I had a client several years ago who asked me, after not catching a steelhead for his third year in row, “How many (Expletive) times do I have to hire you guys before I actually catch a fish?” With my back to him, I thought that his tongue was firmly implanted in his cheek but on turning around to address it, I could see that he was rather serious. Throughout the day, I did my best to help with his presentation and to give him the best shot at taking a steelhead but even during prime time there is no guarantee. I’ve been skunked enough times to know that even when you have everything going for you; it is still a toss of the dice.
His question though, stung just a bit as he was calling into question my skills and that of the guides that I worked with. So I decided to give it back and asked him how often he fished for steelhead.
“This is it.” he replied. “I have done this trip with you guys for the past three years but I don’t get a chance to get out beyond this. But at this point, I’m not sure I want to continue.”
I dug further. “How often do you fly fish?”
“I fish a couple of times a year at the cottage but this is the only fly fishing that I do.”
“You golf right?” I asked rhetorically, having previously established that he was, in fact an avid golfer. “What do you typically shoot?”
“Mid eighties to low nineties.”
“So you golf a lot.” I went on. “If you golfed only once a year, were would your game be?” and I left it at that and continued to put my boat away.
Steelhead and Atlantic salmon may be the most enigmatic angling that we do. From the outside looking in, it appears and there is an argument that anyone who pursues these fish is certifiably mad. We stand in 40◦ water, freeze our fingers and feet until they hurt and make 500 casts with the hope of hooking one fish. Then when we do hook one and through the grace of divine intervention, land it, we put it back. It’s not normal human behavior no matter how you break it down.
I have two points to this; the first being, if you fish for steelhead once a year, the odds are stacked against you that you will actually catch a fish. There are so many things that have to go right to be successful that it is, quite simply, a statistical improbability. Further to that, if you fly fish only once a year and choose steelhead as your target quarry, you might have a better chance at winning the lottery. My second point and to the defence of anyone who has ever guided, merely hiring a guide is no guarantee. Make no mistake though, when the chips are down, no one on that river wants you (the sport) to hook a fish more than your guide and no one feels more downtrodden when you don’t.