The Meaning of Guide, By Capt. Sarah Gardner

For most people, the definition of “being a fishing guide” is simply someone who takes people fishing – and gets paid to do so. Guides, on the other hand, know that there is much more to this job description, and occasionally a trip will truly challenge their skills and change the definition.

It was 3:30 in the morning, and I was wide awake – my brain still buzzing from the last trip.

Earlier, I tearfully said goodbye to a dear client and his new guest. Dave was a false albacore veteran and a world-traveling fly fisher. His partner was also an experienced trout and salmon angler, but this was her first saltwater fly experience (name withheld for privacy). Dave had already prepared me for her skill level by email. I was looking forward to working on her saltwater casting, and to creating a new albie addict.

On the first morning, he met me at the boat alone. “My friend just received a bad biopsy report. She is still in the car, on the phone with an Oncologist. Please don’t let her know I told you, but I think you need to know.”

Extreme fog kept us off the water all that day and I fully expected a phone call saying that they had justifiably decided to cancel the trip. When they showed up the next morning looking nervous, but ready to go, I felt a really heavy sense of responsibility hit me. I decided to keep the trip as “normal” and as fun as possible, while being mindful that her “normal” had probably just changed.


On the run out, I made the usual stop in calm water for some practice casts. This lets anglers get familiar with the scenario and test sea legs, while I mentally evaluate skill level, before we venture into the choppy ocean. This tiny, but competitive runner easily transitioned from delicate floating trout line to a beefy 9 Wt. RIO Intermediate Striper line, and as soon as we hit the choppy ocean, the albies were there to greet us. We did a lot of bouncing, moving, casting and cleaning of salt crusted sunglasses, and with every pod of fish, she got closer to hooking a fish – this gal had game!

Then came the phone call.

With albies busting all around, I killed the engine and let the boat drift down wind while trying to ignore words like chemo, surgery. Dave hooked a fish while hiding from the terrible conversation going on in the bow. While he fought and maneuvered his fish, she sat next to me and said “I have breast cancer. My Doctors are forming a treatment plan, but there is nothing I can do now, so let’s just keep fishing.”

It was inspiring to watch as she focused all her energy and attention on hooking an albie, and it wasn’t long before she caught one, and we were hooting, hugging and taking photos. She got good, fast. Sometimes when Dave was fighting a fish, we would take a break, sit side-by-side, trade life stories or try to comprehend the diagnosis. We would laugh about raising chickens or compare running injuries, while moving to different fishing locations.

At one point we took a detour from a really crowded albie spot, to an inshore wreck, just five miles off the beach. It had been loaded with Spanish and king mackerel. As I pulled onto the wreck another friend/guide was landing a king caught on live bait. This was a great opportunity to try something different. It was also a much slower way of fishing, allowing us to talk more and not just me barking orders. I pulled out a Sage xi3 9wt. teamed with a 300 grain RIO Leviathan. I gave a quick demonstration on how to cast and feed line, and then turned it over to her.

The first few casts were a little clunky, but she quickly learned to let the rod and line do the work. It was fun for her to watch the fish marks on the fish finder, while sweeping extra line out to let the fly get deep, and she quickly mastered the art of counting down the fly and roll casting it to start another cast. After a couple of missed strikes, a 5.5 pound Spanish took her into the backing, before making a one way trip to my cooler. As we held it up for photos the other guide boat drifted by and everyone in that boat cheered for her. They had no idea how important their shouts were. We were all lost in the experience, letting the fear of cancer drift away from the “Fly Girl”.

I love my “glamorous” job and embrace all the challenges that come with it. This trip went way beyond providing the best tackle, a great boat and expertise. After 15 years, and thousands of charters, I had tested skills that I didn’t know I had. I lay in bed feeling incredibly gratified, but still wondering if I helped provide escape for someone who needed it.

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3 Responses to The Meaning of Guide, By Capt. Sarah Gardner

  1. Chris says:

    Great post. Fishing helps us all escape from the challenges of life.

  2. tim says:

    What a touching story. I am a trout bum that wanted to give saltwater flyfishing a go. After talking with a few guides around the Outer Banks I decided on Fly Girl. Capt. Sarah Gardner is first class.

  3. tim hanauer says:

    Sarah, What a great story! It doesn’t matter what any of us do — PEOPLE are more important than things. Nearly all of our professions cause us to bump into people, and occasionally the timing is surreal. How you deal with and love on folks at those times is a real test of character. Thanks so much for sharing! timbo

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