Editor’s note: We originally published this last month, when everything was on lockdown. Now that things are tentatively–and, we hope, safely–opening up a bit, we want to make these folks get their due for a remarkable achievement.
Each year, for thirty-four years, the Orvis Company has recognized excellence in sporting experiences through its Endorsed Lodges, Outfitters, and Guides Program (ELOG). The allocation of these awards is based on a number of criteria, the most important of which is customer feedback: the reviews from the customers who have experienced these operations are the ultimate arbiters of success. Also taken into consideration are the operation’s environmental commitment to and stewardship of their resources, and their partnership with Orvis in providing the finest sporting experience possible.
Unfortunately, due to public health concerns and travel restrictions, the 2020 Orvis Guide Rendezvous in Roanoke, VA, was cancelled, and with it the much-anticipated awards ceremony. But we want to make sure that these incredible partners receive their due kudos. It is a privilege, therefore, to announce the winners here on the Orvis Fly Fishing blog. Click here to see the lists of nominees for each category.
Here are this year’s winners, along with customer comments that caught our eyes. Click on the highlighted name of the guide or the operation to learn more about each winner.
2020 Endorsed Freshwater Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year
Josh Pfeiffer —Maryville, Tennessee
Based in East Tennessee, between Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Josh Pfeiffer specializes in trout and smallmouth bass. Josh enjoys sharing his knowledge and passion for fly fishing with others, creating an experience that helps to build and grow his clients’ passion, as well. All the while, he emphasizes conservation efforts and catch-and-release, enabling others to enjoy a future filled with great experiences in his fishery. Here is what one customer had to say about time on the water with Josh:
Josh provided for us a perfect fishing day-and-a-half out on the water. Only three months new to fly fishing, we were both excited and anxious about what to expect. Josh made the day spectacular. He is patient, easy-going, and plain fun to be with. We covered tons of water, fishing many spots on the river. We learned so much, but never felt overwhelmed by all the information, because he gave us so many tips and time to practice. Josh’s love for the water, the environment, and fly fishing was contagious. He made every success a pure celebration. We will be talking about this trip for a long time, and we are already considering when to contact Josh for the next fly-fishing experience.
2020 Endorsed Saltwater Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year
Capt. Rene Letourneau – Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Capt. Rene Letourneau has over 50 years of experience on Rhode Island waters. He began fly fishing at a young age, targeting panfish and bass. In 1970, he started fishing Narragansett Bay for stripers. Currently, Capt. Rene Letourneau runs a fly-fishing and light-tackle charter throughout Rhode Island and enjoys teaching the art of fly fishing to those who have never tried it before. One customer reported the following regarding an experience with Rene:
Big efforts overcome hard fishing!! Captain Rene continues to put in the effort year after year, which is why we always come back. Tough fishing conditions this year with weather and fish migration, but Rene put in the extra effort to get us on the fish. We enjoyed a scenic ride along the Rhode Island coast while glassing for bird activity – Rene pulled out all the stops and traveled the entire coast to get the job done. Well done Capt.; see you next year!
2020 Endorsed Fly-Fishing Lodge of the Year
Healing Waters Lodge – Twin Bridges, Montana
Healing Waters Lodge is centrally located in Montana’s beautiful Ruby Valley, home to Blue Ribbon trout streams such as the Beaverhead, Big Hole, Jefferson, Madison, and Ruby. The Lodge also has access to miles of private ranch water. While Healing Waters Lodge emphasizes the fishing component of a guest’s experience, the owners and staff also take great pride in the fine cuisine served and the quality of lodging available. The owners of Healing Waters believe that they are only as good as the people around them, and they therefore employ a dedicated group of professional guides and hospitality staff. Top to bottom, the staff is committed to providing the best service possible to guests. The success of Healing Waters Lodge is built upon a foundation of personal attention and service that cultivates lasting relationships with guests. Every aspect of the operation is impressive, as this customer explains:
It was a great, life-changing trip! The owners were gracious and engaged hosts, the guides were excellent, the accommodations relaxing, and the meals exceptional. We are novices at fly fishing and wanted to learn how to do it reasonably well and get a breadth of experience in different fishing venues. This trip exceeded our exceptions. The setting was tranquil, quiet, and beautiful. Nighthawks called and soared day and night. The view of the Ruby Range to the South was a great way to wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, and the outdoor hot tub was a relaxing way to end a long day of fishing. This is one of the finest fishing lodges in the American West.
2020 Endorsed Fly-Fishing Outfitter of the Year
Linehan Outfitting Company – Libby, Montana
Linehan Outfitting promises to help clients “find the outside within and learn something about yourself you never thought you’d know.” Since 1992, Tim and Joanne Linehan and their staff have consistently provided high-quality fly-fishing adventures and lodging. Located in the northwestern corner of Montana, an area that’s far less traveled, the Kootenai and Clark Fork rivers offer tremendous float fishing for rainbows and Westslope cutthroats. In addition, Linehan Outfitting provides walk-and-wade, small-stream experiences and float-tubing on alpine lakes in some of the most fantastic scenery in Montana. But Linehan Outfitting is about far more than great fishing, as this customer can attest:
I am firming up plans for my 3rd consecutive trip with this outfitter and I cannot stop smiling! Each year I think it can’t be better than the last… and, yes, it is! How many fish trips or outfitter experiences can you say left you a better person? From a pure angling angle, my couple of days was top three epic – fresh or salt – in some 49 years of fly fishing. While getting to appreciate and release healthy, native strain Bows and primordial Bulls was sublime, the fishing was really more a means to an end. Setting was surreal too. But it’s the owners/operators and their crew that really set them apart. These kind, empathic people have an intrinsic talent to make you feel like you’re the most important person on the planet. Through example, they teach you what living harmoniously with the wilderness can be like. I left them (reluctantly) with my faith in humanity restored and a newly raised bar for myself in what I aspire to be as a conservationist and fellow human.
2020 Endorsed Wingshooting Lodge of the Year
Prairie Wildlife – West Point, Mississippi
Prairie Wildlife is a conservation-driven shooting estate dedicated to developing and restoring habitat prescribed for northern bobwhite quail. Prairie Wildlife hunts take place in open fields of native prairie grasses with wooded edges and hedgerows, in a region with a rich history of quail hunting: the first Grand Nationals Field Trials were held in West Point, Mississippi, in 1896. Prairie Wildlife prides itself on having revived that tradition of hunting for fast and hard-flushing birds, and for a habitat-restoration program that allows clients a traditional quail hunting experience in the famous and beautiful Mississippi Black Prairie. One loyal shooter said the following of his experiences at Prairie Wildlife:
In more than a half century of upland bird shooting, I have never been to a Lodge or shooting estate that comes close to the equal of Prairie Wildlife! A wide range of types of birds, types of clay presentations; Tower Shoots with pigeon, Hungarian partridge and pheasant on special occasions; a large helice field with multiple rings; and more. The staff and management at Prairie Wildlife are never satisfied. Each time I visit, there is something new – something has been improved, something special has been added. Prairie Wildlife is as good as it gets!
2020 Wingshooting Guide of the Year
B.J. Walle – Flying B Ranch, Kamiah, Idaho
B.J. Walle moved West in June of 1997 at the urging of his parents. He went on to become a whitewater river guide on the mighty Salmon and Snake Rivers, returning to his native Kansas in the winter months to guide for pheasants, quail, ducks, geese, turkeys, and deer. He found his way to Idaho’s Flying B Ranch in the fall of 2003 to work in the Wingshooting department and has been there ever since. Whether joining the seasoned shooter or the novice, he is constantly seeking to see the experience through their eyes and to continually improve that experience. B.J. is one of the lead instructors at the Flying B Ranch Wingshooting Guide School, and he enjoys the opportunity to share his decades of experience. Says one customer of B.J.’s ability in the field:
BJ inspires confidence with his maturity and knowledge of the game and the terrain. His dog handling skills are exceptional, evidenced by the dogs’ excellence and obvious affection for him. BJ could and did adjust the tempo of the hunt to the needs of his client. A great guide!
2020 Orvis Fly Shop of the Year
Bay Street Outfitters – Beaufort, South Carolina
For more than 21 years, Bay Street Outfitters has set out to ensure sure that their shop features a staff with the experience and knowledge to assist each customer. As a fly shop and outfitter, Bay Street Outfitters has staff and guides on-site that have fished all over the world, spent countless hours testing knots and rigging techniques, and take time to study and use all of the equipment in the shop. Whether a customer needs insights on the proper fit and style of a Barbour Jacket, wants to demo a new rod, or simply wants to pass some time talking redfish, Bay Street Outfitters is fully committed to ensuring that customer experiences in the shop and in the outdoors are memorable ones. As one customer summed it up:
Great fly shop. Great people. Nothing else needs to be said. Stop in.
2020 Lifetime Achievement Award
Steve Grossman – Double Gun Bird Hunts
In a career that spans more than four decades, Steve Grossman has become one of the most accomplished, and beloved, bird guides and dog handlers working today. From the grouse woods of his native Minnesota to the Dakota prairies, Steve has built a reputation for providing classic hunts where dog work and a time-honored dedication to the beauty of the hunt are paramount. This respect for the game and the dogs is the primary focus of Steve and his crew. This eye toward quality, and a commitment to wild birds in wild places, is the result of countless miles walked, countless early mornings, and a steadfast belief that that there is far more to a hunt than a full bag or some burnt powder. As author Tom Davis related:
The point is, Steve does it right. He knows what it takes to run a first-class wingshooting operation-from the food, accommodations, and overall ambience, to the guides and dogs. He also understands the peculiar challenges posed by an operation that relies exclusively on wild birds.