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Hostess Ding Dongs, Miller Genuine Draft, and a 6 wt. R.L. Winston fly rod

Updated: May 20

Some fly-fishing clients leave a mark

Clients come and go in the fly-fishing world. Many return year after year, and we get to relive our trout conquests as we drift past the spot where the butterscotch brown chowed the caddis. Some clients turn into good friends. A few leave an indelible mark. 

Bill Smith was one of those clients.

I met Bill through my buddy, Jake Hood, a guide-turned-client-turned-friend. Jake and I crossed paths at a big sports expo where Jake was repping for the famed fly rod manufacturer, Powell Fly Rods, and I was promoting my Missouri River fly fishing trips. Even fly fishing experts need guides when they fish in unfamiliar water, so when Jake wants to fish the Mighty Mo’, he calls me. We’ve had some epic fly-fishing adventures over the years, and Jake’s been cool enough to refer a few of his fishing clients to me for some Montana trips. All good dudes with varying fly-fishing skills. 

Channel Outfitters guide with client and large brown trout.
Some clients become legend. Bill Smith was one of them.

And then, there was Bill Smith. A true character, if I ever met one. 

Bill was an avid angler who’d fly-fished all over Washington, Montana and Idaho. He managed several trout lakes for fly-fishing clubs in the Spokane area, so he knew his stuff about trout strains and what conditions they thrive in. When Bill started fishing with me, I was focused on mastering the Missouri River. Bill, a newcomer to the area, quickly became a big fan. Back then, I’d start the day at Holter Dam, hooking big fall rainbows. Bill would bend the hooks trying to get rid of the rainbows, hoping to land a big brown trout instead. I liked his style!

Bill had a few quirks. He always fished as a single angler when guided. He was cantankerous as hell and smoked like a train. (Maybe he was being polite by fishing alone?) He always showed up with R.L. Winston rods and good quality reels, loving to put the bend on those Winstons. Bill also enjoyed a Miller Genuine Draft beer and a Hostess Ding-Dong with his lunch. These two treats, along with your best attempt to put him on the right fish (read: brown trout) generally resulted in a good tip. But that’s beside the point. A big man with giant feet, Bill always sat down while fishing in the boat, and inevitably, got line tangled around his feet while cursing the big rainbow trout on his line. But when Bill hooked a brown trout, he got dead serious about landing it. My job was to identify the fish quickly, otherwise Bill would pull the hook through if he thought it was just a rainbow. 

Years have passed since Bill and I enjoyed our last drift down the Missouri River…complete with Hostess Ding Dongs, Miller Genuine Draft, and the renowned Winston rod. He has long since sailed off on that great river in the sky. 

Client with large brown trout
Guide-turned-client-turned-friend Jake Hood has taken up residence in the front seat of my boat more and more these days.

My buddy Jake, now a semi-retired fishing guide, has taken up residence in the front seat of my boat more and more these days. Jake is a character in his own right, but that’s another story. During Jake's spring outings to the Mighty Mo', we always relive Bill Smith stories and his crusty words of wisdom. Before Jake's most recent trip, I noticed he was selling a lot of rods and reels online. Jake is a fan (and maybe a rep) of CF Burkheimer rods, and has determined he doesn't need all the others. I casually asked if he was keeping any rods of sentimental value. He was quiet, or maybe we were interrupted by a rainbow trout. (By the way, unlike Bill Smith, Jake does not dislike rainbows; and he is usually not quiet.) After a good day of fishing, I dropped Jake off at his hotel. He said, “Wait a minute. I got something for you.”

He returned with a reel and the ever-familiar R.L. Winston green rod tube. If you know, you know. 

When Bill Smith died, he left his beloved 6 weight Winston rod to Jake. Jake, of course, would never consider selling this rod with all those others. He was smiling ear to ear as he presented Bill Smith's pride-and-joy R.L. Winston fly rod to me. 

Jake simply said, “I want you to have it, and I want you to catch a dry fly fish with it. In honor of Bill.” 

With a lump in my throat and a soft spot in my heart, I could only nod in agreement, and mumble that maybe we'd drift down the Mighty Mo' together…while I snack on a Hostess Ding Dong, sip a Miller Genuine Draft, and cast a dry fly with the 6 weight R.L. Winston fly rod. In honor of the legendary Bill Smith.  


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