flowers on the farm
Flowers on the farm in June.
Emigrant Peak is in the distance.

The Founding of a Business
Part Two
of a trilogy

Thursday is My Busy Day

When I decided to become more involved, that is being more then just a weekend warrior in the recreational fishing industry, I had a few choices to make. Do I become a guide? Do I become an instructor? Do I  become a manufacturer or a salesperson down at Turner Sports in Reseda, Ca?

Well, I guess I chose to play the part of the instructor because the first project I created was in 1985.  I  produced a series  of fresh and saltwater fishing videos. Reelin’ And Rockin’  was the program’s name.  It  was a  cable delivered  TV program where I caught some fish and then returned to the kitchen and prepared whatever  was caught for the program. This endeavor  was fun for me and entertaining for the viewers. I enjoyed every bit of the experience and the feedback from people who had seen the programs confirmed that I was doing something which was appreciated. The program ran it’s course or natural life. As time went on,  I was continually  asked to guide by different people in different locations.

To be honest, I’m not entirely cut out to be a guide. Sometimes I did take friends out but not as a guide. I fished and they fished. If I caught fish and they didn’t  I  rubbed it in in a jovial manner. As time progressed and I morphed into whatever it is that  I am today  I am still asked to guide.  I still do not  even though I own a fly shop on a very well advertised river, the Yellowstone.   I have a distinct aversion to most “guides” and in my  years of fishing there are but just a few guides that I would recommend another  angler to  hire. I believe there is a big difference between the guides which  I recommend and the other guides. In short,  most guides I have found are either young men who managed to save a few bucks, bought a boat and presto they  are taken under the wing of an “outfitter.” This outfitter then advertises,  usually by showing pictures of big fish caught in a stocked impoundment to individuals who are seeking whatever. These young  guides learn  to row tourist fares down a river. Or, in some instances,  there are a few  old codgers who are out to make a few bucks doing the same thing   just rowing someone down a river. Which one is better? Neither if they do what the other guy does.

However, since connecting with several back county outfitters who service Yellowstone National Park,  I am thinking about providing a personal guide service  with one of these National Park licensed outfitters  this upcoming season. These will not be the daily trips made down the Yellowstone. These will be four day  fishing trips to  distant locations found  miles from nowhere and the horseback ride to and from these locations will make a soaking bath into a very refreshing experience. The fishing I’m glad to say cannot get any better. But, the decision is still up in the air.

Then again I’m really bummed out,  even though it does not affect me one bit,  by the “new” trip booking agents which  promote guide trips not just here in the US but worldwide. These web site wonders are currently slamming the independent guides, the ones with the knowledge in fishing, into other works of life. The web site promoters are skimming a much greater percentage from the trips then what has traditionally been provided for their ‘booking agent” services. I have friends in the Florida Keys which are telling me that it  is getting harder and harder to keep a business afloat when the ‘trickle down theory” has them accepting day trips for less then what may be deemed fair. The reason they do take these trips at a reduced rate from the web site wonders, is simply the need to eat. The ‘glossy” marketing approach of these services is better then what the individual guide can pay since the advent of pay-per- click and therefore the inexperienced angler, who has a few bucks to catch his first  bonefish or a tarpon,  is quickly swept into this slick machine.

It is my opinion that a guide should be more then a just a water taxi. In salt water these group fishing boats are called “head boats” because they have a bathroom onboard. Not much to fishing from a head boat. Just throw a baited line overboard, let it sink to the bottom  and wait for a bite. I personally think that  a guide should be able to provide an experience which sets him well above the average angler. A guide should be the sounding board for the ecosystem in which he haunts. A guide should be able to speak with authority on numerous subjects which are inherent to his world. These traits I find lacking in most guides and therefore Thursdays become my busiest days in my shop. Why Thursdays? That’s a simple question and feel free to correct me if I‘m wrong but,  you can easily substitute any easily floated river in place of the Yellowstone.

 To get to the point , most of the anglers who venture to Montana and into the Yellowstone ecosystem arrive here on Sunday. They are full of wonder and excited that they are about to experience a marvel of large fish, caught and photographed so all of their  friends back home can see how macho they truly are. The advertising they read promotes  this.   Hell, I did it. Why not?  I just did it without  the guide.  So Monday arrives and the angler arrives at  the  guide’s shop or home  to begin the  big day. There they  are met by a ”guide.” The trip most likely  was booked sometime during the  past winter from a repetitious  ad or  one which they have been seeing for years. Or,  given in today’s light,  an slick big fish pictured  on a Internet listing,  which in some cases the “outfitter” again  pays for his hitsinstead of providing references. He’s paying the ads with your money. It’s  the bucks he'll be over charging you for whatever he is providing. Then again a friend of mine likes to use this expression by Will Rodgers, “Thems ain’t lies- thems campaign promises.” do yourself a favor and have someone give you a recommendation. You will be better off.

So by noon on Monday the excitement of the floating reality is beginning to wane  since, for the last few hours,  your boat, as well as the few other boats which have been silently gliding down the waterway with, have had little luck. However the “guide” continues to tell you to cast your hopper with its  nymph dropper to the bank. Maybe you will be lucky and catch a good fish (that’s just one.)  I doubt it,  since  the fish have been running from first light  from all the shadows thrown by all the previous  boats which have drifted over their feeding stations. Including the common fact that   they have been seeing 'hoppers and dropper"  rigs since they were small fry. The end of the trip quickly arrives and you are forced  to spend the few remaining hours wading a mile or so from the boat landing in the same locations as every other fisherman who has floated this waterway has done. The angler begins to realize that  something is wrong. This is not what the guide’s brochure and the photographs claimed. 

“They call it fishin’ and not catchin',” spouts the “outfitter” after the angler is brought back  to his car. “Tomorrow may be a better day. Here are some pictures of a few fish taken from the river.” he says as he points to a collage of photos he has stashed in an album or hanging on a wall. The angler feels a little slighted but being miles from home he really doesn’t have much of a choice. After a little more “used car salesmen claims” the angler sometimes books another day. Sometimes it is with another rower and sometimes it is with the same one. Tuesday comes and goes. Maybe the angler catches a photo and maybe not. Now the angler’s conversation  twists as he begins to equate the float trip not as a, “poor day of fishing”  but as a “restful day away from the sound of ringing phone and other work obligations.” Sorry,  I’ve seen it too many times to remain silent and life has better reasons to exist then to hose a visitor to the area.

Wednesday arrives and the “Thursday angler”  decides that a trip into Yellowstone Park is now in his best interest. At least he will get a few rolls of film filled with the adventure of a western trip as well as a few token photos of Old Faithful, a buffalo and an elk. On his travels he may stop by another shop but  again he hears , “You should float the river. Its only a week’s pay for a schoolteacher. Yada-yada-yada.” The angler has been there before so he feels a little frustrated and leaves. He becomes  thankful at the end of the day for the batch of pictures he now has in his camera.   Thursday arrives and the angler strikes off after breakfast to find his small niche in a Montana fishing experience. That’s when I normally  come into the picture. Sometime he has been directed here by a local waitress or  gift shop owner and sometimes he stumbles upon our location.

As the angler drives the less traveled East River Road he comes to a sign which  points down a gravel road. This sign announces that a fly shop and a hackle farm of some magnitude are down there. The angler has seen the name of the shop before. There are several signs lining the corridor of the main highway.  The angler figures its worth a try. He has nothing to lose.  The fishing has to get better or the information that he can now see through will roll off his deaf ears.

For the next twenty minutes or so I kind of “comfort”  the angler. Sometimes I can  poke fun at their decisions (especially after the second trip) because I’m very hip to what he has gone through. In fact, been there done that  well  kind of.  I’ve floated the river in the summer in the past years.  Anyway, Thursday afternoon and all day Friday the angler gets his butt  knee deep into fish. He doesn’t have a guide costing him fifty bucks an hour telling him to cast to the bank.  No one who works in the shop is going to sell you anything if you don’t ask for it. It just isn’t our style or anybody else’s who you may meet in the shop. We’re just a bunch of anglers  who love to fish. We don’t like to play some crazy game about who’s rod we fish with or how much we paid for some piece of equipment. We know what is good and leave it as that. Ask a question you’ll get a straight answer. We’ll even send you out of the area if the fishing is better “over there.” We did this when water temps rose to high levels several years ago.

Sure,  I’ll mention different programs I can help you with such as my Fly Fishing School. But it really is only for beginners.  Actually, the school is my reciprocation for anglers who may subscribe to my way of thinking. You see, I believe that old expression about teaching someone to fish (teach a man to fish...)  and the whole point of the school is to make someone non dependant on guides. Any guide, on any water with the emphasis,seeing we are in Montana,  being trout.  Our students return to their home waters with a different attitude and perspective on fly fishing. This is something they will never find on the river. With a guide telling you to cast to the bank with a hopper and dropper.

Then again, if you are fairly confident about your angling expertise  you may just buy some flies and run out to were I’ll  send you. Here at the shop the angler might even find someone who is just like yourself and perhaps may take you fishing for the afternoon. It’s happened. Friendships have formed within the walls of Doc’s Fly Shop.

The Thursday Angler departs for his distant hometown he has most likely found his small niche in the Yellowstone ecosystem. He’ll be back and when he does return he will make Knoll’s his first stop. He’ll  purchase things at a fair price and be directed to locations on the various creeks and rivers which can satisfy his craving for western angling. 

You see I at least realize that repeat business is the best way to promote an area. In fact when a customer starts  asking about housing and land values I know our job was done satisfactorily. I understand that only one in countless thousands will actually dig into the wallet and purchase land or a home but  this question of land values is a great indicator. This is a very big area we have up here and eventually it will become well settled but that will take plenty of time. As this time line  progresses fishing techniques will change. Like guiding and floating down the river.

 Eventually this style of fishing, which was a great way to fish the river up until a decade  ago, will be replaced by wade trips. No boats, no shadows, one fly, fished next to a guide who knows how to cast as well as being capable of putting the angler “into the moment”  on the river. Oh I almost forgot, the guide will have  to take  great pictures and possibly know a foreign language and entomology.  

Anyway, that is how my shop has run since its conception. Straight talk regardless of the consequences. However now many of my customers now have names added to their faces. Long lasting relationships have emerged. However to get into the sync of things    is a site that acts as our valley’s business directory and is loaded with cabins, B&B’s, and other things  pertinent to the valley.

If you would  like to continue Part III of the trilogy will start in just a moment .
Continue to Part Three of the Trilogy

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