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!

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