By Louis Cahill
Are you proud of how you represent fly-fishing?
I sat in a meeting the other day, a discussion really, with a group of fly fishing guides. Most of them are guys I like and respect. I was very quickly stoked at, from my perspective, how they all got it wrong. The experience left me frustrated and angry for about twenty-four hours. After a cool-down period I’m ready to discuss it here. If what I have to say makes you angry or defensive, you should take a hard look in the mirror.
By any measure, guides are the gateway to the sport. They are the educators, informants and even the evangelists of fly fishing. They, and the guys at the fly shop, are the most common point of contact for the angler new to fly fishing. They are skilled, hard working, motivated individuals with a passion for what they do. If they weren’t, they’d have washed out of the business. Many of my best friends are guides and some of them are the best examples of what guides should be. So what’s my beef?
The first question put to this group of guides was, “Who are your clients?”
What followed was about a half hour of bitching and moaning with the common thread being, “our clients suck.”
To my ears this is inexcusable on every level. To be fair, I don’t think most of these guys are prone to thinking that way, but it only took one toxic personality to pipe up and they all piled on with comments about their clients being idiots, not being able to cast or tie knots or follow instructions. They also agreed that most of their clients did not want to be told they were doing something wrong, an important point I will return to.
I get it. There is no shortage of unskilled anglers out there. Many of them, as the group described, are business tycoons who are not accustomed to be told they are wrong. Still, I think there are a couple of very important points being overlooked.
If you are a fishing guide, you are in a service industry. You are being paid for your time and as long as you are treated with basic human respect, it’s up to the client how that time is spent. I have spent my entire career in service to clients who don’t understand my job and are often completely unreasonable and I have never complained about having a job. If that job allows me to spend my days on the water doing something I love, that goes double.
The root of much of this is ego, pure and simple. Fishing guides, and for some reason especially trout guides, can be a wildly egotistical lot. If this stings, it’s likely true. I heard comments like, “He’s a surgeon, you’d think he could tie a knot.” I’ll be the first to admit that doctors can be a pretty egotistical bunch as well. They say the difference between God and a doctor is that God doesn’t think he’s a doctor. Regardless, anyone with that degree has made a commitment to mastering something far more challenging than catching a trout. Perhaps the reason he’s not a great angler is because his job has left him little time for it, and when the time comes that I need surgery, I damned glad his priorities are not the same as mine.
If you expect to be respected for putting in the time, and making the sacrifices, necessary to master the art of fly fishing, then you’d better first learn to respect the choices of your clients. Everyone has skills. To think that being a good fisherman, or even a great fisherman, makes you better than anyone else is childish.
Now I’m going to get to what really raises my hackle.
This idea that clients don’t want to be told they are doing something wrong. This makes me angry because I think I have a pretty good idea where this comes from. First, I’ll admit that some folks out there are just A-holes. A few, but not all. Second, a fishing guide should understand presentation. Most people don’t like being told they are doing something wrong, but many don’t mind being told there is a better way to do it. That’s an important distinction. Still, that’s not the root of the problem, in my opinion.
It’s pretty common to talk to any fly angler, and pretty quickly, get the idea that they think they know everything. Let’s be honest, it’s a pretty universal characteristic. We are know-it-alls, and the reason is pretty simple.
We, the fly fishing community, teach new anglers to be know-it-alls.
Have you ever had the chance to teach a person who knows nothing about fly fishing? It’s amazing! They are sponges. They ask questions, they listen, they learn quickly. It’s exactly what learning should be. But try to teach the average angler with a few years experience. It’s a completely different endeavor. Why?
Because we model bad behavior. Not just guides, all of us. We teach new anglers that to be a fly fisher is to be egotistical. We bolster our egos by tearing down others with comments like, “Our clients suck.” Nobody wants to be told they suck and, even more, nobody wants it said behind their back. These kinds of comments make people defensive and impossible to teach. What’s worse, it makes them behave the same way to others.
We, as a community, have a culture problem. We are putting up barriers to entry by new anglers, and in the process we are hurting the sport.
I had an interesting experience the other day. I was fishing streamers from a boat with a young guide. At one point I was admittedly getting a little worked up over trying to hit every pocket, and I didn’t have quite as heavy a rod as I would have liked. My guide quips over his shoulder,
“You know Louis, you actually have to pause on your backcast.”
The smart-assed tone didn’t sit well, and for a second I thought about putting a hook in his neck for his trouble. But you know what, he was right. I was rushing my cast. I slowed down and fished better. Still, he handled it poorly and my initial reaction was just as poor. None of us are immune to our training. We have been taught to be assholes.
A very wise friend of mine, Tim Rajeff, once told me, “I never offer advice unless I am asked.” I was shooting video with Tim about two years ago and I did ask him to help me with a casting issue. In spite of having two companies to run, you’d think he had nothing to do but work with me on my casting. I am a much better caster after that afternoon. If I’d been too proud to ask, or Tim had been less generous, I’d still be struggling with the problem. That’s what fly fishing should be.
It’s not my intention to come down on anyone, or to place blame, especially on fishing guides.
I have great respect for the folks who do that job. It is not easy. I do, however, want to make everyone who reads this think about how they can be a better ambassador for fly fishing. I want us all to think of ways we can build doors instead of walls. How we can make new anglers feel positive and welcome, rather than self-conscious and judged. It’s on each of us to set an example for folks who want to learn, and for those who are already experienced. If we can create a positive culture in fly fishing, we will all benefit.Louis Cahill Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com email@example.com Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!