WHEN I SAW MY FRIENDS IN THE FLORIDA KEYS LOSE 30 GUIDE DAYS IN THE WAKE OF HURRICANE IRMA, WE PUT OUR CHAINSAW SKILLS TO WORK.
Fly fishing guides have chosen a career that puts us on some of the most remarkable water on the planet. Sharing these special places with guests from all around the world is rewarding. But with every reward comes risk, and guiding during this period of unmatched natural disasters means waiting for the other shoe to drop. The realization that a storm or wildfire could end our season and force us into financial dismay has brought us together. Just as the rising tide of a united industry floats all boats, we each take on water when our guide brothers and sisters spring a leak. Our united passion for guiding is strengthened through our shared joy and pain, and the eagerness to support one another in the finest and foulest of times. So, when I saw my friends in the Florida Keys lose 30 guide days in the wake of Hurricane Irma, as well as their boats and homes in some cases, I felt a burning concern that was perhaps fueled by my own experience guiding this summer in the harsh smoke of Montana's devastating wildfires. I only lost nine days, not 30. I didn't lose a boat or a house. And I wanted to help those who took a gale-force slugging in the Keys.
So, my friends from YETI, Costa, Fishpond, Patagonia, Montana Fly Company, Scientific Anglers, Orvis, Nissan Trucks and Protect Our Winters rallied to come up with money and muscle to support the Florida Keys Guides' Association through a Florida Keys Cleanup effort and the Sugarloaf Showdown fly fishing fundraiser tournament. We toured some of the most hurricane-ravaged areas of the Florida Keys, where we put our chainsaw skills on overdrive and hauled one truck bed load after another of tree limbs and debris to community trash piles that lined the highway.
We helped recover the torn yard of Bill Becker, the radio show host who chose not to evacuate during the storm simply so he could stay on the air to deliver up-to-date news on the storm. At the home of a guide whose roof was ripped off his house, we hauled lumber, tools, rubble and muscled volunteers while offering as many wild fish stories as possible to lighten the mood. Afterward, we raised money for the guides by participating in their fly fishing tournament, making a statement that the Keys are open for business and that one of the best ways to keep the guides on the poling platform is to book a charter with them. I'm grateful to everyone who participated in this effort and to those who are doing so many small and large things to help in similar ways.
Words by: Hilary Hutcheson | Fishpond Tribe
Hilary grew up at the west entrance of Glacier National Park in Montana. Even at a young age, she felt more connected to the area’s wild rivers, lakes and creeks than to its mountains or forests. When a boy down the road taught her how to fly fish in seventh grade, she vowed to always be near rivers, no matter what. Hilary has been exposed to conservation issues that have driven her to pursue connections with people and companies dedicated to habitat restoration and environmental sustainability. She is also passionate about the nonprofit organizations Project Healing Waters, Casting for Recovery, and Protect our Winters.
Photo by: @flylords