Messing With Guides

Messing With Guides

I'm lucky enough to be able to fish with guides from time to time. Most of my guides during the past dozen years have given me an enjoyable, occasionally

  • By: Paul Guernsey
I'm lucky enough to be able to fish with guides from time to time. Most of my guides during the past dozen years have given me an enjoyable, occasionally unforgettable, outing, and I have almost always learned something from each of them.

The guide-client relationship in general is a fascinating one. The guide is at once the client's employee and his supervisor, and to a large extent his success depends on how well he (or she) can negotiate this paradox. A good guide helps improve his client's fishing skills while at the same time diplomatically overlooking certain of his existing bad skills or habits; I imagine it's a matter of focusing on the most important issues and letting other things slide. He must unwaveringly enforce safety rules and practices--and also keep his clients entertained, all without annoying anyone or needlessly bruising anyone's feelings. A good guide is also something of a psychologist, able to read each client and give them what they really need--including the occasional metaphorical kick in the rear--as well as a large part of what they want. And, it goes almost without saying that a good guide always gets his client into lots of really huge fish…

The client, meanwhile, has an easier job; he just has to show up at the dock or the fly shop with whatever fishing abilities, bad jokes, attitudes and character flaws he happens to possess at the time, and then hand the whole package over to his guide to deal with for the day.

My own relationships with guides have been interesting. I seem compelled to tease most of my guides, and as near as I can figure out this is either because I'm in the unbreakable habit of gently messing with all of my fishing companions, or else it's an unconscious attempt to somehow balance the scales against someone who is almost always a better angler than I am, is usually in better physical shape and, with fewer and fewer exceptions these days, younger. Most of them take it pretty well, and the ones I rate most highly, such as my favorite Maine guide, Sean McCormick, give the stuff right back to me.

A few have refused to take it at all, however. One guide in New Zealand picked up his lunch and stomped away upriver after I told him the joke about Mick Jagger and the Scotsman (no matter that I'm partly of Scottish descent myself; as it turned out, this guy was born in Aberdeen, and he took exception). And one pair of very burly Canadian guides threatened to beat me up for heckling them. (This same Atlantic-salmon guiding team also got me into one of the biggest fish of my life--a 46-pound hen salmon, so no hard feelings at this end.)

Something else I'll sometimes do is to suddenly hand the guide my fly rod and say, "Here, I need to take some photographs; why don't you catch that fish for me?" For 12 years this worked extremely well in that not one of them ever succeeded: Not only did I always make sure the cast was a difficult one, but I'm certain the unexpectedness of the challenge always had a powerful psychological effect as well.

But that streak finally ended last summer when I was wading a bonefish flat in Belize with a serious and talented young guide and former professional soccer player named Mark Hyde. When I passed him the rod, Mark shrugged as if to ask, "Are you sure?" Then, following a single cast--a cast for which he'd taken a single backcast--he was hooked to a silver missile of a bonefish. When I removed the hook from its mouth a few minutes later, the bone felt like it weighed about six pounds--by far the biggest one I had seen on my entire trip.

It would be an understatement to say I'd gotten my just desserts.