4 Tips to Being a Better Guide

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Kent Klewein is one of the best! Photo by Louis Cahill

Kent Klewein is one of the best! Photo by Louis Cahill

By Cameron Rhodes

When I tell people that I am a fly fishing guide, their immediate response is usually: “Cool! You get to fish all day and make money doing it!”

When I start to explain what my day consists of, they change their perspective a little. “So you’re telling me that you don’t fish every day, but instead you watch and teach people to fish? Well at least you get to be outside.”

I do fish a lot. I mean a lot. When I’m not with clients, I am usually on the river with some good friends. When I’m done with a trip, I head out to the river for an evening float, to relax and drink some beers. So for me to say I don’t get to fish would be untrue.

I am fortunate to fish as much as I do. I explain to people that there’s more to being a fishing guide than fishing all the time and drinking beers with buddies. It’s a passion. The guide business can be tough, but it’s the passion that brings us all back to the water year after year.

Here are four things that keep my passion alive and help me be the best guide I can be.

Create an enjoyable atmosphere for clients

This one is the biggest. A guide isn’t there just to put people on fish. A guide is there to show clients a good time and share a memorable experience. You are there to help make the most out of their vacation. To us, it’s another day another dollar, but to them it’s a getaway to the mountains, or beach or wherever and relax while enjoying some fishing. So treat it as just that. I wouldn’t want to spend my vacation listening to a fishing guide yelling at me because I missed the last fish or because I can’t cast. I want my guide to have fun with me and create a great experience. Joke around and have a good time. After all, It’s just fishing.

This is easier said than done, especially when the fishing is slow or towards the end of the season when guides get a bit cranky, which is natural. They’re worn out, they’ve been in the sun for months on end and have dealt with everything from losing anchors to forgetting lunch.

Last season I lost over $100 worth of flies off my boat. The flies in that box were the only flies that worked that day. That same trip I hooked my anchor on a rock and had to cut it. I tried my best and I made it an experience. We ended up landing a couple fish but most of all, we had fun and laughed about it later. I could have made a bad experience for everyone but instead I kept my chin up. Remember, when the guide is having a rough day, it rubs off on the clients.

Get used to not fishing

A buddy once told me, “Guiding is like watching some guy that you hardly know have sex with a super-hot chick and you have to sit and watch while he butchers it. There is nothing you can do but watch and tell him how you would do it better.”

Fishing is our super-hot chick. We have to watch people fish all day and you cannot pick up that rod and show them how. You can definitely give them some pointers and maybe throw a cast or two so they can see an example but the last thing you want is to hook a fish. We all know you could, but that’s not the point. You aren’t out there to fish, but rather teach and share a passion for the outdoors with someone else.

I’m not on the water as a guide because I get to fish, but because I enjoy watching others fish. The passion of being a guide is that I get to watch my clients get pure enjoyment out of catching their first fish or their biggest fish or what ever makes it great for them. I get to share something I love with others. I get to share a real experience with someone in a very intimate setting. Which leads me to my next tip…

Continue to learn and grow

This couldn’t be more important. Not just for guiding but for life in general. If you want to progress as a guide and in life then you need to be open to learning. When I am on the river I am constantly learning how to better myself as a guide and as a fisherman.
Even when I am off the river I am trying to learn new things. I am not a bug expert by any means, so when I walk into the shop after a trip, I consult one of the guides who studied entomology, so I can better my knowledge and help my clients catch more fish.
Being open to learning doesn’t just mean trying to learn how to catch more fish. Learn new and exciting ways to teach clients how to fly fish as well. Learn what works and develop new ideas every day. You can learn from clients as well. After all, they are just like you and I.

One of the coolest parts about being a guide is the people you meet and what they have to teach you. You can learn a lot by listening to the old man in the front of your boat who, turns out, just wanted a boat ride and a good talk. So broaden your horizons and continue to learn and grow as a guide and a person.

Don’t forget why you are there

It’s easy to get caught up in life’s stresses and forget what exactly we are doing. So many times I call my dad after a bad day with clients or just a bad day in general, and he says, “Bud, you are living the dream and you are complaining about it.”

Ain’t that the truth? I forget how fortunate I am, to be where I am, and have the things I have. Never lose sight of why you became a guide. Few get the opportunity to be guides and make their toys their tools.

We are lucky. We get to fish a lot, we get to create memorable experiences for ourselves and for others. We are in a field where we learn constantly, from one another and from Mother Nature, which allows us to grow as people.
We are fly fishing guides!

Cameron Rhodes
Gink & Gasoline
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11 thoughts on “4 Tips to Being a Better Guide

  1. “Guiding is like watching some guy that you hardly know have sex with a super-hot chick and you have to sit and watch while he butchers it. There is nothing you can do but watch and tell him how you would do it better.”


  2. I would add:
    – Confirm the trip with your clients in advance. Many of us book flights and hotels to come fish where you are. We need to know it’s on before you decide to text us that morning. Use a service if you have to.
    – Know when to talk and when to shut up. Tough, I know, but something to get as good at as possible. A well placed tip or bit of coaching is worth a week of random chatter.
    – Attempt to become a gourmet camp cook. Most great guides I’ve been with are foodies who know how to do amazing things with simple propane stoves. My last guide brought along his homemade chipotle mayo for our sandwiches. He is also a uber steelheader.
    – Ok kudos on the funny sex analogy… but along that line, if you’re having sex way more often than your clients are, then don’t expect them to be near as good at it as you are. Most of them are spending an inordinate amount of time locked up in an office somewhere earning enough dough to pay your guide fee (and mortgages, college tuitions, alimony, etc). Save the macho for when you are fishing with your guide buddies.
    – If you are really good at what you do, keep at it and we’ll find you. If you aren’t getting a high percentage of repeat clients, tune your game. To the best of you- thanks for being out there!

  3. A big part of making it enjoyable for the client is making the client feel good about themselves. For some, they want to feel they are pretty good fishermen. For others, they know they are novices and enjoy the opportunity to see improvement or progress. The guide needs to take them as they come and make each feel like they are special: a special student or a special fisherman making the most they can of what the day offers.

    I imagine the most difficult job is dealing with the ass who thinks he is much better than he is and is disappointed with the guide when fishing is tough.

  4. This is a great post and one that every guide should read. I would also suggest that after reading this you pass it on to your clients so they understand their guide as well. I can also tell you that perpetually learning is one of the best things you can do whether it is from a book or from other anglers and guides. Learning can be fun and opens many new doors to the world outside the darkened door.

  5. #2 – something to add….a different approach, if you will. I find that each and every person in my boat learns a different way. While I rarely fish on guide trips, taking the rod and demonstrating what your would like them to do, is one of the best ways to teach a technique. this entails much more than a cast or two and sometimes this might take several minutes to get a point across. I find this works really well with beginners when teaching them how to nymph or streamer fish and also when teaching anyone how to reach cast. Many folks, myself included, learn from watching. You are correct, this is not about you as the guide trying to catch fish, however it is about you as the guide utilizing the best possible way to teach an angler (beginner or advanced) and if the client understands this approach, then they will appreciate what you’re doing. I often start out by saying, ” I’m going to demonstrate what it is that I would like you to do. While I am not trying to catch a fish, I just might cause the flies are in water and after all, we are fishing.”. If you, as the guide, catch a fish, then by all means, play it out and use that situation to your advantage. You can always hand them the rod and let them play it out as well, which is something they will appreciate, especially if they are young or new to the sport. I often feel bad when I catch a fish on a guide trip, but the confidence that a client gains in who they have hired will go through the roof. If they believe in you, they will listen to you as well. You can explain to someone several different ways to accomplish the goal, but when they can watch you and listen as well, then they learn quickly. Many times, folks don’t know what the terms mean and fishing while explaining what you are doing will educate them. Once they know what you are talking about, most often they will pick up the technique faster.

    • I am one of those who learns from watching and mimicking. I certainly don’t want a guide just fishing when I’m fishing, but I do really appreciate someone showing me exactly what he’s doing, and if he catches a fish while demonstrating, so much the better.
      In other words, I agree with JSM.

  6. I used to coach AYSO soccer and attended a lot of clinics. Their philosophy on coaching was contrary to the way I was coached as a youth. Unlike the old school way where yelling and a militaristic approach was used to inspire, AYSO felt that a more nurturing approach was more productive motivation.

    Well, that’s a whole other conversation. But, one thing I did take away as being quite effective was the way we were taught to instruct:
    SAY: Tell the student/player/client what you want them to do.
    SHOW : You do it!
    DO: They do it!

    I think that along with the always important point of remembering that guiding is a service industry, SAY, SHOW, DO is a great way to address the technical side of a trip.

  7. Work within your guests limits. Don’t expect them to arrive with the requisite skills. Help them put it together. If they were that good and experienced to begin with, they wouldn’t need you. Don’t over state or over sell your fishery. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Patience, humility, humor.

  8. Pingback: Tippets: Becoming a Guide, Bonefish & Sunscreen, Washington’s High Lakes | MidCurrent

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