"When I grow up, I would like to be a fishing guide like you," little Johnny Hugs said, as we netted another 20-inch rainbow from the 48-degree, crystal-clear, icy water in the most productive blue-ribbon trout stream in Montana.
"My great great grandpa was a guide for Gen. George Custer," Johnny added, "and escaped death after being dismissed from the great battle."
That may sound like a tall tale, but 12-year-old Johnny had just completed my six-week fly-tying, casting and trout fishing course in Montana. He was a superb horseman, loved the outdoors and, like many of my students, dreamed about living, guiding and getting paid for the life they love and cherished.
"Johnny, since I have been blessed and had the great opportunity to grow up with a fly rod in one hand and a rifle in the other, I would like to help you get prepared for a job that will make you a proud, full-blooded native American Crow Indian," I said.
"Enroll in one of your Crow Agency schools in South Dakota," I added, "and there they will give you a solid foundation with courses in biological science and plant and animal ecology. Those courses will help you 'understand the animal' and in your reservation in Montana it could be a lifetime of guiding for trout or big game animals.
"During summer vacation, walk down to the corral hole, the Crow Beach rapids or just below the car bodies where the insect hatches are heavy with black caddis emergers. Pay attention to what the fish are taking and tie on the tandem rig with the adult caddis on your up fly that is 2 feet above the delta winged emerger on your 5X tippet end - like we did in class and on the stream. When it gets dark and difficult to see your up fly and hear the splashes of rising rainbows and browns, walk on your two-lane cow path to mom's home. And, tell her how thankful that you were able to catch and release over 15 trout to be caught another day, all that on flies tied in class.
"Big rivers are demanding and you need to have your mother (Theo Hugs) or your father get you a boat or rubber raft that will navigate the dangerous rapids in Montana. Each day on the river, collect all the insects and place each in a small bottle of 60-percent alcohol and 40-percent water and mark the seasonal time, for those are foods you will have to imitate when being a fishing guide.
"Float the great rivers several days a week, keeping the front end of your boat downstream as you row backward while looking for dangerous hazards. You are learning the water. Practice all the techniques on how to catch fish on a fly, like casting streamers, dry flies, nymphs, wet flies and remember it's all about presentation.
"Being a fishing guide is a serious business and you are not a magician. Learn your trade well and when anglers come to your river, they will ask, 'Where can I find Johnny Hugs?' "