In late June I floated the big water of the Au Sable with my friend David McMillan, where we hoped, of course, to find big trout eating big flies in the big darkness. Our guide was in his early thirties, and—like most of the guides on the river that night—he frantically exchanged text messages with other guides. Other guides, that is, who were in his trusted battalion of reconnaissance scouts and spies.

Bzzt Bzzzt . . . Bzzt Bzzzt . . . Bzzt Bzzzt

“Adam says there are three boats posted below us on Angel Bend.”

Bzzt Bzzzt . . . Bzzt Bzzzt . . . Bzzt Bzzzt

“Oh shit. Gunner says there are two boats a couple bends above us and they’re oaring like hell. They’ll probably catch us soon, so we better post up here. This is good water.”

“Guys, we aren’t fighting the crowd. We are the crowd.”

It was good water, and when night fell we had good bugs and good fish. And once the armada settled, we were pretty much alone on that stretch. Still, electrons soared from phone to phone conveying messages of anguish and aggravation over the crowded river. I understood and appreciated that our guide wanted to enhance our experience, and I detest crowds as much or more than anyone, but—nevertheless—I wanted to hijack the guide’s phone and broadcast a message on his behalf:

“Guys, we aren’t fighting the crowd. We are the crowd.”

Three months later I was about to float the Au Sable’s less big and more holy water with my new friend Bob DeMott, whose books Angling Days and Astream belong on every fly fisher’s shelf. Bob and I were guest speakers at a Celebrate Michigan Rivers event later that night, but we had time for a float during the day. Just as our guide slid his boat from its trailer and into the river, Bob’s phone rang.

“Hi Nick, how are you doing? . . . I’m doing great. In fact, I’m standing on the bank of the Au Sable River.”

I’d met Bob in person for the first time over dinner the night before, but I was familiar with his writings and his long connection with—and membership in—the old-school royalty of fly fishing. Wouldn’t that be something,  I thought, if this Nick turns out to be Nick Lyons?

“I’ll see Jerry Dennis later tonight . . . Yes, of course, I’ll tell Jerry you said hi.”

Bob finished his call and confirmed that he’d been speaking with Nick Lyons. Nick’s writing—along with that of the countless writers he has encouraged and supported—has influenced generations of anglers and authors. Nick, Bob said, doesn’t really fish anymore, but Bob’s reports fill part of that void. Reports by voice, though, not by text. Bob then put the phone into his pocket, and for the next five hours the compact tablet’s only job was to record a few pictures to augment our memories of a special day on a special river.

I wore my usual waxed-cotton packer hat, Bob wore a hunter-green wool beret, and our guide Jimmy wore a ragged ball cap, but not the millennial guide’s fashionable mesh-back trucker hat. While Jimmy—who is neither millennial nor fashionable—skillfully poled his wooden river boat through the Holy Waters, Bob and I cast small dry flies with our bamboo rods, Bob much more expertly than I. At some point, one of the several folks who overtook us in kayaks yelled out as he passed:

“Boy, a picture of this would look like you gentlemen were in the 19th century fishing for grayling.”

None of us took offense; instead, I’m pretty sure Bob and Jimmy were—like me—pleased. Both for being called—or in my case mistaken for—a gentleman, and for the fanciful notion that in another time we might be fishing for grayling.

At another point I asked Jimmy the question that everyone seems to ask guides. “I’m sure most of your clients are good folks, but you must get some tough clients at times, right?” I think we ask that question hoping the guides will affirm that we are the good clients, but most guides appropriately brush the question aside with something like “Oh, most people are great. The river has a way of neutralizing the assholes.” Jimmy gave a slightly different response.

“Well, the guys who get most of their information from the internet and are constantly yapping about the big fish they caught in Montana can be a little annoying, but most people are okay. Except for the lawyers. You guys aren’t lawyers are you?”

“No,” I said. “What’s up with the lawyers?”

“Well, if you tell a lawyer to cast to the left side of the boat they’ll always cast to the right side because they think you’re lying.”

“That’s a joke, right?” I asked Jimmy.

“What do you mean?” he said.

Either way, Jimmy’s timing and delivery were perfect.

Later I asked Jimmy about cooperation among guides. “With so many guides on the river these days, do you and the other guides, at least the ones in your shop, share information about where, when and what?”

“Well, a lot of the guides talk and text continuously on their cell phones, but I don’t do that, so I’m not in those circles. I do okay, though. You know, you gotta stop worrying about all that stuff and just fish. A few months ago on the big water, a couple guys spent so much time stressing about where all the other boats were I don’t think they ever settled down. I just find some good water and let my clients fish. It’s really pretty simple. Plus, I don’t own a cell phone.”

“No cell phone?” I asked with more than a slight suggestion of surprise.

“Yeah, everyone seems surprised. I just don’t need one of those things and all the complications it brings,” Jimmy said.

“A few days ago we had a guide meeting with the boss. He told us he had to return a client’s money because he complained that the guide was on his phone the entire trip, and the client was pissed about the constant buzzing from text messages. He was probably exchanging information about fishing, but the client didn’t see it that way.”

The other guides were silent and fidgety—Jimmy told us—and each worried that they were the one who had pissed off their client. Then Jimmy broke the silence.

“It sure as hell wasn’t me,” he promised the group.

Sometimes it’s cool to be old school.






Categories: Fish Tales


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *