Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Ol' Career Change

I was twelve years old, riding shotgun in my dad's Ford Ranger and we were coming back from a fishing trip. A great fishing trip, I might add. As usual with long car rides, we chatted quite a bit and the topic of conversation had somehow wandered to that horrible question from my dad,

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

At the time I had no idea I'd be struggling with the answer for the better part of the following two decades, but I quickly answered, 

"I just want to fish"

He chuckled and said, "What, like a charter boat captain? I dunno. Sounds like a ton of work, long you gotta deal with drunk assholes all the time on your boat"

From what I'd already seen as far as charter trips go, he wasn't too far off. The idea of doing that with my life bubbled into my head, but the reality of it never really got beyond I just want to fish

Fast forward several years and I was getting into my college years where it's actually time to decide a career focus. Through high school I was lucky enough to have a large portion of my curriculum revolve around marine biology and for a while I thought that might be as close to I just want to fish as I was going to get. It was around the end of high school when my marine bio teacher very bluntly told me,  

"Unless you're happy working for peanuts, or plan to go get your doctorate, marine biology probably isn't the best field"

That actually struck pretty deep with me. I didn't particularly enjoy school. Nor was I a very good student. The idea of being stuck in school for eternity sounded horrendous. So I asked myself: "What do I like to do aside from fish?...Hunt."

It was around that time that my mom and I discovered the wildlife biology track at the University of Florida and the next thing I knew I was moving into a 4 bedroom apartment in Gainesville Florida with three people I'd never met. As luck would have it, I actually began to enjoy some of my classes and through a series of miracles, I graduated. Before long, the wildlife field was my main focus, but with one exception...

I still wanted to fish. 

Call me hesitant. Or scared. Or whatever. But I wasn't willing to full on commit to a life of "just wanting to fish" without a back up plan. That back up plan was, of course, wildlife work. I enjoyed the wildlife jobs I had. I got to tranquilize deer. Capture birds. Light the woods on fire. All sorts of stuff in the name of science. The pay was never great, however, and almost all of the work offered to someone with just a bachelor's degree was seasonal. 

So it was around that time that I figured since I can tolerate wildlife work, why not focus on finding a job somewhere on the coast where I can slowly transition into fishing more? I should also add that the idea of "I just want to fish" as a career choice wasn't exactly realistic. I'm not about to be the next Bill Dance. 

What's that mean then? A charter boat captain? Well there's a problem: I now work for peanuts in the wildlife field. How the hell am I supposed to buy a giant boat for chartering? 

What's left then? Guiding smaller trips? 

And for a while that was my primary focus. Land a job in a place I can tolerate, doing wildlife work I can tolerate so that I can transition into guiding. 

But as with most things in life, nothing went quite according to plan. I found myself taking odd jobs all over creation just to make ends meet. I was, however, lucky enough to land a job as an elk hunting guide in Colorado while I was still living in Gainesville post college (right bar, right time, story for a different day). And after the season I realized, 

I -really- enjoy guiding

Sure it wasn't fishing, but Christ. Getting paid to take someone hunting? It was great. 

Next thing I knew I was living in SoFlo and had landed a job as a guide doing eco-tours in the Everglades. And once again, I -really- enjoyed the work. 

After that, a kayaking guide in Saint Augustine, and I slowly began to notice my focus drifting away from wildlife work and instead looking to guiding more and more.

It was fun. It never felt like work. I never once found myself waking up in the morning and going "Aww shit I've gotta take people to go look at Dolphins and Alligators today". To add, I was getting paid -much- better than what I went to school for. 

So when I decided to move to Montana, I already knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to get back into guiding. Sure it was a wildly different animal than what I'm used to, but the jist of it is the same. Same as guiding elk hunts. Same as leading eco-tours. Same as taking people on kayaks. 

Of course I had a huge learning curve ahead of me, but one that I happily dove into and soon found myself managing a fly fishing department in a Cabela's retail store. Not exactly what I was after, but it opened up opportunities that I doubt would have presented themselves had I been doing something else. There was, of course, another good thing...

I was finally in a place that I could begin transitioning into guiding full time. From 2009-2017 I had moved at least twice a year, every year. Not exactly the best way to "find a job in a place and transition into guiding from there". But in Missoula Montana, I soon realized I hadn't moved in over a year. 

My second Montana winter was in full force, I was still working retail, and I'm still not exactly sure what clicked, but I decided it was time to shit or get off the pot. I didn't move across the country to just sell fly fishing equipment. I could've done that in Florida. I moved out here to guide, so I set about doing just that. I bought a raft, bought the gear, found some outfitters in town, put myself through a "guide school", and then the scariest part...

I quit my job. 

I needed to devote my time and energy to guiding, and it would have been impossible to do so with a full time job. So I left in hopes that some of the outfitters in town would give me a chance. Not terrifying at all...

Well, I'm beyond excited to say that it's been a hell of a summer. I honestly can't describe how relieved/happy I was to get that first phone call to take someone on a guided fishing trip, but I know that now that I've done it, I'm doing what I've always wanted. 

It only took 18 years to make "I just want to fish" happen as a career, but better late than never. As of this summer, I'm a licensed fly fishing guide in Montana, and I can't imagine doing anything else with my seasons. I'm excited to see what other opportunities this presents, and I'm looking forward to a lot more days on the water. The season isn't over yet, but here are some of my favorite moments thus far. 

I think I say it with every post, but I hope to get back into more regular blog posts. The past couple of years have been a bit of a whirlwind and I've been reluctant to post given that I've never really "caught up". The whole book thing also put a wrench in the gears. I think I'm finally "caught up" so I'm stoked to start doing more regular posts and fishing reports. Stay tuned and thanks for sticking around!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Skwala Skwala

I knew prior to moving to Montana from Florida that winters were going to be quite an adjustment...

But Jesus Tapdancing Christ

They just go on, and on, and on

Every time you think maybe it's over and beginning to warm up, it dumps more snow or just gets bitterly cold again. Friends and family back home begin sending you pictures of sunny 80 something degree weather. Meanwhile it still resembles Hoth in the backyard.

By March everyone's chomping at the bit to get out and fly fish. The sun is finally starting to show itself again, and it shouldn't be long before the first bugs on the year start showing up.


In all honesty it's sort of an over-hyped hatch. Everybody and their brother is out there trying to catch the Skwala hatch. I don't think it's because it's some stellar hatch, I think it's because it marks the beginning of a new season, and it's a perfect excuse to get outside.

But the Skwala hatch can be a bit of a tease. My first winter in Montana lasted approximately an eon and then, come late March, the sun came out and along with it, the Skwalas. I was overjoyed. It was warm (in the 40's but comparatively still warm), bugs were out, and the fish were biting.

I'd done it. I'd survived my first winter outside of Florida and it was gonna be smooth sailing from here. Warm days and lots of fishing with summer right around the corner, right?


With warm weather comes snow melt, and with snow melt comes run off. The rivers swell and get muddy and the fishing pretty much sucks. It just so happened that my first experience with run off was a record breaking quarter century flood that lasted until late June.

So although the Skwala hatch was enjoyable, it really was nothing more than a brief tease before everything was put on pause again for another 2 months. With that said, however, I don't think I'd be able to keep my sanity without the Skwalas.

You get a brief window to get out and get that fix and with any luck, it'll be enough to hold you over till summer.

As with any fishing, I didn't get to do as much of it as I obviously wanted during the Skwala hatch. I currently manage a fishing/marine department in a retail store and if you aren't aware, retail hours are the actual Devil. On the odd days off, weather typically sucked. And if I had a real weekend off, there was no way in the world you could get me out on the water with everyone else in Missoula. Like I said, everyone's chomping at the bit to just get outside and that usually means 14000 boats all floating the same stretch of water.

But I feel lucky. I've now made it through not only one, but two Montana winters. The fishing is actually starting to really take off as I write this, and I've got big news to announce soon.

There's a lot more fishing on the horizon. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Summer Storms

Terrifyingly beautiful and violently calm. 

The old boat launch was empty. Abandoned, practically. Mildewed picnic tables and a sanded-over concrete boat ramp showed obvious signs of neglect. Not unwarranted neglect, mind you. Yellow caution tape haphazardly strewn between two posts served as a warning to keep visitors off of the dock beyond. With large sections missing, posts leaning, and splintered slats half peeled away, the wooden structure had obviously seen better days.

But the coffee black waters of the Saint Johns felt good, and the short swim to the only intact section of dock proved relaxing after a hot summer day in the sun. With and no ladder for help, it took some effort to climb onto the broken dock from below. Effort well rewarded, however, as the view of the massive river opened up to the north. The company of a close friend alongside was more than welcomed, and a relatively cool, slightly sweating beer still tasted good on a muggy evening.

One of the many nice things about having close friends is the ability to just enjoy each other's company. Sure there's plenty to be said, but there's a time and place. Often simply sitting in relative silence is just as enjoyable as deep conversation. And so the evening was spent less in conversation, and more in staring out across the calm waters while slowly sipping lukewarm beer.

It wasn't really the water that was being stared at, however. It wasn't a pretty sunset, or passing boats. Nor was it even an attempt to soak up the final few hours of sunshine. The sunshine was long gone.

In the distance to the North slowly moved a massive storm. Your typical Floridian summer afternoon storm, but are they ever really typical? Though they're practically a daily guarantee, each remains different than the next. Every day, around mid morning, you can watch as a tiny puff ball of a cloud begins to build as it lazily moves across the sky. By lunchtime the puff ball has become an actual rain shower, and by the afternoon, a full fledged thunderstorm.

This storm was no different. In fact, it hadn't been long since it had moved over this abandoned boat launch. Gone was the sweltering sunshine. Gone was the gentle lapping of waves against the shore from a hot summer breeze. Gone was the quiet clanking of the nearby sailboats' rigging as they slowly rocked in the water. And gone was the deafening buzz of cicadas in the trees.

Instead the waters ahead lay mirror flat as the still, humid air slowly settled in now that the breeze was gone. From the dark woods on shore came a gentle white noise from thousands of raindrops as they fell from the Spanish moss draped Live Oaks, signaling that the storm had passed through. And in the distance came the occasional flash of lightning, reflected off the river, followed by a low, trembling report. The storm rumbled steadily away to the north like a giant, dark purple/blue wall, with occasional lightning flashes from within outlining its growing, irregular shape. To the West, the sun was blotted out by the anvil-like shear which cast a shadow on the old boat launch. And to the South, other afternoon storms shined brightly as their white and orange shapes quietly approached in the evening daylight.

And so the evening was spent sitting on that broken dock, watching a storm slowly roll away. Ironically, the entire reason this dock sat half destroyed and abandoned was because of a storm. And it's strange to think something so powerful and violent can set a scene so peaceful and calm as the one this particular evening.

What is it about a storm?

Much like staring into a fire, there's no accurate way to explain what it's like to watch a thunderstorm. No words can describe the slight flutter of nervous excitement as the all-too-familiar buzz of the emergency broadcast system blares through the radio mid-song, or flashes across the bottom of the TV screen. Nor can they describe the startled flinch that's received when a lighting strike comes a little too close. Or that feeling when a strong, cold gust of wind pierces through the humid air of a summer afternoon, signaling the approaching weather.

Storms are something terrible to be in, yet a joy to watch from a distance. There's no controlling them, and perhaps its their raw power and fury that makes them awe inspiring.

One thing's for sure; there are few things in this world as humbling yet exciting as a summer storm.

They're terrifying, beautiful, violent, and calm. All at the same time.