Like many Bullitt County boys, Tim Tipton grew up playing sports. Then he realized he had a problem.
“I ran track and cross country and loved football and basketball,” Tipton recalled. “The problem was when I got to the eighth grade, everybody else kept growing, and I didn’t.”
Tipton knew enough about sports to understand that the smallest guy on the team usually doesn’t shine on the hardwood or gridiron. So, he sought a venue that would better even the odds.
“I decided in 1983 to start boxing,” he said. “I had a couple of family members who had done some boxing, and I had been around the sport all my life. And that way, I could compete in a one-on-one sport but be competing against guys my size.”
Tipton did well as an amateur. He turned pro in 1987.
Life in the ring is tough. A decade later, Tipton had won 32 fights, been beaten 13 times, hammered out two draws and, recently, had his jaw broken—for the third time.
“It wasn’t too bad,” he said, recalling his 10 years in the ring. “I fought some world-ranked fighters and two world champions. Went the distance with a lot of top contenders. I fought as featherweight, lightweight and, at the end of my career, as a junior welterweight.”
By early 1997, he was a 30-year-old married father of two and decided he had had enough of the ring.
“Suddenly, where I had been the young guy fighting the older guys, I was the older guy getting beat up by the 22- and 23-year-old guys,” he said.
While deciding what to do next, Tipton did what any reasonable man would do. He went fishing.
He’s actually a lifelong fisherman, but in 1998, he traveled to east Tennessee and fished the Hiwassee River.
The Hiwassee, like Kentucky’s Cumberland River, is a tailwater trout river, and the guide worked from a drift boat. It was Tipton’s first time fishing from such a rig, which is a classic fly-fishing boat commonly used on larger Western waters and some Eastern trout rivers.
A drift boat is a type of dory, and, in the hands of a skilled oarsman, is a nearly perfect fishing platform: roomy, dry, comfortable and deft at handling foaming whitewater or shallow water shoals.
Tipton had found his calling.
“I came home and told my wife that I would love to do that someday—to guide from a drift boat,” he said. “But at the time, we were raising two kids. But it’s always been in the back of my mind. I just never thought I would do it.”
He might do it. Tipton is scheduled to spend part of October near Greycliff, Montana, attending the Sweetwater Guide School. Now 48 and a grandfather, Tipton knows he might easily be the senior student. He also might be the only one reaching for a distant dream.
“Recently, my wife and I talked,” he said. “We realized that we’re not getting any younger. Our kids [ages 19 and 22] are grown now, more or less. And now is a good opportunity.”
Tipton researched guide schools. Sweetwater is geared toward fly-fishing and drift boats.
“The main reason I’m going is to learn how to handle the drift boat properly. You don’t just hop in a drift boat and start taking people down the river,” he said. “There is a lot to learn. And at my age, I learn a lot slower than I did when I was in my 20s. And the school has a great job placement record.”
Tipton hasn’t done any guiding but is an experienced fly fisherman and fly tier, and last year conducted a couple of popular fly-fishing seminars at the Louisville Boat Show.
He also has looked at some drift boats and eventually would like to divide his on-the-water time between Kentucky and Montana.
“My goal is to buy my own drift boat,” he said. “In the spring and fall—and in the winter if [clients] are interested—I’d like to do drift boat trips on the Cumberland River. Then in the peak season, I’d like to guide in the Rocky Mountains, in the Montana area.”
It might be fulfilling work, but there will be nothing easy about it. Guides typically spend more than 200 days a year on the water. Handling a drift boat is a physically taxing chore.
Tipton is excited and optimistic, but knows there are no guarantees. The ring taught him that.
“If I go out and work as a guide for a couple of years and decide I don’t like it, I’ll go back to working [other jobs],” he concluded. “It won’t be the end of the world. But when I’m 70, I don’t want to be sitting around thinking, ‘Why didn’t I do that?’ ”
Readers can contact Tim Tipton at (502) 416-4105 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Readers may contact Gary Garth at email@example.com