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High water on the Gunny!

7/2/2009
Gary Giudice

Lifelong angling buddies, Ed Weber of Rochester, N.Y., and Gary Giudice from Norman, Okla., are fly fishing their way up the spine of the Rocky Mountains following mayfly hatches. They started in the White Mountains of Arizona and will end on the Bow River of Alberta, Canada. This blog follows their trip.

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GUNNISON, Colo. — When Eric Grand was a lad he dreamed of one thing, downhill skiing.

His dad was a ski coach and taught his son well. Finally, a ski scholarship to Southwestern College of Gunnison, Colo., showed up in the mail during his senior year at high school in Northern Wisconsin.

It was time to celebrate at the Grand household. With a wave goodbye and a look to the future, Eric headed to the Rocky Mountains to ski a lot, study some and fish a little. And young Eric skied and studied well. He guided trout fishermen a bit during the summer but skiied his heart out during the winter months.

Now 28, Eric is the head ski coach at Southwestern and an expert riverman in the summer. Eric takes fly fishers down the Gunnison River day after day all summer long and loves every minute of it.

When Ed Weber and I arrived at the Gunnison River, it was high and clear but no hatches to speak of. What a pity. Green drakes, caddis and all manner of bugs should be on the water but they are not. No stone flies, no PMDs, no grey drakes, nothing.

We went to the Willow Fly Anglers up the road a bit in Almont, one of my favorite fly shops in the west, and begged mercy.

"No problem," they said. "Hire a guide for the day. It ain't gonna kill ya. For Christ's sakes, spend a buck or two. Best dollar you'll spend."

That's how we met Eric. Ed and I are both bug guys. We like them dry but that wasn't going to happen. Nymphs and streamers were the order of the day.

We are pretty good nymph fishermen but streamers were a weakness we shared. When Eric told us the streamer bite was on we looked at each other like we learned a favorite dog had just been hit by a truck.

"Listen guys," Eric said, "Streamer fishing is way cool and we'll catch more trout today than you possibly can keep track of. Browns, rainbows and cutbows (a rainbow/cutthroat hybrid) are really working like crazy right now. I'll show you the ropes, no problem."

He showed us the basics and we both hooked up with a good fish within sight of the launch. This kid is good.

Hiring a guide is not something Ed or I do on a regular basis. No real good reason, we just don't. Money is a factor. Guides aren't cheap. For a full day that includes a good lunch, drinks and, in this case, flies, it'll run between $300 and $400 for two.

Then there's the tip. What do you tip a guide?

There was a time that I guided goose hunters. I was really hurting for money just getting my business started. Tips were important to me and made the difference in a good day or bad. Ed guided fly fishermen in the Catskills and the Adirondacks. He remembers good tips a lot more than he remembers bad ones.

So what do you tip a guide? There is no pat answer. Whatever you feel like. The average tip for a river guide is about $100 for one who works hard, is helpful in showing you the ropes and just takes excellent care of clients.

I had a river guide once with my wife, Thressa. His name was Jake and we called him Jake the Nazi. We could not wait to get off the river. This clown was horrible. He made what should have been a good trip a real bad one.

This was one on the Gunny also. I tipped him a ten spot and told the shop he was a jamoke. I hope he spent his tip wisely. He no longer guides and he's the only bad guide I've ever had. He would be better suited cleaning out chicken houses.

But Eric was on the other end of the spectrum. Ed explains his fishing strategy and what a day on the water might be like.

"He got us into fish within sight of the launch after explaining the techniques. His casual way of pointing out where to place our flies put us at ease and allowed us to develop our own tactics to this new way for us to catch the trout on the Gunnison.

"His terminology of putting the streamer in the bucket was self-explanatory. As we progressed down river our technique and confidence increased. We began to look for "buckets" (an eddy like depression in the water near the bank) on our own, and then it happened. Gary landed a 20-incher!

"Then I hooked and lost a monster that Eric estimated at 25 inches. After that the action became hot and heavy. Fish after fish fell to our newly learned technique. Gary and I cast and our flies landed within inches of each other.

"We both hooked up and Gary lost his fish while mine charged upstream, taking 20 yards of line and then cutting across current, tangling my fly line on the anchor. Gary, being the friend he is leaped into action and got me untangled. Back across the river, the monster charged and once again became snarled in the anchor.

"The next thing I saw was Gary flopping off the back of the boat, untangling the line once again, only this time he went overboard like a sea lion falling off a rock. Sorry, Gary, but this was the fish of a lifetime and I know you can swim. As Gary bobbed down river bouncing off rocks, I had to turn my attention to the monster. After what seemed like 10 minutes to me and a lifetime to Gary, the fish blasted into the next set of rapids and came unbuttoned.

"Gary, bruised and battered, waders full of water, called me a Yankee SOB and went back to looking for big fish. Fishing with a great friend and a good guide on a wonderful river, it doesn't get better any than this."

Guides like Eric will put anglers on fish. Lots of fish. Plus they will explain what's going on with the river, the local customs and etiquette. I wish we could afford someone like Eric everywhere we plan to fish up the Rockies but we can't. We'll just have to figure everything else on our own. And maybe ask each other, "What would Eric do?"

We're off to another river now, over the Cottonwood Pass to the Arkansas River. The guy at Standard Tire Center there in Gunnison told us that is was high and "had a little color" but the fish where biting like crazy. We are so tired of high, muddy water!