After my first and only experience as a flyfishing
guide in Wyoming was over, I realized it had all been
a setup from the very beginning. It was my fishin' buddy
Vern's revenge for the unfortunate incident last winter
when I got him busted at the local bar for flyfishing in
their saltwater aquarium. But when the call came, I had
no suspicions at all and took the bait like a brookie
hitting an old cigarette butt.
By Dan Fink (Danbob)
"Hey Danbob, my gorgeous rich cousin from England will be
stateside next week, and she wants to see how Americans
flyfish," Vern said over the phone. "I'm on a business
trip and can't get back to Wyoming in time. Can you take
her up to Northgate Canyon on the North Platte and be her
Vern had already shown me pictures of Gillian
Multiply-Hyphenated-Last-Name and her glowing red hair. Like
the Hardy Girl, but with bigger personal flotation devices
in front. Like the beautiful women in those hard-sell videos
for $5000-a-day guided fishing trips to Patagonia, only with
more money to burn. Like a Viking warrior Goddess, only driving
a Bentley instead of rowing a raiding ship, and wielding an
AmEx Black card instead of a sword.
So I calmly said, "Well, Vern, uh, I don't know, but I guess
that would be OK. Can she bait her own hook?"
Vern replied, "Oh, she certainly can. That will be the least
of your worries. She's rather high-maintenance, and I don't
believe she's ever been fishing in her life. You'll need to
start at the beginning as far as fly fishing goes."
When I picked Gillian up down in Denver in my ratty old Ford
pickup outside the Orvis shop, she was already dressed like
a fishing catalog model — all the latest gear. By way of
greetings, she said "Oh, you must be my ghillie. What a
quaint vehicle. Vern said we'd be riding to Wyoming in your
new Range Rover."
"Well, the Range Rover's in the shop right now getting the
leather upholstery replaced after it was damaged by large
trout gnawing on it," I replied. "We caught so many last
week that we had to pile them on the back seat. The road's
pretty rough going in to the canyon from the west side
anyways. I'd hate to scuff one of my nice vehicles."
"Well, that's just delightful, it will be soooo much fun
learning to fish like an American," she said through her
nose. "I hope I've bought the proper fish pole and such.
I told the nice man in the fly shop that I needed to
purchase the best of everything they had for catching
fish in Wyoming. I didn't know that they made fish poles
from wood, do you think this one will be serviceable?"
It was a brand-new bamboo Orvis Adirondack 5 weight, with
a new Hardy reel attached. Between her rod, reel, and
fully-stocked new vest, she was wearing over $6000 in
newly-purchased equipment. The fly shop owner was hanging
a "Gone fishing, back in 3 months" sign in his shop window
as we left the parking lot.
"It should work just fine," I replied, "though I prefer older
Fiberglas rods myself, like this vintage Shakespeare WonderRod.
Very collectible, you know."
After we picked our way down the hellacious 4WD road into
Northgate Canyon, I showed her how to string up her rod. My
fishin' buddy Ralph arrived in his old pickup at about the
same time, with pieces of duct tape flapping from it and bits
of baling wire hanging as usual. I admit I'd been bragging to
Ralph about my new status as a for-real fishing guide for
beautiful, aristocratic women, and he wanted to see for himself.
He pulled his redneck fly vest out of the truck — a plastic Safeway
bag. He pulled on his waders, too — irrigation boots from the farm
supply store. And his wading vest - a plastic lawn and leaf bag
with arm holes.
As Ralph walked up the trail, he turned toward us on the water
and told Gillian "Watch out for rattlesnakes. The place is
crawlin' with 'em."
I saw, for the first time, just possibly the slightest beginnings
of a quiver of fear come across her stiff upper lip as she asked
me "Rattlesnakes? Oh. That sounds simply ghastly! Is he jesting
I had to honestly reply, "No, he's serious. There are
rattlesnakes around here. Just keep your eyes open, and
poke the ground with your new wading staff when walking
though heavy brush. We only rarely come across snakes
down here while fishing. Let's get on with the casting
I told her gently, "Now don't worry if your first few casts
aren't perfect. It's not that hard to learn. Start by
stripping out some line from your reel. Accelerate it
into the backcast, then..."
She interrupted my lesson with a scornful look, and said
"Oh, like this?"
'This' was a flawless double haul that shot out 50 feet of
line without a single false cast, directly to the head of
a beautiful pool. Her #22 blue-winged olive floated to the
water's surface like a piece of down. A fat rainbow trout
hit it instantly, and she set the hook with a barely
perceptible line-hand slip set. She played the fish like an
expert. I waded out with my net, gave her the fish, and took
the requisite trout porn picture. "How wonderful," she said.
"Your solicitude is overwhelming, I didn't know you'd net the
fish for me. At home the ghillies always make me net my own."
By now, I knew my new status as a 'guide' was Vern's revenge.
Gillian was obviously an expert flycaster, and had probably
been flyfishing ever since she was a very small, imperious,
red-headed hellion of a child. Ralph was guffawing on the bank,
along with a few other fishermen who'd caught the glint of her
bright red hair in the sun from a mile away. He gave her a
sensitive and urbane wolf whistle through crossed fingers,
and yelled "Nice fish, toots," one of his favorite pickup
lines. Fortunately for my immediate future as a guide, Gillian
was only able to hook a couple nice rainbows, and the North
Platte's famous big browns remained elusive. Time to go into
action and save some face.
"Well, Gillian," I told her. "I can see you've been working
on your casting, though it's not quite the style we use around
here. You see, for the big brown trout, you need to toss out
a big fly, preferably weighted, with lots of maribou and sparkly
stuff, and a big spinning propeller on the front. Trout hear
their prey via the lateral lines on their sides, so the noise
from the propeller really brings them in. Let me show you how
to cast a real American streamer, instead of those wimpy
traditional British soft-hackle wet flies. How do they get
any fish if their flies have no propellers, anyway?"
I received back from her the steely-eyed squint that already
I knew so well from other women. So I plunged on, adding "This
#4 vanilla bugger will be difficult to cast and control. You'll
She brusquely interrupted "Yes, yes, I need to open up my casting
loop to compensate for the extra weight. Have you checked for
rattlesnakes here? I really couldn't care less about your casting
'lessons,' but I would appreciate it if you could keep the area
clear of rattlesnakes for me whilst I fish."
I grouchily returned to the truck to grab another bottle of
drinking water, and watched it all occur from 20 feet above
them on the bank as I returned. Gillian froze at river's edge
in mid-cast, her eyes wide. The snake was huge, 6 feet long
and 3 inches in diameter at the middle. It was right next to
her. The tail was vibrating, and the sound was distinctive —
but the color and pattern weren't right. It was a big bull
snake, shaking its tail in some dry leaves, not a rattler.
But how could I resist? I shouted "Rattlesnake! Run for your
As she dropped her rod and made an impressive 4-foot vertical
leap into the air, Ralph sprung into action. He dashed in to
grab the snake behind the head, picked it up, looked it in the
eye, and told Gillian "This is just a little 'ol bull snake.
Harmless. He'll skeedaddle off on his own. No need to run for
your life. DanBob's full of crap."
He tossed the snake up on the bank, and then started into his
normal pickup lines. "What's a nice girl like you doing on a
river like this?" and "So, do you fish here often, toots?" seemed
to make her swoon perilously. By the time they got back to his
old truck and started setting up their fly tying vises while
discussing innovative new streamer patterns, I was fairly
disgusted with the whole situation and went back to lie by my
truck for a nap. I could still hear them tittering as I dozed
off, stuff like "Show me your favorite emerger and I'll show
As evening approached and I started to become conscious again,
I felt something tickling my ear. I slapped at it, half asleep,
and instantly heard the unmistakable sound of an irritated
western diamondback rattlesnake right by my ear. Sweating in
pure terror, I ever so slowly squirmed away, inches at a time.
The rattler got closer, and again something tickled my ear. I
cranked my eyeballs around at an obscene angle without even
twitching any other muscles. I saw the rattle — and then the
tippet. And then the hook. Gillian held the fly rod from 25
feet away, and her presentation had been perfect. It was an
innovative new streamer, soon to be dubbed "DanBob's Diamondback."
Like a woolly bugger, but with a genuine snake rattle for a tail
and a snakeskin back.
"The rattles provide some noise and vibration," she said with
much mirth on her face, "since trout actually hear their prey
via their lateral lines before they see it. I'm sure the propeller
is quite effective, too."
So, as you can see, my guiding days on the North Platte didn't
quite work out as I had expected, and of course I still hear
about the incident almost weekly from Ralph and Vern. As for
Gillian, as long as I mail her a jar of western diamondback
rattles each year so she can tie her innovative new streamer
pattern, she continues to tell her rich, young, aristocratic
girlfriends about a marvelous place to flyfish stateside, with
sensitive, urbane ghillies that chase the snakes away whilst
HOOK: #6 streamer, 6x long
WEIGHT: 0.015" lead-free wire
TAIL: Western Diamondback rattle, at least 6 buttons
REAR BODY: Sparkle chenille
MAIN BODY: Tan mohair leech yarn
HACKLE: Dark dun hen
BACK: Rattlesnake skin, soak in water before tying on
HEAD: Brass cone head plus propeller
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