AJ

Anglers Journal - - FIRST LIGHT -

Did you have jobs to sup­port your­self be­fore your writ­ing suc­cess?

I worked on a ranch in Wy­oming sev­eral times. I used to work in gas sta­tions when I was a kid. I liked work­ing in gas sta­tions. I learned how to do brake jobs. And so when I went out to Wy­oming hop­ing to be a cow­boy, they quickly found out that I knew how to do brake jobs. So I went ranch to ranch do­ing brake jobs. But I was lucky — I got a pretty early start writ­ing. I was able to hide from re­al­ity in grad­u­ate school, and then not too long after that I was able to pub­lish. Also, I had a friend who was a re­ally great guide in the Keys who would give me two clients — he hoped never to see again — a week. Peo­ple who were ei­ther drunk or couldn’t cast, or some­thing. Back in those days it was eas­ier. You’d see saw­fish; you’d see bone­fish on ev­ery trip; you’d see per­mit; you’d see tar­pon. You didn’t have to know any­thing. It was so in­no­cent.

AJHow did you feel about guid­ing as a pro­fes­sion?

I was def­i­nitely the low man on the totem pole. But it was a bit of a boost for my eco­nom­ics. The one thing I no­ticed about it, though, es­pe­cially in that salt­wa­ter en­vi­ron­ment, it was a very tense job. Most of the guides had been at it for years and years; they had a lot of prob­lems. I knew two of them that com­mit­ted sui­cide. I knew sev­eral who had ma­jor al­co­hol prob­lems and things like that. A lot of the guys that I knew car­ried a gun. There were guides that felt like they owned their sec­tion of the Keys. The guide who was the model for the bad guy in Ninety-two in the Shade was a con­victed mur­derer from Ap­palachia, who was a great fish­er­man. Great bait fish­er­man. And he was a very dan­ger­ous guy. He would scare the shit out of you. I re­mem­ber the first time that I met him. I came in to the dock; I had about a 25-pound per­mit lay­ing across the fore­deck, and I was pretty proud of it. He walked over, and he said in his Ap­palachian ac­cent, “That’ll fry up pretty good.”

AJI hear per­mit’s pretty good eat­ing. I’ve ob­vi­ously never eaten it, but …

Yeah, it’s ter­rific. It’s not as good as man­a­tee, but it’s good. But se­ri­ously, Del Brown — the guy that in­vented the merkin crab — he ate about ev­ery per­mit he caught. He had a lit­tle ho­tel room in Marathon, and he would pack those suck­ers home. He was re­ally se­cre­tive. If I pulled my boat over to see how they were do­ing, he had this thing with a lit­tle snap cov­er­ing, and An­glers Jour­nal

he’d run get his rod, and he’d snap it over the fly so I couldn’t see what he was us­ing. He was a ter­ri­ble caster, but the fly would al­ways land in the per­fect place. We used to call him the mail­man be­cause he just put it through a slot.

AJ I've def­i­nitely learned from guid­ing that there are peo­ple who can cast and peo­ple who can catch fish. And they're not al­ways the same peo­ple.

Mcguane Fas­ci­nat­ing isn’t it?

AJ Speak­ing of the Florida Keys, I've al­ways wanted to ask you about the movie Tar­pon. It was filmed in the early '70s, and it's be­come a cult clas­sic, with ap­pear­ances by you, Jim Har­ri­son and Richard Brauti­gan, among oth­ers. When you were mak­ing this, did you have any idea that peo­ple would still

Mcguane We kind of in­vented what?

AJ What all the kids are do­ing now with their GoPros

Mcguane Oh. That was re­ally Guy Valdene’s work, and then his brother-in-law, who was a very renowned French cin­e­matog­ra­pher. And then Buf­fet was there to do the mu­sic. You know, I didn’t have too much to do with it re­ally, be­cause I was be­ing driven from dawn to dark by my fear of fail­ure. I was try­ing to write. I’m still try­ing to get over that com­pul­sion.

AJ It's been two years since Jim Har­ri­son died. He was a long­time friend of yours, and you two kept up a faith­ful cor­re­spon­dence over the years. With what sort of fre­quency did you write each other?

Mcguane We wrote each other weekly at a bare min­i­mum for prob­a­bly 40 years, I would say. There have been at­tempts to re­pub­lish these things, and I’ve al­ways been a lit­tle re­luc­tant to go along with it be­cause my let­ters were painfully can­did. And they’re full of things that I wouldn’t want any­body to see. But Jim was much more guarded, I think, than I, although that doesn’t make his let­ters any less bril­liant. They were fan­tas­tic, but they were meant to be pub­lished even­tu­ally. Since the par­a­digm was a lit­tle bit askew in that sense, I was never re­ally keen to get them pub­lished. I’ll prob­a­bly give in at some point but not yet. I want to take the dirty stuff out.

AJ Were this lit­er­ary dis­cus­sions, or were they just what was go­ing on in your life? Or some com­bi­na­tion of those things?

Mcguane A lit­tle of both. We talked a lot about what we were read­ing. Jim was just a re­mark­able reader. One thing that Jim had go­ing for him — and I knew him as a young man and as an old man — was that he was re­ally, re­ally, re­ally smart. And he had an ex­tra­or­di­nary com­mit­ment to the idea of be­ing an artist and what that meant. Seems a lit­tle bit old fash­ioned these days. And, in fact, I didn’t al­ways agree with him that we be­longed to a sep­a­rate so­ci­ety with sep­a­rate rules. But it was a pure flame for him, and I still look at it with a real re­spect. He was one of a kind, and one of the things that I envy most about Jim was

he was re­ally in­de­pen­dent in some re­mark­able ways. He did lots of things that you re­ally had to not give a shit to be able to do. When I think of some­body else who was as rad­i­cal a per­son­al­ity, I think of Hunter Thomp­son. How­ever, I think Thomp­son re­ally had one eye on the au­di­ence when he was pulling his an­tics. Much more than Jim. Jim did what he felt like do­ing and waited for some­body to throw a drink in his face to come out of the reverie.

AJ You’ve been liv­ing in Mon­tana since the ’60s. How did that come about?

Mcguane In 1968 I came straight from the writ­ing work­shop at Stan­ford. I’d been in Boli­nas for a year, and I had a lot of fish­ing pals there. We used to black out our faces and go night fish­ing on pri­vate ponds and stuff like that. We’re all fish­ing nuts, and we went up to Mon­tana to fish. I think I had $600 left from my fel­low­ship, and while I was there my first book was pub­lished. I thought at some point I’d fig­ure out where I was gonna live and what I was gonna do. I had ap­plied for teach­ing jobs at about 30 places, and I got not one re­ply. But then my first book came out, and it made a lit­tle bit of money. There was a movie sale. It al­lowed me to avoid mak­ing a de­ci­sion. And 50 years came and went.

AJ Do you have any thoughts on the di­rec­tion Mon­tana is go­ing, how it’s changed since you got there?

Mcguane Well, it has changed a lot. Boze­man is the only town I’ve ever been in where soc­cer moms will give you the fin­ger. It’s got­ten very in­tense over there. You know, I have mixed feel­ings about it be­cause there are prob­a­bly more peo­ple I can talk to in Mon­tana than ever be­fore. I live in the most con­ser­va­tive county in Mon­tana, and I’m the typ­i­cal pro­gres­sive art guy, but my so­ci­ety is way to the right. Al­most alt-right. That can some­times — if I missed my break­fast or some­thing — be suf­fo­cat­ing.

AJ Thoughts for the fu­ture? Are you go­ing to write more sto­ries? Do you have an­other novel in you?

Mcguane Both. I’d like to do both. I feel like I’m get­ting pretty old, but I seem to be lucky with age. I’m do­ing ev­ery­thing that I ever did be­fore. I don’t seem to be wor­ried about short term mem­ory loss or those sorts of things.

AJ You stopped drink­ing at the right time. That prob­a­bly helped, right?

Mcguane Oh, yeah. It sure did. I tried to get Har­ri­son to give it a whirl but never got any­where with him. Even bribed him to quit smok­ing one time. I had got­ten a movie sale or some­thing, and I said to him, “I’m gonna give you some of this money if you quit smok­ing.” He took it and kept smok­ing.

The writer some­times won­ders whether he should have spent more time out­doors and less time writ­ing.

He might have been a poor caster, but the “mail­man” al­ways put the fly in the per­fect spot — right through the slot.

Re­flect­ing on the changes in Mon­tana, Mcguane says Boze­man is the only town he’s been in where soc­cer moms will give you the fin­ger.

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