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The 3-Year Effect

An Honest Look at the First Few Years of Professional Guiding

Livin' the dream. Well, pretty close anyway.

A familiar tone cuts the ink black and builds from a quiet intrusion to a rather rude and annoying crescendo. I cannot ignore it anymore.

A disembodied, disorienting fog looms like a blanket over my being as I try to make sense of a situation with none.

I rub my eyes and, with a realized resignation, reach over and shut off my phone’s alarm.  Sweet baby Jesus, I could use about a day-and-a-half's more sleep. 

Lifting my phone to gauge the time, it blatantly stares back at me with a “5:30 am.” No remorse, no empathy, no mercy.   I swear I fell asleep an hour ago. Maybe I did. Did I dream? Can’t remember. 

It’s day 63 on the season. 42 on a 58-day run. Year 3. 

Big, long, chest-inflating inhale. Powerful exhale. Claw the sheets to help sit up and put feet to the floor while visions of Bill Murray and a truck-driving groundhog play over and over in my mind. The layers of innuendo aren't lost.

Clearing crusty sleep from my eyes, I look back at ruffled sheets and ponder the consequences of re-cocooning and putting my phone on airplane mode. A sense of duty, curiosity, and a looming offseason get the better of me.

Overfilling the filter with ground dark roast and adding enough H2O to the chamber for a family of six, I hit the brew button and head to the camper’s dining table. A long 3.5ft trudge from the kitchen and I heavily plop down on tufted sapphire fabric strewn about with pops of maroon and pink florals.

Office views are never terrible.

Loading the vise up with a fresh number 14 curved nymph hook, I think to myself, “Man, I’m sure happy I showered last night before bed. If I don’t shower this morning, I’m sure the clients won’t notice the stink until the ride home. But they’ll probably stink by then too.” 

The moment the pot hits the 2-cup mark, I steal the carafe to pour a mug and replace it again to let the muddy guide-lifeblood liquid drip again. 

It’s late June in Southwest Montana and the caddis bite is hot. You can tell because the shops are plum out of serenstupidy and serendipity caddis emergers so I’ve been batch tying enough to get me through a day. Day by day. 

“Damn, clients,” I sneer. Then remember without them, I’m unemployed.

Start the thread, sip, sip.  Add the biot, sip, sip, sip. Tie on a thin pearl tinsel. Finish cup, refill.

Wrap it forward, sip, add Antron, sip sip sip. Trim the Antron, sip. Tie the head, cement, gulp. Refill. Repeat process.

The camper stove shows 6:30 so I pull on some quick-dry pants, a sun hoodie, and a trucker while stuffing my face with cinnamon Chex.

Brush teeth, add protein bar to one pocket, apple too…never a banana…to the other, fill the Rambler (32 oz of course) with as much coffee as humanly possible, and head to the rig. 

Grabbing the door handle, the door won’t open and, with hands and teeth barely maintaining a grip on my belongings, remember that I never grabbed the damn keys off the hanger by the door.


I check the trailer coupling on the way back to the driver’s seat and fire her up. Gas gauge rises but suddenly stops well shy of half a tank.


Pondering further consequences of either running out of gas on the way home this afternoon or being a few minutes late to the lodge, I bonsai down the highway and exit as the gas pumps come into view.

Will they be waiting in the parking lot when I pull up or are they the type that take forever to gear up and leave? Hard to tell. Haven’t fished these peeps before.

The edges are fuzzy but the color is vivid. “Cast left,” I bark…” just upstream and shy of that sunken log.” A familiar but unrecognizable form in a sky blue collard shirt…a Columbia PFG I’m guessing… I don’t know. I can only see the back of his head and shoulders. 

“Mend…..mend…..hold it…..drift…do….not re-cast….mend.” 

He takes my suggestions. “SET, SET, SET, SET!” Missed. “Re-cast, one shot, quick!”

I’m happy. I’m laughing. He’s laughing. Feels familiar but foreign. Recent but long ago. 

“CLICK,” goes the gas pump’s auto-shutoff and snaps me out of my stupor. Did I fall asleep? Was that a real memory? Damn, I’m tired. Sip, sip, sip.

By the time I roll into the lodge, some of the group is already milling about, some haven’t emerged yet. Great…I’m not exposed. Technically late but early enough.

Guide Luke Billings readying his gear at Expedition Lodge in Dillon, MT

 I'll be able to mask my frantic pace enough to be ready by roll-out time. I think.

Assignments are given, lunches tossed into the Clacka's Yeti, add a new layer of ice. Head in the lodge kitchen's back door to vulture some leftover bacon and refill the 32oz rambler with the dark, roasty life-blood.

How many oz is that? My hand's not shaking...

Not enough yet. 

*** Thanks for checking out this excerpt from The 3-Year Effect: An Honest Look at the First Few Years of Professional Guiding

I sincerely hope you've enjoyed it. You'll be in the know when and where this full article is published in the future!

Cheers and tight lines,


The Office.

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Love your writing. Great story.

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Happy you do, buddy!


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