What do fly fishing guides do in the winter?
Most of us have a winter gig that keeps up busy. Bartending, construction, substitute teaching, or a second guide season on the Washington coast or South America are the most common off season pursuits for the fishing guides. Brooks is a bit of an outlier because he prefers to hone his skills as an online gaming master of “World of Tanks.” Apparently he is quite the operator of a video game version of 1942 panzer tank. His similarly employed tanking nemesis in Cleveland has provided him hours of online war games on Wednesday afternoons after re-runs of the Dukes of Hazard. Great military campaigns are waged weekly on screens by this deadly duo fueled by cheeto sandwiches and diet mountain dew. Oh, the adventures you can have surfing a couch in pajama pants yelling profanities into a TV on a weekday afternoon.
Tammi and I spend the winter answering the phone and scheduling the upcoming season. The vast majority of our calls are with returning guests that know us and our staff. The conversations are checking in with our friends new life events and about drilling down to the dates that work for a fly fishing trip with us.
New guests are far more curious about the intricacies of our operation and if we are a good fit for their trip goals. This is a natural part of the sales process. I wish we convinced every possible itinerary to book because we are extremely confident in our ability to execute Missoula fly fishing trips well, but as with any new sales you win some and lose some.
This blog is about a booking I lost two years ago on a snowy December day.
Phone rings. “Hello this is Joe at Missoula River Lodge. How may I help you?”
Lost Booking Guest – “I am thinking of booking a trip to Montana this summer.”
Me – “That sounds great sir, do you have some dates in mind?”
LBG – “I want to come when you can guarantee lots of big dumb fish and excellent weather. Not too hot or too cold, and I heard cloudy days are the best but I hate rain.”
Me – Pleasantly laughing at the common fishing joke.
LBG aggressively now -“What’s so funny? You are in Montana aren’t you?!!”
I then go to my pre programmed diffusion bit about times of the year I like the best and the myriad of reasons why our area and our staff are unique and valuable.
LBG kind of disgusted with my attitude- “Uh, Okay. But I need the exact dates for success.”
I then go into my other pre-programmed interview bit to figure out the guest’s angling experience. I want to see if I mis-read the first part of the new sales call.
Me – “So where else have you been to in Montana? What kind of fishing do you like?”
LBG – “Mainly the Big Horn for the last 10 trips. But the guides always suck and the fish are tiny, so I am looking for a change.”
Me – “I am sorry to hear that sir. But what kept bringing you back to the Big Horn? What did you like about the trip?
LBG – “It’s very inexpensive. If I am going to have bad fishing I don’t want to pay for it. Do you have any cheap trips with guaranteed big fish? I am so tired of little trout.”
Me – “We aren’t the cheapest operator in the game, but I feel like we provide an exceptional value via the quality of our staff, the inherent beauty of our area, and productivity of our fishing grounds.”
LBG – “Not the cheapest, Huh? Well recite your sales pitch I guess.”
At this point my selling vigor has begun to wain surmising that this particular guest’s vision for the trip is different than what I feel we can provide. I still run through my points in a polite and positive manner. In the end all outfitters are small business people, so all sales calls deserve a honest run through.
LBG – “Listen, I understand all you fishing guide types have soooo pretty mountains and soooooo magnificent rivers, but really what I want is your assurance I am going to catch a trophy 20. You aren’t one of those catch and release types are you?”
Now I know, this has to be one of Snangler’s buddies prank calling me. Snangler is most likely listening on the other line laughing. He probably toked his first “bad back medicine” bowl after lunch, so I am surprised I don’t hear his faint laughter or covered snickering in the background. I inquire about the guest’s real identity, but I am mistaken. Snangler isn’t involved, thus further straining the sales call.
Me – “Oh sorry sir. I must have misspoke myself.”
LBG – “That’s another thing. All you guides think you are a professional comedians too. Can you guarantee a trophy 20 or not? Oh, and I also would like to eat him. I never understood that silly catch and release idea.”
Me – “Yes. We absolutely can. I too am disgusted by the catch and release ethic.”
LBG – “Great. How much will the trip be to land a guaranteed 20 pounder?”
Me – “A what pounder?!! Do you mean a 20 incher?
LBG – “A wild trophy 20 lb trout preferably on a dry fly. Haven’t you been listening?! All these other guides have promised me that, but I keep seeing fish barely over 20 inches. Back in Florida we call that bait. Hell, these ‘professional’ guides don’t even carry nets big enough.”
Me – “I know. That must be so frustrating. We do have specially made nets for these types of trips. Just last week we doubled up on 20lbers on dries. There was a massive pod of them sipping midges on the Lower Clark Fork river on an ice shelf. And that was on a winter day!! They spawn prolifically in the summer and grow fast. I bet that spot will have forty that size by the time our season gets going. Actually 20lbers are kind of dinky for our area, but if you want to mess around with them we are happy to take you to those spots.”
LBG – “Wow. Finally I found the right guide. So how much does the trip cost.”
Me – “One million dollars. We ask for a 500k deposit to secure dates and we collect the rest during the trip. Do you want to put it on a credit card?”
Then the welcome wash of a hung up dial tone comes through the phone.
Although not common at all, this call helped me understand Brook’s moth like lure to the flame of online Tanking.
It’s the booking season. Please give us a call or come see us at the shows. We will be in Edison New Jersey, Lynwood Washington, and Pleasanton California. I will be serving fried fish fillets of 20 pounders in the booth caught fresh locally on dries in Missoula Montana on warm cloudy days when it doesn’t rain.