Guide’s Day Off

The clock is punched on another river day. Sun starched, glare glazed, muscle sore and emotionally spent, there is not much else on my mind than a cold beer back at guides’ quarters, and a leisurely reflection of the day with fellow guides Mark and Stu. Any self-respecting client might do well to avoid this one! Another cold beer, by the fire this time, and I am warming to the occasion. Clients are most welcome again. Now maybe even a savored cigarette and the power down process is complete. By this stage I’m positively wallowing in the endorphin glow brought on by 12 straight hours of being ‘on’ out and about on the water, in the bush, busting a gut trying to figure out how to hook up to fish that will be released with some guys I barely know, but automatically like because they have chosen to be here, same as me.

It is every bit as crazy as it sounds, and I wouldn’t expect anyone who hasn’t experienced it to understand it; it seems there are no limits to the lengths that we will go to achieve fulfillment within the realm of catching fish. This ‘pursuit of fulfillment’ business makes for loaded days and each river day demands and earns your full attention. There isn’t even time for, let alone sense, in contemplating what is on the cards for tomorrow; you’ll just miss out on something today. If you’re going fishing anyway, what else is there really to it? As cheaply and easily as the sweaty minutes stack up during the day, each one is valuable currency, and will be desperately rued if carelessly spent.

Much later, over a low fire and a night cap, a conversation lull signals that we’ve exhausted today’s offerings. Thoughts organically tend towards the next installment and I realize that I actually have a day off tomorrow. A rare occurrence, I have been engaged in a lengthy struggle to get my head around the best way of dealing with these anomalies over the seasons. My first thought reaches for the obvious: a lie-in and the golden chance to try and restore the sleep balance back into the black. The immediate response to this is to reload another drink and launch back into the fireside fray, shrouded in the safety net of knowing that I won’t have to regret it at 5am tomorrow morning. Now that I’ve been released from the fate bound certainty of a full day of guiding, these prized minutes are wide open and empty, and mine to fill.

Remembering that a day off is a day specifically removed from the action front, there really should not be much to them, and definitely not enough to write about. Anyone casually enquiring what a day off might consist of could receive a reply containing some permutation of the following basic options. High up on the list would be the cherished lie-in (Sleeping In), as would the chance to reconnect with people back home and around the world, catch up on some admin, and also log some quality down time, away from the river and the relentless pursuit of fish. All sensible options that will be unquestionably accepted, and even approved of by anyone not knowing any better. 

It’s pretty much a given that I will stay up too late tonight because I can sleep in tomorrow, but I’ll give it a shot for sure.  Midway through a guiding season, sleep is a premium, and definitely something that will come back and haunt you at some critical point later on if passed up on! But I happen know from experience that this is a low percentage play, because if the fellow guides don’t wake me on their way out, the kitchen definitely will. Not to mention the body clock kicks in in full panic mode before the usual alarm time anyway, which makes a return to slumber very difficult. In the context of a season, one lie-in stands out like a tree in the path of an avalanche, and wouldn’t make a huge difference to the cause!

Once you’ve accepted that sleep is not really an option, you might think that the morning could be a great chance to catch up on some admin backlog- sort photo’s, write up last week’s blog, dip a toe back in to the other world of internet and emails, and maybe tie some flies and sort out my gear. Although guiding as a profession is gratifyingly streamlined in essence, there are sideshow aspects that do need to be taken care of, and in the full-on full-off rhythm of guiding, they often fall by the wayside. However, this is another that pulls up flawed. Despite being important and worthwhile, admin here is like admin anywhere- it is done best and most efficiently only when it really needs to be, and free time can be much more meaningfully spent!

In the afternoon, it might be great to get out of camp and away from the river on a bush drive, or maybe just do as little as possible and watch a movie in guides’ quarters. Being on the river all day every day can sometimes make you feel like you’re in a bubble, and there is some muted appeal in breaking out. And there is no escaping the fact that as guides we are constantly at the sharp end of our clients’ expectations of catching fish, and this pressure, although entirely justified, can be a relief to escape momentarily. An anti poaching patrol, hunt or logistical errand sometimes offers the chance to ride out in one of the hunting vehicles and see some countryside beyond the thick riparian horizons, bumping along light of the load of client responsibility.

This idea of escaping the river is probably the best disguised as a good way to spend time off, and has represented the trickiest one to decipher over the seasons. There is no obvious flaw as it is presented, and it has some fundamental truth to it, no doubt. What I have come to realize is that where the river may have come to subconsciously be associated with a certain pressure and a day off represents the chance to escape it, the answer isn’t to escape the river but actually to embrace it. This is the golden chance to rediscover the magic of the river as the clients I guide experience it, and the only way to do that is to simply be on it on my own terms. And funnily enough, the best way to do this, I have found, is with a fly rod in hand. The river is at the heart of why I am here, it’s the center of our small, special universe, so to turn my back on it even for a day would be sacrilege. The way I have come to see it when faced with a day off, a guide with the best intentions has very little option but to accept the eventuality that his time will be best spent on the water with rod in hand. Hardly a revelation for a fishing guide at a world-class fishery with time on his hands to arrive at maybe, but I got there in the end!

As for guides’-time fishing, it truly is a spectacle in itself. Stripped down to the very bare necessities it is raw and uncut and may be the purest form of fly fishing known to man. All at once, it is dusting off old favorite tricks, and trying out new ones learned from clients. It is fishing the best-known spots the best-known way and trying something completely new at a spot you’ve always had a hunch about but never hooked fish at. It is about catching fish of any size, while at the same time only about casting a line for the sake of it. It is about fishing our waters the way they should be fished. Most acutely it is about being in direct contact with the river itself, and finally allowing yourself to jump off the cliff that guiding can only bring you right to the edge of.

Barefoot and stripped to the waist, armed with mismatched rigs and hastily tied or repaired flies, the guides fish while our boat drifts and spins with the current as no one can bear or care to stop casting long enough to correct its path. Backcasts are not part of the protocol and flies are fizzing around the boat like an angry swarm of bees without a hint of an apology, nor for a second is one expected.

 It’s all about making the cast, a cast, any cast and nothing else. The fishing swings between manic bouts of frenzy as we seek our fix and long lazy drawn out drifts as we revel in it, and we howl with laughter and genuine surprise at every fish dropped. Maybe we aren’t that much better than our clients after all! Each fish caught is admired with new eyes and a new respect for its fighting qualities. No need for pictures, these sessions will not be forgotten easily and will be returned to often over the coming guiding days. Not only are they a reminder of how challenging and rewarding the fishing is, but also of everything that we love about the pursuit of these fish, and of course fulfillment. 

Greeting the river weary guests and guides as they arrive back in the evening, these details of the day off are brushed over lightly, and if pressed as to what I got up to, I will reach for one of the trusty combinations mentioned earlier. But Mark and Stu will know that the shining eyes, renewed energy, and glowing grin are not the result of catching up sleep or accomplished admin, but they will recognize straight away the symptoms of a day off spent the best way possible, and will soon be hounding me for details. And the truth remains, if the best indication of a day off well spent is the eagerness to return to the fray, then it doesn’t get any better than this.

This article was contributed by Greg Ghaui, with @touretteflyfishing.
Photography was provided by:
Mark Murray @markslc01
Stu Harley @stuart_harley_
Matt Harris
If you are interested in booking a trip, please contact Tourrette Fy Fishing, or send us an email


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