Tuesday Tips: How to Be a Good Client for Your Guide

Listen, pay attention, be honest about your skills, and smile. . .the goal is to have a good time, right?
Photo courtesy Linehan Outfitting

For some anglers, fishing with a guide can cause a little bit of anxiety. No one wants to make a stupid mistake or say something ridiculous in front of a guide because no one wants to be “that guy”—the one whom the guide and his buddies make fun of later on at the bar.

First of all, having worked with and for many guides, I can assure you that plenty of them are asses and “that guy,” so don’t get all worked up thinking that every guide is part of some cool crowd that you want to be part of. They may occasionally get the rock star treatment in the angling press and films, but the vast majority of guides are just regular folk trying to make a living doing something they love. Don’t feel like you have to act the part of the “cool client”; just be yourself.

That said, there are a few things you can do to make your guide think highly of you:

1. Before you fish with the guide, offer an honest assessment of your skills. It will help the guide tailor the day to give you the best chances for success. When I guided in Yellowstone National Park, I had several anglers tell me that they were experts and wanted to test their skills against the wily trout of Slough Creek. Once we got there and they started slapping the water, I knew that we were in for a long, unproductive day. Had they been honest, I could have taken them to other streams where the water wasn’t so low and clear and the fish were less wary.

2. Don’t tell the guide what your expectations are; instead ask him (or her) what reasonable expectations should be. You are showing up to fish the guide’s water on a single day. The guide has probably been fishing it all season and knows what to expect. Ask about the conditions/weather/river flow/hatches/etc. and actually listen to what the guide says. This will help you get in the right mindset for the day ahead. I once had a client who insisted that we float the Yellowstone, through Paradise Valley, even though the river was the color of chocolate milk from several days of heavy rain. He asked me what his chances of catching a fish were, and I said, “Zero to none.” I was right, but he was still pissed at me at the end of the day—so neither of us was happy.

Your guide’s expertise is what you’re paying for. Use it.
Photo courtesy Linehan Outfitting

3. Listen to the guide’s instructions and suggestions, and then follow them. See above. The guide knows the water better than you; that’s why you’re paying him or her. I was always astonished when a client would ask what fly to use and then ignore my advice altogether—despite the fact that my advice was based on weeks of observation. For instance, once the sockeyes were on their redds on Alaska’s Copper River, you had three fly choices for rainbows—eggs, eggs, or eggs. Yet clients would insist on casting their “hot” patterns from back home. Eventually, they’d come around, but they caught fewer fish because of their belief that they knew better.

4. Have a smile on your face. Fishing is supposed to be fun, but it’s tough for a guide to enjoy a day when his client can’t enjoy it. Look around, enjoy the scenery, rejoice in the opportunity to be on the water—no matter what the conditions. You could be back in the office, you know.

Trust me, the vast majority of guides would rather spend the day helping a beginning angler who observes these four rules catch one fish than endure eight hours with a know-it-all grumbler who catches two dozen big trout.

9 thoughts on “Tuesday Tips: How to Be a Good Client for Your Guide”

  1. A great article, thank you for taking the time to write this. As a guide for the last 20 years I always hope my guests for each day follow these simple rules.

  2. I have only hired one guide. The reason is I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t want to be “That Guy”. My friends hired a guide to fish the Yosemite National Park in California. I paid my money and went with them. This was a great adventure. The guide “Tim” had me sit on a rock and try to cast vertically into a stream below us (It was cramped with trees) I just turned to him and started laughing and said yeah right. After this moment we became a team and had a great day. I did catch the tiny fish out of that pond too, but It was the Guides advice that made that happen. Thanks to all the guides out there!

  3. I thought the guide had a job to do and was working. Article sounds like a day off work.

    When ever I want a new client I go out and find out a bit about them or their company before I approach them.
    I would expect a good guide would spend some time getting to know their customer before taking them to a spot for the day that was beyond the clients skill set.
    A client is paying a guide to identify the appropriate level of experience and to know the potential issues in advance.

    Really the client should have a smile on their face so the guide can enjoy the day. I would expect the guide to deliver a exceptional experience that puts a smile on the clients face. The guide isn’t there to have a nice day the guide is there to work in the best interests for the client. That is the contract the two parties have entered.

    And you floated the river knowing it was going to be a bust. Have the experience and maturity to manage the clients expectations and work with the client. The guide needs to be believable so the client takes their advice.
    Taking a client to a place the client expects to fish well while the guide knows it won’t is not professional. Just say no to the money and welcome the client back on another day. It is hard to turn away business but don’t deliver a poor product just because there is money involved. No wonder the client was pissed.

    There will be some clients who want a happy day and smile but there will also be clients who want the trip to be a great success. Many guided trips are trips of a lifetime. Most professional sports teams will play hard and smile once they win the championship, guides need to delivery winning results.

    1. Ha! Andrew – just when I think I might quit my job and start guiding…

      You said you go out and find out something about your client before you meet them. The RIVER is the client of a guide. The paying person is there for the expertise. If a guide spent time getting to know their customers, glorious caddis flies and sulphurs would become sexually mature without anyone there to know it was even happening.

      I am a teacher. Knowing how 8th graders are so stubborn and hormonal, I think I’ll stick with them. I expect them to try their best and be honest with themselves. I couldn’t handle a whiney adult making hero casts all day talking about how great they are.

      Besides. After a long day of teaching, I can sit on the couch and watch “A River Runs Through It”. Again. On Blu-ray.

      P.S. Love the article! The more education, the better! Keep up the great work, Phil!

  4. Pingback: Tippets: Prescription Nature, Being a Good Client, Yukon Delta Fishing Ban | MidCurrent
  5. Sounds like too many guides I know who think the client is there to give them an enjoyable day.

    And if a client had two dozen big trout I’d be a very happy guide and hope that I’d learned something. But then this sounds more like the kind of guide who enjoys showing off and bossing people around rather than responding to the clients needs.

  6. It seems to me that being a guide is a challenge. You have to become an expert in your field yet still have the skills to deal with people. I was once told by a friend that becoming a guide may just ruin the experience of fishing and being in the wilderness, it becomes work. I found this great as I have been fishing since I was able to walk and I have considered becoming a guide many times. Even getting a job offer to work in Canada when I was 16. I still have a lot to learn though.

  7. When I was in SAC in Alaska (Eielson AFB), I was often asked to take the visiting dignitaries (generals) fishing, though not “paid,” but as being a successful fly-fisher. Most times we came back with fish, once we were “skunked.” I learned being a guide has nothing to do with anything but respect for each other for our role as one who suggests what to use on waters we knew successfully. When things go wrong without explanation, don’t BS. A simple “I don’t know” is fine. Sometimes things go wrong. I always had the respect of the generals (I was a captain at the time), and they kept coming and asking me to take them. I think a good guide is a paid fishing buddy that you respect and expect to make suggestions for success. A good client is not expecting anything else and both should not try to BS one another. Nothing else, and nothing more. Just my own opinion.

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