Jeff Currier is someone who needs little introduction. As a guide with well over 3 decades of experience under his wading belt, Jeff has made a name for himself as an instructor, adventurer, author, and fly-fishing guru. Currently based out of Wisconsin, Jeff spends much of his time in the cabin of an airplane, traveling to exotic fishing locations such as Belize, New Zealand, Baja, and many many more. When he’s not on the move, Jeff is either teaching, writing, or working on any other number of projects surrounding fly-fishing. This Fall, we had the chance to spend a few days on the water with Jeff to see him in action. While Jeff is out of the guiding game now, he still spends the majority of his time with rod and reel in hand, further exploring the ultimate meaning of it all.
In this activation of, “Behind the Guides”, presented by Costa Sunglasses, we had the chance to sit down with him and look back on some defining moments of his career, and look forward to see what the future holds.
Flylords: Who is Jeff Currier?
Jeff: An extremely lucky guy that has managed to make a life of fly fishing. I entered the industry nearly 40 years ago working at a fly shop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I started at the bottom stocking flies and tippet and moved up the ranks becoming a fly fishing instructor, guide, an international fly fishing trip host and then circled back and managed the fishing operations for 20 years.
Behind the counter in Jackson Hole you meet all kinds of folks and aid them with their fishing. Many appreciated this and helped me jumpstart my career. They supported and encouraged my art, writing and world travels. These days you can read about my adventures on my blog and catch me giving presentations at Fly Fishing Shows and Clubs throughout the US and Canada. I’m also an artist, author of two books and I’m fortunate to be an ambassador for some of the top fly fishing companies in the industry.
Flylords: What is one of your earliest fishing memories from childhood? When did you first pick up a fly-rod?
Jeff: Hands down, my first opening day on the Ipswich River in Topsfield, Massachusetts. It was about five years old and my dad woke me at the crack of dawn and off we went. It may have been my first sunrise ever. I will never forget the birds. Their spring songs were (and still are) one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing sounds of all.
We had an Old Town Canoe and off we went upstream a few turns. Dad set me up with a nightcrawler on a spin rod. He proceeded to fly fish. My lousy set up produced two fish. Dad worked his fly like magic and caught more than a dozen rainbows, brookies and browns. He was handing me the rod to reel them in. After I handled a few I was sort of ticked off. How could he set me up with this boring nightcrawler then start casting a fly and catch more fish than me? What he was doing looked way more fun. My dad was an incredible fly fisherman.
I was a bit young to take on the fly at age five, but that Christmas Santa brought me a telescoping fly rod and that’s all she wrote. I may not have caught many fish on that rod the next opening day, but it was a start. And thanks to bluegill and pumpkinseeds, by the end of the next summer I was better than some of the anglers that took the bow of my boat when I was guiding – Ha!
Flylords: Growing up in New England – what was your life like? What was the fishing scene like there?
Jeff: My childhood was amazing. I was raised in the country. I went to school in Massachusetts and spent much of the summer at our cottage in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesaukee. It was an era where kids could run wild all day on their own and that’s what we did. Whether with friends and or cousins we were outside all the time. We fished a ton. Though we trout fished on the Ipswich River all spring, NH was about chasing warmwater game fish. As I got older that Old Town Canoe became mine and I chased smallmouth bass almost every single day with poppers. I became a fanatic for them. I also had a passion for chain pickerel. They are truly gorgeous fish and as a kid, I loved their teeth.
When we weren’t fishing – we played whiffle ball. I still love to play whiffle ball!
Flylords: What eventually brought you to Wyoming?
Though I was raised in the East, I had the good fortune of fishing Montana, Idaho and Wyoming with my dad when I was 16. We drove the family van from MA to Yellowstone. That trip did it for me. I wanted to become a trout bum. I needed a life with excellent trout fishing, big fast moving rivers and towering mountains teaming with wildlife. Either of the three states would have worked fine so when in college I sent resumes to numerous fly shops. While I received plenty of interest, most only offered summer work. The Jack Dennis Outdoor Shop in Jackson Hole offered me year-round employment. That was the deciding factor.
Flylords: What drew you to guiding? What is one of your fondest memories of your guiding career?
Jeff: On that trip out west with dad when I was 16 we fished mostly on our own. However, dad splurged for a guided trip with Dave Lambroughton on the Madison River in MT. I learned so much from Dave that day and enjoyed his company. I could see his lifestyle was unique and fun. I needed to work my way to that existence.
Eight years later I’d reach the point where I began guiding. I’d worked my way up the ladder at the fly shop. But it’s funny, I didn’t enjoy guiding as much as I thought I would and I’ll get to this in one of your upcoming questions. This being said, I had many fond memories of guiding and met some of the neatest people of my life. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I was lucky to guide the late and great American Sportscaster Curt Gowdy many times. Curt and I had more than fishing in common. We were diehard Red Sox fans. Not only did we catch numerous oversized Snake River Cutthroats together on private spring creeks, but we talked baseball. Curt had amazing stories and occasionally would do one of his play by plays from the past. His voice is legendary and I got to hear it face to face. He gave me chills when he did the famous Carlton Fisk homerun in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series as we were driving to the river. I watched that WS game on TV with dad. Trust me, there’s not many folks that could talk baseball like Curt!
Flylords: How did you get involved with the shop you ended up managing in Wyoming? What steps did you take to get to that management position?
Jeff: I sort of mentioned how I got the job at the fly shop a couple questions ago. But I’ll add something funny. I started that job in May and business was slow. My boss would often look for a volunteer to go home early or skip a day altogether. I was always first to raise my hand. I fished more than most people worked and worked less than most people fish. As long as I could pay my rent and keep a few foods and beers around I was good. I became the trout bum I was meant to be.
Despite my desire to work less rather than more, the shop kept me around because I was a hard worker when there. My boss appreciated my burning desire to fish all the time. Our regular customers did also and they started shopping on the days I worked so they could visit with me. I became “the” source for local fishing. The boss was wise to see that all my freedom to fish was paying off for both of us.
What I took the greatest pride in was helping every single person that came in the shop looking for fishing assistance and information. It didn’t matter who they were. If they didn’t know which end of the rod to cast from, fine. I showed them. If they needed places to go, I broke out the map. And when “authorities of everything” came in bragging (folks the veteran fly shop guys despised), I could handle them too. It was important to me that everyone got the help they needed to enjoy their trip. I’ve always loved helping folks and sharing my knowledge.
Like most that work in a fly shop, that’s their first step working to become a guide. And I was no different and eventually became a guide. But after a couple years of guiding, I realized it wasn’t for me after all. I enjoyed working with folks in the shop. In a single day of guiding you might help two people learn to be better fly fishers but in the shop you might aid a dozen or more in a day. Eventually I managed the shop, including the retail, the fly fishing school and our guide service.
Flylords: How would you say your professional career affected your ability to get on the water and fish yourself? Was there a separation of church and state?
Jeff: I believe twice now I’ve indicated guiding wasn’t for me. I know, this sounds crazy to most. But for me I wasn’t separating my work from pleasure when I was a guide. The guiding season in Jackson Hole is short – like three months. So if you’re a guide in Jackson you make hay when the sun shines. This means instead of going fishing yourself during the best time, you’re guiding during the best time. At that age and period in my life, not getting to fish myself was difficult.
My dad came out and visited every year he could. The years when I worked only in the shop, dad and I fished from sunrise to sunset on my days off. But when I was a guide, we couldn’t fish during guide season because there were no days off so he came after prime time. Not only was that bummer, but he noticed I was burned out. Rather than fight it, I faced it. I eased out of guiding and back into the shop. By then I’d worked every position in our fishing operation so I knew how things worked at every level. It wasn’t long after I was given the shop manager job. I got two to three days off a week and huge lumps of time off during offseason to travel the world. Fishing was entirely 100% super fun again and easily separated from work!
Flylords: What was one of the first trips you took that caused you to fall in love with traveling for fishing?
Jeff: My first big one was to Belize in 1989. It was right when Belize was starting to hit the map. I didn’t have the money to go but I had to find a way. Luckily, our fly shop gave us ski passes for Jackson Hole Ski Area each winter as sort of a bonus for working hard. I was ice fishing more than skiing and was wasting my pass. So I asked my boss if I could have the pass money instead because I wanted to go to Belize. He thought it was a great idea and also fronted me the extra money I needed. I essentially ended up charging a trip to Belize River Lodge and Turneffe Flats to my store account. My boss didn’t realize at the time I charged two trips and he was pissed. But he didn’t figure it out till I was back. The only way to get his money back was for me to keep working. And I would for another 20 years.
That trip changed my life. The flats of Belize are great now – you can’t imagine them back then. Soon after I was hosting my trout clients to Belize every fall and spring. As of today I’ve been to Belize more than 20 times. And of course the travel bug expanded far beyond Belize the next 30 plus years.
Flylords: what are some of your favorite destinations you’ve visited and fished?
Jeff: When you’ve fished in more than 60 countries there are a lot of favorites and when I’m interviewed this question always comes about. I knew this was coming. For the records, I have different answers because favorites change. Today I’ll narrow it down to a continent not a country.
I am hooked on Africa. The first trip there, my wife and I hitched across from Botswana to Malawi over three months. Since that eye-opening adventure I’ve been numerous times to more than a dozen African countries. All are different and all exhilarate me in their own way. The fish species (not only the tigerfish) are amazing. The landscape, the people, wildlife and the wildness of it all have grown on me like you can’t believe. I also have numerous fishy friends over there. Africa trips are always superb.
But I’d be crazy if I didn’t mention other tremendous places such as my Himalayan adventures to India, Nepal and Bhutan. They were life changers. The Amazon is unreal. All three of my trips to Iceland were unforgettable. New Zealand. Seychelles. There are plenty more. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. You didn’t ask but I’ll toss out some advice – don’t waste time balancing the checkbook. Just go. Figure out a way!
Flylords: When and how did you get into fly-fishing writing?
Jeff: Believe it or not, I guided Lee and Joan Wulff back in 1990. Everyone comes through Jackson Hole! Obviously Lee and Joan don’t need to be guided but it so happened I guided on private spring creeks in Jackson Hole. That set me up with a few big time folks over the years. They were well worthy of special fishing access and I took them. We had a lot of fun together.
We went to lunch after an outstanding morning PMD hatch on Spring Creek. Around the lunch table gave me an opportunity to ask Lee how he became such a legend. He simply said, “You need to write”.
I was quick to say something like “Ugh, I can’t write” and he looked me dead in the eye and said “Neither could I. Just like fishing, it takes practice.”
Lee was in his early 80’s that day and crashed his plane and died less than a year later. I started writing. It was hard. First I could barely write for our shop newsletter. Next an occasional article in the magazines. Then I wrote my Saltwater Fly Fishing book. Then a Warmwater Fly Fishing book. These days, most fly fishers are familiar with my blog in which I’ve written about EVERY SINGLE DAY OF FISHING since October 2009. It’s even unbelievable to me. But Lee was right. I practiced enough that now writing comes easy.
Flylords: When did you begin to compete in competitions such as “Best in the West”? Did this new endeavor have a noticeable effect on the life path you were on?
Jeff: This question could be a book but I’ll do my best to cover it in short fashion. Yes, I participated in the “Best of the West” casting comps. That was only because our fly shop had a booth on the ISE Sport Show casting pond where the competitions were held. It didn’t cost me anything so I got up there and made my long casts. I did pretty well. That must have been the late 90’s early 2000’s.
The Jackson Hole One Fly was a big competition I was involved in mainly as a worker for all my Jackson Hole years. But I got few chances to fish on various teams. I loved it when every fish really meant something. I’ve had lots of success in the One Fly the times I fished it. This year I was on Team Yellow Dog Flyfishing and as a team we got 2nd place.
In 1997 the World Championships of Fly Fishing were held in Jackson Hole. I didn’t know such an event existed. I was asked if I would be willing to help run the event. I said yes. 32 countries participated. It was an eyeopener meeting foreign contestants and seeing them try their methods on our water.
Turns out the Europeans dominated the event. Team USA got 30th place. 30th! I was dumbfounded as was every other fly shop employee and guide in Jackson Hole. Could the they really be better than us on our own water?
The truth to be learned was – yes. Yes they “were” better anglers.
The Team USA that competed for us in the 90’s were five older gents that could fish ok but more importantly, sponsor themselves. They were no match for the true best competitors from other countries.
The year after Jackson hosted the Worlds, it was held in Poland. I, along with friends Jay Buchner and Gary Willmott (all from Jackson Hole) were invited to be part of Team USA – fully sponsored (It should be known that all three of us donated a ton of our time to help pull off the event when in Jackson). It’s always a five man team so it was us three along with two of the older gent regulars. Well, while we still weren’t a match for most the Europeans, we did well enough to prove that with practice we could be. It was the start of a newer, younger generation of competitors.
I got to compete five times in the Worlds which gave me the amazing privilege to fish throughout Europe for trout and grayling. I became friends with some of the best of the best trout anglers on earth including Vladi Trzebunia and made further trips to Europe simply to visit friends. This kind of fishing was never on my radar. During this stretch in my life I learned the ways and tricks of the Euros. I went from being a good fly angler for trout to one of the best and in 2003 I was the first American ever to win an individual medal on the world stage (bronze in Jaca, Spain). I’m happy to say Team USA (all three – Youth, Seniors and Masters) have won more medals since 2003. This year I fished for the Masters Team in Italy and we took home the first Team Gold Medal ever and my teammate Brett Bishop won the individual Gold.
Flylords: When did you move to Wisconsin? What prompted the move?
Jeff: I moved to Northern Wisconsin this year despite many friends thinking I was crazy leaving the Jackson Hole area. But what they don’t know is that I spent 1983-87 studying at Northland College in Ashland, WI. Right on Lake Superior. So I know the place and have missed the great WI fishing since the day I left. In fact, I always planned to return.
The last five years or so the return plan developed. My wife and I lived in the Jackson Hole area for over 30 years. It was a great run and I wouldn’t trade a minute of our time there. But the area has become far more popular than we ever expected. There were a ton of changes starting with the numerous apartment buildings and businesses built around our house. My favorite rivers are pretty busy these days too. Jackson Hole and Teton Valley (where we lived) are still paradise, don’t get me wrong. But it just seemed like coming back to WI would be refreshing.
The true deciding factor was we could sell our house high and go to WI and buy low. I probably don’t need to explain the housing market the last two years. We listed and sold on nearly the same day. Things happened so fast that we unloaded most of our belongings accept for our fishing and camping stuff. We officially moved out October 31, 2021 and bought a sweet van a week later. We lived and did my winter speaking tour from the van all the time searching the internet for a new house in WI. We found a fixer-upper in Hayward, WI and closed on it on May 9th. The change has been invigorating.
Flylords: Now that you are no longer guiding, what is your favorite element of fly-fishing that you still pursue?
Jeff: Anything new to me in fly fishing is exciting. I could be traveling to an unexplored country, region, or even a US state. I love the surprises that new water delivers every time you meet some. And I cherish the pursuit of adding to my species list. It’s getting more difficult these days because I’ve nailed quite a few, but the ones that I haven’t caught are thought-provoking. I guess the true answer to your question is I’m driven by fly fishing challenges. The tougher the better.
Flylords: How did you become involved with Costa? Why did you choose them?
Jeff: Managing a successful fly shop for many years kept me familiar with fly fishing products and decades of development. I had representatives through the shops often and we were always dissecting the new goods adding additional thoughts and adjustments over time. It was really fun to be involved.
We sold Costa in our shop and over time they grew and continued to impress me. New frames, lens colors, they were always getting better. Eventually Costa’s were the sunglasses I relied on for all my fishing needs. I could see fish clearly; the lens colors handle the numerous light conditions like no other and they protected my eyes best. I’m proud to be part of the Costa Team, the glasses are still tops.
Flylords: What is some advice you would give to young guides and anglers who want to make a living in the fly-fishing industry?
Jeff: Have patience. Be prepared for some lean periods in the beginning. I think that comes with everything. Don’t get too bummed during the low times when you’re short on dollars or weren’t noticed when you accomplished something significant. These things are part of the journey as they should be. If your goals are high enough they shouldn’t come easy. Expect to earn your recognition. But most of all, fish hard, fish the best you can, be open to learn no matter how successful you are and most of all, be kind to others and share your knowledge with everyone.
Flylords: What is next for Jeff Currier?
Jeff: First and foremost will be to enjoy my new home waters in Northern WI. Because my wife and I devoted so much time on our fixer-upper house this year, we barely turned the page on the new life and location. And what little we have done has been enthralling. I can’t wait for more. And while gaining knowledge and skills to catch the big name fish like musky and walleye better with the fly, my first task next summer is to be able to consistently nymph up the mighty redhorse sucker.
Expect plenty more international travel. Last I looked there are nearly 200 countries meaning I’m only a 3rd of the way. Expect to see more unusual kinds of fish added to my species list. I’m presently at 430 something but I intend to reach 500 – maybe more before this ride is over.
Last but not least, I want to write more – perhaps a few world traveling story books. And I want to spend more time doing my art. The last decade I’ve been so busy fishing that I’m behind on painting species I’ve caught. I’d also like to learn some new mediums, in particular, I can’t wait to play with oils. Looks like I’m going to remain very busy in years to come!
Thank you so much to Jeff Currier for taking the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to sit down with us. To learn more about Jeff and where in the world he’s headed next, check out his website, HERE. Also, thank you to Costa for keeping the “Behind the Guides” series running, and for making opportunities like this possible. To learn more about what’s new at Costa, check them out, HERE. As always, stay tuned for more installments of, “Behind the Guides” coming soon.