Outside Magazine, March 1999
Our Business is People. Well, People and Trout.
Actually, People and Trout and Some Ancillary High-Margin Items Like Neoprene Waders and Midges and the Like, Because, You Know, That's Where the Real Profits Are.
Welcome to Pools and Riffles outfitters, where the guides are as unique as the service.
By Ian Frazier
The beautiful McIllhenny River rises timelessly from the foot of the Rocky Mountains in the anglers' paradise that we at Pools and Riffles Guiding Service and Angling Supplies call home. Tumbling from a cleft in a fawn-colored cliff, it runs clear and cold as chilled gin across lovely rocks in headlong flight only to spread in easy, wadable flats harboring monster brown trout if you know where to look; then it doubles back on itself the opposite way for seven miles in a blue-ribbon section where overhanging ponderosa pines dapple its surface and the play of rose-pink on the sunset ripples of the feeding pods of fish can make you wonder why you ever ...
May I put you on hold for a second?
Hi, I'm back. Anyway, it's a river to dream of, and at Pools and Riffles, we do. I'm Steve, the owner, chief guide, and chairman of the board. Some years ago I gave up helping folks with their 401(k)s at Crane White down in the big city. Moved here with my wife, Larissa, and never looked back once, except for the alimony thing. Been here almost two-and-a-half years, every day kicking myself that I didn't do this sooner. The river is in my blood now, it is my blood itself, and I dream of it ù waking and sleeping I dream of the river. (And also of hitting a small bearded man in a fedora about the head with a carrot.)
Take a look at our brochure: Pools and Riffles is just off the interstate and a short drive from Camas International Airport, with daily service to all major hubs. We'll pick you up in our special van and take you to your accommodations; or, if you choose, you can reserve our streamside lodge with all the amenities, including fax and secretarial. Whether you're an experienced fly fisherman or have a Visa card that was issued just last week, we can provide a consummate angling adventure for everyone. If you don't have your own gear, we'll be happy to rent it to you while explaining that if you're really serious you're going to wind up buying all this stuff eventually anyway so in the long run it'd be cheaper just to go ahead and buy it now. But in this, as in everything, the ultimate decision rests with you.
Maybe you live in a crowded, built-up, urban area filled with urban-type people and their hairdos and CD players. That's your business. Personally, I can take it or let it alone. Up here you'll find that the urban-type environment seems awfully far away. At Pools and Riffles our goal is to make you forget that world and immerse yourself in ours ù in our pristine, crime-free streams and rivers, our clear blue skies (we get over 300 days of sunshine a year!), and our many acres of motels where you usually never have to lock your doors.
To guarantee you the finest fly-fishing experience available, Pools and Riffles has assembled the most outstanding staff of licensed angling guides in the Rocky Mountain region. Whether you're looking for an afternoon float trip, an overnight, or even a week's excursion into the backcountry, we know we've got the perfect trout-hound for you, whatever your personal preference or style. Allow me to introduce you.
First, there's Craig, our resident mountain man. Craig is big ù need I say more? Craig'll run about 6-foot-7 and about 260, 275 pounds. We're talking big, and that's not even counting the beard. Craig doesn't say much. He doesn't have to ù just "yep," "nope," and "like some freshly ground black pepper on yer salad, hoss?" On a trout stream he can do whatever's needed, from tying a size-24 midge fly out of pocket lint to patching through a call to your broker in Tokyo on your cell phone. He practically grew up on these waters since he moved here from Seattle in '96. Wild and free as the mountains themselves, he's always happy to run back to the car and get you any little item you desire. He'll put you onto some trophy fish and himself onto a much-deserved tip, you can be sure.
Potter is from one of the oldest families on Philadelphia's Main Line, but he'd never tell you that himself. Back in the days of silk fly lines, Pot's great-granddad was the fellow who taught J. P. Morgan the double-haul. But ol' Pot's just guiding for the sport of it, and he's every bit as regular as you or me. If you've got a problem with your casting mechanics, Pot will see it right away and take care to point it out each time you cast. He's famous for encouraging his clients with old angling sayings like "I beg you to cast that fly to four o'clock!" and "I can't believe you missed that strike!" Shiny high forehead, old-fashioned shades with side panels, big grin, bottle of Pouilly-Fum‰ in the cooler, Hasty Pudding anecdotes ù that's Pot. Your angling education isn't complete until you've spent long hours on the water with him. Did I mention he's a gourmet cook?
Stan is by far the most dedicated trout angler you will ever meet. He lived in a sleeping bag in a cave above Twelve-Mile Reservoir for eight years fishing with mouse patterns all night long, if that gives you any idea. His wife's the one that ran off with Claus von Bulow. Stan is in a program now and has begun to take responsibility for some of the problems from his past. Stan has learned to redirect hurtful emotions the way any sensible guy should ù straight into fishing, and more fishing after that. There's not a dime's worth of "quit" in Stan.
Unlike the rest of us, Bethany-Anne is not a man. As the result of an amicable sex-discrimination lawsuit, we are happy to add her to the team. Despite lacking the upper-body strength required for high-wind casting and pulling the boat out of the water, Bethany-Anne can do some things. Beyond that I'm not at liberty to say. If you happen to arrive with a spouse or girlfriend or other nonfishing guest, a trip with Bethany-Anne might work out just fine.
President Jimmy Carter joined our staff last fall, and we're honored that he did. Everybody knows what an avid fly fisherman Jimmy is. Historians add that Jimmy is the first president or former president to guide. It costs a little more to fish with Jimmy, and it's worth it, too.(When you're sitting around the campfire, get him to tell you about how he shaved that Secret Service agent's head that time.) He's as personable and friendly and laid-back as they come, just so long as you don't lose any of his tackle or get cigarette ashes in the boat or anything. Jimmy may be the only recent president never to have been indicted, but don't let the record fool you: He can outsmart anything that swims. As you shake his hand good-bye at the end of a once-in-a-lifetime angling epic, remember that the customary gratuity for former heads of state is 33 percent. Gentlemen, we give you the President!
A word of advice, just between us: During the months of June through October, our bookings are usually very heavy, so it's a good idea to schedule far in advance. To help with your plans, Pools and Riffles has set up its own toll-free number providing stream flows and fishing conditions for the next five years. A taped announcement of upcoming conditions indicates what you can expect on the dates you have in mind: Condition 1 (Best Fishing I've Ever Seen), Condition 2 (Best Fishing In 20 Years), Condition 3 (Excellent, Excellent Fishing), Condition 4 (Great Fishing, for This Time of Year), Condition 5 (The Guys Have Been Catching Some Great Fish), and Condition 6 (Great Fishing, Far as I Know, So C'mon Up!).
Occasionally we get questions from potential clients about the incidence of whirling disease in local waters and its possible consequences in a sharp decline in trout populations. However, according to a study we have read, the latest data indicate that there is no such thing as whirling disease.
Out west, the federal government puts out a lot of this misinformation in order to collect its confiscatory taxes and keep down the number of fishing guides. (We offer discounts for payments in cash!) As far as we're concerned, the best people to manage a resource are working anglers who see the river year in and year out, not some bureaucrats somewhere. In our effort to promote wise use, we practice a strict but voluntary policy of catch-and-release. This means that every fish caught will be measured, weighed, photographed, recorded with a tracing of its outline on butcher paper, and returned to the river so that it can have the same experience another day. If this offends the meat fisherman, so be it; no angler we'd care to fish with would do otherwise.
Many of our clients keep coming back to us year after year, we find. All kinds of folks head our way ù they're middle-aged, approaching middle age, or in their 40s or 50s or mid-50s; gray-haired, balding, or having not very much gray hair; they might be doctors, lawyers, entertainment attorneys, physicians, bankers, stockbrokers, accountants with law degrees, or surgeons. What they share, and what we at Pools and Riffles prize, is an infectious enthusiasm for being out on the river with a fly rod and fishing and laughing in a particular way just all the time.
At Pools and Riffles we understand that the quality of the angling experience doesn't depend on how many fish you catch so long as you catch a lot, but rather on their size and on nobody else's being bigger. Such incidentals are the trophies we truly treasure. The light sparkling on the wet clothes of a friend who fell in, the disappointed expression on the face of your partner when you land one, or the complimentary beer in the late afternoon by the boat launch with the car radio playing as you sign the receipt ù these are the intangibles. This is what we offer at Pools and Riffles, where the finest in fly-fishing is as near as a few phone calls, a cab ride, an airport, another airport, a third airport, and a courtesy-van ride away.
Ian Frazier wrote about his desire to make steel in last December's issue.
Illustrations by Steve Brodner