Pro Tips: What You Should Expect from a Fly-Fishing Guide

A good guide shares in the successes of his client
Photo by Phil Monahan

When I posted about the ways a client could help his or her guide, several folks suggested that there was another side to the story: how the guide should help his or her client have a good day. Of course, this is true, and most professional guides have this down to a science. Here are four things that you can expect from a good guide, which should help to ensure that you have the best day possible.

1. The guide should communicate with you before your day on the water.
After you’ve booked your time with a guide, you should expect him or her to be available for any questions you might have leading up to your trip. Many guides offer a pre-trip checklist–on a website or in an email–that covers the basics, but you might want to know which patterns to tie up, if you’ll need two lines, and so on. This communication will almost certainly be over email, and you should expect a reply.

2. On the day of the trip, the guide should be on time and prepared.
If you’re dropping several Franklins on a guide, you don’t want to be left waiting at the boat ramp or frantically calling his cell to find out where he is. Good guides get most of their prep work done the night before, so they can arrive on time and ready to launch or fish.

One of the reasons Orvis endorses guides–such as last year’s Guide of the Year, John Herzer–is
to give anglers confidence that they’re getting what they paid for.
Photo by Tom Rosenbauer

3. The guide should adjust his approach to your desires and skill level.
It’s your guide’s job to suggest how you should fish. It should not be a demand. I once had an octogenarian angler say to me, “I have been fishing for sixty years, and I know what I like. I only want to fish dry flies, even though I realize that might lower my chances of catching fish.” As I guide, I appreciated this information and worked hard to find him a few trout looking upward. I had planned on drifting tandem-nymph rigs, but I also wanted to make my client happy.

On that same note, if you are not a great caster, your guide should work to get you close to the fish. If your mending technique needs work, the guide should offer constructive criticism to help you achieve the desired result. It does neither of you any good for the guide to put you in an angling situation for which you’re not prepared.

4. Your guide should be in a good mood. . .or pretend to be.
Guides are human, and everyone sometimes just has a crappy day. But the client may have been waiting months or years for this opportunity, so it’s time for the guide to buck up. I had a lodge manager who told his guide crew, “Hangovers don’t exist.” Although this applied specifically to night-before activities, it also spoke the larger point that the guest should never be aware that anything is wrong. Part of being a guide is the performance.

Being a guide is not just about bringing your clients to the fish. A good guide is also a teacher, a problem-solver, a storyteller, and a cheerleader.

If you can think of other things that a guide can do to help his clients, add them in the comments below.

10 thoughts on “Pro Tips: What You Should Expect from a Fly-Fishing Guide”

  1. A good guide will explain the rationale for his decision to fish river X or flat Y, as well as the recommended presentation. The same thing goes doubly when reading water. It’s far more valuable to know that, on an outgoing tide, the fish hold down current of that rotted post over barnacle covered rocks in 3′-4′, than “Cast behind the post, count it down and strip like hell.”

    A good guide either provides a good lunch, or tells you where you can buy one.

    Guides who have more than a beer before the takeout make me leery.

    Most guides won’t yell at you (or even honestly critique you) when you blow a shot or cracker a fish off. But a good guide–when asked–will give you a point-by-point assessment of all the things you did wrong. While painful, you can learn a lot . . . but you gotta ask. (There are a couple of guides that you don’t have to ask that I still use . . . but not many.)

    A good guide won’t disparage the competition or unguided anglers or try to screw other anglers sharing the same water. A good guide won’t row into a spot occupied by others and beg for them to leave “because the guy on the boat hasn’t caught a fish all day” (especially if that’s not true).

    A good guide is upfront about the time he plans to spend on the water (as opposed to pickup and dropoff times at the hotel), and doesn’t end up shaving 45 minutes off the end of the day “because I forgot that it’s my wife’s birthday today”.

    A good guide doesn’t give in to the temptation to use only the method that’s most likely to put fish in the boat when there’s an opportunity to teach the angler a technique that he can later use on his own. Sidedrifting nymphs under indicators can be deadly with an expert on the oars floating familiar water, but at the end of the day the client may not have learned anything other than how to watch a bobber and flip it out 20′-30′. How about a few casting pointers and swinging some tailouts, too?

    A good guide doesn’t tell you at the end of the day what his expected tip is. Either it’s on his website, or he mentioned it pre-booking, or it’s discretionary.

    A good guide obeys the fish and game regs and insists his clients do, too. Even if it’s not in the regs, good guides ensure that fish to be released are handled with TLC even at the risk of upsetting the client.

    I’m sure there are a few other points I’ve missed.

  2. As a beginner female Angler, I believe a good guide is confident and also patient. It can be very overwhelming to drop into a whole surrounded by men. Especially on gold medal rivers where they are fished year round and by experienced Anglers from all over the world. I recently fished with an orvis endorsed guide in the winter, which was extremely tough fishing. He was incredibly confident and compassionate towards my ability. He didn’t over whelm me with to many tasks. He gave two tips to work on. I landed the biggest fish I’ve ever caught all on my own. Not to mention, he has the best sense of humor, quite frankly goes a long way when learning such a difficult sport. I’ve fished with different guides over the years and I must say this particular guide is a
    true gift to the sport. It only takes a great guide, and one fish to keep you coming back for more.

  3. There is only one but he made the trip of a life time – we fished hard all day / walk miles. Then at the end of the day turn around for a long “run” back to the truck. On arriving back at the truck enthusiastically exclaiming what a blast he had running with a client just to fish one more bend in the river. Finally collapsing on the ground and sinking the most deserving beer ever.

    Takes a special guide client relationship to kick back as angling brothers – we fished so hard that we ended up hours from the pull out point of the days raft trip. Guide then allowed client to kick back and row his guide for several hours laughing one heads off telling those out of school stories in one of the most hilarious days of fishing. Said guide will keep watch for his friends river side fire so we don’t miss the last pull out point for miles. Oh yeah while raft slowly looses air as the air temps drop – wonder if we will ever make it

    Takes a special guide that stands out in front of his lodge peers – will put me on the biggest GT of a life time within the first minute of the days fishing. Then picks up one of my rods to enjoy a really cool day fishing together having a few laughs. No pressure just good times

    A upcoming booking – will understand what has made me excited about fishing his home stretch. Instead of taking me on just another day down on the local river the guide will also be excited about his day ahead on a piece of water that makes him excited. Im excited six months out.

    Thanks to so many great guides whom have put in a huge effort to allow my wife to enjoy the excitement of landing a fish of a lifetime. This is what allows me to go fishing again

    A professional guide will not try and mislead me that fishing in the off season will result in a great days fishing full will knowing the weather will be a wash out. Il get their one day on the guides recommendation not when it best suits me. After all it is their local knowledge I seek.

    As a travelling angler i only get to share your world for a small portion of time. I look for guidance from the guide as to best time best place best methods. I accept im not looking for the best day ever just the best memory of the piece of paradise you live in. Look forward to you sharing that with me what is special to you. I accept the client is not always right so lets go have some fun

    Last of all a great guide will take great photos.

  4. Thanks for the information about fly fishing! I have wanted to get into fly fishing for a long time. I have been thinking about hiring a guide to help me out. I like that you mentioned that a good guide will communicate with you well leading up to your trip. That way, you know what to expect and will be on the same page.

  5. My cousin is planning a guided fishing tour soon and wants to make sure he finds the best possible one. I like that you mention how the guides job is to suggest to you how to fish and not demand. It’s his first time going and he’s worried about looking inexperienced, so having an easy-going tour is important to him. Thanks for sharing!

  6. My husband really wants to go on a fly fishing trip, but I don’t know what to expect if we go on a charter with a guide. That is good that the guide will suggest how we should fish! I have never been fly fishing before and would love to have some pointers on this trip! Thank you for the information!

  7. like your third tip that a good guide will change his approach to your desires and skills. When my friends and I hire a guide, we’re looking more for someone to teach us how to fish, rather than show us the best place in the local area. With our skill level fishing will be equally rewarding in a local pond as it would be in a secret mountain lake. I agree, a good fishing guide will make the trip about you.

  8. When I was really young my grandpa would take me fishing out at this lake by his home. It’s been years since I did that, but now that I have a daughter of my own, I’d like to try to start it up again. My grandpa has since passed away, so I was thinking of getting a fishing guide to help me and my daughter get started. So thanks for pointing out that your guide should be available to answer any questions you might have before you actually go on your trip.

  9. Thanks for explaining what a fly fishing guides hould be like. It’s nice to know that guides could have a pre-trip checklist that can cover up the basics. It seems important to look at this beforehand so you know what you may need to buy before the fishing trip.

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