« Fly Rods, Plastic Creatures and Bass | Main | Montana Hatches - Fishing from the Top to the Bottom »

Tips for Hiring a Fishing Guide

Let me begin by saying that after 15 years of being a fly-fishing guide in western Montana, I offended a party of fly fishermen on my first spring outing of the season. They had come to fish the Blackfoot River, a little early, I might add. After three days with this very large party, their complaint against me was awkwardly relayed to me by the guide in charge. I was shocked. I must be honest in telling you I was hurt and angry, but then I had to realistically appraise my guiding skills and etiquette.

Had I become complacent and sloppy through the years? After much reflection, I had to shoulder most of the blame. We were fishing in coffee-colored water. Our Woolly Buggers, shackled and weighted down with lead, resembled some primordial serpent. The runoff was late and especially heavy. As a schoolteacher, I was unaccustomed to fishing in the manner that all of us were forced to fish; generally the runoff is usually over by the time school is out. Although my clients caught about the same numbers of fish as the clients in the other boats, I failed to be assertive and take charge, according to one of the clients.

On one of the days, I was encouraged into a friendly conversation on incompetent teachers and tenure laws. I threw caution to the wind and laid the blame on the shoulders of lazy administrators who fail to follow due-process procedures and document. This conversation followed a request by the client to exchange political views with a Democrat. The man had promised his wife he would yearly hold at least one civil conversation with a Democrat, and I was his man.

I thought to myself, don't get pulled into a political debate. In spite of the slow fishing, everyone seemed in jovial spirits, so I threw caution to the wind, again! I had broken another rule: Don't discuss your personal life, your politics or your religion. Apparently my behavior and views were brought up at the round table that night. On the third day I broke from the pack (nine guides) and headed for the upper Clark Fork. That was the day the fishing improved dramatically on the Blackfoot, and you can guess the rest of the story.
My worst offense, however, was reserved for the last day when I gave casting advice to an elderly gentlemen who had been fly fishing for 40 years and loved to either encroach on his partner's water or cast out in the middle of the river. I had become critical. I heard it in my voice. I drove home from the Blackfoot that fourth morning reflecting on the qualities that I admired in the top guides whom I worked with through the years, and I took stock of myself as a guide.

The following year, at age 52, I retired myself as a guide, knowing that I could no longer keep up with the younger, more passionate guides. Let me share with you the responsibilities of both the guide and the client. Hopefully, this will help you communicate with your outfitter in selecting a guide who is best suited for you.

Guide Responsibilities
1. Be an accomplished fly fisher, a cautious rower and an enthusiastic teacher.
2. Hold a state guide license and be trained in first aid and CPR.
3. Work hard to help your client catch fish. Never give up or become discouraged.
4. Be friendly and honest. Never inflate the fishing prospects, and allow a client to cancel a trip due to inclement weather or poor fishing conditions.
5. Be punctual. Be organized, and carry extra equipment and supplies.
6. Provide a classy lunch!
7. If you are with a large group and you are having good luck on a particular pattern, share with your fellow guides.
8. Know when to join in conversations and when to withdraw and allow privacy or just quiet time.
9. Ask the clients how much instruction they want. Gauge their response. Many clients find themselves invited on trips, and yet they are really not interested in learning a new skill, not to mention feeling the pressure from a guide. Many of these clients are content to enjoy the float trip in the company of their friends.
10. Never take for granted the natural beauty that surrounds us. Share in the wonders of nature and the catching and releasing of wild Montana trout.

Responsibilities of the Client

Be realistic in your expectations and as well as your fishing skills. As a guide of many years, I would just cringe when I had a client who booked a trip in the heat of August, had little or no rudimentary casting skills and fully expected to catch a trophy trout that day. A few years back I heard a guide good-naturally say to a client who was denigrating the river, "Well, the fish are here all right, but like a lot of folks, they're not hungry all the time. That's why they call it fishing, not catching."

If a guide tells you he wants you to cast no more than six inches from the shore, he's serious! If you didn't have the skills to do so he wouldn't ask you. A client who spends a fortune to come to fish in Montana and then winces when he looses a few bucks' worth of flies always puzzles me. If you're not losing flies, you're not fishing hard.
Also, dress appropriately. If you do not have waders, wear an old pair of pants and a pair of tennis shoes. At least once a year I would have a client who would show up in dress pants and Gucci loafers. Realistically, this limits the guide's opportunities to stop the boat and let clients wade fish favorite hot spots.

Speaking of flies... Please ask the guide ahead of time if you are expected to pay for the flies. Some shop guides merely add the flies onto your total bill and deduct any flies you didn't use that day. Some outfitters and guides make it a policy to provide the flies free in the hopes that the tip they receive will compensate their loss of flies for the day. Other outfitters and guides bill the client for each fly and leader used. I have worked under both systems. I will tell you honestly that many times I will have given up $20 worth of flies and leaders. As an independent guide, I paid retail prices for flies and leaders most of the time.

Regarding tips (no objectivity here!). Did you enjoy your day? Did the guide work hard at getting you over fish? Did you have a gourmet or lavish lunch? Was the trip well organized? I won't share trade secrets about how much the outfitter pays the guides, but I will tell you that the guide is responsible for all of his equipment and insurance. With few exceptions, the lunches are made by the guide or paid for by the guide. Shuttling the guide's rig usually costs $25 a trip. Boats and rafts are usually replaced within six or seven years at around $4,000. Trailers are forever breaking down. The season is very short. Up-front yearly start-up costs translate to three guide trips before the guide makes a profit. OK - guides do have a great job, but tips are greatly appreciated.

What type of guide do you want? Most people rarely make requests of the outfitter in selecting a guide. Are you new to the sport? Do you really want a day's worth of concentrated instruction? Some guides do poorly with beginners; others never know when to let up. Good communication between the guide and client easily resolves this dilemma. I generally push and demand a great deal up until lunch. After lunch I let my beginners just have fun. When they need instruction, I wait for them to ask for it. Ask your outfitter for the best instructor for a beginner, and if you are an accomplished angler, ask for the best guide.

Do you want a young guide who bursts with enthusiasm, rows the boat with a fierce macho pride, and jumps up and down like a cheerleader? Your outfitter has them. (God, I am getting old.) Be open with the outfitter regarding what you want in a guide. And finally, I would like to close with some advice to novices. Take a class before you book a trip. Check out a fly casting VCR tape. I recommend Doug Swisher's instructional tape on casting, as well as his book. But if you want to learn on your vacation, ask for a walk-in trip instead of a float trip. Trust me, you will learn more in one day of instruction on a creek catching dozens of seven-inch trout than you would spending a couple of days casting from a boat with no previous experience.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 8, 2010 12:49 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Fly Rods, Plastic Creatures and Bass.

The next post in this blog is Montana Hatches - Fishing from the Top to the Bottom.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by Movable Type 4.1
Hosted by LivingDot