With my summer guiding season behind me, I’m spending every day at my fly tying vice trying to chip away at the 1,000 dozen flies I’m supposed to tie for various guides and fisherman by next spring. It’s getting tedious, and I’m already starting to wish I was back working on the River. Then, I remember that halfway through the summer I’d be wishing to just tie flies all by myself, instead of trying to spend a day pleasing a couple of fishing clients from Los Angeles, day after day after day.
I remember my last day guiding in October, that I backed my boat into a cove at the boat ramp and said, “Yeah, another day I brought ‘em back alive!” Well OK, I acknowledge that keeping my clients from drowning should be a high priority, but it certainly can’t be the only criteria for a successful day. Sometimes, though, I set my own standards too high for presenting my clients with a “great day” of fishing.
I remember guiding Al Wehrly and his daughter Kelli this past September. Al is from Billings, and Kelli came out west to celebrate Al’s 83rd birthday with a day fishing the Bighorn River. I started the morning by pointing out the casting braces located in the front and back of the boat (yeah, I know, bow and stern of the boat). I made my daily proclamation that, “I’ve never had anyone fall out of my boat in nearly fifty years of guiding, and I’m not going to start today.” I reminded them that, whenever standing, they need to keep within those braces. The brace will catch them if they lose their balance, keeping them from falling from the boat. “Never get outside those braces.”
The day began fairly well, a fish here and a fish there. They were great listeners and great learners, taking advantage of all the river had to offer. As usual, though, I was frustrated and thinking the fishing should always be better. Kelli sensed this and said, “Lighten’ up. We’re having the day of our lives. What could be better than this?” I decided to take her advice to just enjoy the day and the company.
As soon as I relaxed, however, we started having doubles. A double is when both fishermen hook a fish simultaneously. It creates great excitement because I have to maneuver the boat to keep their lines from crossing and then attempt to net one fish right after the other. When we hit our third double in a row, Kelli’s fish ran to the back of the boat and started circling around Al’s line. As I turned to my right to help advise him, I felt something pass me to the left; like a bird flying past my shoulder. I turned forward in shock to see no one standing in the front of the boat! I flipped my head to the back again, only to see Al and Kelli standing side-by-by side fighting their fish!
I yelled at Kelli to get back to the front and into her casting brace. Before I could stand up to help, she literally danced to the front like a bird dancing from branch-to-branch in a tree.
In one second she went one step on the boat’s gunwale, one step on my boat seat and one step back to her brace. She just smiled at me like “Is there a problem here?” Then she said, “I was a good gymnast in elementary school.”
I just laughed and said, “No problem. Let’s go hook up another double.”
Remember, when you head into the outdoors this winter, safety should be your first and overriding priority. Your second priority should be to just take what the day offers; relax, have fun, and try to savor every moment and event that Mother Nature has to offer. Those are the real keys to having a great day in the outdoors.
GORDON ROSE works as a commercial fly tier and operates Sheridan WYO Healing Waters, part of a national nonprofit organization which teaches disabled military veterans fly fishing, fly tying and fly rod-building as part of their therapy.