Welcome to the Staying Afloat Series, where we take an inside look into the lives of many different fly fishing guides, shops, brands, and lodges across the world in hopes of finding out how the COVID is affecting them, what they are doing to help, and how we can do our part to help them.
Tune into our Instagram tomorrow (6/7/20) at 8:00pm EST for a live takeover and performance from Chuck Ragan!
This week we had the chance to sit down with, fly-fishing guide, musician, and dad; Chuck Ragan to discuss how COVID-19 changed his business and career, and what he did to Stay Afloat.
Flylords: Who is Chuck Ragan?
Chuck: Still figuring that out on a day to day basis. What I do know is what I love. I love my family, I love the water and being in boats. Cooking Cajun food, making and smoking meat, tying streamers, I love digging in the dirt, the smell of earth, and eating homegrown food in the yard when we make the time for it. I love the hunt and pursuit of species with fins, feathers, and fur. I work most likely too much but I’m fulfilled by it. I enjoy the hell out of it and know and respect the fact that aside from financial necessity, of course, I need to continue working hard and keeping up momentum for the mind and body otherwise I will certainly start to rust. Work and keeping ultra-busy is also my coping mechanism when things go haywire and out of my control. I write and play music under my own name as well as in a band called Hot Water Music and made a career in the music and touring industry for 25+ yrs. At the end of the day, time with my wife and son is what I live for, and making great memories with people on the water is what I work towards.
Flylords: What got you into the sport of fly-fishing?
Chuck: My brother Paul sent me a shoebox of fur and feathers along with a vise, fly rod and reel back in my mid 20’s I reckon. He and I have always chased fish or hunted for as long as we can remember and have always enjoyed figuring out different ways to pursue species or learning from others but we were never really exposed to fly fishing until 20 or so years ago. When that shoebox showed up, my brother raved about how special it had been catching fish on flies he tied himself. I’ve always admired my brother’s fire for life and the hunt and his passion for fly fishing was infectious but it wasn’t until I had moved to Northern California that I really started appreciating strip setting on fish and feeling line being ripped out of my hand opposed to off a reel.
Flylords: When did you decide you wanted to be a guide?
Chuck: It seems to me it was quite a long time ago and if I really look back it was years ago going on trips or excursions with my family. I’ve always enjoyed taking friends out since I was young. Sometimes I’d be learning from them and sometimes they’d be learning from me. More often than not I believe I’d be taking a friend that either hadn’t ever fished much or wasn’t able to often so I’d end up showing them the ropes. As far as guiding as an actual business and what it has become in my personal and public life now, it was a thought in the back of my head for well over a decade but I wasn’t aware on how to even begin and wasn’t really encouraged to make it happen until about 7yrs ago. Even then it has been a constant build of honing what I do, when, and where I do it. Had the boats, had the gear, was confident in my fisheries just wasn’t sure how the business side of it would all work. When I finally got some encouragement or other guide friends telling me that I wasn’t insane, I hit the ground running with it. Hogan Brown and Cast Hope was a huge part of that as to getting me tuned up to get the right credentials and start putting together my programs.
Flylords: What’s your favorite area to guide in?
Chuck: Most likely our valley rivers. They are just so incredibly unique in the sense that we could be swinging for trout and steelhead in runs and riffles as well as sight fishing flats for giant Striper, carp, or river bass. That or poling around swampy sloughs all in the same body of water.
Flylords: When did you start playing guitar?
Chuck: Had guitars at a super young age but it stayed a toy until I found skateboarding. With skateboarding came punk rock, metal, and other alternative music which was a far stretch from the Cajun, bluegrass, and gospel music I grew up with. It must have been 32 or so years ago that I started playing with the intent to play for the rest of my life.
Flylords: What’s it like to be a full tie musician and guide?
Chuck: It’s busy! Constant planning scheduling and figuring out the plans. Since shows have to be scheduled far in advance and since I already know when and where I need to be guiding, my year gets laid out, planned, and sometimes booked in the year prior. It’s a bit of a pain to be planning over a year in advance but for an independent contractor like myself, it’s about the only job security I get. I begin usually in June/July by laying out all the family days and holiday time we need, to be followed by the moon phases and seasons I need/want to be guiding, and finally look at windows that make sense to either record music, write or play shows.
Flylords: Does fishing ever make its way into your music?
Chuck: Absolutely. Either into the songs themselves or I’ll fish on the road whenever or wherever I tour. Some tours or even destinations are planning with fishing in mind as well. As a guide, it’s my responsibility to know my species well and I take it seriously enough to always try to target the same species I have here in different areas of the country. Book and learn from other Captains and Guides to pick up bits and methods to apply here at home in my own fisheries.
Flylords: How did the COVID situation affect your guiding and music?
Chuck: I get a lot of out of state clients and COVID shut all that down with travel. The bulk of the clients come from the Bay Area or the Valley and many of them are quite older and we’re taking extra precautions so lost some there as well. Some dates rebooked or pushed but so far it seems I lost around 35 dates.
In terms of my musical career, With the travel shut down and especially no large group functions we’ve had around 70 shows cancel or postpone into 2021. Even then it’s uncertain as to when we’ll be able to do anything.
Flylords: Which suffered more, your guiding, or your music?
Chuck: Most likely the music. I was just about to button up the boats and head to Chicago/KC for HWM shows followed by Florida to record my new record. Now with the shows moved and no set plan as to when I’ll record that record, I’m all in on guiding. There’s no telling when everything will open back up in the music/touring industry.
Flylords: What was your trick in staying afloat during the peak of the Corona situation?
Neglected house projects, remodels, spring in the foothills, resetting and restocking gear and tackle, tying flies, and cooking all kept me busy but the main gig was all the solid quality family time I had with my wife and son. We’ve had some great days over the past couple of months towing the Adipose or chasing bass or Striper. My boy loves to be in the boat and is always learning. Gotta say it’s pretty cool to turn around and tell your 4.5yr old to trim the motor up a little as your drifting into a shallow bar and he gets right on it.
Flylords: How are guided trips looking now?
Trips have been booking up more. I went from zero work to non-stop. People are tired of this pandemic. People are anxious to get out and are fired up as can be to simply cast and breathe fresh air not to mention catch fish. Since no shows are happening hardly for the rest of 2020, I’ve opened up more dates and aiming to fill every single day I’m able.
Flylords: Okay, important question. If you could guide any famous musician (other than yourself), who would it be?
Good question… Probably Steve Earle. I played a record store with him years ago in Seattle and we talked fishing. He was kind. When I mentioned I had heard he fly fished, he replied back with a smile saying, “ I haven’t touched a spinning rod in 21 years.
Flylords: What advice would you give to guides and musicians still struggling with the corona situation right now?
Chuck: Hang tough, enjoy the family time or time to restock, tie flies, write songs, clean your boat, maintain trucks and trailers, and any other projects that linger.
Flylords: How can someone book a trip with Chuck Ragan?
Chuck: They may visit the site, choose to book a trip, choose their targeted species, and get on the books!