Sadly, it’s too dark to fish
In memory of Bill Lowe 1964-2014
I’ve been lucky most of my life, even luckier to meet really cool people in really cool places. Billy Lowe was one of the coolest. For me this story starts with fly fishing but evolves into a friendship that was so much more. Once or twice in a lifetime we come across extraordinary people, extraordinary people that make us so much better than we really are. Billy was one of those people. Everyone he met was better for it. Now, those of you that have had the pleasure of fly fishing know it’s a very special sport. The equipment is beautiful, the motions graceful, and can appear to be in slow motion in real time. Fur and feathers, artistically tied together to magically fool the fish. Now along the path of the fly fisher comes the fishing guide. Some guides will escort you to the river’s edge, point at a spot and describe the perfect cast to entice the quarry. Others may have a drift boat and row you down a river, holding the boat against the current so the fisherman has a chance for the perfect drift. Bill was a guide of the latter persuasion and quite good at his craft. A student of the sport, Billy had a great knowledge of the bugs, the equipment, and what method may be our best chance for success. Really more of a professor than a student, a PHD in fly fishing. He was a renowned casting instructor and consultant of many fly shops and manufacturers.
Not all fishing guides are created equal. In all fairness to them, experience is the best teacher. It is very hard work and days can often stretch to 16 hours. The investment to start, all tolled can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. Add up the cost of a truck, boat, waders, rods, reels, countless flies, lines and leaders. Throw in gas, lunch, rain gear, cooler, thermos, and with all that, you’re now ready to drop the boat in the water, just the beginning. To me, the most important part of the guide and guiding, (and what set Billy apart) is philosophy and attitude. I’ll never forget a trip to the Skeena River in British Columbia. Billy was the host guide and had brought up a handful of NorCal fisherman. As like most fishing trips, conversations quickly turn to fishing. This dinner conversation followed course. One of the guests shared how he and his son, on their annual trip, will keep one steelhead to eat. Billy thought for a bit and then said “They are tasty but you’re really eating my business partners. Without the fish I’d have no work.” Not that I hadn’t thought that way before, but that expression really hit home. Billy taught us that every fish mattered. No matter what size, each one was important. He released his fish with such care. If you want a photo, get ready and do it quickly. Too slow and the fish goes back in the water. Sorry, you’ll just have to catch another.
I’ve been fortunate to have fished in several places with several guides. I’ve often fished the same river with 4 or 5 different guides. Some seemed glad to see you, others were pissed they got out of bed. Some boats were clean, others hiding old chicken bones from trips past. Billy’s boat was always clean, organized and his equipment was first rate. For some guides, the job was work, others the work was pleasure. Billy possessed the philosophy that transferred to his attitude that made each trip a wonderful experience. Catching fish was a perk, but hanging with Billy was the real treat. For Billy each trip was a time to teach. Great teachers are great encouragers. Billy was the best. Billy always told me what I was doing right, followed by a tip or two. Some guides will yell at you and focus on what you did wrong. Hey buddy, have a good life. No repeat trip for me. When we had Billy booked, we knew we were in for a great day. Could have been raining, windy, very slow, didn’t matter. The day was always great. Some of Billy’s great advice “if you cast in front of the boat, your buddy can fish too” Or, “In all my years of fishing, I’ve never seen a fish caught with a cast like that, but you never know, it could happen.”. Oh, and we caught fish. As many as we were supposed to I figured. For me, the saddest part of the day was seeing the take out come around the corner. Billy enjoyed himself too, but was happy the day was over, so he could get home to his best friend and bride Michelle.
Billy was equally as fun off the water. He loved good food, wine, a good cigar, single malt, and chocolate. Fondly hated cream cheese and mayonnaise and wasn’t a big fan of mustard. He loved playing his many guitars and listening to music. He loved the sound of vinyl and old tube amps teamed up with vintage speakers. Music was always in his house, either by his hand or the turntable. Knock on his door and it would be hard to turn down a glass of wine or a beer. Need a little repair on your waders or reel? Head out to the garage. Good to go.
Billy always took a keen interest in what we wanted to share. It could be real estate, food, even a persistent scrotum rash, he was interested. He always made me feel whatever I wanted to talk about was interesting. He rarely talked about himself unless it was to say how much he enjoyed a bottle of wine or a recipe. Oh, and very willing to share fishing tips. No secret spots, secret bugs or “I’ll show you if you book with me.” No “you should have been here yesterday.” Billy was never threatened by sharing real fishing advice. He knew we’d float again, wade and cast.
So we do our best to go on. We take what Billy taught us and move it forward. We quote with confidence his expressions. We are stoked to live every day. We are cool and we know it. All our bugs are bitchin and our ideas are right on every time. We hug like it’s our last and we’re not afraid to show affection to our mates in public. We have nicknames for everyone and they are always terms of endearment. I’m Captain Colgan, forever. He’s Billy Bob to me.
Tight Lines Brother Billy. Hope they’re rising every day where you are.