On Freestone Rivers…



Note:  Doing something a little different with the Dirty Cork blog, have a short essay a good buddy wrote.  As he put it…”Got Whiskey drunk on Maker’s and just started typing.”  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  Photo credit goes to the Author, Brian Wheeler.   That’s his brother navigating the Pistol Creek Rapid on the Middle Fork of the Salmon.  We did that trip last September, undeniably the best multi-day river trip I’ve been a part of.   Cheers

By Brian Wheeler

On Freestone Rivers:
Although linguists and philosophers would disagree on the exact translation (it’s definitely not this one), most people have been confronted with the Heraclitus quote in this form:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
You know, the whole…only constant thing in life is change…idea.
Maybe it’s what draws so many people to freestone rivers on a philosophical level, often as anglers, sometimes simply as lovers of wild, natural things.

From source to mouth, these rivers are the rambunctious ones. The unpredictable ones. The last refuges of dwindling native fish populations. The fragile ones.

Borne of snowmelt and fed by rain, freestone rivers offer a lifecoach-esque course in the concept of recalibration. With each passing year the freestone river modifies its course; through power, persistence, and sometimes just by taking path of least resistance.
No matter the mechanism or manifestation, the freestone river reinvents itself and does so regularly. It is, as Luna Leopold describes, “the carpenter of its own house”.
This no doubt disrupts the routine of those who live and depend on a freestone river, lives that would be made easier by predictability.
But channels migrate, climate changes, and flows are dictated by factors outside of our control.
Such is life.

Certainly, Heraclitus was onto something with his belief in the universal governing principle of “Flux”. We are all constantly engaged in it, yet simultaneously battle to mitigate its effects.

I suppose all of this makes the idea of freestone rivers as deserving of preservation such a relevant, even urgent notion for some of us.
If we dare to consider the conceptual relation to our own lives, most of us can identify with a freestone river. Change is constant and most often that change is confrontational with preexisting geomorphology… or our preexisting notions.

The value in simply giving a river the space to do its thing, well, that’s not so easy.
It doesn’t necessarily agree with our compulsive desire to harness, control, and develop.
And yet another wise one said this:
“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.
Love is about appreciation.” – Osho

So, let us discover the will to protect & preserve the things that we value and appreciate.
Those things which are beautiful, alive, and wild.
Let us value free-flowing rivers so much that we unbind our impulse to control from their dynamic existences.
Let us learn to live with, and even embrace unpredictability as natural, unavoidable.
I suppose that’s the most analogous aspect of life and rivers.
The lifeblood of our existence.


P.S.  Brian is the Executive Director of the Big Hole River Foundation and one kick ass guide down in Southwest Montana.  He knows a thing or two about freestones, and coldwater conservation.

Public perception of guiding…

boat ramp

“Blame is the coward’s solution to his fear of accountability.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough


Public perception of the Outfitting industry in Montana is something I have been thinking about in the dark, dusty corners of my brain for a while.  Mostly, it’s the negative perception of the outfitting industry that troubles me. You find it in social media.  Just about any article talking about fly fishing guides or outfitters, invariably you will find most of the comments are negative.  There’s too many guides, they don’t care about the river, the clients are all rich assholes from out of state, they do more harm than good, they should have to pay to use the river.  Of course, these folks are completely uninformed, and are only drawing conclusions from their own empirical evidence instead of actual facts.  Maybe these folks are the minority, I don’t know, but I guess I hear it from people enough, and see enough of it on social media, that I feel like it should be addressed.  I don’t know how we in the industry can do better to change perception, so bear with me as I ramble my way through my own thoughts.
What really has stoked the fire is the current regulation proposal on the Madison river.  I’m not quite going to get to that yet.  First I want to throw out a couple examples of public perception vs. outfitting reality.

If I got a dollar for every time I’ve heard “I never get a Smith river permit because the outfitters own them all”, I would be a thousandaire.  The reality is, is that the outfitters own seasonal launch permits, out of the 7 commercial outfitters on the Smith, they get 73 launches between them.  There are 1,804 permits available to the public.  So tell me exactly how the outfitters are taking all the launch dates?  More than likely you are not getting a permit because you applied for a June or July launch along with everyone else.  The past couple of years has seen over 6,000 applications for public launch dates.  Perception vs. reality.

The picture above was taken by yours truly a couple of years ago.  I took it more to remember a day guiding with friends more than anything else.  But, does that look like a crowded boat ramp?  Is that a normal day?  Or is that an exception?  Also note the school bus in the back.  That was rented by a group of folks floating for fun, and not fishing.  How many people did they put on the river that day?  The answer is, that was an exception for that day and date.  Mid October doesn’t usually see that much traffic at the boat ramp, however, late May, June, and mid July see lots of traffic.  By guides and the general public.  So, if you only fish the Missouri during that time, you’re going to see lots of traffic, you’re going to assume that every boat that goes by is a guide, and you may come to the conclusion that that is how the river always is, and that guides outnumber the public.  Again, perception vs. reality.  The reason why you showed up to fish the Missouri in June, is the same reason that the 5 other wade anglers showed up, and the same reason why there was 10 guides at the boat ramp, and a couple of other folks launching at the boat ramp.  The reason is because the fishing, and the weather are good.  If you think crowding is an issue, remember, you are part of the crowding.  There are plenty of good fishing and weather days in other months on the Missouri where it is a ghost town.  If you only come fish it in August, you might have a different view of how busy the river is.  And you might really enjoy the fishing then.

One of my other favorite complaints I hear is, the fishing was better 40 years ago.  That is completely subjective.  I’ve heard from folks that have been here a lot longer than myself that the fishing is the same, or better.  The crowding on the other hand is true.  Unfortunately time travel doesn’t exist, so the good old days are long behind us.  Adapt and overcome.

Now for the meat and potaters.  What really stoked the fire is the current meetings, negotiations ongoing with the Madison river proposed regulations.  Quick note, I don’t guide on the Madison, and I don’t get over there a lot to have an opinion on crowding.  What I do have as reference is friends that do guide and or are outfitters on the Madison and their word on the subject.  I’m going to take the lazy way here and provide a link to the specifics, mostly because I don’t think I can do it justice repeating verbatim.


The bottom line is this.  The Madison is the busiest river in Montana.  Maybe the most loved in Montana, and there is a social conflict about the amount of people using the resource.  FWP proposed a cap on outfitting, and also proposed closing the upper section of the Madison from Quake lake to Lyons bridge to boats.  Here’s the kicker, commercial use is the smallest percentage of users on the river.  So why go after them, and not the larger user groups?  Is it because guides are more visible, or is it because guides and outfitters are making money off the resource?  Personally I think it’s both.  To a degree it makes sense, but, perception vs reality.  Let’s say you’re an avid angler from Indiana, your whole fly fishing life you’ve always wanted to hit the famed salmonfly hatch on the Madison river.  Just you, the river, grand vistas of the Madison valley, and big trout smashing salmonflies with reckless abandon.  The reality is, is that you are more than likely going to share that experience with a crowd.  Why?  Because everyone wants to fish the salmonfly hatch on the Madison just as much as you do.  Maybe you sour on the Madison, or maybe you accept it.  While you’re there you see a steady stream of boats coming by.  Are they all guides?  You don’t really know being from out of town, but assume they are because they’re in boats.  You get home from your Montana trip, you had fun, but also it wasn’t the experience you had hoped for.  A couple of months later you get a letter from the state of Montana asking about your fishing experience that past summer.

Please rate your fishing experience from 1-10

How many fish did you catch?

Were you happy with the amount of fish?

Was it crowded?

Were you happy with number of other anglers?

How many do you think were being guided?

How many do you think were not guided?

What was your overall satisfaction of your experience?

Of course I’m using lots of poetic license here, but I’ve been part of those creel surveys to know the types of questions the state asks.  A couple of years ago they did a survey on the Missouri, the perception was that something like 75% of all boats on the water were guided trips.  The reality was that something like 15% was a guided trip.  I could be wrong on the exact numbers, but it’s close.  It’s the same for the Madison.  Public perception is that every single boat going down the river is a guide.  Therefore, they are to blame for the crowding.  The reality is, is that commercial trips make up the smallest percent of actual use.  But, being an outside angler, how do you answer those creel survey questions correctly if you can’t identify a guide boat from a private boat?  And how many of those anglers asked, follow up and read the results of the survey they answered?  It’s easy to blame and assume if you don’t know what’s really going on.

I don’t know what needs to happen on the Madison, but what happens there, affects the Outfitting industry statewide.  Public perception of the industry doesn’t help as well.  I will say that the community in Ennis rallied with the guides and outfitters on the Madison.  I like that, there’s hope in that gesture, and also a deep understanding of the economic web of tourism, Outfitting, and commerce amongst the bars, hotels, grocery stores, and gas stations in that community.  As of now, the committee is slowly making progress towards some kind of solution.  We can only hope that the solution is fair and equitable to all parties involved, and doesn’t place the blame and the burden of regulation on the smallest party involved.  There’s a chance that perceptions can change with the right solution.  Still holding on to my always hopeful optimism—Matt





Communication, Breakdown


I feel that if a person has problems communicating the very least he can do is to shut up. ~ Tom Lehrer

Authors Note:  Most of this advice is for fishing out of a drift boat.  If I was a wade fishing guide, I’d probably have other words of advice, but I don’t do that, so it isn’t included here.  Also, it’s meant to be taken very lightly.  I am by no means a yeller, or do I  take bad fishing personally.  Calmer than you are dude—Matt

The 2018 season is quickly coming to a close.  The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this year, is how key, communication is for a successful day of fly fishing.  Having anglers and guide communicating effectively, greatly increases the odds of catching fish, and having an enjoyable day on the water.  The above photo is a great example.  Front angler has a fish on, said fish is running towards the back of the boat, rear angler still has flies in water.  Even though I mentioned to rear angler a number of times to get the flies out of the water, communication broke down, and we resulted in an angler to angler assist.  The fish was landed even with the other anglers rig twisted around the front anglers fly line.  Not the worst thing that can happen, but can get annoying if it happens repeatedly .

So, to help folks out, here’s a list of common phrases used by guides.  Some are tongue in cheek, and some mean exactly what they mean.

OPE!-This might be my thing.  When I see the bobber go down, or a fish eat a dry, or a flash at a streamer, I say OPE!  It’s just the first thing that comes out of my mouth.  Probably not super helpful, because most clients don’t know if I’m opeing them, or opeing their counterpart.  If I’ve oped several times, and the bobber is getting pummeled, I’ll start repeating your name over and over again. (I actually do give my clients this speech almost verbatim in the morning)

Hit it-This means to set the hook.  The usual reaction is usually ; “Do you mean me?”, or,  “You think that was a fish?”  The answer is always yes.

Set it-Same as hit it, and usually is followed by same questions

There it is-still, the same as hit it, set it, and OPE.  For some reason, “there it is” usually (for me) results in fish being landed.  Which makes me think I should use that exclusively.

He ate it-this is dry fly specific.  It means that your dry fly was eaten by a fish.  I say “he” because that’s what comes out of my mouth.  It could be a she or a he, hard to tell from my vantage point.  But, just like OPE, it’s the fist thing that is said.  The most common remark after a “he ate it”, is, “was that my fly?” Yes, yes it was

Let ’em run-after a fish is hooked, a lot of times they will run from the boat.  Let ’em run means, let them run.  If you don’t, you will lose the fish that is hooked.  Simple concept, difficult execution sometimes


Letting them run will land trophy whitefish

Keep the tip up-when fighting trout with a fly rod, it is necessary to keep the tip up, to keep leverage on the hooked fish.  Keeping the tip up means, keep the tip up with your armed raised in the air.  Not the rod pointing at the fish.  I want that arm raised like the statue of liberty

Seam-A seam is where two speeds of water meet.  For example, imagine a rock in a river.  Imagine the water that speeds up on both sides of the rock as it passes the rock.  That is the seam. Seams will have slack water behind whatever object is creating the seam.  Trout like seams.  Either in the seam, or on the edge of it.  They also like the slack water, but that’s another discussion

Get it right in the seam-this means, get your flies in the seam.  Right in it.  Not a foot off it, not a foot past it in the slack water.  In the seam, where the trout live


He got it right in the seam, where trout live

Row around-also could be called a daisy chain or a circle jerk.  This is when the boat is rowed back up a run so it can be fished again.  On productive runs you may spend a lot of time rowing around on it.  I had a client make an observation this week while I was rowing around.  He asked me if I was doing it because we had a short float and wanted to waste time, or if it was because I thought we would catch another fish there. Fair question on his part. I politely explained to him that rowing two people  a hundred yards up river was not my idea of a fun way to waste time.  He got it

Get your flies ready-there are at least two occasions where I will say this.  Either while doing a row around, or if a really good spot is coming up.  What this means is, when we get to said spot, I want the flies ready to go, so you can fire out a cast and catch a fish.  It does not mean to get them ready too late and miss the entire run that I just rowed up, or tangle the flies while getting the flies ready.  Also, please make sure that you don’t have your flies hooked into one of the laces on your sperry topsiders, or your sock, this is key for having the flies ready


His flies were ready when we got to a good spot

Slack is the enemy-it really is.  Whether casting, mending, or setting the hook, slack is, and will always be your enemy.  Pick up what ever extra slack you have on the water.  The reason you’re tangling around your rod, or apologizing for rocketing in a blur of flies and fly line and then apologizing to every one in the boat for doing it, is a result of trying to cast with too much slack.  It’s also the number one cause for flies either hitting people, or hooking people.  You will not get a good hook set with too much slack on the water either.  You will either miss the fish, or foul hook it

Left side-this means left side of the boat.  Always, every time, means the left side of the boat.

Right side-this means the opposite of left, every, single, time

You’re casting too much-If you are nymphing or blind casting dries, the general rule is to leave the flies either in, or on the water for as long as possible.  Of course a good drift needs to be managed as well.  Some folks like to let flies drift for 10 feet, then pick them up and recast.  Casting is fun, but not all that conducive to catching fish.  Leaving your nymphs, or your dry fly in the water for longer periods, in my experience, leads to more fish landed. I see it a lot.  Clients have a good drift going, we’re getting to a piece of water I expect a fish to eat in, and then bang, up come the flies and the recast.  The recast usually gets just as far out of the boat, and nothing has been accomplished.  There are few absolutes in trout fishing, one absolute is that trout don’t live out of water.  Leave your flies in the water.


flies left in the water will catch fish, I promise

Fly fishing is fun, catching fish is fun, getting guided should also be a fun experience.  The key to a successful day on either side, be it guide or client, is communication.  The best days are where everyone is on the same page.  Beginners or experts alike.  Fly fishing out of a boat is a team effort, and teams are victorious where communication is effective.  Having said that, if you and your guide are not communicating well,  i.e. you don’t understand what they are trying to tell you, let them know that.  I certainly get a head of myself some days and fail to communicate important details of what my expectations are of the client. Hopefully I can catch where I failed in my communication and correct it.  So, the next time you find yourself in a raft, or a drift boat and you hear OPE!  Set the damn hook and let ’em run—Matt

June in the rear view mirror

big brown

It is only in appearance that time is a river. It is rather a vast landscape and it is the eye of the beholder that moves—Thorton Wilder

What a June that was…

If you spent any time in Montana this June, or more specifically around the Missouri River, you would’ve heard a lot of people saying, “I’ve never seen that happen before”.

I’ve been thinking about time and how people plan their time and compartmentalize it.  Is time linear, or does it work in a non-linear fashion.  Is it a landscape like Thorton Wilder said, best judged by the person that is viewing time pass?  That’s probably a question that will never be answered.

This June time most certainly worked in a non-linear fashion.  We got high water as expected.  Just touching 20k cfs.  Canyon Ferry filled up to the brim and all the rivers started falling and shaping up just in time for prime dry fly fishing.  Then we got a state wide soaker, record breaking precipitation fell all over the state.  The Missouri came back up to 18k, setting us back into what late May, early June looked like.  There was a sense of dread and disappointment as inflows into Canyon Ferry kept rising into the flood pool.  What was going to happen?  How long could this sustain?  What would flows look like going into July? Outfitters, guides, and shop owners had to put on an optimistic face, telling folks it would come down in time.  It was exhausting rowing around in that big water for so long.  I had to tell myself to embrace it, and to not plant a seed of bitterness that would grow into something that the clients would see.

The river was crowded with local guides and out of town guides.  Most of the traffic was upstream for a long time due to Little Prickly Pear and the Dearborn river running high and off color, leaving tough fishing conditions below Craig.  The lower stretch was just coming into shape when an unusual event happened.  We were floating Stickney to Prewett, the fishing had been good in the morning, the river was finally clearing up.  We ate lunch at Mid Cannon.  When we were done, we got back into the mainstem of the river and found it had turned into a red clay color bank to bank.  I had never seen anything like that happen before.  It was unfishable, and we decided to pull the cord, push out, and go back upstream to fish clear water.  Apparently there was a microburst somewhere to the west in a burn area from last summer that washed all that denuded soil into a small tributary to the Dearborn, and then dumped into the Missouri.  This event pushed traffic back upstream for a number of days.  It didn’t end after that.  We got a rainstorm for the books that sent all the tributaries back into flood stage.  Little Prickly Pear was high and muddy, the Dearborn river hit 10k cfs.  This little river which is normally around 300 cfs this time of year, was nearly the size of the Missouri itself.  dearborn

That was June 19th.  Rain kept falling, and spirits were getting low.  Everyone was back up at the Dam, either taking out at Craig, spending the entire day between the Dam and Wolf Creek, or doing the Dam to Wolf Creek twice.  Thankfully, the comradery of guides lifted everyone up.  You can’t bitch about it too much, because we’re all in the same boat (no pun intended), and it was actually fishing really well, that is, if you didn’t mind nymphing every day and having to fish really deep.  Beers at the end of the day and the friendship between most of the guides eased sore muscles and smoothed the reality of the situation.

The river took an agonizingly long time to clear up and start dropping.  It finally is below 10k cfs for the first time since late April or May.  The rest of the summer is looking good.  With all this water we should avoid an overly weedy river late in the summer, and the hopper fishing will hopefully be awesome in the coming weeks.

After all that happened in June, it really wasn’t all that bad.  A lot of fun was had, a lot of fish were caught, and eventually the rain stopped.  I can say that the clients never complained about the conditions, they accepted it and enjoyed their time on the water.  That attitude also helped carry me through it.  You can only take what the environment is going to give you, and the time is going to come today—Matt

10 GUIDElines….

anchored adipose

You know when they have a fishing show on TV? They catch the fish and then let it go. They don’t want to eat the fish, they just want to make it late for something.
Mitch Hedberg

Editors Note: I am not the end all be all source for aspiring guides.  There are much wiser and sager guides out there.  But I feel comfortable enough to give some advice to those who maybe thinking about taking this lifestyle choice on.  

Living in what is truly the trout fishing capital of the world, and being a fly fishing guide, I run across a lot of people who are either thinking about starting to guide, or are going to guide.  When I started guiding, I didn’t ask guides how to guide.  Just like Buzz in Pulp Fiction, I had a stinging sensation in the back of my neck.  That stinging sensation was my pride fucking with me.  It’s okay to ask questions.  For the most part, you will not be judged.  Also, I didn’t know what questions to ask.  Guiding is a lot more than rowing a boat and finding fish.  Managing attitudes, being realistic about the days expectations, teaching, adapting, and being flexible to changing conditions are just a small part of the day.  I figured I’d throw some advice and some guidelines (get it) out there to those wondering what to expect.

The guidelines I’m setting out aren’t necessarily in number of importance.  It’s pretty much just the first thing popping in my head.  With that, here we go.

  1.  It’s real work.  If you think it’s going to be easy,  you are wrong.  This is physical work.  It’s outside in the sun and the heat.  It’s fighting the wind trying to keep a line rowing a 400 pound boat.  You get snowed on, rained on, and chased by thunderstorms.  Unless the conditions are dangerous to human life, you got to go out there even if it’s something you don’t want to do.  Sometimes you get all of those weather events in one week.  Now imagine doing that everyday for 20+ days in a row.  You might have a day off or two before you go on a long string of days again.  It’s mentally tiring.  You are going to be talking to strangers every day.  As a new guide you’re not going to have repeat clients yet, so every person that steps foot in your boat is going to be a complete stranger.  Being the new guy or gal means that you are getting the overflow trips.  Which for the most part are people that have either never fished before, or have never fished what ever river you are guiding.  Often you will find yourself answering the same questions about yourself, the fishing, and the area day in and day out.  That gets tiring.  Throw in the physical aspect of it, and you’ll understand why a lot of seasoned guides seek the shade and get a little anti-social at the end of the day.
  2. Don’t be a dick.  Don’t be a dick in general, but certainly don’t be a dick to your clients, or other guides or outfitters.  It may seem like a no brainer, but heeding this advice will get you far.  Being a jerk to your clients will not lead to a lot of repeat clients.  Maybe some sadomasochists will want to come fish with you, but who wants to spend time with someone like that?  Don’t be a dick to other guides.  You will find yourself quickly out of friends.  On the Missouri where I do most of my days, I work with a lot of the other guides and outfitters on the river.  Being a team player and someone fun to work with keeps that phone ringing with more work.  We also have a lot of out of town guides and outfitters that we meet on the Missouri.  Not being a dick will get you work from these folks.  Personally, I have gotten work from out of town outfitters by not being a dick.  It will get you days on your home river and also get you days on other rivers.  I can’t stress enough how a good attitude will get you far guiding.
  3. Don’t make assumptions about your clients and be flexible.  That little old lady that you are taking out today, she might be a better angler than you are.  This is the part where you need to be flexible.  Ask questions about the expectations for the day.  Maybe you’re dialed in with your nymphing game but the clients don’t want to do that.  Accommodate what they want to do.  It’s their day fishing, not yours.  For example, I had a guy that really wanted to catch a fish on a dry fly.  He didn’t really have the skills to do it.  It was PMD time on the Missouri and the fish were not push overs.  He had been out with a guide the day before and told the guide he wanted to fish dries.  The guide refused to do it and had him nymph all day.  He had fun and caught fish, but that’s not what he wanted to do.  This is where you have to teach and communicate.  I told him we would do our best to make that happen, and to set his expectations to learn to cast effectively and make a good presentation, and to focus on that and not actually landing a fish.  It may sound funny, but taking pressure off the landing fish part improved his fishing and he walked away with learning how to fish.  He landed one fish on a dry fly in the two days we fished together.  I felt better about myself for accommodating him, rather than stroke my ego and putting up a big body count by having him nymph.

Just because you’re the guide, don’t be afraid to let clients try stuff that works for them back home.  It doesn’t always work out, but I have learned from clients just as much as they have learned from me.  Also, if you refuse to let them try something out of your comfort zone and they end up doing it anyways, if it’s successful, it makes you look like a fool.  Be flexible.

4. First impressions are everything.  It’s true in life just as much as it is guiding.  It’s self explanatory, but, showing up with a super dirty truck and boat says a lot about you to the clients.  I’m not saying be squeaky clean, be clean enough.  On the flip side, this goes back to making assumptions about clients.  I’ve gone into days where the shop or the outfitter or the guide from the previous day tells me the clients are a mess, high maintenance, or what ever.  Try and have a blank state mentally.  If you go in feeling negative about the clients, you’re probably going to carry that attitude the rest of the day.  Give them a chance.  They might just be really excited to fish.  Often I have had really good days with clients that I was told sucked.

5. Be Knowledgeable.  This may sound really obvious, but you would be surprised about who thinks they can be a guide.  I’ve seen it enough times.  Someone picks up fly fishing last year and thinks they can start guiding. I was working with a new guide during the Trico hatch a couple of years ago.  We got done with the day, dropped the clients off at their vehicle and they left.  As I was cleaning my boat out, the other guide walks up to me and says, “I’ve been hearing all about this Trico hatch, can you tell me what they look like?”.  No shit, that actually happened.  I also worked with this guide on a freestone stream a year later, he couldn’t tell the difference between a golden stone or a skwalla stone, and didn’t know the difference between a caddis and a spruce moth.  He didn’t tell me that, his client did. It goes without saying, his lack of entomology made him look really bad.  Do a little bit of research on the places you plan on guiding.  You should probably be a little fishy as well.  Some folks are fishier than others.  But having a couple of years of fly fishing on your own helps a lot.  The people paying you want to catch fish.  You should be able to accommodate that.  Some days are easy, some days are not.  Having your own personal experience catching fish is without a doubt, an important part of your job.  I talk a lot about having fun, and being flexible, and being a teacher, but being able to catch fish is just as important.  If you don’t have that experience, it’s going to be tough trying to get someone else to catch a fish.

6.  Be safe.  If you’re guiding out of a boat.  Know how to handle a boat and be familiar with the water you’re guiding on.  If you’re on an unfamiliar river, scout rapids.  Line your boat if you have to.  Don’t try and be a rock star.  Lining a boat is way cooler than flipping a boat.   Ask folks about any medical conditions.  If they are diabetic, make sure they have what they need with them.  I’ve had someone pass out in my boat that was diabetic.  It was terrifying.  I didn’t know he was diabetic.  He was fine afterwards, but a little asking goes a long way.  Same goes with asking about allergies.  Certain times of the year, bees and yellow jackets are out in force.  You don’t want anyone getting stung and going into anaphylactic shock.  If you’re wade fishing, don’t let them out of your sight.  You don’t know the choices people will make on their own.  Also, if they have limited physical abilities, they either shouldn’t be wading, or watched carefully, and stay close to them.  You’re working outside on a river, the chances of running into a bear, or a moose, or a rattlesnake are high.  Be prepared, carry bear spray in bear country, and be safe in known rattlesnake areas.  Keep your folks hydrated on hot days, and watch for hypothermia on cold days.  For the most part, the clients will not take care of themselves,  often they are to focused on the fishing.

7. Learn river etiquette.  Each river has it’s own etiquette.  Learn it.  This includes boat ramp etiquette, and boat spacing.  Some rivers you can crowd each other, other rivers that is highly frowned upon.  If you’re going somewhere new, ask folks that work on that river about what’s appropriate.

8. Be on time.  This goes along with first impressions.  I try and show up 30-45 minutes before I’m supposed to meet the clients.  This gives me time to get my boat prepared, clean out the truck a little bit, or talk with other guides about how the fishing has been.  You might be working in a group that day, and it will look pretty bad if you’re the one boat showing up late.  It makes everyone look bad.  There are some circumstances that will make you late.  Flat tire or whatever.  Life happens and people understand these things.

9. Keep a calendar up to date.  You maybe getting flooded with days, and you might be working for several different outfitters, and you might be fishing different rivers day to day.  Be diligent about updating your calendar.  If you start slacking on that you could possibly double book yourself, or just not show up for a day because you forgot to write it down.  Outfitters are your employer.  Enough times of not showing up, showing up late, or double booking your self will lead to less calls.  The outfitters need their guides to be reliable.  Having an up to date calendar helps you to be reliable.

10.  Have fun.  If you’re having fun, they are having fun.  It’s fishing, don’t take things to seriously.  If you have new anglers and they are struggling to learn, don’t take it personally.  Take the time to teach them.  Got someone with an attitude in the boat?  That sucks, try not to take their attitude personally.  You don’t know what’s going on in that persons life.  They may have a loved one that’s sick, they maybe going through a divorce, or losing their business. Some people are just assholes, although I’ve found that to be a small percentage.   I’m not justifying shitty attitudes here, just deal with it the best you can.  Say something if you have to.  At the end of the day everyone gets to go home.   Don’t take it personal, not every client fits with every guide. If the fishing isn’t that great but the clients are having fun, leave it at that.  Don’t talk about how good it should be, or how good it was.  If they are having fun on a tough day of fishing that is all that matters.  If you plant the seed in their head that it could be better, then they are going to expect that and feel like they haven’t had that good of a day.  I was having a really tough day fishing.  The river was really weedy, we were struggling to keep the flies clean enough to catch fish.  One of the guys was an ER nurse.  I asked him what the strangest thing he had ever found inside of a person was.  You can imagine the rabbit hole that opened up.  We had a fun day despite the tough fishing conditions.  Again, if you are having fun, they are too.  Don’t get down on yourself or the fishing.  The clients will pick up on that.

danya boat

I love guiding.  It’s fun and rewarding.  It has it’s challenges, but is definitely worth it.  If you’re thinking about doing it.  Ask your guide buddies questions, lots of questions.  If you have a boat already, take people fishing.  A good way to get started is to reach out  and volunteer with a local Project Healing Waters group or a similar organization.  They take local vets out fishing a lot.  A lot of these vets are first timers.  Not only is it a good thing to volunteer to helps these folks out, but it will help you understand what a guide day entails.  Volunteering or taking people out that have never fly fished before is the easiest way to start learning what it takes to make a living guiding paying clients.  Try new things, be flexible, and most importantly have fun.  Not every day is going to be perfect or easy, but a good attitude will get you a long way.—Matt

Thoughts on the Upcoming Season

“The night. The stars. The river.”
― Edward Abbey



Zack King with picture






It’s nearly here.  Or so it seems.  This week with sunshine and nearly 50 degrees for a high, it seemed like it could be tomorrow.  But then today, 2 inches of wet snow.  We are on the backside of Winter, I think Spring starts on Monday…maybe.  This Winter has been one for the books, and something I’m looking forward to seeing rapidly disappearing in the rearview mirror.

I’m looking forward to being on the sticks again.  Getting folks into fish, ducking errant flies, untangling knots, and being the facilitator of answers.  Being sunburnt, and sun-blind, craving the shade, and being soaked from an afternoon thunderstorm.  Enjoying the camaraderie of my fellow guides, watching for changing conditions of the river, playing the trout’s game, and coming home safe.

b&w pose

The calendar is filling up.  Excited about that.   It’s always tricky to take as many days as you can, but also leave some days open to relax and spend time with my loved ones.  I wish I had more time for both.  Guiding is a catch-22, you get to do something you love, being on the river, and camping sometimes, but, you’re doing it for someone else.  Often its not on your own time, if that makes any kind of sense.  I’m not complaining, I know full well that there are worse jobs out there.  15 years ago you would’ve found me in some hell hole of a warehouse, covered in grease, fixing some broken down forklift.  I had hour-long lunch breaks where I would eat as fast as I could and then spend the rest of my break reading a “Fly Rod & Reel” magazine, wishing I was the guy in the rowers seat in the picture.  Here I am, and I am beyond happy everyday I get to be that guy.

beer raft

This year is 3 years in a row doing a personal Smith River trip with my closest friends.  This time it’s a wedding trip (year 2 of wedding trips!), and this feller in the picture, so carefully making sure the beer gets to camp, is the groom.  Happy to be celebrating with him and his future bride on my favorite river.  Hopefully we get weather similar to last year (knock on wood…hard).


The original seed for the post was about river etiquette, or lack of.  I was going to title it “Don’t be a Dick”.  I was going to offer up advice about how everyone can enjoy the river without stepping over each other, but I realized that’s kind of boring, comes off as arrogant, and besides, people reading this already know the rules.  The fact of the matter is, that a lot of people suck, and have zero spatial awareness, or just don’t give a fuck.  My only resolution is to give a fuck, but just smile and wave and watch them go on about their lives.

boat ramp

I got a lot of irons in the fire this year.  I’m getting more active in local conservation by joining the good folks on the Pat Barnes Trout Unlimited board.  Being more active in issues on the political side of the outfitting/guide industry (it’s gross that politics is even a thing, but it is), and as always, trying to learn more and do a better job at what I do.  There’s a lot of issues out there conservation wise, obviously the proposed copper mine on the Smith is tops, I try to keep that out of the blog.  There is a lot of information out there, and it’s coming from folks better informed than I.  Being better informed is something I strive for, it helps present a better argument for or against whatever the issue is.  There’s a lot of things I see on social media or in newspapers or whatever format that frustrates me to no end and I want to share it and my thoughts.  But, I don’t think it’s appropriate for what I want DirtyCork to be.  I will still never give a fishing report on this blog.  I just want to keep it fun and add to it when the inspiration hits…and throw a “fuck” in there somewhere once or twice—Matt

A quick Honduran memory…


Doctor Jones, we’re all vulnerable to vicious rumors. I seem to remember that in Honduras you were accused of being a grave robber rather than an archaeologist. Indy: Well, the newspapers greatly exaggerated the incident.
James Kahn

Great exaggerations could be made about my time spent in Honduras.  It was a short period of time that I was there, but enough time to make memories.


That photo is a reminder, of the beauty and the trials.  The two of us, Jason and I, had just gotten over a bout of non-stop shitting.  Maybe we were adjusting to the local food, or making bad decisions, I’m still not sure.

We didn’t do any grave robbing.  In a certain way, the weather and food poisoning did all the grave robbing required for a trip to Central America.

We found some strength after being sick and being dehydrated for days.  The constant rain didn’t help with our doldrums.  We went there to catch Permit.

I woke up bleary eyed.  We had to make it to the north side of the island that day.  It was the one day out of twenty where it was forecasted to be sunny.  The idea was to borrow a kayak, make our way across the bay, and into the lagoon.  Once in the lagoon, we had to find “the cut” through mangroves that led to the north side of the island.  The north side of the island held a big Permit flat.  The exact reason we had gone there for.

“The cut”, was a manmade highway from the south side of the island to the north side.  Natives to the area had made “the cut” hundreds of years earlier.  The Creole that followed the natives maintained “the cut”.  The north side of the island was where the Permit lived.

We managed to get ourselves and all of our fishing gear into the kayak.  That was a feat unto itself after the previous night.  I wasn’t really sure of the sea-worthiness of the kayak. Waves were rolling in and dawn was barely breaking.  Getting across the bay seemed like a challenge.

Jason and I had made friends with some local fishermen and boat builders the previous day.  They were descendants of British buccaneers that had colonized the island hundreds of years before.  They built their own fishing boats and were at sea for over three weeks to sustain themselves.  They were good guys.

Fortunately for us, they were leaving port the same time that we had shimmied into the kayak.  They saw us and offered us a ride in their panga.

They dropped us off in the lagoon.  The sun was low and the water was dark.  It was hard to see where we were going.  I kept waiting for the light to the hit water and clear our way.  To my surprise, when it did it hit, the water was dark and peat colored.  No way to tell how deep, or what lied beneath.

As you can see in the photo above, it was a beautiful morning.  Soul restorative kind of day.

Getting across “the cut”, and fishing the north side of the island are a different story…



2017 in Review



“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Where to begin…

It’s almost been a year since I last wrote anything.  I dropped my laptop and broke it.  I relied solely on my IPhone for internet access.  I am really starting to hate smartphones.  The laptop is fixed and I should get back to writing more…pending no more spilling beer on it, or dropping the fragile thing.  I’m a little rusty with my content.  A big reason for pushing a generic “year in review” post, is to stay active so WordPress doesn’t shut the blog down.  I’d hate to see DirtyCork turn into some high fallutin wine blog.

Quick Note:  For those of you new, or unfamiliar with my writing, I use vulgar language.  It’s how I talk.  So if you get fucking offended by stuff like that, don’t bother.  

For starters, I bought a new Adipose boat.  I fucking love it.  It fits me well and is great to work out of.  It takes some stress out of the day when clients are comfortable in the boat.  I loved my old South Fork Skiff, but, a lot of clients did not.  So it goes.  I wanted an Adipose from the moment I saw one back in 2011.  Mike Ward came by the shop I was working at to show the boat off.  I knew I would buy one, and I wanted one in drab olive.  When it came time to sit down with Justin Waayenberg at Adipose (who kicks ass, and has treated me well), I brought a paint swatch to him.  I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.  I woke up one night from a nightmare that the boat came out neon green.  It took a while to get back to sleep.  It didn’t, and it turned out exactly as I had hoped.  Thanks to Justin, Marcy, Cody, Taylor, and the rest of the folks at Adipose!  They build the best boats out there, and just are awesome folks to do deal with.

calm before the storm

I built some strong bonds with friends this year.  I was honored to attend my good friends Bill and Helen Dennruyter’s wedding on the Smith River this year.  That week would have been worth writing about alone.  We had amazing weather, and everyone on the trip was fun to hang out with.  Not only was the ceremony an incredibly special event, but I again got to float the Smith with my other best friend Brian Wheeler, and my incredibly amazing other half Danya (thanks for loving me, and putting up with me baby).  I just get all teary eyed thinking about it.  I feel very fortuntate to have these four people in my life.  I am looking forward to many more Smith trips together, and to many more good times to be had.  Cheers you guys!

me and danya

Moving on from the love fest…

The guide season kicked ass.  I logged somewhere over 100 days this year.  It didn’t seem like I worked that much, but my calendar says otherwise.  I strive to learn more about the craft every year and I’m always trying to learn how to do things better.  Somewhere over the last couple of years I hit the 10,000 hour mark and I could really feel it this year.  I didn’t feel hurried with clients.  I wasn’t really nervous about getting a big body count, and I really felt like my teaching and communication skills grew in leaps and bounds.  I think my personal guide philosophy has really been cemented in my actions and my purpose on the water.  It’s great to look back at it and say I truly enjoyed the season and all of the clients I got to spend time on the water with.  Thank you folks for kicking ass and I look forward to seeing your faces next year.

grey trude

I would also like to thank the outfitters that keep calling me and trusting me with their people.  Thanks to Jason Orzechowski (Sheila and John included) at Wolf Creek Angler.  I’m happy to work with you guys. I’m glad to be representing you and Wolf Creek on the water!   I suppose I should thank ZK at WCA as well.  Thanks for being the little brother I never wanted and being a huge pain in my ass.  Thanks to Jeff Johnson at First Cast Outfitters.  I’m not sure what you saw in me a couple of years ago, but thanks for the work and being a friend.  Get your ass back here so I can miss some more carp!  Thanks to Trevor Madden, keep being weird my friend.  Thanks to Dave McKee, it’s an honor and a pleasure.  One of the legends in this game.  Thanks to Brian Neilson, always fun working with you!  Thanks to Jay Dixon, buddy, it’s always an adventure.  I appreciate your style and the mentorship.  Thanks to Joe Moore,  you kick ass!  One of the most genuine guys out there.  Joe Bloomquist, thank you!  Always fun working for you! Thanks to Brandon Boedecker, always a pleasure working for PRO!  I love being on the Missouri, and the Blackfoot with you guys!  Truly a classy operation!  Thanks to Craig Madsen and Tim McKnight at Montana River Outfitters.  You guys got me started in this, I’ll always appreciate that!  Thank you Matt Morril, always a pleasure to see your face.  I know I’m forgetting some others.  Thank all of you for the work!  Let’s do it again in 2018!

brow trout butte

To all my guide buddies…you guys fucking rock!  Too many of you to list.  But, you know who you are…Let’s kick some more ass next year!

Well, that does it.  Mission accomplished.   Got the dust knocked off the blog.  Hopefully I will be adding more compelling content in the coming months.  I’ve got something in the works this year that as of now I’m keeping hush hush.  More to come of that in the future.  Thank you to all my friends and family!  2017 was a good year, and I have higher expectations for 2018.  Here’s to good health and a bright year!




Smith River 2016


Yay the weather finally cleared!


The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders—Edward Abbey


I’m gonna keep details of the trip short and sweet.  My main objective of this post is to bring awareness to the looming danger that is the Black Butte Copper Mine that is being proposed by Tintina Resources.  I don’t usually take public political stands, but this hits close to home.  Not only is a state resource in danger (quite possibly a national treasure), but the livelihoods and recreation activities for Montanans and the world at broad.

The trip started off with a snag.  One of my tires decided to end it’s own life while going 70 m.p.h. down a small two lane highway, fully loaded, and also towing a trailer with a raft on it.  I quickly got the tire changed, we crept into Townsend, had a beer and got the tire fixed.  We were back on the road.  Danya and I stayed at White Sulphur Springs and enjoyed our last night in civilization soaking at the hot springs.

The next day was launch day.  It was gorgeous out.  Mid seventies and sunny.  We met good buddy Brian Wheeler at Camp Baker, and also met his Mother and her husband Kevin that would be floating with us.  We navigated the chaos of putting the rafts in and loading the boats flawlessly.  Shortly we were on the water, cold beer in hand, enjoying the day.


We got to camp, unloaded the boats and enjoyed a nice dutch oven dinner that Brian’s mom made.  It was about 11 o’clock that night that Brian mentioned a dark cloud moving in.  It began to rain.

“One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night…” -Forrest

We woke up to rain/sleet mix.  To add to the drama, the wind picked up and blew it right in our face.  We were all prepared with the right gear, but things got so soaked that everyone was wet all the way down to the skin.  We got to camp, tried to make a fire but failed.  Prepared a quick dinner, wolfed it down and retreated to our tents.

Soaked...photo cred:Daaanya Ann

Soaked…photo cred:Daaanya Ann

The next morning, the rain/sleet mix had turned to snow.  We begrudgingly put our wet rain gear on, packed up camp and hopped back in the boat.  We kept our heads down and made a b-line to the Heaven on Earth Ranch.  They have a bar there and we spent several hours warming up and drinking Deep Creek Specials.  Finally, it was time to leave the warmth of the bar and carry on.  We had 5 more miles to go until camp.  The afternoon was much like the morning.  Cold, windy, and snowy.  When we got to camp, the weather broke…kind of.  Thankfully we got to unpack the boats and set up camp with just a slight rain every once in a while.  We got a good fire going and spirits were starting to rise.

Morning Day 3 photo cred...Brian Wheeler

Morning Day 3 photo cred…Brian Wheeler

Day 4 brought a beautiful morning.  The sun was out and clouds and mist were climbing the canyon walls.  The weather had finally broke and we had time to dry clothes out and leisurely pack up.  Every one was grinning ear to ear that morning.

Basking in the warmth or walk of shame?? you decide...quote and photo by Brian Wheeler

Basking in the warmth or walk of shame?? you decide…quote and photo by Brian Wheeler

Smith River clothes dryer

Smith River clothes dryer

Me Hula-hooping in praise of the sun gods...photo cred: Danya Ann

Me Hula-hooping in praise of the sun gods…photo cred: Danya Ann

Danya soaking up sun

Danya soaking up sun

We got to camp on day 4 feeling rejuvenated after semi-sunny day.  We got a little wild in camp and ended up dancing and singing around the campfire.  Me and Brian howled at the moon later that night and we got a response from a camp further downstream.  Fellow weather warriors that had also made it through.


Day 5 came and we were happy to be heading home.  We had survived, had fun, and bonded despite dealing with horrendous weather.  We had 12 miles to go, and mother nature wasn’t done with us yet.  We fought an upstream wind all day, but in the end we were all tough as nails at this point and we I kept the whining to a minimum.

The Smith River is a special place. It’s a place where if I ever have kids, I’d like to take them down it and never have to tell them what a shame it is that the river is dead now.   A place that probably shouldn’t have a copper mine operating in a main tributary to it.  Missouri River rainbow trout spawn in the Smith, and all the way up Sheep Creek where the mine is proposed.  Tintina, the mining company promises nothing will happen to hurt the Smith.  But, Tintina has a pretty bad track record with polluting rivers.  It’ll provide a small boost to the local economy, but in the end can take away a resource that sustains jobs in recreation and would ultimately take money away from the local economy if an accident were to ever occur.  The river is sustainable, don’t ruin that.  It’s too fragile and too valuable to gamble on corporate promises of “it’ll never happen here”.

I urge everyone reading this to go to http://www.saveoursmith.com/ and read how valuable this place is.  You have a voice in this, let it be heard!  Read the links on their site, get angry, make a difference!

Thanks for reading, maybe one day I’ll finish that Honduras blog I promised…Matt




“As it is, I feel that I fish my local creeks as well as anyone and better than most, and although that may or may not be true, so few people care that I can go on believing it in peace.”–John Gierach

I’ve been busy lately.  Not sitting in an office 9-5, Monday through Friday busy.  Not busy being a parent either.  Just busy enough in the sense that my personal time as of late comes in small doses.  I chipped away for a while on part 2 of my Honduras trip, but was soon frustrated with the post.  Lot’s of words to write, trying to figure out which memories stay and which ones don’t make the cut.  One of those times where enough mental baggage has built up that a day with the dog, some beer, and the local creek is much needed.

Like most, I cut my teeth on small creeks.  Even going way back to when the tackle was a spinning rod with a cheap Zebco spincast reel.  Those early years we (consisting of my father, and my brother) fished small creeks in the Owens valley and around the Mammoth area of California.  For a week or so in the summer we would visit my grandfather in southern Utah and fish the small creeks in the Tushar Mountains.  I have vivid memories of dragging salmon eggs through Beaver Creek.  It was in those mountains that I caught my first fish on a fly rod. It was on a lake and if I recall correctly the trout ate a copper john that was slowly stripped back to the bank.

Nostalgia may be one of the better highs that human beings enjoy.  And that maybe why there’s so many small stream junkies out there.  We’re always chasing that high.  In turn, every trip to the creek is creating a memory, which eventually will be nostalgic when we look back on it years later.  A not so vicious cycle.

So I find myself on my local creek.  I go to the usual spot.  Lucky me, it’s a target rich environment with lots of fish rising.  The fish aren’t particularly picky as far as patterns go, a good drift over their head will get the job done.  I catch two fairly quickly.  As soon as the fish are hooked they want to run upstream.  Their brothers and sisters are still eating upstream, unaware of the fight happening below them.  I turn them downstream putting as much pressure on them that my little 3 weight will muster.  The fish aren’t small, 15-16″, they’re healthy and they do whatever they can to not find out what is on the other side of the line that they are hooked too.

After a couple of misses, I’ve fished the pool out and hike upstream.  I go higher than I have before and find that some busy beavers have built a dam.  Beyond the dam, more rising fish.  The creek is fairly straight and slow above the dam but dog legs about 200 yards above the dam.  There’s some nice fish holding in the corner of the dog leg.  I can see the head and tail of one particular fish and I whisper to myself “you’re mine fucker” as I strip line of the reel.  First cast is a good one and the fish eats.  Missed him, “fuck”.  Second cast is a good one, I look down for a second and see my line is coiled up.  In that split second the fish eats my fly for a second time, miss him again, “fuck”.  Third cast is a good one, and I think to myself, “there’s no way this fish will eat again”.  But he does, and I miss him again.  “FUCK!”  I checked my fly on the second miss, hook was good, no reason to be missing eats.  Maybe I’m not the hot shit master of this creek that thought I was.  At this point I’ve put all surrounding fish down.  I head around the corner and find two nice fish rising consistently in the tailout of a riffle.  First cast, good drift, fish eats, I land it.  Confidence is back up.  Cast to the other fish rising, the drift is a little trickier, but I eventually get it in his lane, fish eats, I land it.  “Okay, I got this”.  I see the rings of a rising trout at the head of the tailout in a little bit faster water than where the other fish were holding.  I’m pretty sure this is gonna be a small guy based on the water the fish is eating in.  I put several casts to where I thought I saw the fish rise at.  Nothing.  I keep casting blindly, I’m starting to keep bored and my mind is wandering.  I’m about to give up and head up stream when the fish eats.  The fish jumps instantly and shows off the buttery stomach of a nice brown trout.  The fish jumps several times, tailwalks a bit, runs downstream and my little 3 weight is bent to the cork.  In the meantime, my dog is freaking out,  he’s in the water trying to take bites at the fish.  I finally get the fish to my feet, and without a net, tail the fish and finally see his full size.  It’s a beautifully colored brown, nice shoulders on it, that I estimated at 17 inches.  I snap a couple of photos, pop open a beer and take a break.


I do a time check.  I’ve been fishing for three hours, it seemed like fifteen minutes.  I realized all that clutter I had in my head was gone.  I head further upstream but stop before I cast again.  I had a good day, why push it?  It’s amazing how grounding a day of fishing can be.

That’s a cliché, I know.  If you sat down and read every fly fishing book in your library, you’d probably keep running into the same theme as the sport being calming, relaxing, and a way that folks use nature to quiet themselves and come to peace with what ever it is running through their brain.  But it’s absolutely true.  And as a guide that spends 100+ days on the water, I can attest that it still works as therapy, or inspiration, or a soul full-filling activity.  That’s one part of the sport that keeps me coming back, and will keep me interested until the day I can’t cast a rod anymore.  By the time that I’m some cranky old man I’ll spend those afternoons sitting on the bank of some small creek just watching the fish eat.  And maybe by that point, pained with the nostalgia of days gone I’ll be able to walk away (hopefully by my own power) better equipped to understand the inevitability of age and experiencing my physical strengths slowly being taken over by my weaknesses.  That’s a long way down the road and I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  In the meantime, the river is calling and I must go—Matt