. Or that it is OK to stop casting every now and then and just sit and enjoy the view.
So there you have it. Simple rules to live and fish by. I guarantee, if you follow them, you will always be able to secure the services of your favorite guide. Who knows, next time they may even brush their teeth for you.