This excerpt is from the Tim Babich profile, ‘The Chameleon’ in issue 32 of The Mission.
Over the years of hard salty slog, from Cosmo, to Providence, then on to St Brandon’s and back, post-piracy, to the Seychelles with FlyCastaway on Farquhar Atoll, Tim grew as a guide. As with most people who spend enough time doing what they love for a living, the basics become something you don’t even have to think about. Muscle memory.
“New guides take a minimum of three years before they actually start adding value, getting repeat clients and producing the goods.”
“It’s a tough three years that suck. It’s really bad. That’s why you see consistency in our guide teams. We don’t lose or rotate a lot of guides. The guys are in it to win it. For me now, the guiding is so second nature. It’s the fundamentals of the job, and the last thing I think about on any given day.”
Which leads us to another the part of the job that Tim appears to have made into a skillset – dealing with you, the client. You see, Tim Babich, like no one I have ever met, switches on like a fish depending on the environment and company he is in. In person while being interviewed, he’s calm, almost serious, his voice a low monotone as if the nearby strelitzias might be bugged.
Among the guides and with the clients, however, he holds court, not in an ostentatious way, but because it’s part of the job. Part boss-man, part clown, depending on the lay of the land (or the water). As head guide Tim obviously has a role to play. He has to get information across, keep spirits high (a spandex camo suit worn at opportune times will do that), and offer insights and pearls of guiding wisdom to both the younger guides and their sports. That means he had to learn how to read people.
“Over the years you just get to learn about people. Everyone’s different, but generally, from a guiding point of view, you have got about five or six personality types. Once you can identify and break those up then you’re golden and you know exactly what to do. It’s almost got to the point when they climb off the plane, that I can tell the guides which one is which and what’s going to happen.
“Just by how they climb onto a boat, I can tell, ‘That one’s going to be a hazard. Watch out, a shark or something is going to try eat him. This guy is a bit anxious. That one has no spatial awareness.’”
Once he knows what he is working with, Tim then becomes what both the clients and the guides need him to be.
“It’s almost like being a chameleon with that individual; basically just mirroring what he’s giving me. It’s the same with the guides. I talk to one guide in a certain way and will talk very differently to another. From a fishing point of view, because I’ve seen so many clients, I get what they want from subtle hints. I know then what they want from their fishing experience.”
For some clients, Tim plays the role of matchmaker. For others he is a friendly dominatrix. Let me, or rather Tim, unpack that for a moment.
“If the group dynamics aren’t right, it can ruin a week. Some clients are more intense, others are more relaxed. Over the years, I’ve set up guys who came in as singles with no fishing buddies. The next season I’ve put them together and they end up being fishing mates for life. The office hates it when I do that. They want to ‘book, book, book’ and my response is ‘no, no, no.’ We’ve got Russians. They drink a lot. We’re not going to put them with the Bible bashers, because I’m the sucker that needs to stand there and deal with the fallout. I’m too old (ed: I repeat, he’s 39) and grumpy to do it. And I’ve seen it go wrong. I want every week to be as smooth as possible.
So let’s take the Russians. We’ll put them with the South Africans. It’s going to be a better product. We’re going to tick more boxes with these clients and everybody’s going to have a party and it’s going to be great. It’s the same with guides. Some are client-oriented and very good at keeping a crowd happy. Others are more intense, focused on the guiding and the fishing. And then you get some like Paulie Boyers, who are veeery relaxed. You have got to check if he’s still breathing.”
As for the dominatrix side of things, well it’s not like Tim wears a latex catsuit and high heels but, when he’s on location in head guide mode, there’s a noticeable shift in the usual power dynamics for most clients. To go to the Providences and St Brandons of this world, you need loot and to get loot (save for the trustafarians, blessed be thy Investec accounts) you need to either climb corporate ladders, or start your own successful businesses. Those sorts of career paths can forge a certain kind of hard-nosed confidence (often labelled as arrogance), that you know what to do and have the ability and the right to tell other people what they need to do.
Except for when you are Tim’s guest.
“In these extreme destinations and locations, things can run really well, but in the blink of an eye, they can also go south really quickly. That’s especially true if you don’t have buy-in from everybody. Often you may have the MD of this company and that one on the same boat, with a bunch of other alpha males. With just too many cooks in the kitchen, it can suck. You need to have buy-in from the clients to the point where they stop trying to control things and are just like, “You got it.” That’s what I always tell the guides. Once you get buy-in from a client, he’s yours. After that only you can fuck it up.
“That’s the other trick with these clients. In the real world they have got hectic work schedules, responsibilities, stress. Your client may tell 3000 other people what to on a daily basis. That’s his life. It’s very, very stressful. I feel sorry for these guys because often they get just two weeks holiday a year. One week with the family, then they get their week. They have got all the money in the world, but that’s what they get. So, for six days he comes out with us and gets told what to do, ‘Okay, put your boots on. Now sun-cream. You’re good to go. We are going to walk down here and this is what we’re going to do.’
“He doesn’t have to worry about all his usual concerns. He absolutely zones out. As good as the fishing is and the experience is, I honestly think for these clients, the biggest draw card, is that. Permission to zone out. I think what we do is very important for them, because they’re not going to get it anywhere else. The activity is one thing, but it’s that other thing, which I think is really what keeps the clients coming back. They get to talk shit with the guides, drink, have a good time and fish fucking hard. They have permission to not be the leader on everything for a change.”
Escape from normal life, escape from responsibilities and escape from yourself all sound like familiar reasons for many of us who fish.
Read the rest of this profile in issue 32 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.