For those who don’t know me. My name is Mark Raisler. I reside in beautiful Craig, MT, have for a long time. I am the owner of Headhunters Fly Shop, a Sage Ambassador, and a passionate fishing guide. All are driven by the desire to teach. I push pretty hard. While not everybody likes that education style, it is damn effective.
I didn’t begin my guiding career like that. Nope. Nobody does. I had quit my cooking job midsummer at a local café in Craig and threw my hat into the guiding arena. I really had no idea of the inner workings of a guide boat at that time in July 2000. A few of my guide friends asked to see my nymph boxes. Surprisingly, I stated, confused, “nymph boxes?” I had 12 nymphs to my name that day. Oversized Prince’s, GRHE’s-Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ears, and a couple of PTs. In my naivety, I thought everyone was dry fly fishing on the Mo’. I really had no idea what was going on out there in the other guide boats, so I found myself heading home to tie San Juan Worms.
During that early period of my guiding life, the percentage of dry fly anglers here on the mo was weighted more on the dry fly headhunting side. As the waters passed quietly under the bridge, that has shifted. Along with the mostly dry fly guests, I guided my ass off chasing bobbers for countless Missouri seasons. You gotta do the work to be guiding happily post-40. The most important part of enjoying this portion of my career is remembering to learn and push myself like I do with my clients. Evolution and education are imperative for both parties.
Today, I have pretty narrow/stringent parameters for my guide season. I wrote myself a Manifesto this past winter that I follow closely.
DFO (Dry Fly Only). No more fishing for the guest via chasing indicators deep nymphing down the middle of the river. The Sage R8 Core is an important part of the DRO delivery.
Catch a fish every day. Yes, with the guest. Generally, after the angler has not closed the deal. But sometimes, a good fresh brown trout rising aggressively calls my name. I like layups, too.
More salads for lunch. I succeed 50% of the time. The day we were out on the water taking photos for this article… was one of the unsuccessful times. Oh well…
Lots of smoked fish, meats, and cheeses. I have always been called the Snack Man. My tastes have evolved along with my angling goals and desires.
Ran this by several friends this past week. Some asked if these guidelines were moveable, amendable, changeable, or soft. Answer? Nope.
2023 ushered me into the most pleasant period of my now 24-year-long guide career on Montana’s Missouri River. I established some hard rules in my boat. It’s not all that new for most of my guests, and the scant number of nymphing days/clients were informed.
Many long-term guides, moving into the “gray” years, have similar parameters for the guide day. As you age as a fishing guide, good ones have gathered their herd of anglers, long-timers, and many considered friends in the boat. Ask any tenured guide if they set the rules inside the guide boat, and the answer will be yes.
I alerted the very few regular/annual nymph guests that I had this last year that ’22 would be my nymphing swan song year. No pushback from said guests. I continue to get questions like this: “Would you guide my wife, child, or neighbor? They are new to fly fishing, and I want you to teach them.” Answer? No. No thanks. There are plenty of fantastic teaching/and Disneyland-type guides who are really good at bringing anglers into fly fishing, deep nymphing, and making anglers smile. Not all anglers want to learn. Some just want to catch fish and leave all that learning stuff to the others. I did that for the front end of my career. What drives me now does not include any part of that, any and no longer.
I have to teach. It is woven into my angling fabric. I must teach to keep my Angling Constitution in line with my Fly Fishing Soul. If you do not want to progress, learn, or try in some manner…you and I will not get along inside the cozy confines of my Adipose drifter. Most of my guests have been fishing with me for approximately 20 years. A few shorter, most longer.
I am not that guide any more. The first 23 years? Sure. You bet. I love new/novice anglers. But now? Now, I have turned the page. Gladly fish with a new dry fly angler whose desire is to improve. Gladly.
Boat & Guide Parameters
- I will catch a fish every day. Or try. Guests can choose the fish if he/she wants.
- Client rows for 15 mins. Each. 2 anglers, 15 each. It’s good for the guest to experience something new or a change of pace.
- Salad for lunch. Meat snacks and cheese, too, daily.
- DFO. Dry Fly Only. Streamer fishing or Trout Spey are exceptions. No bobbers. I got rid of all nymphs, bobbers, and nymph rods. DFO.
- Reduce the amount of shit in my guide boat. I have always had too much stuff in the boat. Get rid of the shit I don’t use or the angler does not need. I still am striving for the concierge experience, though, for the record.
- Advocacy for the Outdoors. Support healthy outdoor interactions through this blog. Be an example of healthy outdoor behaviors. Show my advocacy through actions, words, and physical examples. Do the right thing. Always.
That is where my head is at. Many at this stage of their guiding career set parameters. Boundaries. Goals. You must do what is right for you, or your happiness will dribble down the river.
We all know a fishing guide who has stayed in the game too long. Nobody needs more asshole fishing guides!
I believe truly understanding yourself as a maturing angler is damn important for your personal fishing quotient. Defining those boundaries will allow you to continue to grow. Setting goals is important for all anglers. Thinking or writing down your fishing aspirations for the season is encouraged. Goal setting is important for fishing guides, too. Without it, how can you assess your progression from where you currently are to where you are headed? Short-term goals. Long-term goals, lofty ones, achievable ones, all good.
It has been a fantastic journey fishing the Montana’s Missouri River beginning May ‘92. I arrived knowing not what a mayfly looked like. Seeing the Trico swarms and being fooled into thinking the shoreline was a fire! Watching trout rise within 10’ crouched into shoreline weeds, amazed at the rise forms of sipping brown trout. Witnessing my first pods of scatter-brained rainbows seemingly munch every mayfly spinner passing overhead. It is a wonderful progression of passion, knowledge, frustration, casting practice, getting the net wet, laughing, and smiling.
How many more Missouri River seasons do I have in me? I think at least ten more. I have more to learn, more to see, more friendships to enjoy, more fish to cast at, more PMD hatches…