Lessons from an Aging Fly-Fishing Guide

Written by: Dave Brown, Dave Brown Outfitters

The years can take their toll, but there are ways that anglers can adjust.
All photos by Dave Brown

Like many fly-fishing guides, I’ve been hit pretty hard by middle age. The past 20-something years have been a blur, and I’m starting to feel it…. in more ways than one. I’ve noticed that late nights hanging out at the bar result in my feeling really crappy the next day, rowing back upstream to do merry-go-rounds up at the dam takes a little longer, and I’m uncomfortable wearing flat brims. I now call clients “sir” instead of “bro” or “dude,” back-rowing a lot on windy days leads to back pain, and finally the “bobber game” is starting to get really old. It’s too late in life to go back to school and become a doctor or a lawyer. So what to do? I’ve come up with a few things that work for me and might help some of my older colleagues.

Always in the boat . . . for both clients and guide.

Work Smarter

By now, I have an established clientele that respects me and my fish sense, so I use that to my advantage by getting them to fish how I would fish on a day off. That means we’re not going down the middle of the river, chasing bobbers and catching cookie-cutter rainbows. Instead, we may throw streamers and set-up for dry-fly fish, targeting the “big boys.” I’m also starting to pick up clients either early or late, depending on what going on hatch-wise. By doing so, I’m either ahead or behind other boats, which is an easy sell for most clients. This also offers ample opportunity to showcase my instructional skills by teaching new ways to get the job done.

Targeting big fish can be exciting and break the monotony of chasing numbers.

Hang with The Young Guns

New guides bring a wealth of intel and enthusiasm to the table, as they are often up on all the latest tactics and flies. I hang out and buy a few beers for these up-and-coming guides, and I actually listen to what they have to say! As in all things fly-fishing, chances are that you will learn some things to improve your game. I try to be a mentor and share my knowledge; it’s rewarding and I feel as though I am helping out the overall guide community.

New blood means new ideas and techniques. Never stop learning.

Fish New Waters

More and more I get off the home river and fishing other stuff. Why? The change forces me to power up and put all that knowledge and enthusiasm to use by challenging myself. If other rivers are not an option, then maybe scope out potential boat ramps that will change your floats, so you it feels fresh to you.

Challenging yourself to get out of the boat and explore re-ignite your angling passion.

Get Out of the Boat

It’s pretty easy to sit in a boat all day and go with the flow. But I find I get cramped up and need to get out and go for a walk. It’s great exercise and gets your blood flowing. I also like to spend time out of the boat working runs, side channels, or rising fish. This is another great opportunity to show off your instructional skills to your clients. As the fishing season gets closer to bird-hunting season, these little walks gain more importance.

Go Fishing

Whether you are an older or younger guide, go fishing on your days off. It keeps me enthused about the sport, and it will do the same for you.

Don’t forget to work in some “me time” on the water.

I hope that these suggestions help you enjoy guiding through middle age. Enjoy the ride.

Dave Brown owns and operates Dave Brown Outfitterson the Elk River in British Columbia, Canada.

8 thoughts on “Lessons from an Aging Fly-Fishing Guide”

  1. Good stuff, I will add drink more fluids during the day and stretch out more in the morning. Oh… switch to a better brand of bourbon

  2. I’m near probably not far from you on age, but a doctor, haha. Glad you’re doing well on the fitness aspects and finding happiness in your career.. I love Aleve for the occasional aches and pains. During the Corona pandemic consider not taking it because it is a risk factor for more severe illness if you get it. Take care and hope it’s over soon and people will get to see your amazing Canadian rivers-maybe I’ll be one of them! I’ve cancelled a few guided days this spring and may have some extra money for a wise and energetic Elk River guide.

  3. I’m an old and decrepit sometime fly fisherman struggling with diminishing eyesight, a loss of feeling in my fingertips, reduced coordination and balance, a bad back that limits how far I can walk and how long I can stand, and I having to forego my nightly helping of good bourbon. And that’s just the minor stuff…

    I’ve developed accommodations for some of those problems and went searching for any web sites where those similarly afflicted might share some of their tricks and tips. This post was the only item I found! Seems like an opportunity for a targeted web site, which would likely draw similarly targeted advertising.

    Thought I’d just throw that idea out there… I’m too old to undertake such an endeavor, but some of you young(er) guys might want to consider the concept 🙂

  4. A wading staff helps to prevent falls, it also minimizes those balance-losing near misses that can result in a sore back muscles afterwards.

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