My previous post certainly seemed to resonate with a few of you and hopefully provided a bit more clarity to anyone thinking about entering turning their passion into a career.
In this post, things get more real. I will discuss the reasons I decided to quit guiding and what key challenges I think it poses as a career choice.
This may seem like quite a negative take on the industry but this is not my intention. When I started guiding, I found very limited information about what I was getting myself into and what could be the potential downsides of starting on the career path.
Therefore I am writing this series to help better inform those that are considering the guide life and encourage them to look at both sides before jumping in head first.
The beginning of the end....
To be honest and upfront, I never planned for guiding to become a long term career for me. I set a plan in place that I would spend the time until I hit 30, living life as full as I can. This included doing what I wanted to, when I wanted to do it. Guiding was a perfect fit for this, giving me the freedom to work my chosen days and provide sufficient income to spend the rest of the time travelling the world.
The problem is the guide lifestyle became addictive and caused me to procrastinate on any future ideas and dreams I had of building a bigger, better life. I was so involved in the day-today of guiding during the season that by the time it ended, I was gagging to jump on a plane as soon as could and head overseas for several months.
This would result in me blowing through most of my seasons earnings, then return home for the next season to rinse and repeat.
No doubt, this was an exciting time but I always had it in the back of my mind that it could be stripped away in a moment. What if I broke my leg? What if tourism demand fell or other guides eroded my earnings?.
With my 30th birthday fast approaching I knew I had to start planning my transition away from guiding but the lifestyle kept sucking me back in to it's cycle of comfort and reward.
But little did I know that it would soon all come crashing down and my questions about the uncertainty of the industry were soon to be experienced by us all.
The virus is coming.....
I'm sure you remember the first time you heard of "Covid", it was just another localised epidemic that wouldn't amount to much, like the dozens of others before it. I was in the same mindset, until on the 20th March 2020, New Zealand closed its borders to the rest of the world, something I never thought would be possible. Overnight the rest of my seasons booking were cancelled and my future was thrown into the air.
Because the New Zealand population is so small, our domestic market is very limited. Hence why my clients were about 98% foreign tourists, mostly from USA, Australia, Canada and EU.
At the time none of us knew how long the borders would close, I thought maybe the rest of the year at a push, little did I know that 18 months on there is still no end in sight....
So as you can tell, Covid did play a key role in my decision quit guiding, but it was actually not the major factor.
What Covid did do is break the cycle of fish, guide, travel, repeat. I no longer had an income, I could no longer travel and I could no longer just sit back and just let life happen to me.
Luckily I hadn't yet departed on my 3 month fishing trip to Central America so I had my seasons earnings to hold me over, for now...
Also, it was only a few months until I was due to hit 30, the point at which I had set that I would transition away from guiding. Was this serendipity?
Always on the lookout. Keen eyes are the key to this game and can help when things go pear shaped!
The unseen side of guiding
So now you know how I came to call it quits, here is more of the why.
As someone that chose guiding as a lifestyle rather than a career, I entered into it without any consideration of the effect it may have on one of my greatest passions, Fly Fishing itself.
I always remember one of the first guides I worked with and something he said that has always stuck with me. One day I asked if he was going fishing on his day off he said "hell no, the last thing I want to do on my day off is go fishing". Taken back by this 'crazy' comment I quickly concluded that he must not be as passionate as me.
Clouded by my naivety, I thought as a fishing guide you lived to be out on the water and would take any moment you could to do it yourself.
I was wrong.
First off... guiding is not 'fishing'. Yes, you may be on the water and doing most of what you would normally be doing, but then chuck in a huge dose of the monotony of untying knots, the frustration of things not going to plan and the stress of delivering results for your clients.
It quickly begins to feel like 'work'.
The first few seasons of guiding, I couldn't wait to get out there on my days off and right some of my clients wrongs. But it wasn't long until this started to fade.
It wasn't even so much the physical exhaustion (although at times this really took its toll). No, it was more the mental tole of the day to day.
At times I began to feel like a robot. Picking someone new up every day, repeating the same introductory spiel about my life or trying to force conversations to try break the awkward silence. Then arriving at the river to go through the motions of "hold this", "stand here" and "yes I did say strike..".
There are also many other things that can make a tough day. The weather, the fish, the clients, other anglers.
You have almost no control over any of these variables so it's best to just do your best and hope for the best. To get through the season I just learned to just give up worrying about almost everything except getting up in the morning and making informed decision on where to go for the day.
Now, this isn't to say it was always like this, at times it was exciting and highly rewarding, meeting new and interesting people, watching people grow as you teach them everything you know. But this was the exception, not the rule.
After a few years I started to feel the change. No longer was I motivated to go fishing on my day off, I just wanted to rest. It wasn't long until ended up understanding exactly what the other guide told me and why he didn't want to go fishing, you've just had enough.
Now, this wasn't a blanket rule. It was mostly during my core guiding season from Nov-Mar so I still spent some good time on the rivers at the very beginning and end of the season. The truth is my passion for fly fishing wasn't gone, I just couldn't bring myself to do the same thing I did for work everyday on the few days I had off.
The offseason trips gave me a good refresher, making it a bit easier to jump back on the horse when the new season came in. But year after year my enthusiasm began to wane.
So, with all that said, Covid included, it was time to take the leap, draw a line in the sand and officially call it a day. It wasn't easy, but it was time.
So where are things now?
I spent my entire late 20's as a fly fishing guide and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Regardless of certain negatives, I can look back at this time and know that I did what I said and lived life to the fullest. I don't regret any of it and would do it all again if I had the chance.
So I am now officially a recovering fishing guide. This season marks my first one as a free man and I am making a concerted effort to try rekindle the burning desire I once had to head onto the water. It is still there, just buried deep from many years of overuse!
Now, thanks to my time guiding, a new path has emerged. This website you are now on is my new venture, Traveltruly is no more.
KEA Outdoors was born out of one of the key frustrations I had when guiding. I always struggled to find an easy way to carry the necessary safety/survival gear for my trips and just ended up chucking a bunch of random stuff at the bottom of my pack.
So I decided to do something about it and spent a year creating the KEA KIT: The outdoor survival system for any adventure. I launched it on Kickstarter earlier in the year with the support from many of my old clients, fellow guides and fishing mates. The new dream became a reality and it is now my new "job".
I spent over a year developing the KEA KIT. Click the photo to check it out.
I hope what I have written isn't too hard to hear, I have tried to be honest from my perspective only. The dream, is real, but approach it with caution. As with anything there is always 2 sides to each story and in this industry we often focus entirely on the good days and ignore the bad.
To find a job that you are truly passionate about is something that should be cherished. So don't let this turn you off. It may be just what you are searching for.
Thanks for taking the time to read my story, I hope it was of some value.
Former fly fishing guide, future fly fisher.
A great day with my favourite client, Greg. The good times were great and sometimes, just sometimes, I even got to catch a fish... 😉