As a sports fan, March is arguably the best time of year. It’s hard to beat the intensity and excitement of a buzzer-beater in NCAA Basketball’s March Madness Tournament, but there is also the NFL’s free agency period, the NBA trade deadline has just passed, the NHL is in the midst of its season, and spring training has begun for MLB. For me, as a die-hard Red Sox fan, it is the anticipation and unbridled potential for a successful upcoming season that draws my attention. After last season’s historic September collapse during which the Red Sox went 7-20 and missed the playoffs by a single game, spring training brings a clean slate perhaps more than anything. In spring training, every team has World Series dreams.
This spring training has been slightly different for the Red Sox, and for the team at TroutHunter. The Sox have a new manager this year, and had veteran battery mates Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek retire at the start of spring training. With tearful eyes and heavy hearts they announced their retirement from the game they had so passionately made a career of playing. Both retiring players made a point to thank their teammates and made it clear that the hardest part of walking away was not walking away from the game that they loved, but rather from their teammates who shared a common goal, and a common passion..
It is no secret that the guiding can be a grind. The season is relatively short, but the hours are long and the physical toil can be intense. Don’t believe me? Try walking ‘Will’s Run’ in the Box with two clients in your boat during high spring flows, or rowing through the Chester backwaters in 30mph south winds, or drag a raft down the Lower Mesa slide—then row it all day. Pure physicality aside, I have yet to meet a guide who does not cherish every second of every day spent on the water. And although that time on the water is what stands out as the most obvious job perk, it is each mornings’ interaction with the other guides that I miss most during the winter months. Any given summer morning can find Marty ‘the one-man party’ freestyling over Lewis’ impromptu beat-boxing, perhaps a cameo from fly fishing rock-star Travis Smith, Jake practicing some off-color joke that he’s going to tell at lunch (again), Phil talking up his latest off-the-map excursion, Rydberg and Jonathan pouring over the batch of flies that came off their vices the night before, McDaniel studying maps of Harriman and talking about obscure fish like ‘Houdini,’ Tyler and Ryan trying to clear cobwebs and put pieces back together from a rowdy night, Jim trying to save their lost souls, or Brad, Zach, and Brandon speaking their own language about the mating and migratory patterns of elk and other large game species. Really, more than anything, it is the camaraderie of the team and that electric atmosphere in the shop on summer mornings that is missed during the off-season.
So as I watched Wake and ‘Tek retire, I thought of our own TroutHunter team, with Rich and Jon as our gm and manager, and Griz sending in the signs from the 3rd base coach’s box to whichever guide is in the batter’s box. On any given day there could be Allan and Rene sitting in the box seats just beside the home team’s dugout. And then I thought about our lineup, which in my opinion has some pretty heavy hitters. In the middle of that lineup for the past 10 years has been Jake Chutz. Jake has approximately 1000 guide trips under his belt. In my opinion, that can be equated to the 500 homer mark, or maybe even the 3000 hit accomplishment of a major league ballplayer. However, this year, just prior to spring training, Jake ‘hung ‘em up,’ as ballplayers say. Jake has recently taken a position with Montana Fly Company and moved to northern Montana. His loss leaves a hole in the middle of our lineup that will be felt on the water, in the shop, and throughout Island Park.
While Jake will be missed, the TroutHunter team will persevere and the season will come nonetheless. Just as those affiliated with the Red Sox, TroutHunter executives have been active in free agency, bringing in someone who is no stranger to the TroutHunter team, and no stranger to filling big holes. Former college linebacker Derrick Hobbs will join the T.H. team this year. Derrick has been an Island Park resident for a number of years, and has guided extensively on the South Fork, the Teton, and the Henry’s Fork. This year, he’ll finally have the right stickers on his boat.
So with an unseasonably warm March almost behind us, and hopes of an epic Salmonfly emergence barely a month away, my thoughts now turn to the anticipation of things to come….Salmonflies, March Browns, Caddis, Midges, and Blue Wings…but I cannot help but wonder, did Jake do enough to get the call from the guide Hall of Fame?? I think the waiting period in Major League Baseball is five years from the date of retirement. I only wonder if Jake has some Brett Favre or Michael Jordan or Andy Petitte in him and if this retirement is just a practice run…
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