On a cold and overcast March day, a group of Colorado College students crowd atop a bank in 11-Mile Canyon, looking down at the South Platte River. Below, on a flat rock jutting out over the river, stands CC junior Brooks Pinnick, casting eloquently and delicately into a large pool. Every few casts, his line tightens, and the pole flexes into an arch.
The students look on with curiosity and excitement as he works the small fish to shore and, in a rather brutish manner, releases them. The pig of a fish hiding in the pool wasn’t caught that day, but Pinnick explained and educated the students on some of the finer points of the ethics and techniques of fly-fishing with great passion.
A few hundred yards down river, deep in the canyon, CC junior Ham Wallace diligently guides two students through the water, explaining features of the river and showing where and how to cast so their flies drift atop an eagerly awaiting trout.
If you were to ask Pinnick and Wallace about their love for fishing, they’d probably tell you it’s an addiction that has slowly taken hold over the years and led them to where they are now. Both young men have been fishing as long as they can remember.
Wallace remembers his first rod, “a red and blue Mickey Mouse Zebco” spin rod, and Pinnick recalls fondly his first days on the water learning how to spin fish with his father. It wasn’t until later, however, that the two got fly rods in their hands. Since then, there’s been no turning back, which has led them to head to the rivers this summer, guiding professionally in Colorado and Alaska, respectively.
When asked why they wanted guide for the summer, Wallace said, “Who wouldn’t want their office to be the river, and their work clothes to be waders, a tee shirt, hat, and sunglasses?” But for him, that’s not the true reason. “Seeing pure joy on someone’s face when they land that first trout on the fly—that’s the reason.”
Guiding on the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork rivers this summer out of Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt, Colorado, Wallace plans on sharing a lot of first fish smiles with clients, gaining experience, and a lot of great memories both on the river and in the bar next to the fly shop with clients for a post-trip beer.
For Pinnick, there’s a sense of adventure and progressing the sport in “the opportunity to explore new waters and get to fish with some great anglers during [my] time off. I love teaching the skills of fly-fishing to beginners in hope to promote the sport. Knowing how much you can invest into fly-fishing, its great to give others the opportunity to have a better experience through your knowledge of the water and the fish.”
Eighty miles northeast of Anchorage, Alaska, Pinnick will guide along the Yentna River and expects “long hours with clients fishing for rainbow trout and all five species of salmon.”
Despite the acknowledgment that he will face a lot of challenges, Pinnick hopes to “have a fishing experience that I have never had before [and become] an all-around better angler” as well as “learn more about the anthropogenic threats upon these valuable resources and ways in which I can promote a healthy future for fish in Alaska and back in Colorado.”
Although neither Wallace nor Pinnick plan to turn their guiding pursuits into a career, they both share an incredibly deep and life-long passion for the sport. Wallace refers to the majesty of fly-fishing, “There’s something magical about it—ask any other fly fisherman and they’d say the same. Sure, catching fish is fun, but it’s about so many other things—great people, amazing places, beer, and tobacco are just a few.”
For Pinnick, he sees fly-fishing as “a perfect combination of enjoying nature while also being able to get hands on in the action of the wildlife around us!” Pinnick hopes to make his career out of the passions associated with fishing rather than fly-fishing itself. He said, “I know this experience will help me find a career path in ways that I can help reverse and prevent mistreatment of rivers and its ecosystems across the world.”
Pinnick and Wallace are most often seen this time of year hightailing it from class to Wallace’s Chevy and heading off to Deckers or the Arkansas for an afternoon on the river. If you’re fortunate enough to strike up a conversation with them or—even luckier—get out on the river, they’re full of fly-fishing knowledge and stories from Colorado to the Florida Keys, Norway, Alaska, and beyond. And rest assured, after this summer, the two will have even more expertise and passion to share about the sport.