Most kids who grow up in the middle of the high desert don’t become obsessed with water. But Zac Mayhew was never like the other kids.
“I was that weird kid that just always went fishing,” said Zac, who is now 36 and married. “The only requirement for me to be happy on family trips was that we had to be near water so I could go fish.”
Zac’s family moved from Wisconsin to the Wood River Valley when he was just seven years old and he quickly fell in love with the Big Wood River.
“I’ve always referred to the Big Wood as the ‘backyard fishery.’ You’re never more than a few blocks away,” Zac said, explaining that he would ride his bike to the river to fish after baseball or soccer practice when he was growing up
It’s a tradition local kids, like my own baseball playing sons and a couple of their teammates, still carry on each summer.
“It’s a great way to grow up. You steal some flies from your dad’s fly box, hit the river for a couple hours and then go to practice or hang out with your buddies,” Zac said. “You can’t beat it.”
After high school, Zac beat a trail up to Moscow but even as he was preparing to graduate from the University of Idaho, he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, except, of course, fish as much as he could.
“I was kind of lost, “ Zac said, and as fate would have it Lost River Outfitters (LRO) would help him find his way.
Zac had seen LRO’s owner, Scott Schnebly, on local rivers his whole life. “I would always run into Scott on the water, especially in the winter on the Big Wood,” Zac fondly recalled. “It would be just me and Scott out there chasing whitefish.”
Scott offered Zac a job guiding that summer until he figured things out. “I’ve been guiding for 14 years now, so apparently I haven’t grown up,” he said.
Being a fly fishing guide is clearly what Zac was born to do. He has the passion, patience and perfect—fairly sarcastic—personality for it. Zac has been named the “Best Guide in the Valley” so many times he’s lost count. But he doesn’t make too much of it. “I was named Best Dancer in eighth grade, too, and I put that in the same category,” he said.
Dancing didn’t necessarily help him land his wife, Abby, but fishing has played a big roll in their relationship. In fact, when you ask Zac about the ingredients to some of his favorite fishing stories, Abby is included.
“My fishy wife and what she does to me,” Zac explained. “I get out-fished—repeatedly—by my wife. And she’s great at stealing flies out of my fly box, too!”
The other ingredients Zac says you need to cook up a great day on the water include being in the moment and actually catching fish.
“I hate it when people say, ‘I don’t even care if we catch any fish.’ Well, that’s what we’re there for,” Zac said. “You do need to look around, to realize and appreciate where you are and what you’re getting to do. You don’t fly fish in ugly places. But the point is to catch some fish.”
Zac now works for Picabo Angler as both a fishing and bird hunting guide. He guides all year long, including more than 100 days each summer. When asked how to make the most of a guided trip, Zac keeps it pretty simple.
“The best clients are the ones willing to trust their guide and to try to learn something new,” said Zac, who has hired guides on his own fishing trips from Florida to New Zealand.
“It also helps not to save the celebratory drinks for après fishing, I’ll most likely even join you,” said Zac, who guides on the Big Wood, the Big Lost, for steelhead on the Salmon and on his favorite local fishery, Silver Creek.
While the warm weather months are obviously the most popular and easiest times to fly fish, Zac is one of those odd anglers who enjoys casting during the winter months.
“People think that fishing in the winter is insane, but the fish are still there,” he said, adding that, “Sometimes when you’re out there you don’t hear anything but the falling snow. Those are those romantic things that fly fishers live for.”
It’s obvious that fishing is one of the things Zac lives for.
“I still love fishing and, more over, teaching fishing,” Zac said. “Fishing is still my disease.”