Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Skiff Debate

Last week I wrote this article on my blog in a little bit of haste. I was packing all my stuff up for the upcoming trip to the Big Horn and I just wanted to address something we had been discussing on The Montana Dream Cast before I left. It came off as a little more critical than I wanted it to and it caused enough of a stir that I pulled the article. I do feel it's important that I don't just leave it the way it was with the reactions it got without addressing it so I went back and edited the post and now have re-published it.

It's not my intention to piss off the people I work with. Nor do I want to come off as being the all-knowing ass out here but for some, it's probably too late and I get that. What I do want to accomplish however, is giving a perspective that you can use and debate over and come to some kind of reality for yourselves. We are all trying to make a living and that means making people happy, fishing one of the World's greatest trout fisheries in the country. We also compete for a limited resource in our clients so take the info I'm sharing however you would like.

Big Jim and I discussed boats yesterday on The Montana Dream Cast and I feel like we kind of went at it a little soft. It doesn't make me feel great because I want there to be honest dialog otherwise, what's the point? I'm not into doing the podcast to please the manufacturers or to be liked by everyone. I'm in it because I love what I do and love sharing my experience with folks that don't get the chance to do what we do out here very often. I'm also in the guiding business to make money and that means keeping clients happy.

Does a boat make you a better guide? Not necessarily and I'm not going to claim that because I row a Clackacraft  I'm a better guide than someone who rows an Adipose or how I was when I rowed a RO. I'm more experienced then when I rowed the RO; that's for sure and quite honestly, I'm happier because I don't have to work as hard so there is that. But there's also a balance within that statement and whether or not what makes me happy is what's best for my clients in the end. Sure, being able to deal with the conditions better definitely will have an impact on the client but at what cost?

In the past few years there's been this movement buy a lot of newer guys to go with skiffs and quite frankly, it's a little disappointing. Are they easier to row? Yes, I guess. I mean in theory, they don't catch as much wind but to be honest, some of those skiffs are so heavy, I don't know that you really gain much in normal conditions. The real kicker to me is that in trying so hard to make the guide's life easier, is it compromising the client's experience? And if it does, that doesn't sit well with me.

I know I mentioned this on the podcast but I don't know that it really resonated. I talk to clients about their experiences out here, not just with myself but past experiences with other guides. I open the door for discussions like what they liked about their guide and what they had for lunches and try to get to know what went well and what didn't because I want to get better at what I do. I also want to know who the guides are that I can trust and who I want to hire and that comes from feedback from those folks spending the money. In doing so, I get to hear a lot of things that I'm finding out, other guys don't because maybe they don't have the dialog or maybe they don't listen. I'm going to be frank here because I feel it's necessary.

One of the more common complaints I get from clients has to do with boats. It's either the way the boat was kept, the casting braces were too low or something. Sometimes that has to do with the individual guide and how they keep their boat and some of it has to do with the fact that the boat they row is older and maybe the design is just outdated. There have been a lot of advances over the years so when clients get to fish with a number of different guides, they get to compare gear. But one of the things that I hear enough to make me really cringe is that they didn't feel comfortable standing up in the boat because they were in a skiff or the guide just made them sit down all day and they would have rather fished standing up. In fact, I have heard from a couple folks that they won't fish with a particular guide anymore because they just don't like that style.

Now I know, there are guys out there that have been doing this a long time and have developed a style and more importantly, developed a client base that might be ok with sitting and fishing or may even prefer it. Some guys also pride themselves on being dry-fly guys and it works for them and some guys guide waters quite a bit like the Smith River where having a boat that draws less water is just better. I get that and to some degree, it comes down to the application. The reality is however, that newer guides and outfitters that are trying to build that clientele, don't have that luxury and we need to do whatever it takes to make the client experience as comfortable and successful as we can for everybody. Most newer people prefer standing while they fish and when there's no bow as a barrier between them and the water, it's a little unsettling; especially if they are new to being in boats and doing float trips down rivers. And to be totally honest, I like ripping streamers when I fish and that's not easy sitting down or in a skiff standing when there's no place to drop your line.

And here's a little proof in the pudding. The major manufacturers of drift boats thought skiffs were going to be huge about 10 or 15 years ago when they started producing them. I was even told by one of those manufactures that they saw themselves eliminating more traditional drift boats in the next few years because skiffs will be so popular. Since then, most of those companies have developed hybrids at a higher rate than skiffs because as much as their customers liked the idea of the lower profile boat that didn't catch wind, it wasn't as practical and the market dictated that they come up with something that meets both the needs of the rower and the angler. They actually listened to what the guides were saying and more importantly, the guides listened to the clients and demanded something different.

Do I hear dozen's of people complain about it every year? No. I hear a handful but that handful is enough to make me row the boat I row because I don't want to lose anyone based on that. And here's the real deal; I hesitate taking the risk of losing a client because of subbing out a trip to someone they aren't going to feel comfortable fishing with. This is my career and I'm trying to do everything I can to make it in a very competitive industry and I don't want anything to compromise that. The problem I face is that there are there are a lot of guides I have the utmost respect for that now row skiffs and fewer and fewer guides row more traditional boats on the Mo so my options become limited.  

Here's the question and feel free to comment; is the boat you row designed for the angler or for the rower and what is your main goal when taking clients out?

Keep 'em where they live...

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