Insights from Guides and other Masters
Guiding the Guides - Dick Galland
Our monthly interviews with masters and guides begins with someone who has been guiding on California waters for over 30 years and is responsible for training some of the best and most notable guides in the country. Dick Galland ran the The Clearwater House on Hat Creek for 20 years and established the Clearwater Guide School, setting the bar for guides and guiding in the Western United States.
FFL: When did you first start guiding?
DG: I moved to California in 1975 with a background in outdoor education. I worked for Outward Bound in Colorado and Texas for a number of years. I set up my own wilderness adventure business. After about four years of doing that, mountaineering, skiing, climbing and such, I went to the guy that ran the outdoor education program at the College of Marin and said I'd like to do a fly fishing program. He said "That sounds like a great idea". So I began doing it as a Wednesday to Sunday weekend trip on Hat Creek because when I came to California in '75, I went over to Creative Sports and I asked Andy Puyans where to go fishing and he drew me a map of the park on Hat Creek and said "go to the park and go up to the Powerhouse Riffle".
FFL: Did he tell you it was going to be tough fishing?
DG: Oh man, that is a whole other story. The gist of it was that I began taking these classes from the College of Marin with a group of six to eight people up to Hat Creek for a couple of years. We would camp at the Cassel Campground and I would teach them to fish on the waters of Hat Creek. That was 1978 and '79 that I began teaching fly fishing classes. I would stand on the west bank of Cassel flats and look over at what is now Clearwater House and the tower was very derelict as was the whole property. But, it was for sale in a nominal sort of way. So, after having done classes there for three or four years, I bought that old house and started off by having people come and stay there rather than camping. That kind of evolved first into a sort of bed and breakfast with a focus on fishing and then into a proper fishing lodge.
FFL: So you opened Clearwater House as a lodge about when?
DG: About 1982.
FFL: Because it was about 1980 or 81 that I was in Yellowstone with you on an outing billed as "Zen and The Art of Fly Fishing" out of the UCLA extension catalog.
DG: That's right. I used to do some weekends on the east side of the Sierra and the Yellowstone trip every year in the late summer. Then I bought the house and began to do things more in that area.
FFL: When did you start the Guide School?
DG: In the first years of Clearwater, sort of '86 to '87, the way I found guides was to call somebody that I knew in the area where I needed guides and tell them that I was looking for someone and ask who was the best guide in that area. That's how I found Mike Peterson and Tommy April in Mammoth, Joe Hoosavelt for the Truckee, and Tom Peppas for the Feather. So every year, in the fall usually, all the guys that I had used for these weekend outings would get together at Clearwater and we would spend a few days together teaching each other techniques. There was this incredible body of knowledge amongst all these guys but they were pretty much independent guides. We would just sit around of the course of several days and talk about this technique or that technique, this fly or that fly and out of that came an annual event. From that annual event we got the idea of sort of opening it up to the public. I think that must have happened about mid to late 90s. It got to the point, if I had heard about somebody, like when Tommy April would say, "listen I've got this great kid down here", we would invite him up and he would be a part of this sort of informal get together where we traded ideas. And then that person would grow into becoming a guide. From that we developed the actual guide school.
FFL: Do you do any guiding now?
DG: No, but the fact of the matter is that one of the motivating factors in me selling Clearwater was to fish other parts of the country, because if you're obliged to be a lodge owner in Eastern Shasta County during the fishing season then your only other options are to fish the Southern Hemisphere or you go fish the flats because from April to November you're obliged to be at the lodge.
FFL: In your guiding, how were you different from other guides?
DG: I'll abandon any pretext of being modest. I consider myself to be a bright, thoughtful, and articulate person. I spent a lot of time fishing around Hat Creek before I really was guiding in a full-fledged manner. I taught myself experientially and learned a lot about how to deal with a spring creek. I didn't have a lot of help. There were not and probably are still not a lot of good anglers on Hat Creek. In those days (the early 80s), I had to figure it out. I figured out how to make the drifts and I figured out about the bugs and I had a lot of help in terms of bugs from guys like Barry Ward. And in the Pit River I just sort of learned where to fish it and how to fish it. I have the capacity to condense and articulate what's involved in being effective. The "Hat Creek Skate" on Hat Creek is a perfect example, where you overcast and draw the fly into the fish's lane and drop your rod tip. Other people have undoubtedly figured that out, but I figured that out for myself and it's terrifically effective. In the Pit River I developed this Look, Lob, Lift, and Lead thing for nymphing where you look at your target, lob your BBs up there so that they penetrate the water column and then lift the extra line off. That was kind of an evolution of some things that I learned from Tom Peppas. Keeping a curve in your leader, better body position and that sort of thing. So I think that my contribution has been to make concise some of the actual techniques that are involved in doing well in both spring creek and freestone fishing in Northern California. I haven't done as much fishing as I'd like in other places in the last 25 years. We would often to go to Colorado in August when we would close the shop for a couple of weeks and I found that all those techniques were killer in those parts of the world also.
FFL: What's your favorite kind of client?
DG: The perfect client is the one who's got solid basic skills and who wants to learn and who is open to learning. The guy who doesn't come with "That's not the way I learned it" or "That's not the way my last guide told me". You need someone who is open to learning. They're hiring you for two purposes, I believe. One is to show them where the fish are. But two is to teach them how the fish in this particular river want to be approached and that's different. Joe Hoosavelt is a good example. No one is as good on the Truckee as Joe Hoosavelt, but when he first came to Clearwater I took him to the Pit. In the Pit you can almost be on top of the trout because of the nature of the river with all the big boulders, so much water velocity, and there is so much turbulence that you can wade around in there and make noise and get right on top of the fish right underneath your rod tip. It's not a problem. It took Joe two days to adjust his technique because he was a much stealthier angler. If I took my Pit technique to the Truckee. Well I might be a Hoover on the Pit, but on the Truckee I would be putting an awful lot of fish down or spooking them. The perfect client is someone who has good solid basic skills, who wants to learn, and is not caught up in all of his or her preconceptions. A great client embodies many of those qualities whether they have any basic skills or not. Somebody who understands that the relationship between a guide and a client is about learning, is about spending a fun day in the stream, and is about doing something that both people find enormously satisfying and in the process, me, as the guide, is helping that person to elevate their game. Whether it's the small tweaks you have to make on the angler who's accomplished or major sort of structural things like casting strokes, timing, or wading skills. The average client is a beginner or an advanced beginner; rarely more than that, even today. The guides in my team now are always happy when they have somebody who is physically active because they know that they can take them a variety of places. We've all sort of abandoned any notion that we are going to have competent anglers. I think any guide that's in the business for a few years realizes that you don't get many people that have good angling skills. You get people that have kind of basic skills.
FFL: How do you define the advanced angler?
DG: One thing you can tell right off the bat when you meet your client and they bring their own gear is that you can see where they are by virtue of the equipment that they have. You look in their fly boxes. That's very good way to determine what you're dealing with. If they have organized boxes, organized in a thoughtful way with some appreciation for their uses that's a big statement. If they have competent gear, doesn't have to be Simms and Sage, but is competent and not right out of the box, then that's another sign. Third might be knot tying. Many people stumble on knot tying. But then again knot tying is a skill and you have to keep doing it. As guides we're totally facile. Casting is another. As soon as you see somebody cast, you can say to yourself, OK, this is not a Hat Creek guy. This is a Pit River and a Lost Creek guy. Or, the thing a good guide does right off the bat is sit down with the client and look them in the eye when they introduce themselves, be positive, talk about what they like to do, talk about their expectations, and then come up with a plan that, if everything works as you hope it will, at the end of the day you'll be able to say, "well when we started off the day we wanted to do four things. I think we did those things. You caught a fish on Hat Creek. You waded the Pit without drowning." whatever they were.
FFL: What is your definition of the "Not Good" client? How does a client not get something out of the experience?
DG: Well, there is the phenomenon known as the client from hell and I have lots of those stories. The not good client is the client that believes they know everything they need to know. They don't listen and they're not open to your teaching. Every guide has had those people that just won't listen. Then they don't catch fish and then they get frustrated and it sometimes gets even worse. Most guides have gotten to the point where they're prepared to fire a client by mid afternoon. It's a creative guide who after it has become clear to you that he is not going to take what you have to say, then my technique has always been to be cheerful and positive and back off and let them flail and when you see them beginning to get frustrated then that creates and opportunity for teaching, an opportunity to make a suggestion; "If you were to put a couple of BBs on for that hole" or "if you were to try a backhand lob" or "overcast that rising fish and then drag it in." Give a person a chance to be out there and flail. You have to understand that from a client perspective, it's hard to be an adult beginner. People who are willing to spend $350 a day on trip are people who have disposable income and have presumably achieved a measure of success in their lives and most of them are late 30s, forties, fifties, or sixties. So they are people who used to being charge of their lives. So if you're out there telling them to hold their rod this way or cast that way, they're feeling like all of a sudden I'm not in control of my life, I'm not in control of my day, and I've got this kid (many of my guides were quite young) telling me to do this, that, or the other thing and it can be difficult. I think that's why the first ten or fifteen minutes of meeting your client are so important because you really establish your rapport. You laugh, smile, be positive, and be enthusiastic. If you get off on the right foot then the client will listen to you. If you get off on the wrong foot and you put the client off and you set up something where he feels he has to perform, it's a tough relationship. It's one of the reasons people hire bad guides over and over again, because you don't want to have to go through that 'getting to know you' process again. There are guides in California that I don't know how they stay in business. I have guides that say to me "how do you get all those new people every year?" I say "You know 75 to 80 percent of our people are people that have been here before. They come back every year." They say to me "Jes, I only get a few people coming back every year."
FFL: On the subject of gear, what do say to people to people on the subject of where to spend their money when it comes to gear? What are the things that are most crucial to the beginner?
DG: I think the answer to that is a little bit dictated by the kind of fishing that person is going to be doing. If it's an older guy and you know that he's a drift boat guy and not going to be very mobile than clearly he should spend his money on the fishing rod. If you get a young guy who's a charger then waders and wading boats become really important. So, if you have a young guy who you take to the Pit and he falls in love with it and says "OK what do I do now?" The thing you get him is great waders and wading boots. The rod is a whole lot less important in the Pit than his waders. I would say the answer to that question is dictated to some extent by the individual and where their fishing is going to be.
FFL: What about the rod for the person who is just past the beginning stage? Is it crucial for the beginner to be in at least the middle range area for what he spends on a rod?
DG: What I believe is true after having been in the retail business now for over fifteen years is that all the good rod manufacturers make a good entry level kit. The Sage Launch series is a perfect example; those are fabulous rods. Everybody has those kinds of rods. My opinion has informed the way I have done business at Clearwater. We have the full range of rods so that if they are interested in a rod, they can cast a bunch of different rods. My opinion is that you should always buy the best that you can afford but the other side of that is that you should be an informed consumer. I think that if you don't have any gear, it is worthwhile going fishing with a guide and learning what is important and then go to a fly shop and try some different rods and get a feeling for them. It's hard to go wrong with a modern graphite fly rod if you get it from one of the good fly rod manufacturers.
FFL: What's the biggest mistake that people make in equipment purchases?
DG: Being poorly informed and not knowing enough. If you go to buy a fly rod and you rely on what the sales person tells you without having either the experience or the knowledge of that fly rod, you're potentially setting yourself up. Being an informed consumer is the only appropriate thing to do. In the case of wading equipment you can rely on the shop person to give you good information. But, for heaven sakes, in these days of the Internet it's pretty easy to become a well informed consumer. I think the thing that is really important is the fly rod when it comes to personal preference. You can walk into a fly shop and say "I want a pair of waders that's going to last a long time" and they're going to sell you something that works based on what you're willing to spend. Whereas if you go into a fly shop and tell them what you like to fish and they sell you a fly rod kind of sight unseen, it make not work for you. With a fly rod you really need to cast it or ideally fish with it.
FFL: I know it took me a long time to be aware of what sort of rod was best for me and my style of casting.
DG: You can also adjust your style of casting.
FFL: Yes, but how do you do that as a beginner?
DG: What I think is true is that anybody who has a reasonably competent casting stroke can fish any rod. It's about what you're going to feel comfortable fishing with over several hours. What's going to give you the most pleasure casting when you're on the Cassel Flats on Hat Creek?
FFL: For the guy whose has been fishing for a while, what's your take on the one and two weight, super light rods?
DG: I think your rods, your rod quiver if you like, should reflect the waters you like to fish. For the guy I was talking about that wants to fish in the Pit, there is no point in having a one weight rod. It's inappropriate and it's hard on the fish. Whereas if you want to fish Hat Creek and you're a good caster, then a one weight on Hat Creek is a kick in the pants, or Lost Creek, or Yellow Creek. A small light rod on a creek like that is a good idea. I think your rod choice should always be made on the basis of where you're fishing. If you fish a one weight in the Pit, it's going to take you a very long time to land a trout. I own a two weight rod. The rod I fish with the most is a four weight. I fish that for almost all the waters around North Eastern California. For the average person that might be a little light. The average person is better served with a five weight. But I fish the two weight rod on Lost Creek and on Hat Creek. But you do have to be a good caster to fish a light rod on a big spring creek.
FFL: What are the biggest errors that the average fly fisherman makes?
DG: There are two errors; presentation and reading the water. Those are the foundation skills of fly fishing. If we got finer, the average person probably tries to cast further than he or she should or can control, whether it's the flats on Hat Creek or the Pit River if you use those as the extremes. As Joe Hoosavelt is fond of saying while holding up his wading staff and his pack of BBs; "This is what catches fish in freestone rivers." You just need to wade up and make a short cast. If presentation and reading the water are the two foundation skills, the two fundamental rules are; "Always make the shortest possible cast" and "Always have the least amount of line on the water".
FFL: What do you teach to people about landing larger fish?
DG: Well, keeping them on and getting them in. Its a few basic techniques. One is to keep your rod perpendicular to the line. That gives you the maximum amount of cushioning effect. Don't point the rod tip at the fish whatever you do. Number two is to move the fish sideways, don't hold the rod up in the air. Keep your rod horizontal; moving the fish to one side or the other. Get them in slow water and get them in the net as soon as possible. One of the key things in landing a big fish is not to let them rest. Keep them moving.
FFL: If I were looking at your vest today what would I see? A lot of flies and a lot of boxes or a hand full of flies? Which end of the spectrum are you on?
DG: I'm at the handful end. Bear in mind that I fish the same waters all the time. I have two of those classic little plastic clear compartmentalized boxes with probably eight or ten compartments on each side and I glue them together. I have one that is spring creek and one that is freestone. So if I'm going to go fish the Pit, I just stick that little box in there and it's got a lot of weird stuff in there. If I'm fishing in Northern California in a freestone river, there are probably are about six flies that I'm going to use. If I'm fishing on the Fall River or Hat Creek, there are probably are about six flies that I'm going to use. And I could even go further down than that in terms of the number of flies that I'm going to take with me. And I think that size is probably more important than variety. Tom Peppas, for example, if you were to look at his flies, 90% of the time he's fishing with a bird's nest. Now, it might be black, gray, or brown. It might be 18 or it might be a twelve. He varies it according to the circumstances he finds himself in. He's got confidence in that fly and I think that really is what it is. When I fish spring creeks, Hat Creek or the Fall River, I tend to use one fly most of the time unless there's a very pronounced hatch going on.
FFL: That leads right to my next question. If I put you on a spring creek in California and I limited you to three flies, what are they?
DG: Deer Hair Spider (Quigley Pattern), of different sizes and colors would be my number one pattern for a spring creek. The deer hair spider looks like an anorexic Humpy with just a little bit of a single wing and the thread can be black or green. Next I would probably go for the Quigley Cripple and the third would be a ParaDun if I were dry fly fishing.
FFL: And if it were a freestone stream?
DG: I don't dry fly fish much on freestone streams, but when I do I use attractor patterns like little Humpys, little Wulffs, Stoneflies, and the Elk Hair Caddis is probably my 'go to' freestone dry fly. Then the Bird's nest and anything with peacock.
FFL: There were a group of us tying the other day and we all agreed "anything with peacock".
DG: "Anything with peacock" "peacock and a bead" and small, small, small. One thing that I have learned is small, small, small.
FFL: That leads to the question of order of importance of color, shape and size of flies.
DG: Size clearly! Totally the most important thing, then shape, then color. That's what I believe. Size is absolutely it.
FFL: I ask because not everyone believes that and there are times I have fished something solely because of color in odd situations where that seemed to be the thing that the fish were most keying on. Now, to be fair, the size was probably in the ballpark of acceptability at the same time. But size is the thing that I will switch the most quickly. Which leads to the question of what do you do or switch to when things aren't working?
DG: Well most of the time I nymph fish because I don't fish spring creeks dry unless there are fish rising. And if they're rising I can usually get an idea of what they're rising to and I would fish that. In a river that I haven't fished before and I'm not doing any good, I ask myself two questions: Am I fishing in the right places and number two, because I'm usually fishing with two fly rigs, I just pay more attention. The difference between success and failure in nymph fishing can be a matter of a couple of inches. You might be just off the seam, just off the pocket, or if you're just off the bottom, add BBs and/or look at your drifts more carefully.
FFL: When you talk about fishing where the fish are, you're talking about where in the channel and what depth, not just which part of the stream.
DG: Right. Fish in moving water all behave in roughly the same manner. On more than one occasion when fishing the Pit I've had the experience fishing the head of the run with a couple of BBs and catching a fish and then putting a couple of more BBs on and catching some more fish, then a couple more. Up to the point of having ten BBs on and as you work your way down through the water column, catching fish at a number of different levels. Or by the same token, not catching anything with a couple of BBs and keeping adding and not getting hooked up until I got down to the fifteen BB level in the water. Fish where the fish are. Fish down at the level that the fish are.
FFL: You mentioned that you generally use a two fly rig when nymph fishing. Do you use different approaches for different flies?
DG: I tend to not do that. I fish nymphs in two ways. 90% of the time I dead drift and have as many BBs as it takes to be down at or near the bottom which is what I believe to be the fish zone. Then about 10% of the time I fish on the swing; soft hackle. I like that kind of fishing a lot and streamers also on the swing. Totally tight line fishing, across and down. I like that kind of fishing a lot but I don't do it a lot. Really, dead drift nymphing is what I do more of.
FFL: In dead drift nymphing, where have you got the weight relative to the bottom fly?
DG: About half way between the top fly and the bottom fly. Typically I have about 18 to 24 inches between the two flies and I'm putting the BBs right in between the two. A number of my guides put the BBs above the top fly. My opinion is that I want the BBs near those flies because I want the flies down on the bottom; within a few inches of the bottom. I want them both to be down. If I put them above the top fly then I could conceivably have 24 to 30 inches of distance from one of the flies to the bottom.
FFL: What do you consider the most significant environmental issues facing California right now?
DG: I think it would have to be water allocation issues; stream flow issues impacted by hydro, irrigation, and water ownership issues. The Truckee is a good example. The Pit is a good example. The Trinity is a great example. I think those are the big issues for us and the issues of abandoned mines leaching into the streams. One of the things that has become clear to me over the last few years by being involved in the relicensing of the Hat and the Pit River with FERC is that increasingly there are more and more people interested in rivers. The Pit is a great example. Whitewater people are very interested now. There are enough of them now that are mobilized. The Native American Indians are becoming more active in terms of their water resources. So there are a lot of potentially conflicting interests involved in these water flow issues and because most of the water that we fish in California is managed by the state and federal government, particularly around power generation, all those interested parties have the opportunity to be involved in, and affect, the outcome. So the relicensing of Pit Three, Four, and Five over the last ten years is an example where there is now this weekend release of boating amounts of water, flows that are better for fish but are going to make it really hard for anglers to get around. So those are the kind of issues where anglers need to really stand up for themselves as a group in order to protect their access. The whole idea of PG&E selling off their surplus; there's a scary concept. If they go into private hands, we could lose a lot good water.
FFL: What are your favorite fishing waters?
DG: My favorite waters are Eastern Shasta County because it's where I've spent the last twenty five years. I'm not sure they're my favorite waters anymore. I'd like to have some new favorite waters. I feel like I know them all.
My preference is for smaller rivers rather than bigger rivers. I like small rivers; something that has a kind of intimate quality. I just find myself daunted by larger rivers like the lower Sacramento and that's where I hire a guide.
FFL: One Last question; the future of fly fishing?
DG: I think it is alive and well, prospering and tranquil if you look at the development in tackle, the number of guides just in California, the number of lodges and accommodations, and fly fishing travel around the world. I think fly fishing is strong. I think as the boomers retire it's going to continue to grow. I would just have to say that I'm completely bullish on it and I also think that advances in technology make it more and more interesting. When I started wading we were using Seal-Dri and now we have the Gore-Tex breathable immersible waders. I started fishing with Fenwick fiberglass rods when I was a kid and now we've got these incredibly light weight graphite rods, fluorocarbon tippets, and the availability of high quality flies. I've seen the growth just in my career. I started all by myself and eventually there we're fifteen guides working for me.