Although the fate of my drinks were sealed as complimentary due to Snangler’s fortune, it was difficult to comfortably sit next to the mouthy, fairly odorous, moist legged fishing guide. The face breaking smile from a lucky dice roll had transformed what the non-angler would call a young homeless man into an obscenely confident Chesshire cat mouthing the day’s bloated canaries of guide tips and a big shake-a-day pot. A month of donated dollar bills from the losers made Snangler a Missoula Fly Fishing kingpin with a “Gangster Roll” of George Washingtons. My presence to witness Snangler’s shine, capped a great day for him that hadn’t even begun its nightly marination in spirits and electronic gambling. I cringed when he turned to address me because I knew his tank was full. I did not guide today and by guide rule #122-78.3 I had to defer to him to recount the water or just bluster for a bit – his choice, he had earned it.
Snangler is a wharf rat whose idea of a compliment for another guide is half sneering silence. His social currency is thought out insults and challenges backed up with a deeply opinionated fishing background. Waiting vocal bandoleers stuffed with digging blades looking to skewer a morsel of another’s fishing weaknesses crisscross his mind ready for action like sharpened grim counter clockwise turning escalators. Although an angler by trade, his true joy came from putting humans on the hook and bonking them on the bank after a winning argument. Trout were set free, but there was no rules for release of mankind that did not accept his reign. He knew he was right, but it was much better when the world agreed with him by intellectual force. Today the convicted Wharf Rat was full and looking to expand his kingdom at my expense.
Snangler grinned a toothy smile and started on me ”Does your back hurt?” I could hear the whirring of the mean escalators firing up.
I have spent many a day at the docks with the wharf rat dodging dirty blades, so this one was easy duck.
Joe – “No, it is very healthy.” Before he could get in, I cut him off. ”But I am sure yours is quite tired from guiding today. I would guess your low back is also experiencing stress from a pocket full of Shake-a-day winnings. My overall excellent health combined with your financial windfalls should keep the complimentary drinks coming in my direction without fatigue.”
Snangler – “You have always had great stamina spending other’s money, but I will have to leave at some point because I have…..” He rolled on the bar stool to face me completely letting is eyes stoke a fire of satisfaction and slowly said ” …… guide again tomorrow. You should be able to stay as late as you want. No reason to get up to ride the bench.”
He could have said couch instead of bench. Out of work winter fly fishing guides quaff into couches like the old Nestea commercials.
Add in some video games, cold pizza in the fridge, microwave popcorn, a girlfriend with a regular job who is gone during the day, a bong, a blanket that has seen too many PBR hangovers, and a fly tying vise perched on a TV dinner table then you have the goblin lair of winter guides. He had plenty of targets to knife into non-working guides, but instead went for the throat with the sport analogy that put me in the inactive role at the same time as solidified him as the starter.
Still, I was happily drinking on his rare Washingtons and the last time I looked at my late November guide schedule is was empty so I took the shot with a smile. If you are going to ride the pine do it with a cocktail.
Joe – “You aren’t going to have to get up early either. No one is out right now.”
Snangler oozing happiness - “Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The deafening silence on the shuttle sheets when I drove up the Bitteroot this late morning hammered the point home to me that only the most talented guides are out right now.”
What could I say? He was right, no one was out this late in the season. The fishing is dicey in late November, present yes, beautifully vacant rivers yes, but risky because the weather can turn too cold quickly. So in turn guests who’s primary concern is the efficient management of vacation time choose more consistent weather parts of the season. But Shoulder season bookings are where the true professional guides show up and are matter of pride. The edges of the season have vastly more moving parts that can sink a trip, but the veteran creative guides that understand how to exploit odd solutions stay booked all the way through. There is no public ranking system for guides where the top performers climb into cage matches that reveal the true bloodied champion. The only ruler to see if a guy can fish is whether he is working. The greatest compliment that can be given is “That guy is always booked.”, intrinsically that means he can fish and re-book under all conditions. We all know who is working by the morning scan of guide travel routes heading to the river and the players stand out by their frequency. I caught Snangler out on a vacant November morning Missoula trail which prompted my questioning text that put me next to this Wharf rat.
Which brings me back to my question nasty Snangler.
Joe – “Oh your talent is self legendary, but really – How are you booked right now?”
Snangler – “Suito cloak ons.”
Joe – “Suito Cloak ons???? What the heck is that?”
Snangler – “Yes. Apparently they are invisible Mayflies.”
Joe – “Invisible Mayflies!!!!!?? . Do you mean Pseudocloeon? That is the correct name for the size 22 mayflies that precede the Blue Wing Olive hatch”
Snangler – “I guess if you are a fishing snob you would use that term. I prefer Suito Cloak On, because it indicates their invisibility. I imagine them much like a Klingon Ship with cloaking deployed.”
The idea of Snangler combining a Star Trek convention with an insect he could not pronounce got me deep belly laughing - “Snangler, buddy, we both know you don’t own a fly smaller than a size 12 and if you did I guarantee you wouldn’t know the difference between a Brachycentrus and a Pteronnarcys.”
Snangler – “Damn Joe, you have to keep your mouth cleaner, that kind of Latinese is going to get us kicked out of the Silver Dollar Bar. Now back to the important point where I am booked and your are not. No doubt your knowledge of big words is greater than mine, but my ability to get trout on the hook that are actively feeding on Suito Cloak Ons created my bookings. Now do you want me to explain to you how?”
Joe flabergasted – “Yes please do, there is no way this is real.”
Snangler – “Yet, you are drinking for free on my tip money.”
Joe – “True, continue o’ great Klingon angler.”
To be continued.