The Truth About Working in Fly Fishing

About a decade ago, I was convinced my future lay in writing about sports; specifically, I wanted to write about the Utah Jazz. I grew up on Hot Rod Hundley’s dulcet tones, highlights of John Stockton weaving passes to Karl Malone, and Jerry Sloan getting tossed from games after shouting an impressive string of obscenities at a referee.

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Then I had the chance to do the job. In what was a stroke of extraordinary luck and goodwill, I landed a job as a feature writer for the Utah Jazz during the 2013-14 NBA season. I had the chance to live my dream, and I did. 82 games, a full preseason, training camp, and summer league – I covered it all.

When the season ended I didn’t want to spend another minute covering basketball. I took a job with the Welfare Department at the LDS Church in downtown Salt Lake City and launched my career in marketing. I’ve bounced around since then, but now my “real” job is with a marketing agency despite the fact that I spend more time writing about my fishing adventures.

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When I tell folks I write about fly fishing for a living (which is partly true; without fly fishing I couldn’t pay my bills, although it may be the source of most of those bills, but that’s a topic for another day) I’m told I have the “dream job.” That’s the same reaction I got when I worked for the Jazz. When I first started with the Jazz, I felt the same way. Then the honeymoon period wore off and I realized it wasn’t terribly different from any other job. I had deadlines, meetings, coworkers to deal with. The only thing that made the job unique was the exposure and the fact that I spent my time interviewing athletes making more money in one season of basketball than I’ll ever sniff in my lifetime.

The only thing that makes what I do now different than the norm is that I get paid to stand in a river and wave a stick. Technically, I get paid to write about that, but I have to go fishing to have something to write about, right?

The point I’m trying to make isn’t that dream jobs don’t exist or that dreams aren’t worth chasing. They most definitely are. After all, I wouldn’t be writing for a living unless that’s what I really wanted to do, because let me tell you something – you sure as hell don’t write for the money.

What I’m getting at here is that working in the fly fishing industry isn’t as romantic an idea as it sounds. Now, I’m not complaining here; the perks of working in fly fishing almost offset the less-than-stellar pay. Just like any job, though, there’s plenty that’s frustrating.

Editors can take forever to get back to you with a yes or no on whether they accepted a story, and longer still to pay you. Pitching articles is an art form that cannot be taught, but must be learned. And finding guides willing to take you down the river in exchange for a 12-pack of Rainier and their name in a magazine isn’t as easy as it sounds. Hell, working as a guide is tough. I had the opportunity to learn how to row a drift boat a few weeks ago and I’ve resolved to tip my guides a helluva lot more than I do now. That’s hard work.

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Running a fly shop means long hours in a store, telling people where to fish instead of being on the water yourself. It’s sorting flies, stocking tippet, spooling reels, and making sure customers don’t break a rod when test casting on the lawn out back.

Owning a guiding outfit involves a plethora of licenses, permits, and on almost every commercial river in the West, paying a percentage to the Forest Service in exchange for the opportunity to make money off public land (it’s similar to grazing fees ranchers pay to have their cattle up in National Forests). Oh, and insurance for your guides, plus a drift boat, a truck to pull it, food and drinks to keep the customers happy, and guides who actually know what they’re doing.

Just like with any dream job, there’s more than enough thorns among the roses to make you wonder at times if fly fishing is the right industry to be in. Then you take a second and stop to smell the proverbial roses – an epic day on the river in a historic hatch, testing new rods before anyone else, or guiding the dream client – and remember why you got into this whole thing in the first place.

Fly fishing isn’t just a sport or a hobby. It’s not something to do a few times a year, when you’re golfing buddies can’t make it to the course. It’s a lifestyle and for some of us the call to live that lifestyle is too strong to ignore. I know my fair share of guides living in camp trailers on the banks of rivers, and to the casual observer they’d see a bum. But I know these guys as some of the happiest, most genuine, and energetic people in the world. They’re living their dream, and what’s a life worth if it’s not spent running after what we love most?

That’s why we work in fly fishing. The truth about working in this industry is that it’s tough. It’s cutthroat (I couldn’t help myself, the pun begged to be made). But there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.


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Spencer is an outdoors columnist and fly fishing writer from Utah. His debut novel, Learning to Flywas an Amazon Hot New Releases bestseller. Connect with him on Twitter @Spencer_Durrant or on Facebook @spencerdurrantauthor. 

Posted in:Words of Wisdom

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