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From an upcoming documentary by Bud Hallock
2020 will be my 31st season as a salt water fly fishing guide in the Fairfield County area of Connecticut. It began in 1989 when I got my "ticket" by passing the all-day Coast Guard exam in Battery Park, Manhattan. Today, a number of private sea schools have made the captain’s licensing process much less painful, but you still need the sea time to qualify for a test. I accumulated my sea time early aboard a variety of family vessels, and those of friends, both at the helm and as crew. Eventually I purchased what would become my first money-maker; an 18’ no frills skiff from Rhode Island. More on the “Lucky Strike” shortly.
I was initially attracted to fly fishing in fresh water, and occasionally walk a stream today. But having grown up near saltwater too, my fisher buddies and I spent the 80’s chasing Bluefish on Long Island Sound since they would bite all day long, fought hard, and would take a spectrum of artificial lures eventually to include flies. Striped Bass were less prolific at that time and the limit was only one fish over 36” (for about a decade, its been two at 28” in CT; this season it will be one fish over 28"). But the limit seemed to work and the 90’s brought terrific Striper fishing and big fun on the fly fishing and light tackle gear we were using on Blues. Eventually, the connection was made between the growing popularity of salt water fly fishing to the growing fish population towards the end of the 20th century and that, proverbially, was that. It was time to dump the free loaders and start taking people fishing for money, and that changed everything!
The question is, “Why would anyone want to become a fly fishing guide in Connecticut?” Who would actually choose a career path dependent upon the appetites of fish, which is influenced by barometric pressure, solunar cycles, and the ability to see chicken feathers bobbing through several feet of turbid water (my computer doesn't even recognize “solunar” as a word). It seemed like a fun idea at the time, and it has been. It must be since another light tackle specialist seems to appear every season.
The first changes were the boats. My no nonsense skiff had a shiny stainless bow rail which immediately became a useless impediment. After a rail-ectomy, I added some long-rod tubes and a push pole and I was in business.
Light weight with a small outboard and fuel tank, she would float fairly shallow and I could get into most tight spots. Eventually I added an electric motor to the stern and I had the first Hybrid in the neighborhood (even though the fresh water anglers had been using them for years).
By the mid 90’s it was necessary to have a “true” shallow draft rig, direct from Florida, complete with a poling platform, true fly rod storage, and blistering speed across mere puddles. But after almost ten years of pushing around several different flats boats in 3 to 4 knots of current, wind, and hard chop I’d had enough of that fun, and so had my clients.
So I shipped the last of the round-shouldered skiffs to the Cape and stepped onto a different kind of hybrid; a 22’ platform that rides like a limo, but still slides into the skinny stuff.
There have been many other changes in the fishing trade as well. The tackle just keeps getting better albeit perhaps more sophisticated, and certainly more expensive. Navigation signals have moved from land-based antennae to satellite transmissions, and of course the internet has changed how the guide business is advertised and how we communicate with our clients.
At times, it seems as though the fish have become savvier as well. And each season I see something, or learn something new about my quarry. It is these discoveries that keep this vocation interesting and fun. There is always something to learn and don’t think for a minute that any one angler knows it all.
After 30 years of charter fishing one will undoubtedly learn a few things about fish, and fishing. However, one will also learn a lot about fishermen; a guide’s most important target species. The notion that great anglers make great guides may also be, dare I say, misguided. Good guides are not measured by the fish they catch. A good day on the water includes fish of course, but it is about a much bigger picture.
Capt. Roger Gendron
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