I now find it critical to ask the people who I guide
for, what it is they do for a living. One's occupation
used to not matter a whit; I wanted to know if they could
make an accurate 35-foot cast to a rising trout or if they
could double haul into the wind if we were fishing for
small mouth bass.
As an aside, please be honest about your skills as a
fly fisher when you hire a guide. If you can't wield
a decent stick, say so upfront and get some casting
instruction before you head out on your big trip. There
are lots of qualified folks out there who could help you
out in about an hour and your skills would be so much
better with a couple of afternoons of practice. Why
ruin a trip with minimal skills? When was the last
time that you practiced your cast? Before Tiger Woods
plays Augusta National he practices, why not you?
There isn't a fly shop owner or casting instructor that
hasn't heard "Oh, a buddy of mine taught me how to cast,
I can get it out there O.K." Out there, who are you Steve
Rajeff? This isn't a distance contest, it's fly fishing!
As if distance is the be all and end all of fly fishing.
Out there? Tennis players don't slap each other on the
back when one of them scorches a serve over the net, the
backstop and the stadium wall. "Way to go, you really
got it out there!" Applause comes from the crowd when
a ball is stroked right there, on the line, in the corner
out of reach of the opponent. It's called a winner for
good reason and it comes from practice with a purpose.
Practice your casts to a specific spot, pick out a leaf
laying on the lawn to cast to or, better still, put out
a series of Frisbees or like targets on the lawn at 15,
20 and 25 feet away from you and cast to them. Another
golf analogy: start with short casts. When golfers are
on the practice range, they never start with their driver;
they start with their wedge. They want to feel club head
speed and then they graduate to longer irons and finally
It doesn't matter that you are able to strip all of the
line off of the reel and then power your cast across the
lawn blindly if when fishing, you need to plop your fly
into a space the size of a dinner plate 20 feet away from
you. Get better at this skill and more of your presentations
to trout will become winners. Windy day? Don't stay home;
the windy days are the best conditions to practice in.
Get some qualified casting help and you will soon realize
the difference between out there and right there.
I hold firm to the axiom that most trout are caught on the first
cast to a specific spot. Each successive cast to that spot
is met with decreasing results.
I came to realize that if I wasn't a little sharper with my
pre-trip questioning of clients, I was not going to have
much repeat business and my word-of-mouth advertising was
not going to be sterling.
How's your casting ability? Are you able to hike across fields,
scramble over rocks, climb fences and wade in heavy water?
Be honest with me and I can easily make adjustments for your
benefit. My job is to make your day more enjoyable; I don't
want it to become a death march for either of us. If you
can't handle a 35-foot cast in windy conditions, we could
always wade a little closer. We might spook a few fish but
I want you to be able to have an honest shot at some fish,
I don't want you to blindly wave bad casts over un-catchable
The mark of a good day for both client and guide is when the
clock is consulted at the end of the day and neither is happy
that the day is over. A bad sign is the client and the guide
rejoicing that 5:00 has finally gotten here. I also want you
to come back so I work hard upfront to make the experience
"Let's do this again." Yeah, I've heard that after so many
dates that I had to get married so the post-date disappointment
wasn't so paralyzing; wives tend to be there the next morning.
The same with guiding, I want you to want to come back.
After shortening a client's tippet and tying on a hopper pattern,
we watched buttercream bellied browns attack. A glorious day in
the Coulees of South West Wisconsin. I had a client that could
actually cast with some degree of accuracy, the weather was dry
and somewhat gusty, a relief from the airborne soup that we had
been breathing, the streamside grasses were waving seductively
over the trout, calling to them: "Look up here, I have a surprise
for you." And respond they did, piscine rockets that jumped on
each properly offered treat.
My mistake, still echoing over Spring Coulee, down the Wisconsin
River to my campsite to the sleeping bag that I had burrowed my
way into was to exclaim, "That trout jumped on your hopper like
a cop on a doughnut!"
Later that day when my now aloof client pulled out his wallet
to pay me (no tip) I noticed a badge gleaming in the late
afternoon sun...a cop's badge.
Like a cop on a doughnut, indeed. Of all of the cheap metaphors
that I could have used, this was not the worst. I did tell a
client that his repeated casts to the trees were not the end
of the world, just a little delay in catching trout, "Look at
it this way, if you were a pilot, we'd both be dead." My client,
a United Airlines pilot.
My comments were not right there, they were out there.
Another glorious day on the Coulees and when asked if we could
knock off early so he could catch his flight to Guatemala to
perform some Pro-Bono work on burn victims, I told the premier
plastic surgeon from Chicago (you would recognize his work on
T.V. and the big screen) "Hey, it's no skin off my nose."
Again mortified about a comment that was out there, but I was
still learning. If I keep my mouth shut, I tend not to offend
clients. If I don't ask the right questions, I tend to get
into trouble anyway.
So now I ask. "How's your casting ability, and by the way,
what do you do for a living?" Oh, a Rocket Scientist? Hey,
it's not brain surgery, it's just trout fishing." ~ Joe