I am rarely lost for words but attempting to write this post has been difficult. My words will no doubt seem tinged with sadness but equally I am immensely excited. So here goes …
On Thursday 28th Sept 2017 I spent what will be the last time in this particular pair of wading boots. Dog eared they maybe but over the last couple of seasons they have become old friends, comfortable and reliable. When my guest for the day suddenly exclaimed “fiiish … FISH!” their retirement was completed as Hugh bent into his first ever Sea Trout on the swing, while using a recently acquired retro but very brilliant Sage SLT. It was the perfect end to the season. Hugh christened his rod and I retired my wading boots.
Next season I will have a new set of boots, of that there is no doubt. Comfortable as they maybe, these old friends have definitely had their day, literally hanging on to their life by a thread. The difference is that next season when I pull on the waders for the first-time things will be different. And so here comes the difficult bit; let me explain.
Working as a fly fishing guide & instructor in the UK is not a normal job. It’s a privilege that only a few will ever experience on a full-time basis. Some come to it later on in life, often following a successful career while young guns with no responsibilities travel abroad, chasing the weather and the fish, seeking out new adventures while ensuring a reasonably steady income.
My journey began aged 23 and now twenty years later at (almost) 43 I still pinch myself after one of my guests has landed a special fish, twigged a particular cast or just plain smiles at the joy of being connected to nature through their own passion for fly fishing. How lucky have I been to share in so many of those journeys? It is little wonder I pinch myself.
Throwing on a set of waders, packing up the truck and heading to the water may have a hint of glamour to it but during the long unpaid winter months the appeal fades somewhat. That is until the next season when once again the gentle whisper of a line scything through the atmosphere reaches a crescendo as the splash of a hooked fish provides a special moment of happiness for my guest and indescribable job satisfaction for me. Suddenly those long winters become nothing but a distant memory.
Even so the winter months do not become any easier and for several seasons I have been mulling over whether I needed to get out of guiding all together or if there were ways to make an income from working within fly fishing on a full time annual rather than full time seasonal basis. There is of course Exe Valley Fishery which I manage with my wife Sue but the income from this venture is poor considering the investment required to keep the place going and in this 2016 blog post Thoughts about working in Fly Fishing – The last 16 years … 12 months … and a bit I explained why our retail venture had to go.
Then there is another serious issue to contend with; the climate. September just past is without doubt one of the worst I can ever remember for “wash offs”, the dreaded phrase which means the river is out of action, my client for the day (or days!) is disappointed … and I don’t get paid. Last month I lost £1000 of business due to this problem. Of course, I could have guided these people, made them deal with the dirty water, howling gales and rain to make sure I got paid, but that has never been my way. Considering all the years I have worked in the business I count myself lucky that this September has been an exception rather than the norm. Unfortunately, a client pulling out at the last minute from the last two days of the 2017 trout season for personal reasons added to the already eye-watering loss of income.
This financial loss would be difficult to justify for any parent raising a young family which brings me to another problem which everyone including fly fishing guides must inevitably face; getting older! Looking to the future it began to worry me whether or not in twenty years I could sustain the same energy levels let alone avoid a serious injury. So far, I have got away with it, but another 2000 days may have been pushing my luck.
So, what to do? Sitting in my first ever job interview in 2017 having run my own business since 1998 was a nerve racking experience but that is what I did back in August. Truth be told I wanted to test myself and see how serious I really was about making a life change because as sure as night follows day it would have been madness to keep on doing the same thing, guiding the season, struggling all winter and then hoping for a different result.
As if I had just landed another special fish for one of my guests I was pinching myself once again when a few weeks after that interview Farlows Group managing director Robin Philpott offered me a position as fishing manager! What lies ahead is incredibly exciting as from the 16th October 2017 I will begin work at the London based Farlows store located at 9 Pall Mall, a business with an incredible 177 years of history, by Royal appointment and intrinsically linked to the DNA of fly fishing.
“London based Nick … are you mad?!” I am not kidding myself, swapping time at home with my family and the fresh air (and fish!) of Exmoor won’t be easy, but the chance to work with such a prestigious company is quite simply a once in a lifetime opportunity. From dangling bits of bread in the river Exe for Trout to spending many years as a full-time fishing guide I have enjoyed an interesting journey through life to say the least and I cannot wait to set the wheels in motion on this latest chapter.
This is not me hanging up my waders for good, far from it and to do so would seem disrespectful to all the amazing clients who have been loyal to me throughout so many seasons on the water. I have been in touch with many of them already but if I have missed you please accept my apologies, drop me a line or better still please visit me in the store, after all many of you pass right past the front door on a daily basis.
In wrapping up this post there is only one more thing that I must do and that is to thank all of you who have made my life as a fly fishing guide possible. It has been difficult to put into words all the emotions I am feeling as I prepare to head to London, but for those raising an eyebrow hopefully I have just about managed it. Whatever your views I would love to hear from you and hope that in the future we spend time once again on the river, a lake or coastline somewhere at home … or possibly abroad. Thanks also to a few good friends for all their advice while making this decision and of course my family.
Swapping waders for chinos, my trusty fishpond pack for a pressed shirt and catching the train to Paddington before entering into the comparative chaos of Piccadilly is going to be a surreal experience but then again, I will be earning a winter wage for the first time ever and immersing myself in the products and the people of the world’s best-known fly fishing tackle store. So, if you happen to spot a ginger chap pinching himself while heading towards Pall Mall in the not too distant future you know who it is!