Who Fly Fishes?

Who Fly Fishes?

Christopher Guest

  • By: Stephen Camelio
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Christopher Guest

When Christopher Guest says, “Comedians do not fish and they are not outdoors people” it’s an immediate contradiction—he’s been a part of Hollywood’s most groundbreaking comedies of the past three decades, and he is a passionate angler. But then again, Guest is no one-trick pony.
Despite being known for co-writing and acting in side-splitters like This is Spinal Tap!, Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman, Guest is also an accomplished dramatic actor (A Few Good Men) and a Grammy-winning musician with the world-folk band Beyman Bros. A city kid who developed a life-long love of the outdoors, his office is fittingly set up so that he can transition from working to fly-tying with a swivel of his chair. Thankfully, he took a break from both to open up, sort of, about fishing.
 
Growing up in New York City, how did your interest in fishing develop?
Since I was 10 or 11, when I went to a summer camp in Vermont, I’ve wanted to be in the mountains. I started fishing in the lakes and the rivers of the High Sierras in the late ’70s when I was backpacking and climbing. Then a friend of mine in Idaho introduced me to fly-fishing.
Was it hard to pick up fly-fishing?
I was lucky to meet a great mentor in Nick Cox and I happened to have an amazing introduction to fly-fishing at a spring creek in Idaho, but it was not easy fishing. Knowing what I know now, I was lucky to catch a nice fish on a dry fly. That’s the old story. I was hooked but I wonder what would have happened if I had gone home, by virtue of not being lucky, without catching a fish. Being someone who loves the outdoors it was also a beautiful spot, which helped.
 
Do you remember where in Idaho?
I do.
 
You don’t have to say.
That’s what I am getting at. When you come back from the river and say “I had a good day,” people say, “Where were you fishing?” I say, “You know that aspen tree, and there’s a couple cottonwoods next to it.” That’s about as specific as I get. I like things kept privately.
 
So do you only fish for trout?
No, I’ve done all different types of fly-fishing. My fishing buddy Scott and I went to Patagonia and I’ve fished in England and Ireland. I fished off Long Island for stripers and bluefish, which was interesting and really fun. I was fishing for bonefish in Turks and Caicos and was taken out to the flats five miles offshore and suddenly the water was two feet deep in these mangroves. It’s cool, but I can’t imagine not fishing for trout.
Why is that?
I love the mountains—I love to hike and ski and I love the feel of being on a big river in the West. As most people travel, they may drive past a river but they don’t look for rises. If I am watching golf on TV, I am looking at the water to see if there are any fish. It’s a different state of mind.
 
Any other actors you know who share your love of fly-fishing?
I run into Michael Keaton, who is a close friend and a big fisherman as well. Actually the first time I truly fly-fished was in Georgia in 1979 when I was doing a movie with Dennis Quaid. He said, “Let’s go fly-fish.” And I said, “What’s that?” We caught some small trout in a small stream. I haven’t fished with him since.
 
Speaking of Hollywood, is there a reason your character in Best in Show is a fly fisherman?
We shot Best in Show in Vancouver and I got to go to Vancouver Island. It’s one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen. You go into these drainages, through these pre-historic forests and you come out on these immense rivers. Bears come out of the woods as you catch salmon and trout that are just porpoising. I wrote the movie and I wanted to have that character connected to it.
 
Sounds like you’ve seen your share of rivers.
Yeah. Actually, my friend, Nick Cox, and I snorkeled a river together once. You have a wet suit and mask and pull yourself along. It’s astonishing because there are about four times as many fish as you would think in a given run or hole. I would recommend it to fishermen—it’s fun and gives you a sense of the river. When you are fishing and say, “There is nothing going on,” there really is. You’re just not catching ’em.
What’s your most memorable fish?
I will never forget the first time I caught a fish on a fly I tied. I was plainly not good at it when I started. I tied a horrible looking Adams—really quite pathetic. I was winter fishing and fish were rising, so I thought, Why not? I caught a fish and said, “This is a miracle.” The thing fell apart after two fish because I didn’t know what I was doing. Subsequently I’ve been able to invent flies, and they catch fish too.
 
What do you like to tie?
In the winter, you catch fish on midges in the West, so I like tying those really small 22s. I also tie patterns that people don’t use anymore. In an old book, I found this wet fly that has been fished for hundreds of years in England but not very much over here. It has Hungarian partridge hackle and the body is yellow or orange floss on a streamer hook. It’s a killer fly.
 
So you are a fisherman for all seasons?
I do a lot of winter fishing—real winter fishing. You have to snowshoe to the river, and of course the water is very low but you can catch some huge fish in the winter. I’ve been in a river when a monster blizzard came up within 20 seconds. We got out within 10 minutes or we would have been trapped, but it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had. I was very happy catching fish as snow was coming down.
 
Sounds amazing.
I’ve been lucky to fish some of the great, great rivers. In fact, I am going on a trip tonight.
 
Can you tell us where?
The United States of America. There are 50 states, and it’s not in Hawaii or Alaska so that narrows it down. ■
 
Stephen Camelio lives on Wyoming’s northwest border with Montana, so he doesn’t have to travel far for great fishing. For more of his writing visit www.stephencamelio.com

Who Fly Fishes?
By Stephen Camelio