Masters of the Missouri

Every now and again, us guides get a little time away from tugging on set of oars and we get to hold the rod, getting back to why we love fly fishing after months of teaching it to others.  Chris, David Decker, and myself were able to slip away to the Missouri recently to do just that, reconnecting with one another and the fish over a three day weekend.

We often lose sight of things as full time fishing guides and outfitters, playing host and mentor all summer long to our customers.  Teaching many lessons for the first time or showing kids the joy found casting a perfect loop, we often simplify this complex art into just a sentence or two so our beginners can start to understand the bits and pieces that make up fly fishing.  When the old masters have an opportunity to throw a line together, the level of intensity and precision steps up many notches to a place where no words are necessary and all are one with the river.

We simply guide the boat down the river on the perfect currents, whomever is on the rod needs no reinforcement, no coaching.  Before I can nod to a rising ring in a hip deep flat, a perfect loop is already on delivery upstream of the fish, softly laid upon the water with a mend incorporated into the cast.  Will he eat it?  No doubt.  It’s like watching a Picasso painting built in real time, the artist swiftly and smoothly placing strokes one at a time, never looking back to correct anything and always forging ahead with confidence and precision.

Bitterroot River Fall

I’m not sure how many years we’ve fished together, but these guys are some of my very favorites year after year.  Easy going, great fishermen and casters, and tough as nails when the weather gets nasty; traits every fishing guide appreciates in a client.  Craig and Lyle show up every fall to the Bitterroot, sometime between late September and October, and they bring their A games every year.

Mahoganies and Hecubas are the bug of choice right now, especially with our weather turning cold and wet on the Bitterroot river.  Mornings can see a handful of Pseudos, but the real action is later in the day when the bigger mayflies start to pop.  Some days are just too damn nasty to get any real hatch coming off, so a slowly retrieved bugger will do the trick, waiting for that heavy pull as the bug comes cross current back to the boat.  Being a versatile angler has it paybacks, not afraid to throw some junk when you realize that elegant dry fly just ain’t gonna cut it today.


I cut my teeth guiding the Big Hole River 20 years ago, just a young kid out of Kansas looking for adventure and a job.  Wandering into the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River, Montana, I was lucky enough to land a guide position at one of the most prominent fishing lodges in the nation.  One of the top guides there, Wayne Clayton, took me under his wing and selflessly taught me so many lessons applicable to this day to my profession.  There are many other veteran guides that I owe homage to: David, Stewart, DJ, Jeffrey, Slim; but Wayne is a teacher we have all learned from, start to finish.

Wayneo, Obie Wayne, has ran this river for nearly 40 years, along with most every other trout stream in Montana.  Wondering what’s happening on Depuy’s Spring creek in June? Ask Wayne.  Are the tricos hatching on the Missouri yet?  Consult Wayne.  How many steelhead run up the Kispiox in BC during the B run?  Wayne again.  With a deep chortle and knowing smile, he digs deep into that intellect he has built chasing fins around North America, and is all too happy to share his knowledge and experiences in a way that only Wayne can deliver.

Pull up a seat by the fire or down on a river’s edge under the shade of the narrow leafed cottonwoods, Wayne’s stories transcend time and place and take you in the moment of the tale, whether swinging a deep bucket on the Bulkley for steelhead or casting Pseudocleons to sipping Rainbows on the Mo back in the grease water.  He’s been there, lived it, and it’s as clear today as it was thirty years ago when those casts left his powerful right hand.  This river guide is timeless, a familiar friendly face on all these rivers we call home.