There has never been any shortage of fishing guides but, when it comes to finding one who meets the ‘truly exceptional’ criteria, it’s another story altogether.
I suppose half a century and more with fly rod in hand has given me more than my share of opportunities to enjoy the company of a goodly number of guides, in this country, in the USA, in Ireland, Scotland and England, in New Zealand, South Africa and even the Cook Islands.
Sometimes they are referred to as gillies, in other places boatmen and very occasionally friends. Always their role is the same, know where to find the fish and then provide the opportunities for their capture for the angler, also referred to as the client, the guest, the sport, the visitor, the customer and, if needs must, as happens very occasionally, a less flattering choice of words.
Having a friend who is also a guide, or a guide who becomes a friend, is a rare pleasure indeed and I like to think that Darren Wright, lately of Banff, Alberta but now a home-owner in Terrace, one of British Columbia’s and thus North America’s prime steelhead and salmon destinations, fills that bill in all respects.
I have had the good fortune to fish with him for steelhead on an annual basis for the past six years and have come to both know and admire the exceptional level of skills he brings to his job. The flies he ties, the casts he makes, the knowledge he has of his quarry, the manner in which he commands his boat and the advice he offers are all of the highest possible quality.
A day spent with him on the water, regardless of whether or not the fish are co-operating, is both an education and a pleasure, one that serves to set the standards by which others are measured. Some fishermen, and I know I fall into that category, are set in their habits and happy to be that way. Darren immediately senses and respects that independence of spirit while still always a willing advisor as and when required.
Then there’s the complete novice, perhaps also a stranger to a river or to a new style of fishing, and a good example would be trout man who comes to steelhead fishing for the first time. To the fisherman with his single handed 5 or 6 weight rod the change over to a double-handed approach, a much longer rod and an entirely new style of casting can be daunting indeed.
For Darren it’s no trouble to show the newcomer the basics and to demonstrate them in an easily understood manner. He is a fine teacher and it’s not long before the visiting fisherman is ready to go solo, his fly on its way to where the fish should be holding.
Good guides, really good guides, are born that way with an instinctive sense of what it takes to make the very most of each and every day on the water. First and foremost they are expert fishermen in their own right, and love nothing more than the sheer joy of going fishing. Equally important, they have the ability to communicate that enthusiasm to whoever has the good fortune to be with them at the time.
I know I look forward with a great sense of anticipation to the next opportunity I have to spend time in his company, whether we be fishing or talking or reflecting on shared memories. And we have plenty of those, believe me.
With Darren at the helm and his partner, Missy MacDonald, a most able steelhead fisher in her own right, in charge of hospitality you can be sure The Steelhead House will quickly earn an envied reputation among discerning steelheaders.