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Missoula Fly Fishing Guides – Joe Cummings

A group of men half stood at a darkened table ringed by bar stools at the back of the authentically dilapidated pub in Wolf Creek Montana. The glow from their phones was a small campfire. They did not look at each other. This scene was not out of place in the new Missouri River culture, but the wide shouldered man I was sitting next to at the bar wasn’t going to like it.  Snangler wore his 26 seasons of guiding in Western Montana as an earned badge of sarcastic scars.  I was nursing an after guide shift gin and tonic quietly waiting for Snangler to unleash his customary ill advised commentary on those different than him.

Snangler half exploded when he saw the young men in the corner “What the hell is the deal with that wad of flat brims staring at their phones over there?”

I knew better than to not poke Snangler “The young turks planning your demise old man.”

Snangler “What? Those are fishing guides? They look like lost college kids trying too hard to slum it.”

I responded “They should sit closer to you then.  Yes, they are fly fishing guides. Couple of them are pretty fishy.”

One of the young guides held up a Pabst Blue Ribbon and took a selfie.  Snangler cringed when the flash fired from the phone and we got a good look at the guide’s expression. It was a cross between duck lips and a snarl.

Snangler dropped his head, drained the last third of a $3 cocktail, and ordered another whiskey.  He had been famous in his twenties for drinking poorly. That habit had led to losing a record in intellectual and physical altercations.  Those scars had mellowed his drinking pattern greatly over the last twenty years to almost sobriety, thus atrophying his ability to handle alcohol tonight.

Snangler wiped the spill of whiskey from his beard and barked not quite loud enough for the table in the corner to hear, “If you are trying to prove you come in places like this, you shouldn’t be here. Shit, I try to hide the fact I come in here.”

Me – “So do the owners.”

Snangler laughed.  “Come on, Joe. Really?!! Did that really happen?  A guide selfie holding a shitty beer that some hipster bro-bra flat brim decided was authentic Montana.  What have we become?”

Me “You, Crotchety. Them, cool.  You do know that whole online scene sells a bunch of trips for that crew.”

Snangler “Not possible. No one is going to book a trip based on some stupid phone post.”

Snangler grimaced and hunkered over his drink as one of the young men came up to the bar to order another round of PBR’s.  The Oasis has a standing ban on hiring cocktail waitresses under the premise that “You have legs don’t you?”  When the beers arrived the guide pulled out a mafia style roll of hundreds to pick through to find a five dollar bill to cover his tab with a little extra for a tip.  He smiled at Snangler and me much like a man driving a new BMW dismisses a panhandler at an inconvenient stop at a traffic light.

Snangler waited for him to barely clear earshot and snarled “Must be nice to have daddy’s money to throw around.”

I knew the guide and his reputation so I corrected Snangler “Buddy, I am telling you that is his money. I know the family and they don’t come from money.  That crew has been super busy for the last two season’s and they show up in all the right places. They are good enough to be a pain in the ass sometimes.”

Snangler didn’t buy it “Listen, you know as well as I do the last two summers have been tough with low water and heat. Shit, I have been struggling to keep my schedule full.  There is no way a pack of flat brims is busier than me.”

I responded “You know that was his tip roll right?  And you know as well as I do that if it is that big then: One, he is getting fat tips. Two, he hasn’t had enough days off to clear out his wallet.  Three, compared to your lean pockets he is kicking your ass.”

Snangler incredulously fired back “Not possible.  There is no way those jokers are doing more days than me, and if they are, which they are not, then ‘What the hell planet am I on?!!.”

I kept trying to bring Snangler back to reality “Damn man.  I struggle with deciding if you are just stupid or ignorant.  And then I smile and think – OH yeah that’s right, he’s both.  That, brother,  is youth.  They are much different than you. You know successful. They, Oh I don’t know, work really hard at creating an image and following on social media that in turn creates sales.  You know, SALES, the thing that makes for bigger tips and more days on the water.”

Snangler fired up “You are telling me that all that selfie, take a picture of a shitty bar burger, and hold your fish out straight armed to make a 17 incher look like a whale sells trips.”

I poked the cage again “Yes, for them and not you.”

The tip rolls put Snangler on his heels and he spent the rest of the time waiting for our bar burger quizzing me on what he called the “Awful Flat Brim World.” The boys at the back of the bar kept the rounds fo PBRs rolling with visits from their cash hoard. Snangler doggedly questioned me on how these young guys were leveraging their social media content.  At each point he would fight me with his usual refusal to accept change he didn’t understand.

Finally Snangler just threw up his arms and said “Well I am just old and this dumb shit sucks. All I want to do is take people fishing.”

I responded “Your right, if this whole thing goes to fishing guides with good looking selfies you are doubly screwed. No hope for you brother.  Maybe you could be the homeless guy guide and book trips on pure charity. Guaranteed your face could go viral.”

Snangler ended our dialog with is signature intellectual retort “Screw you Cummings.”

Later that week I caught Snangler taking a selfie in front of his drift boat at with Holter Dam in the background and posting a quick piece about how he’s is killing them on his patented “Snangler’s Super Scud” fly pattern.

Snangler now has 20 followers.  Minus me from the tally and it drops to 19.  His social media juggernaut is currently in a holding pattern, but Snangler’s viral ascension to Insta-fame is a nascent tsunami because I just saw on the flat brim’s account that #homelesslookingflyguide is trending.