Inevitably, it comes up in conversation at some point. “How long have you been guiding?” Quickly followed by something related to “do you enjoy it?” or “is it hard?”
My pat answer is related to having been a guide and instructor for more than 20 years and fly fisherman for more than 50. Here is the thing, that answer is really not a very good one. It is time answer as opposed to an experience answer.
People, when they ask that question are not really asking about the length of time. They are asking about what they experience has been like. That got me thinking.
Guiding and being a fly-fishing instructor is an essential part of my life. In a lot of ways, it helps me manage the other parts of my life, like my job at the Marine Fish Conservation Network, or being a grandfather or a husband.
Here are some things about guiding that people deserve to hear when I answer that question.
• It’s fun, it really is. Sure, guiding is work and the pre- and post-trip stuff is a pain but when someone catches a fish or makes a good cast the smile on their face makes me smile. When we start laughing together because of pure pleasure the sport provides that is fun. Smiles equal fun.
• Working outside is a extraordinary opportunity. During most days, I sit in my office, looking at my computer. Working outside, especially in and around moving water is a much more enjoyable experience. There is much more sensory involvement, sights, sounds, smells and direct human and animal interactions. Doctors even prescribe it as “ecotherapy.”
• It is a teaching experience. Every guide trip and every class, I learn something. The guests and students expect me to help them the whether it is catching fish or learning to fish. But that is only half the equation, they have to be able to learn from me, and that is my responsibility. Teaching is tough but learning is harder. Being able to communicate in a way that allows people to succeed is my goal every time I offer instructions. But as fulfilling as it is to see someone succeed, the knowledge that I am learning at the same time is the big reward. And, more often than not, I learn something about myself.
• Practicing what I preach. Conservation of our natural resources is essential. It is what I do at the Network and what I believe to the deepest reaches of my soul. Having a chance to share that conservation ethic is a rewarding part of my guiding gigs. Talking about clean water and showing best fish handling practices like “Keep ‘em Wet” directly engages my guests and shows them why conservation is essential to a good fishing experience.
• Guiding has made me a better person, more patient, more understanding and more tuned into my surroundings. Truth be told those attributes have not always transferred to the rest of my life. There is some comfort in knowing that and realizing I have to do better. Perhaps that is the thing I like the most.