Guide of the Month: Mike Gehrman, Solitude River Trips

Guide of the Month Interview

Interview and photos by Kat Cannell

Name: Mike Gehrman

Hometown: Parkdale, OR

Job Title: River Guide

Off-season jobs/passions: Certified classroom teacher, owns business that provides school field trips, past ski patrol and now volunteer ski patrol, local fire department emergency first responder, and boat builder.

Tell us a little more about the canoe you built:

I built a 51’ canoe that can hold a whole classroom (capacity 36), half-day and full-day field trips on the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.  It’s a regular school day with classes like math and science, but all out on the river.  Gives them a perspective that a lot of them need.

How long have you been guiding?

Got my first license in 1968 (47 years ago). Middle Fork License Number is 2203 , but didn’t get a MF license until 1978.

How many Middle Fork trips have you done?

Couldn’t tell you. Averaged as few as 4 and as many as 9-10 in a year.  But also guided on other rivers.

So close to 500 Middle Fork trips?

Probably not that many because I had a hiatus during the Lewis and Clark bicentennial. We floated the last 18 miles of Lewis and Clark’s trip with my big canoe so I wasn’t over here then.

How long have you worked for Solitude?

Before it was Solitude, it was River Adventure Float Trips out of Grants Pass, OR.  Started with him in 1978 and started with Al in 1990 when he bought the business from River Adventure Float Trips.

So cool you have been with this permit for 3 owners.

Describe your path in becoming a river guide.

Probably several things happened, but I would say when I was 11 or 12 years old, growing up on the McKenzie River, I caught a 22” rainbow trout.  This guy comes by on a drift boat, I held up my fish and the guy told me how good it looked.  I asked him, “how many have you got?” He showed me his fish box and he had 4 or 5 bigger than mine.  It was Prince Helfrich who was kind of a pioneer of river guiding.  Prince used to own timber and my father was a forester.  My father was at a meeting and the two of them got to talking and turns out my dad says, “do you know who you saw on the river?” I asked him who and he said, “oh that’s Prince Helfrich – he takes people fishing and they pay him.” And I said, “oh really you can get paid to go fishing?!” So that’s probably really where it started.

What is the most rewarding part of guiding?

Having someone who’s never caught a fish or never seen something really spectacular outside and just get excited about it.  Just because you’re exposing them to it.

What is the most frustrating part of guiding?

That’s a pretty tough question.  When you get tired, you can get frustrated with stuff that doesn’t happen how it should.  But it’s so good most of the time you don’t have to worry about that.

What makes guiding on the Middle Fork special?

It’s a dynamic river. You always have to be looking because it is always changing.  No electronics and no roads.  You can just be real for a change.

Have you ever thought about moving on from guiding and why did or didn’t you?

Best way to answer that is something my father told me - he said, “do something you like to do because you’ll always do your best.” So... I like this.

Who inspires you as a guide?

Over the years lots of different people.  Guides and customers.  That’s the neat thing about it.  People will have one job like an accountant and they see their accounting friends and accounting customers. But we see a cross section of everybody so you get ideas and introduced to stuff every trip.

How do you take care of yourself during the guiding season?

I don’t stay up as late as some of the guys.

Do you have any memorable big lines?

Middle Fork at 8’8” is pretty exciting.  That trip we had a guy who had an affliction that if he got excited, he fainted.  We were heading into Redside rapid and someone had to hold on to him because he fainted.  If he would’ve fallen out of the boat we would have lost him.  He woke up later and we put him on the sweep boat and told him he couldn’t ride in a raft again.

Do you have a memorable rewarding moment as a guide?

We had Sandra Day O’Connor on a trip.  She would ride on different boats and for the first three days of the trip she hadn’t caught any fish when everyone else had.  She gets in my boat the last morning and catches several. She said, “Now Mike, don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if we don’t catch anything.”  But... she did. 

What other well known people have you taken down the river?

Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.  I was invited to take the president down the Rogue, but had to turn it down because I had someone else scheduled.

What’s your favorite rapid?

I like Velvet Falls.  Especially at high water because you have to be on it.  In a drift boat at least.

Tell us about your drift boat.

It’s a McKenzie River Drift Boat – built for flyfishing. 

Did you build your boat?
Yes.  Both the drift boat and canoe.

What advice would you give an aspiring guide?

Don’t get over confident.

Being a boater from Oregon, why do you choose to spend your summers on the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho?

Lot of the rivers in Oregon have dams on them and this one doesn’t so as the snow melt goes, the river changes.  That’s what is fun about it.

Thanks Mike and have a great rest of your season!


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