Column: Guide Diaries: “The Ghost Trailer”

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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.

 

As a fishing guide, you always strive to make your client’s day as productive as possible. That means doing everything you can to maximize their productive fishing time on the water. Time spent untangling knots, changing flies, and floating your boat through unproductive water is time wasted.
Most of you are familiar with today’s procedure for launching your boat at one point on the river, and then having your rig waiting for you at the end of the day: It’s called a shuttle service. Back in 1978, however, when I guided Montana’s Madison River, gas prices had spiked to a whopping $1.30 per gallon! After a guide paid for his gas and shuttle service, he was making about $25.00 per day. Eventually a number of us guides got together and decided to find a way to save on shuttle money whenever we were all going to the same stretch of river.
In ’79 I worked for an outfitter named Bob Jacklin, and every day the guides would get together and plan how to get their rigs moved from launch site to take-out point without having to pay for the shuttles. There had to be at least two guides on the same stretch of river in order to get your shuttle done. Here’s how it worked: A bunch of guides would launch at point A, leave their clients to fish around the boat ramp for a while, then drive all their rigs to point B, and then have one guide drive them all back to point A to begin the float fishing trip. Obviously, the final stage driver was left at the end of the day having to send his clients back to town with another guide, or leave his clients at point B while he hitched a ride back up to point A to retrieve his vehicle/trailer.
This brings us to the point of the story. Somebody always drew the “short straw” on who ended up having to leave their rig at the put-in point. In fact, we actually started out literally drawing straws to determine who lost in this game of “wasted time.” This “fair” way of determining things, however, didn’t last long among this group of competitive “boys.” Somehow we decided that whoever was last to get their vehicle to the take-out point would be the one who “lost.” This was initially intended to encourage efficiency in getting your clients and gear organized, and quickly getting your boat launched in the morning.
As you might guess, however, everybody got adept at morning efficiency, so ultimately the game was won via a road race on MT HWY 287. I was only 20 years old at the time, and, believe it or not, I guided from a 1963 Ford Fairlane which my great aunt left me in her will. It was a pretty fast car pulling an empty boat trailer down the highway, but it was definitely the wrong vehicle for driving the poorly maintained gravel roads accessing the boat ramps. All the other guides with their suburbans and trailblazers constantly mocked me and my ride: “The Low Rider.” The biggest joke in West Yellowstone seemed to be how Gordon and the “Low Rider” could always be counted upon to shuttle everyone up and down the Madison River Valley.
This all finally changed one day in August of 1979. I left town with all my clients’ equipment set up, gave them impeccable fishing instructions while the guides would be gone shuttling vehicles, got my boat launched first, and hit the highway at 80 mph ahead of everyone else! Yeah! I thought. Today those A-holes will be trying to catch a ride from me at day’s end for once!
That day we were floating from a place called Cameron Flats to McAtee Bridge. The mile-long side road from the highway to the bridge was extremely rocky and rough, but hopefully I could maintain a good enough lead to slow down on what we called “Cobblestone Way.” As I got to the bridge turnoff, however, three of the other guides were hot on my tail. What the heck, I thought. I’ll keep up my speed just enough to avoid tearing off my oil pan. Who cares if my boat trailer bounces all over the place; it’s just an empty trailer!
I hit the gravel at about 35 mph, and kept the “peddle to the medal!” Do you know what an empty feeling it is to be pulling a trailer down the road and look out your passenger window to see a trailer, with no vehicle, driving itself alongside you in the field? In fact it seems to be almost passing you? Your first thought is some frightening impression of a “ghost trailer” driving itself across the cattle pasture. Then you come back to reality and realize it’s yours, and that it bounced so hard it flew off the trailer hitch, broke the safety chain, and headed off across the fields at 30 mph!
Again, What the heck! I thought. I’ll just leave it there and go hitch it back up at the end of the day. I arrived at the bridge before everyone else, climbed out of my car, and proudly strutted around the parking lot as the other guides pulled in around me. “For once I’m not last!” I said, while everyone gathered around. “But we all have our boat trailers! Where’s yours!” somebody exclaimed. “You don’t expect us to wait around until the river rises enough for you to winch up your boat from the middle of that field do you?” somebody else yelled. They took a vote about whether the competition should include bringing your rig to the take-out point “intact.” Yes, I lost. Again.
The next year I decided to go back to paying a shuttle service to move my car up and down the river. Gas prices were still up, so I really didn’t make any money guiding until the guide fees began to keep pace in the mid 1980s. It was worth it, though, to spend more time fishing and less time racing up and down the highway to get my shuttle done. I do miss, however, even after 35 years, driving that “Low Rider” through the Madison River Valley, on those sweet summer days of my younger years!

 

By |October 30th, 2014|

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