Monday, February 18, 2008

Eddy Conversations: Josh “Biggie” Stanish Edition, Part 1

Welcome to the first edition of Eddy Conversations. The concept is pretty simple: I trick someone who has something interesting to say into trading emails with me for awhile. Then I post the results.

My first victim is Josh “Biggie” Stanish, a guide and outfitter who works out of Bozeman. Josh has been in the fishing business for more than 20 years and he actually grew up on a mountain named Bellyache Ridge. You can check out his blog and his company website if this edition of the conversations convinces you to get in a drift boat with a guy named Biggie.

Biggie was so longwinded I had to serialize this baby. This is part one.

First off, let’s get acquainted a little bit. Where do you hail from and how did you get into fly fishing?

I was born and raised in the Vail Valley in Colorado. When I was a kid there was no Interstate 70 and it took 4 hours to drive to Denver. My home town is now one of the world's finest ski resorts and the interstate makes it possible to get to Denver in under 2 hours. I got my start guiding when I turned 16 and was able to drive clients to the river. I grew up on top of a mountain called Bellyache Ridge and the road down from the house was 5 miles of gravel and it had an elevation gain or drop (depending on which way you were driving) of about 1,500 feet.

As a kid I would ride my bike down the mountain in the morning and head to the Eagle River to spend my day fishing. In the afternoon I made sure to get back to the bottom of the road to meet my dad for a ride back up. I pretty much spent every chance I could on the river and the two local outfitters in the area always saw me fishing when they floated by with clients. Both of them made offers for me to come to work for them once I could drive. I can still remember getting my license and the first place I went was to the fly shop to get a job on the river. I spent my summers guiding fisherman on the Eagle, Roaring Fork, Frying Pan and Colorado rivers. Once I graduated from High School, I moved to Bozeman Montana to attend Montana State University.

I have feeling your college career didn’t quite pan out the way your parents hoped it might.

When I got to Bozeman I fell in love with the place and the fishing. College was not on the top of my list primarily because I met an old hippie from Sheridan Wyoming that had the same 8 a.m. classes as I did and he loved to fish as well. It just happened that he would usually ask me what I had in store for the rest of the day and fishing was more important than my classes in Elementary Education. I spent a lot more time on the Madison River than I did on campus. During the summers I was still going back to Colorado and guiding and after my 3rd year of college I was running the entire guide program for the shop. They also had an operation in Florida and they offered me a job with a full time salary working in Colorado in the summer and Florida in the winter. I promptly accepted the offer but after the summer I was home sick for Montana and learned how little a salaried employee can really earn in relation to the amount of work you may do. I computed my per hour pay and it came out to a little under 3 bucks an hour.
I packed up my stuff and headed back North to start a new chapter in life.

Ah, The Hippie From Sheridan Wyoming excuse, its as old as time itself. So, how did you end up as an outfitter?

Well, I delivered papers, fished, and got drunk with my buddies for about a year before I got a job working at Simms making waders. While I was at Simms we were working on the initial breathable waders. The first attempt at breathable waders for Simms was a Cordura material wader that had Cordura for the wader and the feet. The problems they had with the waders were that the feet would slip down into the boot and bunch up after walking around in them. I was there as they started to look for new foot designs and we came up with a neoprene booty and a way to attach it to the new Gore-tex material. It was a great winter job but I knew that I wanted to get back into the fly shop/guiding world so in the Spring I took a job working at Montana Troutfitters Orvis Shop. I primarily worked in the shop as a clerk and filled in a few guide days when we were really busy. This was one of the best summers I had because the other shop rats were lazy and never wanted to open the shop. I usually opened the shop and was done working by 1 pm. This allowed me to fish in the afternoons and that summer I registered 93 straight days of wetting a line. I am sure that I will never get to fish that much for myself ever again.

I worked in the shop for the next summer and in the fall the owner told me that he was going to sell the shop. We were supposed to attend the Fly Tackle Dealer Show in Denver but he decided not to go since he was putting the shop on the market. I went to the show by myself and my father came down to see what it was all about. After the show my dad mentioned that one of his clients he had built a home for was looking to invest in a business to try and hide some money from the IRS. I made an off hand comment to my dad about him buying a fly shop and a couple of days later he called me and wanted some information on the shop. I told him that I was just kidding when I mentioned it to my dad but he said he wanted to take a look at it and see if it fit his needs. I contacted the owner and the next thing I knew I was in an escrow office signing closing documents on the fly shop. I was 25 years old at the time and now I was running my own operation. I owned and operated Montana Troutfitters fly shop for the next 8 years. In the time I owned the shop there were three new shops and several new lodges who got into the business and competition was getting fierce. The shop was plugging along but my pockets were not as deep as the others and someone approached me about purchasing the shop. My investor had also passed away and his family was in a feud over who got what so it seemed like the right time to get out of the shop and out of the turmoil of the family. I sold the shop and ran it for one year for the new owners before giving them full range of the operations. That was three years ago and now I am running my own outfitting business and guiding for the Yellowstone Angler and Troutchasers lodge when I don't have my own clients. It has been a wonderful change of pace and not having to deal with employees has been the best part of all of it.

During all this I bought a springer spaniel who I named Trico and she is a great fishing dog. I think she thinks she is a chesapeake retriever though because she does not act like a typical springer. She loves the water and she is obsessed with rocks and carrying them around. I also got married and had a wonderful son who is now 5. My wife and I are expecting a second bundle of joy in July and it should be interesting guiding and not getting any sleep with a new baby in the house. My parents and my sister have all moved to Bozeman and it is now our new home.

Trico the fishing dog.

Wow, sounds like quite a ride. I need to check the current price of cardstock, because I’m pretty sure that is the paper that my college degree is printed on. I have a feeling I got ripped off. Still, your story doesn’t explain where the name ‘Biggie” comes from.

The nickname "Biggie" came from one of my good friends and fishing buddies during the period that I worked at Simms. Eric likes to find a nickname for everyone and I guess that I was no exception. I am kind of a big guy standing about 6'2" and I weigh about 250, so the name fits in that regard, but the name really came from the fact that I usually would "Biggie Size" my order at Micky D's or Wendy's when we were getting a late night snack after the bar or on the way home from fishing. The name stuck and I have grown fond of it myself. It works for me and it helps loosen up clients when they find out their guide has a fun nickname.

I think I would spend the whole day calling you the ‘The Notorious B.I.G’ but maybe that is just me. So where does your drift boat take you?

I work in a lot of places and have a lot of experience throughout the state. I thank Montana State University for allowing me to study my profession so well while I was in school, I just could not con them into giving me a degree in fishing.

I start my year off with a couple of weeks in mid March on the Bitteroot River outside of Hamilton, Montana. I have several clients that like to get in on the first good hatch of large insects in the state and the Skwala's provide that for them. I really enjoy the "Root" and it is a nice change of pace to be on the other side of the continental divide. After that I head to the Bighorn for some trips and do a handful of trips on my home waters outside of Bozeman throughout March and April. The Bighorn has people in the spring and, as a guide, you have to go where the work is. I spend the rest of the summer on the Gallatin, Yellowstone and Madison as well as the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks, MZ Ranch, Willow Creek and inside Yellowstone Park. The park days that I do are limited and most of my time guiding in the park is spent hiking into the headwaters of the Gallatin and some of the smaller tributaries of the Gallatin inside the park. I also spend a bit of time on some stillwater fisheries such as Ennis Lake, Burns Lake and Sitz Ponds. I don't particularly care for the lake fishing that much but for some guests it is a nice change of pace to catch a lot of larger fish in the lakes. I also end up on the Missouri on occasion, but only for special clients or during times of high water in our local area.

There are a couple of special rivers I fish as well but those are only reserved for my best clients and I don't advertise which ones they are. In the fall I head back down to the Bighorn for some late season trips and I do quite a few trips on the Madison and Firehole inside the park in the fall. That pretty much rounds out the year. I spend the majority of my time on the Gallatin and Yellowstone followed by the Madison and Bighorn.

You mean you’re not going to drop the names of your favorite secret waters on the internet? I feel so cheated. What’s the worst day of your guiding career?

I have a local friend who my family has known for over 40 years and he owns a bar and restaurant in town. He always takes a couple of trips with me each year and brings along one of his buddies from town. I have gotten to know many of Bozeman's longtime locals this way and it has been fun to meet almost all of them except for one. The guy that he brought with him on the day in question owns one of the two local lumber businesses in town. I knew him a bit prior to the trip because I went to college with his son. I knew he was kind of a jerk and that it would be an interesting day at best.

The day started off just fine, but at lunch it all turned south. This guy was born in the Gallatin Valley and thus he has some entitlement issues because he and his family were some of the first to settle in the valley. Despite the fact that he has become a very wealthy man with all the growth that has occurred, he is still very bitter towards anyone who has just moved here. After lunch, he jumped into a tirade about how the fishing guides have ruined everything and nothing is like it used to be. I tried to have a rational discussion with him about it but he insisted on pushing the issue further and further. He really didn't like it when I gave him a bit of his own medicine and asked him if he thought he would have the things he has now with out the changes to the area and all of the growth. His tirade became worse and his insults were directed more at me than they were when he started. I finally had had enough of his crap and told my friend to tell him to shut up or he could walk home. It is the only person that I have ever had on a trip that I was seriously contemplating leaving on the bank of the river because I couldn't deal with them anymore. My friend told the guy that he was an a**hole and that he needed to keep his thoughts to himself because he was sounding ignorant and foolish. We agreed to disagree on the subject and we got back in the boat and floated to the take out. When we got back to town my friend apologized profusely to me and gave me a couple of extra $100s for putting up with the guy.

I was very happy to drop them off and I make sure to let everyone I know hear the story and I encourage them to doing their shopping at establishments other than his.

Most people I take fishing are great and I have been very fortunate to have only a few experiences that were difficult.

That's the end of part one, folks. Tune in next time, when Biggie tells us why the Salmonfly hatch on the Madison is both overrated and underrated...

1 comment:

  1. 'Eddy Conversations' is such a great idea. can't wait to read the next installment with Biggie. loved the part about how he had a job with Simms making waders...