Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole
- 7680 Granite Loop Road, P.O. Box 544, Teton Village, Wyoming, 83025, U.S.A.
Head of Fly-Fishing, Lead Guide
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2007
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Bartender, Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole
- Pro Fly Angler; Associate Professor
- Roanoke, Virginia, USA
- Bachelor of Arts in English, Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia; Teaching Certificate, Cambridge Education Group, Cambridge, UK
There are a lot of fish to be caught in the blue-ribbon waters of Wyoming, and a lot of guides offering expertise on how to catch them. But there aren’t many fishing programs on the level of the one overseen by John Hooven as Head of Fly-Fishing for Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole. “We try to step things up a notch so our guests not only have an opportunity to land a fish, but really enjoy themselves along the way.”
That starts with the experience as much as with the fish. Distinct from most guided outings in the region – which Hooven capsulises as “decent boat, decent equipment and some sort of sandwich for lunch” – the Resort program is “Four Seasons five-star” in every detail.
Guests are offered a full complement of top-quality equipment, with rods from Winston Fly Rods and Sage Fly Fish; wading boots from Simms Fishing; and flies hand-tied by Hooven and his guides. The Resort also maintains a small fleet of custom handcrafted wooden boats: two from a builder in Montana, another from a builder in Michigan who travelled to Jackson Hole to size up precisely what Hooven was after. “I needed something that could get us in and out of small places regardless of the water level, which fluctuates a lot here. We worked together to design the boat I needed.”
Then there is the guiding itself. Hooven says the clichéd image of the surly fishing guide who is quick to blame every fruitless cast on the client’s inexperience is “unfortunately true. A lot of fishing guides have the idea that if the client isn’t catching anything, it’s their fault. I don’t happen to believe that.” Everybody learns differently, he says, “and you have to find the way for each person to learn best, even if it takes explaining things five different ways.”
Hooven practices that approach and hand picks guides who will to do the same. “We operate under the same Four Seasons standards that guide every department in the Resort. It’s all about providing great experiences for the guests.”
Hooven’s typical client is a couple, either straight-up beginners or not very experienced. “But it really doesn’t matter, because the scenery is so unbelievable, they’re going to enjoy themselves no matter what.” The chances of also seeing wildlife are always very good: “Bald eagles and osprey. Moose, elk, mountain goats – all kinds of things.”
The region around Jackson Hole is notable for prime fishing spots. Float trips take guests to rivers such as the Green, Grey’s, Gros Ventre and Snake, various lakes, and deep into Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. With the strength of the Four Seasons brand, Hooven has successfully negotiated with area ranchers to secure otherwise unavailable river access. Resort guides inform guests on the culture and geography of the area, and lunch at mid-day is always a “great gourmet” affair prepared by Resort culinary talent with paired wine and craft beer. Hooven admits he sometimes enjoys hanging out with guests more than the guiding itself. “The better they get, the more they enjoy themselves, and their attitudes are always great.”
Virginian by birth, Hooven started lake fishing as a three-year-old, using an old cane with a line and hook attached. He progressed to spin fishing until he was eight when his father introduced him to fly-fishing. It was a moment worthy of A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean’s revered homage to the sport. “Once I could handle a fly rod, my dad wouldn’t let me spin fish anymore. He handed me some flies and said, ‘these four float and these four sink. Now go figure it out.’”
It took Hooven six months, but he finally started catching fish. “I haven’t touched a spin rod since.”
After a less-than-satisfying turn as a writing instructor at a community college near Baltimore, Maryland, Hooven decided to focus on what he loved and took his fishing talents west. He drew a map from Colorado to Montana and, with a bit of research, found some job opportunities in Jackson Hole.
Biding his time, he joined Four Seasons as a bartender. When an opportunity came up to fish with the Director of the Resort program, Hooven made the most of it. The Director was impressed – “we had similar styles and techniques” – and eventually handed Hooven the job he was after. “He said he didn’t want to lead program anymore; he wanted to guide. So he trained me to take over, and I made it my own. He still works for me.”
Prime among positive developments under Hooven’s leadership: The fly-fishing program now sees 60 percent repeat guests, up from 20 percent when he started. “Keeping people coming back is really my focus these days.”
Indeed, Hooven says his favourite thing about the program is spending time with first-time fly-fishers. “When they learn what they’re doing and catch their first fish, I get just as excited and start jumping up and down with them,” he says. “Those are the best times.”