THE SWEETWATER GUIDE SCHOOL - Montana by Beni Albertini
Updated: Jun 2
My passion for fly fishing has taken me to many different places around the world. After being a ski instructor throughout my entire adult career, I reached a moment in my life where I felt like something was missing.
I not only wanted to enjoy fly-fishing for myself but I wanted to pass my skills and knowledge onto others. After hours of searching online and talking to people about how to turn my passion for fishing into a career, I finally came across Sweetwater Travel Guide school in Montana. I took my chance and in no time at all I found myself on a flight to the States to fish along the bighorn river and acquire vital guiding knowledge.
Before reaching the Sweetwater guide school I had the chance to meet one of my greatest friends, Jeremy Clark who works at the Slide Inn fishing ship next to his playground, the Maddison river. Jeremy is a certified and very experienced guide on this river. Before commencing my course, we went fishing together and he provided me with knowledge on the river and drift boat skills which both helped me to catch my first American Brown trout of the trip.
This experience warmed me up to the magnificent American rivers and I felt slightly more prepared for the week ahead...
I met one of the SW instructors at Billings airport, Beau Peavey who brought me to the new Sweetwater travel lodge which was very impressive, well equipped and comfortable. It looked like I had a very fun week ahead of me. After meeting my fellow students and professional staff of guides and instructors, the week of learning began with a full afternoon of fly tying lessons with Joe Fisher, a new member of to the Sweet Water instructors. His skills were impressive and effortless, making it look easy - believe me when I say that fly tying can be very demanding and ask a lot of concentration - to maintain a cheerful atmosphere beers and jokes were essential and everyone remained at a joyful level, despite the frustrations of fly-tying.
The flies we learnt to tie: Miracle Midge, Greenie Weenie, Ray Charles, Griffiths Gnat, Woolly Bugger.
To finish the day, a group dinner was prepared by one of the staff members. After several American ales it was time to go to bed and reserve some energy for the next day!
The first full day of fishing and drift boat exercise began in the pouring rain, but it didn't stop us from loading up the fishing gear and packing our lunch for a full day ahead. After placing the boat in the river, our instructor, Alex Emery, demonstrated the technique to row the boat. Fishing was tough but we managed to land a couple of brown and rainbow trout. When it was my turn to row, I was nervous and not very confident. The boat was bigger than I expected and hard to manoeuvre. As a mountain man, water is not my natural habitat! However, Alex gave me some great advice and I finished by managing the boat well by the end of the session.
Flies we used: Woolly Bugger, Streamers, Wire Worms, Ray Charles, Miracle Midges, Nymphs, Imitating Midges, Humpy Dry. When we were using nymphs and worms on our rig we used slingshot to make it heavier and with a big bobber indicator. For streamers, sinking line, cast forwards and fast stripe retrieval.
This next day my instructor was Beau Peavey, first impressions of Beau are a little intimidating with his bear-like appearance. However, beneath the bearded face and cap this man is a friendly lad with an enormous amount of knowledge and experience to share. After a morning of tough fishing, it was time to get our streamers out and shake things up. My confidence in rowing was growing and I felt ready to tackle the oars on my own and make independent decisions on where and when to stop for the perfect guide spot along the bank of the river.
On day four I swapped the drift boat for a jet boat. Starting the day with Brad (another instructor) teaching us how to disassemble and reassemble the internal propeller and ensuring the boat was well prepared before use. It was important to learn how to clean the
impeller in case of weeds and wood becoming entangled. Following this we were ready to get going. Under the supervision of Brad, we left two of the other students on the bank to wade fish, whilst Brad and I left for some one-to-one training on how to manoeuvre the jet boat. It was an incredible feeling to fly over the water. After receiving great training, I swapped my place with one of my other colleagues and it was my turn to fish. Following the jet boat session was one of my most interesting moments of the course. The fly casting lesson by Brant Oswald who was mentored by the famous Mel Krieger. The afternoon was a success and I left with such admiration for his casting skills and his ability to demonstrate multiple techniques. His tips and advice will follow me all of my life as a caster and instructor.
On day 5, it was time for the instructors to observe our progress...When it was my turn to guide, I had to remember to concentrate on rowing as well as effectively communicating with the ‘guests’. As English is not my first language, this was slightly challenging. Fortunately, I'm a chatty guy so I soon overcame this hurdle! The key is to convey your knowledge of the river, encouraging your guests to fish the hotspots. And most importantly, making sure they are happy, safe and enjoying their fishing experience. After rowing, I pulled parked the boat in a nice wading area and netted three fish that my guest caught, one brown, 1 rainbow and a river carp.
Following this session I received very encouraging comments about my work from my instructor and new friend, Alex Emery. That afternoon we decided to fish a smaller stream where I hooked my first ever carp on a fly - what a fight on my 5 weight rod! They thought it was one of the biggest carp in that stream.
The final Friday had come around quickly and it was time to be assessed. I had to prove to my instructors that I was capable of being a fly-fishing guide. We brought the jet boat to the
Yellow Tail lake to fish smallmouth bass. After a couple of casts I landed my first smallmouth bass. I then took control of the jet boat and guided my two guests to an appropriate spot to catch a bass or few. Following some successful catches and good instructing, my examiner and guest were pleased with my performance.
For the afternoon it was back to the lodge to do our First Aid and CPR course. Thanks to Doug, our instructor, we all passed.
To finish the day, beers and a BBQ was in order. Relaxing and swapping stories between classmates to end an incredible week. As the sun was setting, we lit the camp fire and gathered around. It was the end of the course and sadly it passed much too fast. After receiving my certificate of completion from the new director, Steve, as well as good reviews from my instructors it was with excitement and sadness that it was time to leave this incredible team, lodge and all the friends I made during this week.
To end, I want to thank the Sweetwater Travel Company and all of the staff members of the Guide School for their fantastic instructing.
It's time for me to use all of the skills I learnt in my new job role as a guide and instructor at the Northern Fishing School run by Marina Gibson. I'm so grateful for this fantastic opportunity to work at your school and making my dream reality.