"Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." Twenty years ago I would have told you that whoever said that was full of shit, at least in the fly fishing industry. In those days I would have changed the saying to, "Do what you love and you'll work your butt off, but you'll be doing what you love, which a nice thing to be able to do." Not as catchy, but it would have summed up how I viewed the job of professional fly fishing guide.
Like every other profession done well, guiding is a hard gig. And about as far from glamorous as a job can get. You lay in bed at 4 in the morning trying to figure it out: water levels, temperature, wind, etc. You wake up early and make lunches. You hitch up the boat. You double check fly boxes and rods. You meet your clients. You spend the day doing everything you know how to put clients on fish. Some days are awesome. Some days are okay. Some days are brutal. At the end of the day, you wish your clients well and spend an hour or two fueling up, grocery shopping, power washing your boat, and cleaning coolers. You go to bed exhausted and you do it again in the morning. If you do this well, you'll earn a fair wage. You'll never get rich, but, hey, it ain't coal mining.
At this point in this blog post, I feel like John Houseman in a Smith Barney commercial. "Back in the day, fly fishing guides made money the old fashioned way. They earned it." If you have no idea who either John Houseman or Smith Barney are, well, Grasshopper, Google it. If you have no idea why I just called you Grasshopper, again, Google (#kungfu).
I guided my first trip in 1984. These days, I'm a full time guide for 2.5 months a year. For another 5 months, I guide weekends. The rest of the year I teach high school English. Of the two jobs, guiding is harder. The combination of physical exertion, trying to meet my clients' expectations, and satisfying my own ego is exhausting. I love the job, but it's hard. So I guide as many days as I feel I can do it well. I've never thought there was an easy way or shortcut to making a living through fly fishing. But, apparently, now there is. Or at least some people believe there is or should be.
Enter the social media influencer. I'm an old dog and this is a new trick, but it makes sense. If I owned a fly fishing company (other than a guiding company), this would be a great concept: find people who would do the work of creating content that featured my brand and who would also do the work of promoting that content on social media and getting an audience while I don't have to pay them until they have already been wildly successful at doing the job. Maybe I would never pay them. In fact, I might only pay about 2% of all the people who are hashtagging my stuff while the other 98% are doing it for free and hoping to cash in! Brilliant. For the record, I've hashtagged some stuff over the past few years and I love when people hashtag Eau Claire Anglers. #potkettle
I have two beefs with this. One beef is with the industry and one is with the influencers.
To the industry, I would say this. Kudos on this marketing strategy. It's brilliant. Really. And some of the people you have sponsored are fantastic ambassadors of fly fishing and your brand. The problem is that you have also allowed the number of followers and likes to lead you into backing a whole bunch of charlatans, grifters, and assholes.
For example, in my world of musky fly fishing, this has led to you putting the stamp of approval on anglers who have made their reputations as fly fishers, but who post photographs of fish they actually caught with bait. In the photos, the suckers are nowhere to be seen. Of course, they would argue it isn't lying since they didn't actually say they caught them on flies. I would argue that if a guide's reputation is as a fly angler and his/her sponsors are fly angling companies and he/she posts a photograph of a fish caught with bait and he/she doesn't specify that the fish was caught with bait, that's dishonest. You, the industry, have turned a blind eye to it. People have talked to you about it. You know what's going on. It's up to you to decide the path you'll walk in the future.
Recently a video made the rounds featuring two very well known musky fly guides and heavyweight influencers using bait and then getting into a physical altercation at the boat landing with the shooters of the video. On the very week that this video was making its way around our small world, you, the industry, released several Instagram posts featuring these very actors. It's as though you were saying, "Yeah, we know. But they make us money and we just don't care." Well, just know that some of us care.
To the influencers, I would say that a lot of you are doing cool stuff and that you should keep up the good work. But for those of you who haven't paid your dues, or who have paid your dues and are good at your job but who have decided there is more money in being a bullshitter, or a bully, well, you can fool some of the people some of the time. But you'll fool fewer and fewer of them over time. There is no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. There might be a few dollars to be made for a short time and then all that is left is your reputation. I've never heard a bad word said about Lefty Kreh. Something to strive for.
For as long as people have made a living fly fishing, that living has involved hard work. The idea that posting pictures on the internet is a way around that is silly. I sure as hell wouldn't want my reputation based on such a superficial thing. So, although I post my share of photos on social media, I always hope that people recognize the years that have gone into each of those photos. There are thousands of guides out there who get up every day and do it the hard and right way. They are my influencers.