She’s a college kid, yes — and an Alaska fishing guide

One thing I love about writing is some of the interesting people I get to meet. I don’t relish in meeting celebrities, most of them are too self-centered. As long as you know that your role is to worship them then it is all good but God forbid if you have something to say. But it is cool to meet someone that is a hero like Marcus Luttrell or Eugene Gutierrez.

Well, one of my favorist (I know that isn’t a word but this is my story) bosses ever, Doug Pageler, called me the other day and told me that he wanted me to meet his granddaughter-in-law (as Hailey would classify their relationship). I hadn’t seen Doug in a while so it’d be good to see him anyway so I said sure.

Upon meeting at the Hog Dog restaurant, Doug introduced me to Hailey Smith. She was an interesting interview. Her dad had her fly fishing at 7 years old, and by 15, she knew she knew she wanted to be a guide. At the ripe old age of 19, she moved to Montana and attended the prestigious Sweetwater Travel Company Guide School. I can only assume that she must have done an excellent job because seven days later she was guiding. While in Montana, she guided on the Yellowstone, Big Horn, Bitterroot and numerous other rivers.

After the season, she moved back to Idaho and enrolled in school at the University of Idaho. After a year, an old buddy called and told her she ought to come up to Alaska. He was guiding and they could use her. After repeated calls she finally signed up.

After a flurry of hustling, guide licenses, plane tickets etc., etc., were lined up and four days later she was enroute to the Last Frontier state. She arrived at the lodge and after a snack and warm greeting she was notified that her first guiding trip would begin at 5 a.m.

She had run many a river with her dad but she was now on her own. Suddenly it got real. It’s one thing to be running an Idaho river with dad being the captain and being on your own with one or two clients and rounding a bend in a raft and there’s a brown bear in the middle of his stream.

We all have dreamed of being a game warden, a guide or owning a big ranch, haven’t we? Well, let’s take a peek into the life of a guide and see what her schedule really looked like. Was it all fly fishing on pristine rivers and having a good time? Well, not quite.

She rolled out of bed at 5 a.m. (You know, before that little round thing in the sky called the sun even pops over the horizon.) She had to grab her 60-pound raft and strap it to the pontoon on the float plane. Then load up the pre-packed lunches, fly rods, life jackets and paddles. And the night before, depending on where they were going, the necessary flies for the day.

She didn’t say all of this but I’ve guided enough people to know how it plays out. Most clients are rich and used to having their way. They’ve spent a lot of money to get to your lodge. The weather had better be perfect, the fish biting and keep them from getting eaten by a bear.

All of my guides in Texas and most in Louisiana have fished right along beside us. They get to fish full time. Not so with an Alaskan guide. Hailey was busy paddling and getting the clients into position. A good guide is invaluable. They’ll put you in position for a good cast, they can read the river and tell you where to cast and how to work your fly. Guiding is hard work. Especially if you’re also paddling.

Then of course we had to swap a few bear stories, didn’t we? And she has a few. Once, she and a guide buddy were floating a river with some clients. He took the right fork so she took the left. There was good water. But as soon as she rounded the bend the water disappeared down to nothing and the raft bottomed out. To make matters worse there was a big brown bear in the middle of the river fishing.

She jumps out trying to dislodge the raft while the clients sat in the raft. She is sweeter than me. I think about that time I’d of informed them if they didn’t want to become a raft wrap taco, they’d better jump their happy little tails out of the raft and help me out. But they survived.

The bear stories all run together now that I’m sitting here pounding out this article on the keyboard but somewhere in the mix one charged within 10-feet and stood up looking at her and her clients. She did the whole stand up and look big bit but at about 5-foot-5 and 110 pounds soaking wet I doubt that she looked too intimidating but luckily, he finally dropped down and took off the other way.

Then lastly, I had to ask her the obvious question. Was it tough breaking into what is traditionally a man’s world? She said the other guides were all super helpful and supportive. Of course, if you read between the lines, she’s a go-getter and a smart young lady. What other 22-year-old kid has done all that she has? Not many.

What an interesting interview. Now, of course, we’re trying to line up a fishing trip.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at

Post Author: By Tom Claycomb

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