Classic Tips: How to Prepare for a Guided Fly-Fishing Trip

A little bit of casting practice goes a long way once you’re on the water.
Photo by Sandy Hays

Is 2016 the year that you finally make that dream trip? Or maybe you’re just going to finally bite the bullet and hire a guide to help you take your fly fishing to the next level. Some people fish with guides all the time, but most anglers have probably never done it. Others might hire a guide just once or twice a year. So if you do make that leap and hire a local expert to take you fishing, whether its on the Roaring Fork or the flats of Belize, what’s the best way to prepare for the trip to ensure that you have the best time possible?

I sent this question out to some guides from different parts of the U.S. and Canada—asking them to list three things they’d like their clients to do before a trip—and as you might imagine, I received a wide variety of answers. Some guides offered location-specific advice, dealing with things like altitude and weather. But three things appeared on almost every list:

1. Practice casting.
This is a no-brainer because the better you can cast, the more likely you can put the fly where the guide asks you to put it. Frank Smethurst, who has guided from the Rockies to Baja California, wrote:

The three most important things that would make any guide trip on any waterway better would be casting, casting, and casting. The toughest thing to hear before any day of guiding begins is “It has been a couple of years since I have picked up one of these’” while the client vaguely wiggles the rod. . . . All of the flies tied and articles read will never help as much as an hour spent airing out the line and throwing some yarn around at plates or hoops on the lawn. Taking the time to do this also illuminates the condition of the line and equipment a bit better than a hazy remembrance of how the tackle worked the last time out.

2. Talk to the guide about your preferences, expectations, and limitations.
Fishing guides are not mind readers, and they deal with many different kinds of clients over the course of a season. Bozeman-based Brian Grossenbacher notes,

Any information the client can provide is invaluable in creating a more personal and enjoyable fishing experience. It is their trip after all, not mine. Is it important to catch lots of fish? Big fish? Lots of big fish? Do they prefer fishing dries? Streamers? Do they have any physical limitations? Do they consider themselves to be a beginner, intermediate, or expert angler? Do they prefer wade fishing or fishing from the boat?

Then, reinforcing #1 above, Grossenbacher ends with, “Once we are on the same page, I would encourage them to head back outside and continue to practice their casting.”

If you and your guide are on the same page, the only thing you have to worry about are the fish.
Photo by Phil Monahan

The question of personal limits is one that plagues guides. In general, clients believe that they are fitter, stronger, and better anglers than they actually are. Fly Fish Alberta’s Dave Jensen says,

Clients need to honestly assess their own abilities when it comes to walking, fishing, etc., and then properly communicate them to the guide. “I’ve been fly fishing forty-one years!’” sometimes means a guy has been fly fishing forty-one times…in his life. I once had a fellow show up, having booked a backcountry hike-in trip, just months after he’d undergone laser eye surgery and a hip replacement, and he’d never revealed that he’d been on dialysis for three years, was diabetic, and had also had a pair of knee replacements.

3. Dress appropriately and prepare for the conditions.
Check the weather before you arrive and make sure you’ve got all the rain gear and outerwear you may need. Once that drift boat heads down river or that panga is an hour from the lodge, there’s no going back. Sunblock is a must, no matter where or when you fish, and several guides stressed the importance of hydration. Of course, the guide will have fluids, but you can help yourself by getting a head start and not going out on a dehydrating bender the night before.

Ask as many questions as you can think of before the trip. The many varied responses I received from guides showed that they all have their own quirks, expectation, and pet peeves. Some guides provide a fancy shore lunch, while others want you to bring your own food. (“Fishing I do, making snacks I don’t. How the heck am I supposed to know what they want on a sandwich?”) Some guides provide all the flies you’ll need, while other will request that you stock up on specific patterns. Some guides want you to relax and let them take care of everything, while others expect you to share their intensity.

The key to almost all of the above is open and honest communication between the guide and the client, who should ask each other a ton of questions, so they’ll both end up on the same page at the end of the day.

10 thoughts on “Classic Tips: How to Prepare for a Guided Fly-Fishing Trip”

  1. Frank has a good point, a good point and another good point. But what good is a good cast if you can’t get a good drift? Trout don’t usually eat flies that are making a wake. Of course it’s all about stripping in Baja

  2. I agree that you would want to talk to a guide about your fly fishing experience. I would imagine that an expert could give you ideas on how to improve your cast as well as helping you have realistic expectations for your trip. I’m going on a fly fishing trip soon so I’ll have to talk to a guide about how to improve the experience even more.

  3. Thank you for all the tips on how to prepare for a fly-fishing trip. My husband loves fishing and wants to go on a charter, but he wants to prepare before we go. I think it is a great idea for my husband to get some practice with casting. It really would help us see the condition of his equipment as well, like you mentioned.

  4. My family has been thinking about going on a fly fishing trip this fall. My father is a big fisherman but the rest of us haven’t fished in a long time. So, I liked that you pointed out that we need to be prepared for the weather. It might be smart to talk to a fishing guide about suggestions on clothing to wear.

  5. Thanks for pointing out how sunblock is a must no matter what you do. This is important now since my skin can be really sensitive to the sun. One time, I even had a sunburn with just being out for a couple of minutes. This will be useful when we go out fishing this month.

    This, and several expletives were used years ago when I was on my seventh flyfishing trip for permit in the lower Keys, after I failed to see and missed a couple of quick shots at these fish. At that time, most Keys guides lacked basic communication skills. The situation persisted till a few leaders in the industry got the word out.Slow improvement in their behavior has ensued over many decades.
    Another guide on the Gunpowder River fiercely criticized my loop-to-loop connections so many times that I had to ask him to change the subject.He then instructed me that “our trout aren’t like those pond fish you’re used to catching down South”(Florida). You get the idea.
    Failure to address customers by their name, being tardy for launch time, offering excuses instead of being prepared(“last week they were really biting”) & acts of disrespect really grate on paying clients’ nerves.
    In another instance, a worn trailer bearing threatened to give way while on SevenMile Bridge, forcing a turn into the boatyard and requiring 2-3 hours to replace.This delay in our early morning launch for flats species was entirely due to poor preparation for which the guide offered only lame excuses.
    One guide brought his dog in the boat and encouraged the animal to accompany us while wade fishing for trout.
    Generally failing to communicate with customers & poor prep are major reasons behind many client’s frustration with guided fishing services.
    All guides should be required to take a course in customer relations… at least for those expecting a 25% tip.

  7. Thanks for the reminder that dressing appropriately is important when going on a fishing charter trip. I easily get cold so I can imagine that it will be very windy when riding a boat. I better make sure that I wear thick fabrics so that I can enjoy the trip as much as I can.

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