In Which You are Meat
I just finished The Alaska Chronicles, a wonderful account of a season in the life of a fishing guide. Having read my share of mags and lots of dishing on fish camps, every part of me was expecting another guide’s version of himself as thankless public servant, cultural visionary, and God’s gift to the ladies.
What I got instead was a brutally honest tale of the mistakes, evil thoughts, and moments of joy and reverie that can befall any mature guide who has the guts to be honest with himself.
Until I got used to it, this honesty of author Miles Nolte was almost embarrassing to behold. I guess I hadn’t appreciated, at least not completely, the role of ego in the guiding game. In Nolte’s day-by-day rendition, there is a pattern in which every moment of him shooting himself in the foot follows an episode of excellence and victory that might have floated him just a little too high. The author seems to notice the trend himself, a fact that makes me root for him all the more.
I’ve felt for years that the way to grow the best guide is to send him
to Alaska for his first tour. I’ve brought this up to guide friends, who’ve been almost unanimous in disagreeing with me. Sure Alaska fish are big, they say, but they only eat eggs, and who wants to go to the top of the earth for that? They’re rainbows, not cagey spring creek browns, or they’re salmon, something that doesn’t even eat. These guys, I should add, had never guided in Alaska and the majority had never been there. So they don’t know from shinola.
Guiding in Alaska has very little to do with fishing and a lot to do with camp. Depending on your “lodge”, you will be housed in a tent, a plywood shed, or log cabin. Food and acoutrements are hauled in at great expense, which is passed to clients. Contrary to what many think, any profit a lodge makes comes from a strong blend of parsimony and guile, a lesson perpetually taught by the Alaska wilderness itself. Everything is stretched, or margins and sometimes people are lost.
This is especially true of a lodge’s labor supply. A guide, for example, is a 24/7 combination of fisherman, mechanic, carpenter, bed changer, floor sweeper, table clearer, dishwasher, outhouse slopper, wood chopper, fly shop, and all around kisser of asses. And no matter how much you’ve spent on your Alaska trophy experience, what you’re really investing in is your guide’s ability to pilot a fast boat and to aim a steady shotgun while brownpantsing himself. A level head, in other words, and the pride in a tough job well done.