We traveled up to the Adirondacks to meet with legendary Adirondacks guide Rachel Finn and Peter Vandergrift for a day on the water. Rachel is the head guide for The Hungry Trout up near Lake Placid, a Patagonia ambassador, and has also been a guide in the northeast for over 25 years. She is an incredible artist, angler, friend, and had us laughing the entire trip… Apologies for the language in the article, but Rachel doesn’t hold back, and it’s part of her charm.Flylords: Tell us a little about yourself?
Rachel: My name is Rachel Finn, I’m a 56-year-old woman living in the Adirondacks of New York State. I work as a fly fishing guide and an artist. Beyond that, I’m kind of somebody who never grew up…Flylords: How long have you been guiding in the Adirondacks for?
Rachel: I’ve been guiding here for 25 years. The guy that I work for now, I used to watch him get on the school bus. So yeah, I’m kind of old. But don’t fuck with me man.Flylords: What do you think made you stay in this area so long and what makes this place special to you?
Rachel: What I love about the North East, and maybe because I grew up in the North East, is that we sort of walk around with a chip on our shoulder about a lot of our endeavors here. Our winters are hard, skiing and fishing here is hard. And I think part of what I like about it is that it’s hard. And that you have to work for it. The fishing here is also very intimate and I like that. Flylords: Tell us a little about your artwork.
Rachel: I’ve been making art since I was a little kid. At first, I thought I was going to be a scenic artist for the theater because I really like theater, especially musical theater. That would have been a smarter choice as far as employment and making money but I got involved with fine art in school, at Skidmore, I really liked painting. After college I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I needed to learn more so I applied to graduate schools and got into Yale and went there and I got my ass kicked there, man, that was like Outward Bound, where they break you down so you build yourself back up. And that worked for me.
A lot of my work is about fishing. You’re not supposed to see it – it’s not about a pool that I fished on the Battenkill. It’s about the light that I experienced or patterns that I saw and then just trying to make some interesting art about it…Flylords: So you’ve been a guide for 25 years. Have you faced any challenges being a female guide in this industry?
Rachel: For me, it’s never been a problem… Once actually, way back when, I worked in a fly shop, and our manager who’s terrific, at that time, named Bob, a guy comes in, I’m behind the desk, he asked me “what’s going on? What’s happening on the river?” And I start talking. Bob is standing next to me and he’s very tall, the guy’s like “whatever” and he looks at Bob and he’s like “what’s going on on the river?” And Bob’s like, well you better ask her ’cause she knows everything about it. He stood up for me. I’m like bring it! Some guys would walk into the shop saying; “I caught a 30-inch fish.” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, what do you have? A 15-inch dick?”…. Did I have to work harder and try harder? No, I just did what I did. I grew up very athletic as a kid and I was a pretty good athlete and all my friends were boys and I was just accepted right from when I was 7 years old. It never stopped. I think fly fishing is the most equal across the board for a male and female sport, maybe chess okay – If you want to call that a sport. But, there’s absolutely no difference in physical ability in fly fishing. Across the board and generally through my guiding and teaching, women are better students. They tend to listen better. They don’t try and muscle things. They’re more about the finesse. I think they’re better suited to it really. Most of my fishing buddies are guys. That creates actual problems sometimes with their wives. Because they immediately assume we’re having sex out there.Flylords: Describe the Ausable River in 4 Sentences…
Rachel: I’ll give you one word…Psychotic.
There are much better rivers to fish as far as fish count goes but there aren’t many as beautiful as the Ausable. I’ve seen every inch of it. Made a point of that to go from the top to the bottom and fish every part of it over my time here. What’s so crazy about it is that it just changes so much. It experiences its own little weather patterns and really severe changes. It’s really hard … It’s suited for my sort of self-inflicting tendencies to fish in a place like this because it doesn’t make it any easier. But it’s striking. It’s hard to wade, it’s very physical. I love that about the river, especially when I fish it by myself. I’m so focused when I’m fishing. I love that I don’t have to think about anything else. I guess I’m in just a constant state of denial when I’m fishing which I think a lot of people are really. That’s why we like it so much. But it’s so different from let’s say, skiing right? You get the same thing. I call it a flow. You’re just focused on what you’re doing and not about anything else. When you do things like that, that are fast it’s pretty cool. Like skiing trees. We’re making decisions that you don’t even have time to make. You’re so intuitive, your brain and your body are together making a decision. Fishing is like that too really, but it’s so much slower. It’s almost like golf. It’s like between holes you have all this time. It’s never fast…. Anyway, the Ausable is awesome, sorry I keep getting sidetracked…Flylords: Can you tell us about the gear that you use for your fishery here?
Rachel: We mainly use five weights and four weights here, six weights on occasion. I do a lot of nymphing. I do a lot of euro nymphing. I like a ten foot, foot four weight, with the whole euro nymph leader geeky techy shit. That works really well here in the pocket water.. four x leader, big bushy flies here also work well.
We have a lot of pocket water, and you gotta cover it, you gotta move, you know it’s very physical. It’s like skiing moguls fishing here. You gotta move through it. You don’t stand in one spot and fish for three hours here. Flylords: Tell us about what your favorite frames and lenses are for every day on the water.
Rachel: Well I’m old and blind. So I’m a good person to talk to about the C-readers man. Those things save my ass every day.
I really enjoy the Brine frames, and I usually do a copper lens for the tannic water we have here.
Before I got older and blind I would just buy cheap sunglasses. And once I got a good pair of sunglasses I was like, oh my God, what have I been doing all these years. Such a difference. I think when you’re young you do all the stupid shit, but whatever. Flylords: If people want to come out here and fish with you what’s something they can prepare for before they come out here?
Rachel: Prepare for a really fun day, and a physical day, generally with me. A lot of the other guides don’t like me so much. I’ll stay out forever, because it can be hard here, man. Some days you get it done in bankers hours. You’re like, Dude. You did it.
I hope that you’re probably going to learn something new by the end of the day. Whether it’s just a show tune that you forgot the words to. Or another way to cast a nymph.
Line control is what we’re all about here. I mean, pocket water fishing’s pretty technical. If you can practice good line control that would be a plus!Flylords: Tell us about getting sick, and how that has affected your career as a fishing guide
Rachel: Yeah, I was sick. I had cancer.
It really affected my fishing and my confidence. The first few times I went fishing after I was sick I fell in the water, which I never do and I was really uh, I was really depressed about it. You know I just worked at getting my balance back through a lot of different things. Physical therapy and skiing and whatnot. I think it’s really true what they say about people that have really traumatic things happen in their life. You do have a different outlook on life after that, and I can attest to that. I’m enjoying myself more.. and not worrying about the small stuff. I’m alive and happy, and focusing on what’s important in life!