A few weeks ago I went with a good friend and 2 new acquaintances on a planned trip to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on my first trip with an outfitter. After nearly 48 years, I had never used an outfitter or guide for anything, short of a charter boat captain. This fact had me slightly nervous to-say-the-least both because I really had no idea what to expect, nor was I certain I would enjoy the experience. But there I was heading down I-81 through Pennsylvania running head-on into a world of uncertainty. I was however, excited about getting to hit some new water in a region that I had not previously taken the time to fish. We had time on a number of different waters planned, from the national forests brook trout waters, to spring creeks and freestone waters. All but the forest waters would be private, with the possibility of some exceptionally large fish. This fact is seldom a bad thing in my mind, so regardless of my uncertainties there was a positive side for sure.
Arriving to check in to the hotel early Friday afternoon, the weather was calling for and threatening thunderstorms. So we wasted no time getting back in the trucks and heading for the national forest waters to loosen up on brookies. Maybe we could get on some fish and the weather would continue to hold for the weekends fishing. With a quick trip to the shop, we were pointed towards a particular area, which did not disappoint. In short order we were all smiles, with palm-sized native brook trout slapping at Elk-hair Caddis flies as if it were their last meal. It was a great start right up to the point when the evening humidity storm blew out the run slightly, forcing us back to the hotel wet but happy.
The next morning we arrived bright-and-shiny-eyed at the outfitters. We were introduced and told we would be split up in pairs, and that our other guide "Bob" was out at the creek waiting because he preferred it there over the "city". Now some may feel a bit uneasy at that statement, but for me I was instantly at ease. It was something that I too understood. A short drive later and the 2nd round of introductions were completed. My friend Walt and I were paired up with Bob, and the first of two mornings began. I was immediately made comfortable. There was no high-brow fly fishing dialogue, nor any references made to "where have you fished" or "what rod are you carrying". It began as three people hitting the water together. With one of the three being intimately familiar with the stream we were on. Much the same as countless times that I too have found myself as well. Without words being needed, it was quickly acknowledged that neither of us needed any hand-holding. So Bob was able to split us up and bounce back-and-forth between. This in turn was a relief for the two of us, as-well-as a far more relaxing day on the water for Bob as well.
Now, having no further experiences with guides I have no idea whether this was a situation that is an accepted norm? Or whether I "should" have been offended by not getting 1-on-1 attention? But for me, it was absolute heaven. I was fishing new water, catching some very large fish and all the while having some great discussions on everything from life to hatches. I couldn't ask for anything better. Along the way on one separation I looked downstream to find Bob wading my way. He didn't have to ask to realize that I was doing well. It was all over my face I would imagine. He just smiled back and asked, "Anything of size?" I admitted that while I had caught some very nice fish, I had also lost the biggest fish I had hooked yet. And then in 2 consecutive casts I proceeded to lose a HUGE rainbow….and then a big slab-sided brown right in front of him no-less. He laughed and reminded me that in Virginia I would be charged an extra fee for losing fish that size, and then waded back downstream to my fishing partner, no different than if I had been fishing with him for years. This was good I thought. Later that day and downstream a bit I was able to hook and land a 21" rainbow on a #14 C2C nymph and 6x tippet. I looked around for him but he was with Walt. After trying to take a picture on my own, I released it and watched the fish swim right back to its previous feeding lie. I had no sooner retrieved my rod when I looked up to see Bob standing on the bank. He had just missed it all, but I was like a 7 year old kid at Christmas and no shortage of excitement was to be found around me at that point.
The next morning we were back at it and again we split up to cover more water. Again I found myself in a good mood when he would arrive, and the fly fishing discussion was some that I will carry around for awhile. And like the previous day, during another separation I hooked and landed a near clone to my earlier fish. This one I was not able to measure on my net and I gave it back to the stream involuntarily after retrieving my fly. We only fished a half-day on Sunday, and far too soon it was time to head back home to New Jersey. The weekend had gone perfectly with both plenty of fish being caught and the weather holding out to the last minute. I was even able to swap a handful of excellent patterns while breaking down the gear as well. Nothing could have improved a thing. On top of that, I left not only wanting to come back to the waters I had just fished, but I also wanted to return to fish with the 2 individuals that I had just met over the last few days.
Driving home and reminiscing about the past days fishing, I got to thinking about my experience fishing with a guide, and what I came away with was this. Certainly the particular waters we had just fished had made a huge difference. But even more so were the individuals and the setting. He could have been over my shoulder throughout. I could have had some wonderful "hero-shots", and had my hand held. Quite often that is what folks want and expect with a guided trip. However, that would have taken far too much away from the experience for me. What I came away with was worth much more than that. I had just landed the two largest fish I had ever caught on 6x tippet. I had been blessed with perfect weather on perfect water, and I left with a fishing friend that cannot be replaced. Fish may choose to cooperate when we are on the water at times, and then other times they won't. Often the weather is our friend, and then with quickness it will turn on us, but with fishing partners it's not only the quality of the individual that makes the difference, but rather how seldom that quality comes by us. Those quality times shared on the water can never be replaced, and are seldom forgotten.