Fishing guide’s job pays off

YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLICMarch 15, 2014 

Greg Springer rows through a set of rapids on the Sol Duc River. (Photo courtesy of Greg Springer)

Choose a job you love, goes a saying attributed to Confucius, and you'll never have to work a day in your life.

Of course, Confucius neglected to mention just how hard making an actual living at that job might be.

That part Greg Springer had to figure out on his own. So, instead of pursuing the job for which he was taking college courses, he took a different route: He opted for a job he'd love even more, but would be harder still.

And it's paying off.

He's working, and loving every minute of it. Having "always been a fishing fool" while growing up in Yakima, the 2001 West Valley grad is actually making a living catching fish. He works as a guide for Alaska fishing resorts from June to October and, the rest of the year, runs his own guide service on a half-dozen steelhead- and salmon-rich rivers mere minutes from his house in the Olympic Peninsula town of Forks.

"Just yesterday, I was holding an 18-pound steelhead," Springer said in a telephone interview. "It was just beautiful, and it reminded me why I do this."

He wouldn't have been doing it at all had the job prospects been so dismal in his original plan -- to become a fish biologist or work at a fish hatchery.

To that end, he had been studying fisheries biology and natural resources management at Eastern Washington University, while working summers as a fishing guide in Alaska to pay the bills. Every time he came south to return to college, though, he wondered anew if he was making a mistake.

"I had peers who were in the same programs as I was and they were unemployed and looking for work," Springer recalled. "I thought, why am I getting this degree, if all the guys that have it say they either need another degree or they're working at Best Buy or in insurance with their biology degree?"

Springer, meanwhile, was already making good money -- albeit only seasonally -- as a fishing guide in Alaska. When one of his Alaska employers, a Forks native, wanted to hire a young guide to work the Olympic Peninsula rivers, Springer jumped at the chance and moved to Forks.

That situation didn't pan out, though, leaving Springer with a difficult choice to make.

"It was either go back to school or try to do this guide business," he said. "I knew it was going to be really hard."

He knew that, at least at the start, he'd be perceived by locals as an outsider. He knew he'd have to develop a clientele entirely by word of mouth, in a highly competitive market populated by serious, ultra-experienced anglers.

"These are some of the best steelhead fishermen in the world," he said. "There may be 15 to 25 guides in town at a time, plus all the locals and out-of-towners fishing these rivers. This isn't a no-brainer type of deal. You've got to be good out here to put up numbers and catch fish. It's tough.

"But I had a choice to make. I could say, 'Hey, Forks didn't work out' -- but once you're your own boss, it's kind of tough to go back."

Because Springer could count on a regular source of good income from his summers and early autumns guiding in Alaska, he was able to get through a couple of lean years in Forks as he built his reputation and client list.

And that reputation was hard-earned.

The rivers around Forks -- the Sol Duc, Bogachiel, Calawah, Hoh, Clearwater and Quillayute -- pose a rigorous learning curve for those who would fish them. "There's no set template out here. It's wild, it's the coast, it's unpredictable," Springer said. "There's a million variables, the weatherman's wrong half the time.

"This entire system, every river is different ... there's a very steep gradiant here, definitely some big channels and lots of big, turbid water. Most of the rivers here are not a place for beginning rowers."

Springer, though, has long since left beginner status. Now 31 years old and five years into starting Springer's Sport Fishing, he's an established entity in Forks. His photo adorned the cover of the January edition of Northwest Sportsman magazine. He gets nods and friendly greetings from locals who might once have regarded him as an outsider.

Some of that may be simple familiarity. And, just maybe, some of those locals understand that he's in it for the long haul and respects the resource. Otherwise, he wouldn't be so outspoken about his conscious decision not to harvest wild steelhead, even though those Olympic Peninsula rivers are among the handful in Washington where that's legal in season.

"There's no reason we should be killing these wild steelhead," he said. "We have ample hatchery programs in December and ample stocks of wild salmon in the fall. I tell people, look, we've got a really limited resource here (with wild steelhead). If you want to get a quick picture of him, fine."

Because he and his clients are usually way behind the rest of the boats on whatever river he's guiding on any given day, they can have as much boisterous fun as they want without bothering a soul.

"If you hear my boat, you can usually hear us a mile away because we're loud and laughing and carrying on and talking about girls," he said. "It's an eight-hour B.S. session."

Who wouldn't love a job like that?

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