Someone asked me why I, with my (possibly) over-the-top fondness of fishing, don’t become a Registered Maine Guide. I answered, as diplomatically as I could, “Are you nuts?”
I can understand the question. My license plate is FLY CST, I have a coveted camp at Upper Dam, I have fished in countless rivers, streams, lakes and ponds of Maine and beyond, I can tie a fly and cast it fairly well, I know a Mayfly when I see one, I can pitch a tent, build a fire and cook a meal — in short, I might have the chops to be a fishing guide. [A brief digression: When I applied for the license plate I wanted FLYCAST, but it had been taken. One day a few years ago in the parking area above the gate on the Upper Dam road, I spotted a truck with the FLYCAST plate. I told the driver that he had the plate I wanted. “Well, you ain’t gettin’ it!” he said. “It’s been in my family for two generations and will be for a third!”]
I think I could qualify for the shoulder patch, though after all these years with a flyrod in my hand it would be embarrassing to flunk out, but the potential embarrassment factor is not what stopped me. What ultimately stopped me from applying is that I feel that once you are a Registered Maine Guide you should actually guide. I couldn’t simply wear the patch on my sleeve as a fashion accessory to impress people from away. And for me, guiding the sort of people who can afford to hire a guide would take the joy out of being on the water. For one thing, when I fish alone I sometimes get skunked, and a city slicker client who is paying me $300 per day to help him catch fish is not going to be happy about paying me $300 to not catch fish. For another thing, it would rob me of my own fishing time. Clients generally don’t like the guide to fish, especially if the guide catches more fish than the client, which would usually be the case. And, of course, there are the clients. I have hired guides, and talked to them about their nightmare clients, guys who yell at the guide if they’re not catching a trophy trout on every third cast, ignore the guide’s suggestions as to where to cast or what fly to use and can’t cast even if they try to follow the advice, and complain if the mid-day streamside lunch does not include caviar, cabernet and pink Himalayan salt. I know a guy who guides in Colorado, a place of beautiful rivers and big trout, who has spent many days on the water with clients from hell, usually rich Texans or Mexican drug lords who, a) have no clue how to fly-fish and won’t take direction, b) bring their trophy women along to show off for them and to show them off, and, c) blame the guide for everything from too few fish to too much sunshine.
I have hired some really good guides — I think of Deering, on the Restigouche; Jason Sams on the rivers of the Gaspè; Louis on the Matane; and Brian on the Miramichi (twice).
I like to think I’m a good client. I take their advice. If I don’t catch fish I never ever lay it on the guide; I understand that fishing doesn’t always mean catching. I have embarrassed myself in front of guides — I think particularly of a day in the Florida Keys when my guide, Brett, pointed out a large tailing bonefish 40 feet from the boat and I snarled my line so badly that the fish had time to eat his lunch and take a nap before I was ready to cast again, and by that time the bonefish was in the next Key. If Brett rolled his eyes I did not see it.
On the San Juan River my guide rigged up my line with significant split shot and two “flies,” neon-red egg imitations, a rig alien to me and awkward to cast, but man, did it catch fish! So I did not complain.
All of these guides could have certainly outfished me on their home waters, but they never butted in and grabbed the rod. They tolerated my ineptitude, sometimes provided a good lunch, rowed, poled or drove the boat and hauled up heavy anchors a dozen or so times, and they missed an entire day of fishing. I admired their professionalism but never once envied their shoulder patch.
Why don’t I become a Registered Maine Guide?