A week at a good fishing lodge invariably makes as many memories off the water as on. And while every week of the season produces fishing stories those involved will never forget, from the perspective of staff and guides, the clients are what make it all worthwhile.
Contrary to what some may assume, being a client isn’t necessarily easy. Fishing trips are always golden in hindsight, but everyone knows that steelhead fishing isn’t a walk in the park. From a sore shoulder, to river blowouts, to lost fish, to having to spend so much time around insufferable guides, few vacations are so masochistic. Experienced guides all know this and have sympathy for the clients.
Legends exist in the industry about infamous clients who’ve been banned from lodges. However, the reality of cooperating to confront serious challenges on the river during the day, combined with relaxing and reliving the victories over drinks in the evening, is a sure-fire recipe for friendship! It sucks to say bye to the crew at the end of the week, and we always look forward to seeing you next year!
The ‘Beginners Luck’ client
The pre-week briefing for lodge staff says that a long-time client is bringing a great old friend of his this year, and the only info we have is that “he’s not the most experienced guy”. When picking them up from their hotel the next morning - already wadered up, as instructed - , no time is wasted getting to the point, as the long-time client client introduces his friend by saying with a chuckle “Great to see you again. This is my friend Bob, he’s never fished before! Yeah, really!”
Of course, the guide is excited about the challenge - getting a client like this a spey-caught steelhead on his first day would be a feat for all parties involved, though not as hard as some may imagine. I mean, we always say we can work with short casters, no problem, right? Every beat has its ‘gimme’ spots, and you just match the water to the client. Guides have even been known to say that if someone were to fish all week casting no further than their belly and tip while wading shallow, they’d be top rod every time, despite the fact no guides or clients have ever actually been able to fish like this for even a full day.
Half of his gear is shiny and new…and the other half is lodge stuff. After a quick rundown on steelheading basics while driving to the river, we’re all enjoying that surreal feeling of being knee-deep in some first-rate water, with no one in sight, only 45 minutes into the trip. There’s no question that he gets first pass down every run; everyone wants to see him get his first fish, and he can’t do too much damage, right? You demonstrate the double spey cast for him twice, watch two casts of his, give him two tips, and turn your back to avert your eyes from the horror. I mean, to let him get a feel for things while you go check on his friend. You’ve barely walked thirty yards when you hear a yell. Snagged? Nope, and…well, you see where this is going. It’s not a pink.
That night at dinner, he’s the toast of the table, basking in the glory of an accomplishment even greater than he realizes; three fish on his first day ever, wow! He learns the meaning of words the rest of the group had long since forgotten about, such as ‘hook-set’, and ‘knuckle-busted’. After a few days, right when you think his luck can’t possibly continue any longer, his cast starts to come together. There are a couple days where he loses most of his fish, but he got the biggest fish of the season so far, ends the week as second rod for anyone counting, just getting edged out by a client who’s returned 17 years. He’s definitely coming back next year, and says he will buy his own spey rod at the local fly shop the day he gets home!
British clients come from rich fishing traditions, and they all come equipped with speycasting skill that can truly be described as native. To a BC guide, guiding Brits for the first time, they are full of surprises. Their lines seem weird for many reasons; they’re not called ‘Skagits’, they aren’t made in the gaudiest colors humanly possible, and some of them even have bellies longer than 30 feet, with this thing called a front taper. Say what?!
It usually doesn’t take more than half the first run before the guide, in a slightly annoyed tone, asks the Brit what that thing is that he’s doing with his hands during the swing, and if he can stop it. This initiates the dialogue on that technique close to the heart of all Brits, called the induced take, a sort of quick figure-8 retrieve that imparts twitching action to the fly, which they go on about ad-nauseum for the rest of the week. “Yeah, I’m sure Atlantics love it, but we’re fishing steelhead in BC, boys!”
Between the long bellies, long casts, light tips, small flies, the manic twitching trying to induce takes, and the time wasted via hourly tea and cookie breaks, the guide wonders how he’ll get the Brits into any fish this week. The guide can only hope that the superhuman ability displayed by all Brits to not rush through the head of the runs may partially offset all these disadvantages.
Their dinner table etiquette is always charming. Their modesty generally precludes talk of numbers, though they’ll happily chat about and compare their loch-style buzzer flies with standard BC chironomids.
By the end of the week, despite polite attempts to downplay their success, it is clear to everyone that the Brits simply crushed’em this week - there’s no two ways about it. In facing this, the guide’s insecurities culminate in an existential crisis after having half of what he thought he knew about steelhead flipped on its head. Maybe you can catch fish on long casts. Maybe hot pink isn’t the best color. How do they manage to hook up all those hangdown takes...is it the induced take?
The guide eventually recovers with only mild ptsd, and ends up a better angler and guide after incorporating the newfound techniques. The Brits leave laughing, as top rods for the week, and half-hope there will be another freshman guide they can have fun with upon their return next year.
The social media guy
The days of having secret rivers and lakes are almost gone. The internet has changed the world of fishing in a lot of good ways but it has also made it nearly impossible to keep a secret. A new online ediquette has evolved from this that modern anglers should adhere to . People should stop hash tagging where they fish. Instead hashtag local organizations that support wild fish & environmental conservation initiatives. Handle fish better and make sure to #keepemwet. Keep locations to yourself and help preserve the experience.
However with that said, every year a guest rolls in that just cannot help himself, and posts every fish he catches online. Taking video of landing fish showing our location and showcasing it all over Instagram. As guides we take great pride in knowing where the fish are on any given day. Posting locations on social media doesn’t help anyone in the end. Social media guys just need to try and keep locations and river specific hashtags to a minimum and everyone will be happy. Their followings will get to live vicariously through online posts, and no one will know where, what and how those fish were outsmarted.
The “I’ve been coming here for 25 years" guy
This guy has certainly put his time in and earned the respect of everyone at the lodge, guests and staff alike. He knows the lodge inside and out including behind the scenes, and he never lets anyone forget it. The stories of years gone by flow each and every night. If the fishing is slow he will tell you how great it was last year or even last decade. These guys love the lodge and the lodge loves them. However for the rest of the guests it can be like hanging out with that guy who keeps talking about his high school days playing on the varsity football team that one year they won a championship.