The Alaska Chronicles by Miles Nolte

The real dirt on A guide’s life.

I don’t really understand books anymore, especially in the fly fishing genre, which is a super limited market in the big scheme of things. I get it when an author writes a book to demonstrate some sort of mastery over these fishes we pursue…and said author sees a payoff when dudes hire he or she to guide or stay in their lodges or book “hosted” trips in some remote part of the globe, where the host gets his or her discount, plus commission, and the clients cover that gratuity.

Anyway, what I don’t understand is how publishers make it. Why publish this one and not the other? Why take a chance on a book that is doomed to fail. (Please, tell me that you understand some books are made to fail before they ever get off the press, right? If not, I can give you a great deal on my services, right now).

So, I’m a bit perlexed by The Alaska Chonicles, a book by Miles Nolte who’s a guide and an English professor at Montana State University. Maybe Miles filled an apprenticeship by writing the book. Maybe he plans to go back to guiding in Alaska and figures that he’ll rake it in. Or maybe he just wrote the book because it has never been written before and because anglers will appreciate it. Maybe he wrote it because he’s keen on the craft and said, “Hey, man. I just wanted to write a book.” I don’t know if the book is a runaway financial success. I doubt it due to a limited audience.

No matter the reason, Nolte pumped out a gem. This book, offered by Departure Publishing, is the most honest look at guiding that I’ve come across. Most guides who have written about their experience say things like, “Yea, he was the kind of client that you wouldn’t want to spend much time with,” or “It’s hard work but you’re outside and I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of money.” Yea right. Not much disclosure there.

I get the feeling that Nolte takes his work seriously and took the business of writing a book about it seriously, too. He doesn’t mince words even when talking about his fellow workers and campmates. Regarding a camp manager who has the habit of blowing a loud whistle when he thinks someone is “bitching” too much Nolte writes, “Last year, after a particularly inopportune whistle-blowing incident, I turned to him and said, ‘If you blow that goddamn whistle one more time I swear I’m going to jam it down your throat.’ He gave me his trademark grin and then blew with all his might. I tackled him to the ground and began trying to wrestle the offending bit of molded plastic from his meaty fist.”

And this, something that many of us have wondered about but never received an honest answer, the interpretation of we, as clients, after stepping on the plane or boat and heading away for good. “When the final boat returned from depositing our last group of clients into their floatplanes, a massive cheer went through the camp. I heard our head guide running between the Weatherports screaming, ‘They’re gone! They’re gone! Ha ha, they’re (F’in) gone! I can say (F) all I want to. I can say (F) and scream and yell and do whatever the (F) I want because they’re (F’in) gone!’”

I’ve been the last group in an Alaska camp before and I won’t do it again. This just dictates how hard Nolte and his cohorts work and what they have to deal with from wealthy clients over an extended summer and early fall. I can visualize what the lodge owner must have done when I flew away from the Nushagak one year…and that vision ‘aint pretty. Likewise, Nolte offers descriptions of the first group in camp and battles with fellow guides, and issues with boats and motors and oil and gas and everything else that potential guides should consider when they picture a summer in Alaska guiding sports for rainbows and salmon.

A final salvo. I’m a sucker for books that offer a lonely, independent male as the main character. Also, I like to read about the drinking antics of those types. And you get that in The Alaska Chronicles. Here’s a taste: “I did what any rational human being would do at that point, I went in search of more food and alcohol. Paul, Lisa and I ate a much-appreciated dinner at Humpie’s, had more than a couple drinks, and promptly caught a cab to Anchorage’s famous strip joint, the Alaska Bush Company.

“I don’t like strip clubs,” Nolte continues, “never have. I look around at all the men slobbering on themselves as they watch women undress—women who mostly despise them. Then it occurs to me that I’m one of them and I become depressed. Sort of kills the strip-club mood. For some reason, though, this feeling was minimized by the fact that we went there at the insistence of a woman. Lisa fed us a consistent barrage of shots, and I was just beginning to get comforable when she dragged Paul and me by the hands up to the meat rack where men sit with necks craned like giraffes as the dancers undulate with spread legs. Lisa insisted that we each get lap dances…”

I could go on here and Nolte does, throughout the book and a lot of it rings a bell—places I’ve been, things I’ve done, unbelievable occurrences in The Great Land. For aspiring guides, whether you plan to pimp yourself in Montana, Alaska, or anywhere else, this is required reading. If you get through this book and think, Yea, it still sounds good, then give it a go. If not, save the camp manager all the frustration of firing you and look for a different diversion. Hats off to Nolte for writing such an honest, in-dpeth look at guiding. And another tip to Tosh Brown for publishing a book that means something.

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