An Interview with Legendary ECHO Guide Tracy Blashill
Tracy Blashill has been guiding river trips around the world for decades and still has the smiles, energy, and excitement of a man truly in love with everything river. He is an expert fly fisherman who knows every bend and riffle on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. He has turned his passion for rivers into a life-long career. In addition to guiding on the Middle Fork, Tracy and ECHO guide Drew Thate are the owners of Territory Anglers, a top notch fly-fishing company in Montana.
Tracy was the trip leader on my very first Middle Fork trip, and he showed me how to run a wilderness river trip with passion, expert skill, and style. He is a true river professional whose easy going attitude, camp fire stories, and in depth knowledge make for a trip guests remember for a lifetime. I had the opportunity to chat with Tracy recently about his guiding experiences.
How did you end up guiding for ECHO?
I met Dick Linford while I was doing a lobbying internship with American Rivers in Washington D.C. He and I hit it off, and then I landed a guide position on the Middle Fork with a company that launched the same dates as ECHO. I liked ECHO’s style and asked for a job. They hired me. I’ve stayed with ECHO because of their style. ECHO’s clientele is smart, savvy, well-read, and fun. ECHO’s guides are safe, professional, engaging, and damn good companions.
With all the amazing rivers you’ve seen around the world, why keep coming back to work on the Middle Fork of the Salmon year after year?
The Middle Fork is my dream river. It embodies all that I consider ideal in a river trip. Having heard of the Middle Fork for several years before getting to float it, my expectations were pretty high, and I’ve gotta say, that first trip, the river exceeded my expectations. I LOVE THE MIDDLE FORK! If I had a tattoo it would be something like "Middle Fork Salmon forever." I love introducing people to a wild river I know well. It really is a win-win relationship for everybody involved. I think rivers in general benefit from the relationship, too. We need all the river advocates we can get these days.
When you’re not working for ECHO, you run a successful fly-fishing company in Montana. How did Territory Anglers come about?
Drew Thate and I thought that the guest service skills we had learned from guiding wilderness trips could be applied to offering high quality, individually tailored, guided fly-fishing trips. We started Territory Anglers in the spring of 2002.
How did you and Drew make the leap from guides to business owners?
Wow, when did we grow up enough to be considered “business owners”!? I think we both still consider ourselves guides, first and foremost.
There are legends about you and Drew Thate taking a van, a raft, and a company credit card and searching all over Mexico for untouched rivers. Can you tell me a story from those glory years of exploration?
For that, I need a river-side camp, a campfire, and a beer.
What are some differences between guiding fly-fishermen versus guiding guests on a Middle Fork trip?
Guiding fishermen there is always an air of expectation, whether it’s spoken or not, that a fish should be hooked. Sometimes trout don’t cooperate. On the Middle Fork, that expectation is replaced by an attitude of "we are going to have a great trip regardless of what events may unfold."
What do you do when you're not on the river?
Think about getting on the river. I help manage a ski area in the winter, but pretty much everybody knows that my first love is being on the river.
What are you most excited about for this coming float season?
Celebrating my twentieth season on the Middle Fork and getting to guide on a section of Montana river that has intrigued me for several years, Beartrap Canyon of the Madison River.
What is the future of fly fishing and river trips?
Years ago, a river guest told me that in the future, river trips would be even more important than ever to help us re-connect to our "wild-selves." I still believe that.