By Todd Corayer, The Fish Wrap Writer
Special to Outdoor Enthusiast Lifestyle Magazine
Captain Rene Letourneau is not just a steady boat handler and reliable guide, he’s a fine and patient instructor, a passionate fly fisherman and now, thanks to such consistent dedication to his craft, he is the 2020 Orvis Endorsed Saltwater Fly Fishing Guide of the Year. This new and well deserved national award showcases Rene’s many years on the water making memories made for his sports then bringing them home safely with stories to tell about stripers and albies and a Captain who finds the fish. It’s a long overdue recognition.
“I have always enjoyed my time on the water,” Rene said, in his characteristically sparse word choice. “I especially enjoy putting others in a position to catch fish. I started guiding to do just that.” This year Rene begins his eighteenth year guiding since he started saltwater fly fishing in the mid 1980’s. He manages On The Rocks Charters from his home base in Pawtucket with his lovely wife Judy and stays, not surprisingly, booked all season. Depending on dates and weather, he runs his Mako 21 to spots in upper Narragansett Bay, around Newport or south to his favorite haunts on Brenton Reef and points east. His breadth of local knowledge is a large part of why sports return year after year but so is his obvious talent for finding fish. That doesn’t happen every day because that’s simply not how guiding works but his sports understand the risks of hoping to find striped bass and false albacore off our rocky coastline and it’s Rene they trust to put them within casting distance. Their many positive comments about his guiding may well have played a part in his award.
“The season starts with stripers entering the Ocean State chasing the herring as they return to their rivers to spawn,” Rene said. “The summer and warmer water bring bluefish and other species, Atlantic green bonito and false albacore: fly fisher’s ultimate reward,” he added. Bonito and bonita are favorite fish for local fisherman and women, prized for being so damned elusive then so amazingly aggressive on the hook. To experience a bluebird morning holding the rails with Captain Letourneau at the helm, chasing speeding schools of fast, splashing iridescent fish gorging themselves on rain bait, exploding here then there followed with the joy of having Rene lead you, guide you, coach you to landing a hardtail with a bending nine weight you swear will break but it won’t is a fine lifetime memory. Those morning’s make Captain Rene Letourneau the best of the best.
“I focus on things I can control,” he told me a few years ago. We had been fishing rock piles and secret glacial scrapings where bass hunt. It was easy to see there was a rhythm to Rene’s boat. Each and everything had a place, be they rods, coffee’s or people. The Captain runs his clean boat like a clean machine because safety trumps catching any day. The Mako is spotless. She reflects his pride. He wipes the deck as fish come aboard and requires that you don’t fall overboard, which really isn’t too much to ask. He’ll stop you before you step on your fly line, tell you that you’re reeling too slowly or to count to ten before retrieving, even though he knows you saw how deep the fish were on his machine a few moments prior. Rene makes you think differently about your fishing while he’s doing your thinking.
“I enjoy setting the boat in position so my caster can make the presentation, hopefully to fool the fish of a lifetime,” Rene said. Captain Letourneau also has a clear way of speaking that successful sports will quickly understand. When he sees something on the horizon or twenty yards off the starboard, he needs you, he actually expects you, to be ready to cast with his direction because he knows how fish operate. And if you listen, you’ll be the first to fill out that glowing customer comment email because Rene Letourneau finds the fish.
“My approach is to treat people the way I would like to be treated. It works for me,” he said, adding, “This is not always an easy job; some days are quite a challenge, trying not to disappoint my sport.” See, even when time or tide or Mother Nature herself interferes with the Captain putting his people on fish, he stays focused but feels disappointment if nature wins the day. When being considered for this prestigious award in prior years, Rene always fished at a distinct disadvantage to his southern Orvis guides. Warm weather folk can fish two or three hundred days a year with sunlight and clear skies while our stubborn and fickle New England weather holds the Captain to approximately one hundred, on a good year.
He’s been nominated before, but the award eluded him. “Third time is a charm,” Rene said.
“It’s my pleasure to represent the northeast and the State of Rhode Island,” Rene said with conviction. His distinct sense of professionalism, seasoned ability to read water and weather, passion for putting his sports on fish and a common sense knowledge of what’s safe and what will leave sports with lifetime memories keeps him in high demand. Those traits also make Rene Letourneau the 2020 Orvis Endorsed Saltwater Fly Fishing Guide of the Year.