Meet Mario Guel, a skateboarder, angler, and taco lover from San Jose, California. He is now based in northern California and running his business, Taco Fly Co. Part guide service and part lifestyle brand, Taco Fly Co. is all about “celebrating the love for fly fishing, fun, and tacos,” and creating space for every skill level and every life story on the water. When it comes to being the change he wants to see in the fly fishing industry, Mario is hitting the mark. Through his business, he’s getting folks of all flavors hooked on fly fishing and fun with a hint of lime. Learn more about Mario’s angling story and Taco Fly Co.’s mission below.
Flylords: When did you first learn how to fish?
Mario: I am from San Jose, California—near Seven Trees by the Drive-Ins to be specific. It’s a pretty rough neighborhood. Though I grew up there, I didn’t hang out there. I hung out where I went to school which was in the Santa Teresa area.
I first learned how to fish when I was five years old. My dad took me to the local reservoir, put a nightcrawler on a bobber, and threw it out there for me. I had a bluegill at the end of my line moments later. There is a picture of me holding my first fish and you can see how stoked I am. I’m smiling so hard you can hardly see my eyes. I was addicted and my dad would take me often. He says that I would cry when it was time to go home when we were done fishing when I was that age. I still do it now sometimes.
He introduced me to fishing, but I flourished as a fisherman when I fell in love with bass fishing. I would wake up extra early on Saturday mornings to catch the bass fishing shows. There I’d be watching fishing shows while reading Bassmaster magazines before Saturday morning cartoons would start. I never had someone to teach me bass fishing techniques, so I applied everything I learned in the magazines to the banks of the lakes we would frequent. We had boats too, but hitting the banks of the reservoirs was what we would do most often. My Dad would bring bait, and I would use lures. I failed frequently but stuck with it and it all started coming together while I was in my teens.
My neighbor, Norman “Mas” Fujimoto, introduced me to fly fishing when I was around 16 or 17. He was an OG steelhead fly fisherman, and after I saw the movie “A River Runs Through It,” I went and knocked on his door and asked him to teach me how to fly fish. He would take me to the casting ponds and teach me the basics. Rest in peace Norman. Love you man.
My childhood was like the movies KIDS, Forrest Gump, and Revenge of the Nerds. I consider myself pretty lucky. My father was super supportive of my love for fishing and my mother was stoked that I loved skateboarding. Growing up in a big city in a bad part of town, there were potential influences to go in the wrong direction in my face every day. I feel like I was saved by skateboarding, fishing, and, of course, the love of my parents.
Flylords: How did fly fishing become a central part of your life?
Mario: Fly fishing became a central part of my life in two phases.
First, In 2011 I was 31 years old and finally decided it was time for me to really try this fly fishing thing. My brother had a friend who would frequent the Trinity River and suggested I reach out to him to partner up on a float with a guide. I had rented a cabin on the river for 3 nights because I wanted to spend some time fly fishing on my own before fishing with a guide. I brought up the only fly rod I had, which was a fiberglass Fenwick 6 weight. The Fenwick glass rod wasn’t enough to turn over the indicator rigs I was trying to use, so I went to the Trinity Fly Shop to get a new rod.
Kit, who no longer works there, fitted me with a 6 weight Echo Solo. He also said, “Hey man, take off that bobber sometimes and just swing those flies across the run by casting across and leading those flies down the run.” I headed back to the cabin and drove downstream to a spot I had checked out the day before. I was able to read rivers because of my prior experience fishing with spin rods in the Sierra Nevadas. I saw a nice rock across the river that looked like it’d hold a fish but had no idea what I was doing mainly because there was no room for a backcast. I just knew I needed to get my flies behind that rock.
Looking back now, a good roll cast would have sufficed, but I had no idea what that was. Instead, I did some weird, overhand, curveball cast to get across the river and get my rig to land just above the rock so the flies would sink in time to get into a fish’s face if it was sitting there. After a couple of failed attempts to get my flies across the run, I knew I could cast better without the indicator. I took it off and could get the flies across the river. I mended and started a swing and, BOOM, I got a hit. The fish didn’t stick, but I was tripping out because whatever it was, it felt powerful. Another curveball cast later, my flies got hammered. It was one of the best battles of my life. A chromed-out, hatchery hen was ripping line and jumping all over the place. From that moment on, my life had changed and I fell in love with fly fishing forever.
Second, fly fishing saved my life. I had decided to leave San Jose and pursue life on the river but had suffered an ACL injury that set me back over a year. That came with three surgeries and some crazy mental health issues. I knew I needed change and the Trinity River called my name.
The “save my life” part is real and I am not ashamed to talk about it. I was suicidal at that point in my life and I like to be open about it because mental health is real. It’s hard to get good when you’re that down. But without my family, and without calling the suicide hotline (800-273-8255), I don’t think I would have made it. I had to get well. So I established a goal. I was getting well enough to get back on a river and wade fish for steelhead. Fly fishing became my power, and all I needed to get better. Since then, fly fishing has been my everything.
Flylords: What inspired you to start Taco Fly Co.?
Mario: I was living on the Trinity River and started making some video blogs called “Trinity Stuperflies.” They were a different fly fishing experience, and I quickly realized I wasn’t your average fly fisherman. I also realized that the industry and branding of most companies involved in fly fishing didn’t put anything out that I liked or could relate to. It was very vanilla and tailored to one demographic. The clothes in the fly shops were definitely not my style. They still aren’t. Making a company where I can make the clothes and hats that I like, then selling those to people who might have the same desire for something new has been part of why I keep the clothing side going.
Becoming a guide and making the outfitter side was easy because I knew that our branding would bring more people into this thing. I wanted to roll my stoke about fly fishing into a trip on the river celebrating the float first, then the fish second.
We aren’t making ads, posts, videos, and brochures that look like something my uncle’s work friend who grew up fly fishing might be interested in. I am making stuff that is attainable and interesting to the average person. I am challenging the norm, and maybe pissing a few people off along the way, but not because I want to. It’s because Taco is different.
Things are changing slowly now but at least the industry as a whole is waking up to the fact that more people from different walks of life are getting into this sport. I like to give people a reason to get outside, make some smiles, enjoy my company, and not be competitive about it.
Flylords: Who makes up the Taco Family?
Mario: They come from all walks of life and are very different people. They are men, women, white people, people of color, poor people, rich people, punk rockers, rebels, bankers, surgeons, poets, singers, artists, gangsters, mamas, grandmas, grandpas, people who have the worst casts, people who have the best casts, bait fishermen, purists, bobber fishers, etc. I have them all and am stoked.
I seriously have the best clients. They know what type of guide they are getting through the branding I put out there. They are the ones who support me and allow me to live this life that I do. I am so grateful for them. They help me pay my bills and get stoked to get up in the morning. They make me smile, make me frustrated, make me feel accomplished, and make me want to work my butt off.
Flylords: What are your goals for Taco?
Mario: I hope Taco brings together people who would not have met otherwise. I love for it to be a hub for people who just want to go fly fishing without judgment to get together.
It will always be welcoming to those who want to start fly fishing with zero knowledge. Fly fishing shouldn’t be intimidating for anyone who wants to learn. I don’t care if you swing fish, dry fly fish, bobber fish, have a bad cast, wear neoprenes, or smell weird. Taco is down for you if you want to fly fish and have fun.
Flylords: What obstacles have you encountered in growing your business?
Mario: I’d say the biggest obstacle for growth has been not following the basic formulas of marketing a fly fishing company.
The fly fishing culture has been shaped by what the industry has labeled as accepted. Since we are different and outside of the norm, a lot of the existing fly fishers turn away from my brand. But, I didn’t necessarily make this company for guides to like me in the first place. The main challenge for Taco’s growth is that the definition of what’s accepted isn’t what I relate to.
With that challenge, and knowing I have a presence in the industry, I have been trying to have more collaborative, open conversations with people who might not relate to Taco. Instead of simply writing someone off because they don’t like what we do, I ask them why and try to offer them a beer. We can get to know each other more, and it’s okay if they don’t like what Taco does, but we can be civil because we both love fly fishing.
I am trying to be more positive about the differences I have with the unwritten rules of fly fishing, but still talk about how we can make them better and more inclusive. If I can attempt to bridge that gap, maybe Taco can grow. But I’m stoked with where we are because the crew that backs Taco already is solid. Going worldwide global would be sick, though, and I sort of strive for that.
Flylords: What is Taco’s greatest success so far?
Mario: Its greatest success so far is knowing that there are many people who have met through Taco. They are now life-long friends and continue to grow the family.
The second greatest success is when I get a phone call from a client who doesn’t own a fly rod and has just caught their first fish, then ask me which fly rod they should buy. It means we have a new advocate for the watershed and another person to blow up our spots. That’s the hype.
Flylords: What advice do you have for fly fishing beginners?
Mario: Read the Curtis Creek Manifesto. Find rad YouTube videos on fly fishing that don’t tell you how you should behave when you fly fish. Join a fly fishing club, but if the President of the club hates on indicator fishing, leave. Don’t spend a lot of money on your first rods and reels. Save your cash for good lines instead. Kits are great to start with and will last forever, but upgrade the line first. Then get better reels, then better rods.
Fly fish anywhere. You don’t have to go to a river or stream to start fly fishing. When with a new fly fishing crew, call a “fly rod” a “fly pole” to be funny. If someone doesn’t find that funny, befriend them. If they make fun of you and smile about it, buy them a beer.
Be careful of getting sold stuff you don’t need. If your cousin’s best friend’s uncle’s grandpa fly fishes, meet him, he’ll probably be stoked you reached out to him about fly fishing because he won’t have many friends. Go to the library and read some older fly fishing books about casting and presentations, especially the ones with pictures. If you want to learn how to spey cast, watch Bill Lowe on YouTube. Don’t believe all you hear in “A River Runs Through It.” Watch “Low & Clear” and decide which character you are, then notice how they are still homies no matter how each other does it. Have fun, and be sure to breathe.
Flylords: How can we open up space for new folks to join in outdoor activities?
Mario: Number one, we can quit taking being outdoors so darn seriously. Most of the time we get into this to have fun, and we can easily forget that with egos and Instagram clout. When someone new wants to experience this, embrace them and help teach them about the importance of leaving a place how you found it. Support their stoke for Mother Nature.
There were people here before us enjoying the outdoors way before the colonization of North America. We can’t forget that the land we are on is stolen, and we are lucky to enjoy it from the suffering of others. When someone acts like a spot is theirs, it isn’t, hasn’t been, and never will be. Humility is key to opening these spaces for others.
Finally, fun is super important. If we can perpetuate fun, we can create more advocates for preserving mama nature and increase the awareness of how beautiful she is.
Flylords: Tell us about Taco’s signature beer!
Mario: Life is great. Fly fishing is great. Then again, they can be greater. We at Taco Fly Co. figured out our way to make our lives greater, crunchier, and greasier. It’s the “Special Beer”. You’ve seen em’. You’ve wondered about em’. This tasty way of the Taco Fly Co. life was born on the old, ragged drift boats we use on the Trinity River in California.
Hug your homies and never, ever, forget the limes.