Confessions of a Trout Guide

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Some days on the river are just like that. Photo by Louis Cahill

Some days on the river are just like that. Photo by Louis Cahill

By Johnny Spillane

What happen on the river, stays on the river…usually.

So this time of year in Colorado, the rivers are blown, there is no one in town and all the guides are hanging around the shop bullshitting about their worst/best days on the water. It got me to thinking that I should tell some stories about the worst possible guide trips/situations that we’ve had on the water. Hopefully this does not reflect poorly on our guide services, but it will shed some light on what happens in the day-to-day life of a fishing guide. I know there are a ton of guides out there who will want to one-up me and please do, I love this stuff. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Guide #1 (me) was floating with a mom and her son. We were catching tons of fish and having a great time. The son was maybe 12-13 years old and was a stud fisherman aside from giving me a fantastic Hank Patterson “snap it!” cast. As we floated down the river, mom was snapping pictures left and right as son caught fish after fish. At one point we were back-rowing a riffle when all of a sudden mom jumps out of the boat and starts running through a knee deep run towards an island in the river. My first thought is “wow, she really had to pee,” my second thought is “this woman is trespassing, and we are going to be issued a ticket at the takeout.” Lost in all my jumbled thoughts is a calf elk stranded on the island. This woman took it upon herself to rescue this thing. Next thing I know, she has this calf elk in a bear hug and is yelling at me to help her. At this point all I’m worried about is this elk putting a stiff kick into her skull and me having to drag her unconscious body back into the boat. All SHE is worried about is taking this calf to the other side of the river so it can meet its mommy. While I am a big fan of wildlife in general and I have a special place in my heart for elk, I could have cared less about the fate of this calf. I have pictures, courtesy of said son, but for fear of being issued a summons for trespassing, I’m going to refrain from posting them. The elk made it safely to the other side of the river, mom got back in the boat and we went upon our way. Beat that.

Guide #2 (not me) was floating and client #1 hooked a fish. A big fish. After about 10 minutes of fighting this fish, guide #2 decides that it is best to anchor up and fight the fish from shore. Guide #2 neglected to account for the weight leaving the boat and client #2 (fisherman’s non-fishing wife) was left in the boat while client #1 battled his fish. As you would expect, the boat starts floating away without Guide #2 and Client #1. Unhappy wife is then forced to learn how to row a drift boat while Guide #2, runs down the shore, barefooted yelling directions to someone who has never expected or wanted to row a boat, in the meantime, directing client #1 on how to land a BIG Yampa river fish. I can’t make this up. Bottom line, they landed the fish (a 24inch wild Yampa River Rainbow) got back in the boat and had a fantastic day.

Guide #1 (me again) This is a very short and potentially boring story but ill make it short and sweet. Have you ever driven 150 miles for a guided trip where you are meeting your clients on the water and forgot their waders and boots? Try guiding out of some loafers in waste deep water that is 42 degrees. Not fun. The clients were happy, dry and wondering why their guides were shivering all day.

My last and possibly favorite story. Guide #1 (again, me.) had a group of guys in town that come to get away from their day-to-day jobs and just wanted to let go for a weekend. These are fairly high profile dudes and I have a ton of respect for what they do, but man, this got out of control. Day one. We drive to one of our most beautiful properties, its fall, the trees are glowing and there are fish up everywhere. The trip leader (client #1), one of my favorite and best clients, brings his work buddies and the second we step out of the car, his friend, client #2, says, “man, this is fucking amazing.” I say, “yeah, this place is incredible, we are so lucky to have the opportunity to be out here and this is the best time of year to be on this river.” He looks me straight in the face and says, “I was talking about me m*therf**ker.” That’s how we started our relationship. We ended up having a great day on the river, these guys had a background in construction and we talked it up all day. It was fun. Soooooo, day two had us on our best water. This is a $185 a day rod fee plus guide fees. Its special. We are supposed to meet at 7:30. At 8:00 I give them a call. No answer. At 8:30 I call again. Nothing. At 9:00 I get a call back, “we had a late night, we will be down in 30 minutes.” No big deal, I’ve had clients show up late. But this is where the story gets entertaining. After dropping them off from our previous days fishing they decided to get their drink on and went to a local pizzeria. After one or ten too many cocktails they got kicked out of the bar after one of the dudes called the waiter something I cant repeat after she wouldn’t serve him another drink because he was too intoxicated. After being kicked out, they decided it would be best to head back to the hotel. Only client #2 and #3 decide that they aren’t done. Remember the movie Wedding Crashers? That was these guys. They crash a wedding, sing songs to the bride and generally raise hell. The next morning, as we arrive at the river, client #3 looks at me and says “I think I’m just going to hang by the car while you guys fish, I’m pretty sure I’m going to puke.” I looked at him and said, “You just paid $185 dollars plus my guide fee to sit by the truck? Man up and lets go fishing.” We had an amazing day, aside from the dry heaving between fish.

I could go on and on but this should get you started. Send us your favorite stories; the winner of “best guide horror stories” gets a free SharkWave 5 weight fly line!

Tight lines,

Johnny Spillane

Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
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20 thoughts on “Confessions of a Trout Guide

  1. One question, for clarification, do you need to be a licensed guide, making a living through this business. I teach fly tying, fly casting and other related skills, I do so as a volunteer – not a paid guide. That said, on occasion, I have taken taken out-of-town supporters of some of my programs for trips on my local waters. Let me know, and I will tell you my favorite story of one of these trips.

  2. While fishing with my cousin who is a guide on the South Fork of the Snake. We got caught in the worst rain storm I have ever witnessed. We were and hour into an 8 hour float so we were in for a long day. Luckily we were at the one section that had a cave called the garage. we pulled into the garage to wait out the storm only it just got worse and as the rain got harder huge boulders and rocks began falling over the side of the garage just mere feet away from the drift boat. The rocks had us on edge but that was just the beginning. a drift boat came into view attempting to make it into the garage there were 4 people in the drift boat and the person rowing was inexperienced, as they tried to enter the cave their drift boat tipped over and all 4 people are in the water. It was a shit show to say the least, the boat was pushed to the back of the cave and we loaded up everyone in our one drift boat. Don’t ask me how but their boat righted itself in the back of the cave and we got them in the boat and they didn’t wait around to row to the take out. the rain was still coming down as were the rocks but we were done waiting around we wanted to fish! Fish is what we did, It was the greatest cutthroat fishing ive ever seen! It ended up being one of the greatest days ive ever had on the river. Thank god for the garage!

  3. Years ago, my son and I had a terrific but straight-laced guide in AK on a steelhead trip. I am going to leave names and places out of it for obvious reasons. We had a very successful week thus far, but the guide planned a special 4:00 a.m. start to drive in a pickup rented for the day to the mouth of the river we were fishing so we could hit some chromers. It was 20 miles or so on logging roads… very inventive alternative but an early start to be sure. My son was a 20year old college student at the time. Against our guide’s advice my son ended up bar-hopping with two local waitresses until 3 a.m. (There were only two bars in the town, but they closed both of them.) Son rattles in at three waking us all up and the guide says you better be ready at 4… which he understandably was not. But we dragged my son to the vehicle, and me, my son, and a third fisherman are driven by our steaming guide over bumpy roads to the location we were going to fish. When we get there, my son decides to crash on a soft area below pine trees while we proceed to pound the water for three and a half hours. Butkis. My son gets up around nine a.m., stretches, grabs a rod, and proceeds to catch a steelhead on his first or second cast. If he could bring himself to swear, I think the guide would have had some choice words. We all caught steelhead after that. The guide’s plan was a good one… just better for one of us than the others.

  4. So I took a group of guys out for a weekend trip with a guide buddy of mine. It was a five hour drive to the river we were fishing. We were both very familiar with the river and were super confident these new fly fisherman were going to have the weekend of their lives. We got to the cabin a few hours earlier than the group and had a few beers before bed. I fell asleep and my buddy stayed up to meet them as they were running a few hours behind.
    Fast forward to the next morning. I woke up at the prescribed 5 am and my buddy and two of the three clients are gone. The third was sleeping in his cabin and I woke him to say hello and see if he knows what is going on. After shaking an obviously intoxicated sleeping stranger I learned they were already at the river. They had stayed up all night drinking and decided to get an early start. This guy hadn’t been able to make it and slept in. Fair enough, probably not the best foot to start out on but i’m just helping out a friend.
    I found the clients a short while later, passed out on the bank. I checked to make sure they were breathing (they were) and went to talk to my buddy. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights and had not been prepared for the night before. He said these guys were hammered when they got there and almost forced shot after shot of jameson down him. I don’t imagine he put up much of a fight but it was still a bit rough. My buddy tried to keep up in good spirit. He looked pretty tired but we decided to fish for a few anyway and let the others sleep it off. We ended up having an epic morning as the clients slept. The third guy made it down around noon. The other two were still sleeping. He looked like he was still a bit drunk but he hooked up pretty quickly, but within five minutes he fell in and got soaked. He got out of the river and went right back to the cabin. The other two woke up about 2pm. My guide friend was surprisingly going strong. We discussed a move to another spot and had them follow us in their car. After about two miles i looked in the rearview and they were gone. We waited, called, nothing. We get back to their cabin and all their stuff is gone. We called one more time and one of the guys finally picked up. They had had enough. After a combined five minutes of fishing, they took the five hour drive home. Luckily, they prepaid my buddy and we went on to have an insane weekend of dryfly fishing.

  5. This story did not happen to me but to a guide/friend of mine and being a part time guide myself allows me to be able to relate…sort of. Guide/friend is floating two clients down an east coast tailwater. Things are going well and fish are being caught. Out of the blue the sport in the back of the boat needs to hit the bank in a bad way. Guide rows the sport over to the bank and in a flash he is out of the boat and up into the woods to take care of business. He doesn’t bother taking off his vest or any other gear. Guide and the other client wait patiently in the boat. Once everyone is settled back in and getting ready to return to fishing the guide begins to smell something rank. It won’t go away so he turns to the sport and asks if he possibly stepped in anything while he was out of the boat. Nope, says the client. My boots are clean. The odor continues to follow them down the river. It then hits the guide like a bolt of lightening. He turns to the client behind him and says, “turn around”. Client does and there in his net hanging off the back of his vest is a massive, stinky turd. In his haste to drop his waders and pants, client didn’t take off his vest and unknowingly took a dump in his own net. Guide rows client back over to the bank and has him hurl the net into the woods where it still resides to this day.

  6. Alright, so here is my story . . .with a few names and facts changed to protect the innocent . . .

    A few years ago I received a telephone call from a retired Veterinarian from New Jersey. He was coming to Ithaca New York for a wedding, and had a great donation for the Leon Chandler Chapter of Trout Unlimited. This is notable because I am very involved in the Chapter and its fundraising activities. Through these efforts we send kids to conservation and fishing camps, run Trout in the Classroom Tanks in 16 schools and teach plenty of kids to fly cast and tie flies each year.

    Anyway, Dr. John (not even close to his real name) is in his late 60s and has a classic 1970-era Leon Chandler Signature Fiberglass Rod with the Original Cortland 444/Crown Reel that it was matched up with. Dr. John had purchased the rod and reel when he graduated from Cornell’s Vet College and the thought that it would generate significant interest in our TU Chapter as a fundraising item.

    The good doctor just wanted to meet me and hand off the rod and reel. But in conversation, mentioned how he wished he had more time to fish in the area when he was in school. I informed him that we could meet on the Friday that he came to town. I further told him that I would be happy to take him trout fishing after the exchange. He readily agreed.

    Not knowing much about Dr. John, I called my good friend “Moshua” (not his real name – but not far removed) and asked him if he would join us. I did not know the quality of the doctor’s fly fishing skills, nor did I know his level of mobility. The local stream I was planning on fishing is fairly easy to wade, but wading is really never as easy as walking on a sidewalk. I felt if there were two of us, we would be able to make sure that the Dr. would enjoy himself.

    The slated day came, and late in the afternoon, Mosh and I showed up at the hotel and picked up the doctor. It was quickly apparent to me that the doctor was in great shape and was a skilled fly fisherman. We made the ride to the stream, complete with the prerequisite junk food stop, and geared up for some fishing. Because of the leach population, I generally wear, and recommend, waders instead of wet wading. So on those went.

    Since Dr. John would be able to handle himself, we split up for our fishing, after Josh and I handed him some small wooly buggers (White, size 10) and larger Light Cahills (size 10). One of us went upstream, another downstream, and I just sat and watched.

    After awhile, the Dr. had worked his way far enough downstream that I could follow him and work the water a second time. I picked up several fish, and by the time we noticed the storm clouds (with lightening bolts) approaching, we had each caught a decent number of fish.

    As we were working our way back upstream, I noticed a person standing by a great hole on the stream. It appeared this person was stripping down to his swim shorts. We were too far away to see exactly what was going on, but my deepest fears were realized when we saw a huge splash, and heard the blood curling yell of someone who had just immersed themselves into cold spring water.

    The yell confirmed my second fear, as well, that I know the swimmer. The Doctor and I made some jokes at the swimmers expense. All the time, I feigned ignorance at the swimmers identity. As we got closer, however, it was no longer possible to pretend the swimmer was anyone other than Mosh. The jokes kept on (after all, Mosh is one of my closest friends and fishing partners) and eventually we reached the “swimming hole” which I had hoped would be the last place Dr. John would cast a fly that evening.

    Knowing that my hopes for one last cast were gone, I asked what had happened. Mosh told us that he had been casting to a large rising fish. Between Mosh and the fish was a large downed tree. Apparently, the fly line became caught on the tree during one of Mosh’s casts. The line was the new (prototype actually) Cortland Trout Boss. Mosh tried to use an upstream mend and roll cast to untangle the line, but those efforts only resulted in a greater mess. Knowing his only choices were take a swim, or cut the line, Mosh took the only (in)sane option.

    He went swimming and recovered his line. The result of this is that any tangles caused by sloppy casting, that result in making a Hobson-esque choice to save a fly line are referred to as “Pulling a Mosh.”

    The good doctor caught some fish, had some laughs and made a donation to a great cause.

    Mosh, gave me a great story – one of many infact – and if I win this prize I will give it to him because he earned it much more than I did.

  7. Once while on a guide trip, me guiding, a client is facing backwards in my drift boat in a rain storm. The boat was filling with water naturally, but then it increased to amazing levels. I ask my client in the back of the boat how the plugs look, and he proceeds to tell me this; “I accidentally kicked out your boat plug 5 minutes ago.” I asked him why he didn’t tell me when it happened and he replied, “I didn’t want you to get mad.” Super nice guy we had a good laugh while he spent a good 15 minutes bailing the boat out with a gallon jug I carry for such occasions!! We ended up boating a good 20 fish the rest of the day, one of the most hilarious situations to happen to me on the river in a long time!

  8. Long story short … I was guiding a group of 4 anglers, and we split up between myself and my partner guide on day 1. The 4 clients had a bit of a drink the previous night, nothing too bad, but they were frail the next morning (but it must be said, on time). As we hiked out from the truck, one of the clients behind me just “squatted down” and quietly said “Ouch, that hurt”. The little ouch turned out to be 2 clean breaks just above the ankle, and just below the knee, both pipes!!!! So basically, 4 breaks!!! This happened at around 08:45 the morning. With no cellular reception, and the closest village (Rhodes, South Africa) 80 minutes over really rough terrain away I decided to have client #2 stay with broken client #1 as I tried to get cellular reception and get a medical helicopter to get this guy out!! Turns out the medical helicopter only came out if there was a serious risk of death (don’t ask guys, don’t ask!!!), and a ambulance could not reach us (like I said, really rough roads) – so back to the 2 waiting clients!! We tried a soft splint, and carried him as best we could back to the truck. Loaded him on the back, piled on blankets and jackets to try and get him as warm and comfortable as possible, and met up 2 hours later with the ambulance. Client #1 made it to the closest proper hospital 11 hours after the freak accident occurred, and underwent an emergency operation, had pins and braces and who-knows-what inserted into his leg. We kept contact for a while, but I never saw him again, 10 years on, until we bumped into each other in the same village of Rhodes last year while out guiding (him this time with a different guide of course :-D)

  9. Long story short … I was guiding a group of 4 anglers, and we split up between myself and my partner guide on day 1. The 4 clients had a bit of a drink the previous night, nothing too bad, but they were frail the next morning (but it must be said, on time). As we hiked out from the truck, one of the clients behind me just “squatted down” and quietly said “Ouch, that hurt”. The little ouch turned out to be 2 clean breaks just above the ankle, and just below the knee, both pipes!!!! So basically, 4 breaks!!! This happened at around 08:45 the morning. With no cellular reception, and the closest village (Rhodes, South Africa) 80 minutes over really rough terrain away I decided to have client #2 stay with broken client #1 as I tried to get cellular reception and get a medical helicopter to get this guy out!! Turns out the medical helicopter only came out if there was a serious risk of death (don’t ask guys, don’t ask!!!), and a ambulance could not reach us (like I said, really rough roads) – so back to the 2 waiting clients!! We tried a soft splint, and carried him as best we could back to the truck. Loaded him on the back, piled on blankets and jackets to try and get him as warm and comfortable as possible, and met up 2 hours later with the ambulance. Client #1 made it to the closest proper hospital 11 hours after the freak accident occurred, and underwent an emergency operation, had pins and braces and who-knows-what inserted into his leg. We kept contact for a while, but I never saw him again, until we bumped into each other in the same village of Rhodes last year (10 years later) while out guiding (him this time with a different guide of course :-D)

  10. Worst guide ever! My dad and I did an inshore fishing trip years ago off a particular resort island in SC. After fishing for almost 2 hours the tide turned, and with that the guide throw the anchor over the boat and said they won’t be biting for a while and actually laid down in the boat to take a nap. I asked him since this time of the day was not the best, why did he book the trip during this time. He said you didn’t ask! Really, needless to say I told him to get off his ass and take us in as I was not going to pay for him to sleep. The following year my dad saw him doing dolphin sight seeing trips out of the marina.

  11. So, been a while, any decision on the SharkWave? Mosh destroyed another line last night, but that is another story.

  12. Fishing the Sea of Cortez with my Dad long ago. Guide (with ponga) is hungover and shows up way late. A bit later the guide, attempting a cast with one of my Dad’s rods, throws the whole rod/reel into the water. Gone. I still remember my Dad’s glare. Ice.

  13. I went on a Guided trip here in Missouri for wild trout with a friend of mine. Our guide was a wet wading Ex Marine from Vietnam era and a retired state Hydrologist. My buddy was a Structural Engineer, Myself a Aircraft Mechanic. Needles to say the two engineers were attached at the hip and if you are familiar with Aviation Maintenance.You know us Maintainers have a spot reserved just for engineers. It resides between hell and horsesh*t. Needless to say I was pretty much told all day long from a 100 yards away that I was doing everything wrong, but somehow I managed to catch as many if not more wild trout with my flies. After lunch and toward the end of the day the “Guide” decided he better put some quality time in with me to secure his tip? I wasn’t mad at the fact that I was catching more fish I was more pissed at the guide’s indignant behaviour toward me, and the fact that I became the brunt of his jokes and ridicule. He strolled up besides me and directed me to make a cast toward bunch of limbs overhanging the opposite bank and into the water on the outside of the bend. Not wanting to get hung up I casted a bit short and out came the attitude from the guide. Knowing it was getting late and he was understocked on fly(I had been fishing my own pretty much all day) I purposely casted his last good fly right in to the branches over hanging the water 25 yards across the stream. Knowing him I knew he would go get it. He waded into the fast current across the stream unhooked from the the snag, I didn’t say a word as he grumbled about having to go get it. Right when he stepped up onto the bank I pitched that fly right back into the snag and said is that close enough this time or should I get it aa bit closer? Back across the stream he went. Just about the time he reached for it I twitched the rod and the fly popped off the branch and fell into the water. I thought the whole time I’m paying this D*ck for a guided trip and he has spent less then 45 minutes including lunch earning his pay check with me. I guess it was worth the 20 dollar tip to watch him grumble and moan about retrieving his last fly. It was Kind of fun jacking with an engineer for a change….

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