Ethan Winchester is the director of operations and a guide at Boyne Outfitters in Northern Michigan. A Sage Elite Pro, Winchester loves teaching fly fishing and helping anglers have memorable experiences on the water. Winchester recently sat down to interview with The Venturing Angler:
Why do you guide where you do?
Northern Michigan is home. I love traveling, but even after fishing and guiding in other locations, Northern Michigan still draws me back. The amount of water – the streams, rivers, inland and Great Lakes – is unbelievable. In Michigan, you’re never more than 6 miles from a body of water. Michigan has more coastline than any other state except Alaska.
On top of that, the diversity is incredible. I can fish a backcountry stream for brook trout, chase bass on a local lake, and chase rising brown trout in the evening… all in the same day, and not more than an hours’ drive from home. Throw in steelhead, salmon, pike, musky, etc… and there is arguably more diversity for anglers in Michigan than anywhere else. But… I am pretty keen on trout fishing myself – so that’s where my focus lies.
Our rivers are not the wide open spaces of the west – these are intimate fisheries – and it’s easy to lose yourself in their beauty & solitude.
What is your favorite fish species?
Brook trout. I grew up in northern Michigan. They are a native – and iconic – species to our region. What they may lack in size, they make up for in beauty.
What is your favorite thing about guiding?
Sharing the water – and my knowledge – with my guests. Any reputable guide will tell you that time on the water is of utmost importance, and it’s always cool to download my knowledge to a guest that really soaks it up. I may only have 8 hours with someone, and my goal is to make sure they leave a significantly better angler than they did when they called me – regardless of if the conditions or fish cooperate with us that day.
What is the most memorable trip you’ve guided and why?
That’s a tough one, and not to be cliché, but it’s because I have a lot of memorable trips.
However, I’d say the most memorable trip is because of the selflessness of the guest. Paul was a man I’d known from growing up in a small town – the shirt off his back kind of guy. When I started the fly shop, Paul would stop in whenever he was around just to shoot the breeze and talk about his travels. Paul was diagnosed with cancer. Paul had been taught to fly fish by his friend in Colorado. That same man had been someone I had idolized growing up. So Paul hooked the three of us up and we went to fish some small water out in the Pigeon River Country. Throughout the day, we talked about everything – you know, Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders – but ultimately, the day was about Paul, as it ended up being one of the last days he fished. I remember him telling me he was going to beat that thing – his undeniable optimism till the end will always resonate in me. You could tell Paul was happy he got to introduce me to his friend, but the memory of Paul fishing that day is what I will always remember. Paul’s friend… was John Gierach.
What is the funniest thing you’ve experienced while guiding?
When we are an hour into a float, I always chuckle a little when a guest asks me how we get back to the truck. I work for Boyne Resorts – our fly shop is located at Boyne Mountain Resort along with Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark. I once convinced an angler that it was like the lazy river in the waterpark, and that we’ll just go around in a big circle and end up back at the take out. The person was convinced. Their significant other was rolling in the back of the boat before they turned around and called me a liar – we all had a good laugh.
All jokes aside, there is a river in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where you can put in and take out within 100 yards of each other, and it’s about a 3 hour canoe trip around the peninsula. So it is possible… but that’s likely one of my favorite questions to tease guests.
What makes your guide service great?
Guest experience. We pride ourselves on making sure that the guest is happy at the end of each trip regardless of the number of fish to hand that day. We are teachers. We take our shore lunches seriously. We treat a guest as a guest, not just another client.
I always tell my new guides, “Guides are a dime a dozen, but a good one is hard to find. The good ones are that way because regardless of the conditions, a guest leaves with a memorable experience. It’s easy to be a good guide when the fishing takes care of itself; it takes a lot more to be a good guide when everything works against you. Be a good guide regardless of your circumstances.” And anyone who’s guided for any amount of time knows, there are a lot more days with tough conditions than there are with prime conditions.
On top of that, we are a team – each guide’s guest is our guest. We talk, we share knowledge, we fish different water and report…and it all benefits our end product…the guest experience.
If you had only one day off all year, where would you fish and what fish would you target?
A small hidden creek in Northern Michigan for brook trout. I don’t do it nearly enough as it is, and I always miss it in the off-season. Hike as deep as I can get from the roads and start fishing.
What are your favorite three flies?
- My Better Sweater dun. It has elements of the McClain’s drake and gets buggier with each fish, and it has a Galloup tilt wing for visibility and floatation. It has easily become one of my favorite dun patterns.
- My Rip Rap. If anything, it’s fun to fish. It has good movement, is big enough to catch attention of trophy-class fish but small enough to still provide numbers, and A TON OF FLASH. I’ve caught browns, steelhead, brook trout, bass & esox with it. And because it’s fun to watch in the water, it keeps the angler engaged in the presentation.
- The third one is a toss-up between Barr’s Slumpbuster and a #16 black foam beetle over peacock. Both are go-to flies on days when nothing else seems to work, and are key patterns on smaller, technical water.
What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave at home?
My Costas. 580 glass in green mirror. Even if I leave my rod or flies at home, at least I can still look at ‘em!
Do you have any other passions?
I am an avid upland bird hunter and have three dogs at home. It’s a love hate relationship because bird season in Michigan is also the time for prime fall steelhead. But the dogs live for hunting, and have a limited window, so I give them as much attention as I can when the leaves turn color and the days get cooler.