Dos and Don’ts For Guided Fishing

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Kent, Ready To Strike Photo by Louis Cahill

“I have done enough guiding with enough people of all types that I sometimes cheer for the fish.”

My friend Kirk Deeter, writing on the Trout Unlimited blog April 25th, threw out the bold headline: “Guides: Gatekeepers or Profiteers”. There’s no mystery where Kirk stands on the subject. He goes on to write, “I think the sun rises and sets on the fly fishing world where guides collectively say it does. They are stewards of their rivers. They are the innovators, and the teachers. And a good guide is, for fly fishing and trout conservation, worth his or her weight in gold.”

I agree with Kirk completely but it’s apparently a controversial topic. Not everyone loves fishing guides and it got me wondering why. Most of my friends are, or have been, fishing guides. I am not, but I hear the stories and I remember having a few rough days with guides back in the day. I mentioned it to Kirk and this was his response.

“You ask a great question here. Let me put it to you this way. I have done enough guiding with enough people of all types that I sometimes cheer for the fish. Seriously. You can say I said that. On the other hand, nothing lights me up more than sharing a passion with someone who gets it, appreciates it, and really shows some genuine class and enthusiasm. A great guide and client team should be like a Bwana and his tracker… two people on one mission… bound by respect.”

I reached out to a few more friends in the guiding business and asked them, from their perspective, where things go wrong. I decided to make a list. I figured, like Rodney King said, “why can’t we all just get along?”

People hire guides for a host of different reasons but they all want the same thing, a great day on the water. Unfortunately, some days end with neither the guide or the client feeling all that good about it. Malfunctions in the client-guide relationship can spoil what should be a positive experience for everyone. Fortunately these malfunctions can be easily avoided. With that in mind, here is a list of dos and don’ts for your day of guided fishing. Follow these simple guidelines and, even if the fishing is slow, you’ll walk away feeling like you got your money’s worth.

A quick note: I use a great deal of male pronouns. In no way do I mean any disrespect the the many talented and hard working female guides out there. I’m just trying to keep this under 2000 words.


•Do be enthusiastic

Bring a positive attitude. Have fun, relax. No one fishes well when they’re tense.

•Do be clear about your expectations

Tell your guide right up front what you want out of your day. If you just want to chill and take photos, say so. Want to be a better caster at the end of the day, no problem. Want to catch the fish of a lifetime? I don’t know a guide who will not try to make that happen, but be realistic and when your guide tells you what to expect, listen. Sometimes hunting big fish means getting skunked but if you don’t try, it’ll never happen.

•Do be honest about your skill level

There’s no point in telling a guide you’re a bad ass if you’re not. He’s going to know by the second cast anyway. Every guide I know would rather have a client with limited skill who wants to learn than a client who has skills but isn’t as good as he thinks. Check your ego and be ready to learn. Before you know it, you will be a bad ass.

•Do listen to your guide

You hired him for his knowledge and experience, let him share it with you. Too often clients second guess the guide because he wants to do things differently. Rather than questioning his methods, look at it as an opportunity to learn something new.

•Do be open to constructive criticism

All guides see themselves as teachers. If you are not looking to be taught you need to be up front about that, but in my opinion, that’s a poor choice. Take your guide’s instruction as it is intended, to help you be a better angler.

•Do work as a team

Two anglers are better than one. Work on good communication skills. Team up and kick some ass!

•Do give feedback

Tell your guide how you feel. Like this kind of fishing? Want to do something else? Feeling pressured? Let him know, he’s not a mind reader.

•Do practice

If you don’t fish regularly you should do some practice casting on the lawn a few days before your trip. This is really important for salt water trips. Get that double haul tuned up before you go.

•Do be prepared

Have your gear set up. Rig your rod and tie on a fly. Your guide will probably change it but he won’t waste fishing time lining up the rod. Have you line cleaned and dressed and a fresh leader in place. Bring the things you’ll need for the day- sun screen, T.P., polarized sunglasses, etc. Be mentally prepared too. Be on time! Get some sleep and try not to show up hung over this time.

•Do respect the boat

I have heard some horror stories. I know a guide whose client went to the woods for a deuce, then stepped in it and tracked it all over the boat. Don’t spit your dip in the boat, knock the mud off your boots before you get in the boat, don’t wear studs. Don’t wear black soled shoes on a flats boat. A boat is a major investment for a guide. He’s proud of it and he has to clean it after every trip.

•Do respect the fishery

Don’t litter. Seriously, only assholes litter. Respect the fish. Handle them with care and keep them wet. Practice good C&R technique. Don’t complain about fishing barbless hooks. If you don’t catch big fish, take the time to appreciate the beauty of the small fish you land.

•Do respect your guide

All the guides I know are intelligent and highly motivated. Most hold degrees in unrelated fields. They could likely be doing any job, maybe even yours. They are trained consultants, not hired help. Treat them accordingly.

•Do tip

Tips are important. Guides count this income to make ends meet. Unfortunately there isn’t much talk about what’s appropriate and some guys don’t even know its expected. Guides themselves are reluctant to talk to clients about it. I consider 20% a minimum. A guide who doesn’t deserve 20% has done something seriously wrong. More often than not you may feel that your guide deserves more. Base your tip on how hard your guide worked to meet your objective, not on whether or not you caught fish. If you didn’t, it was probably not his fault.


•Don’t disrespect booking policies

Guiding is a business. It’s how these guys feed their families. Know the rules when you book and respect them. You can’t expect to cancel a day on short notice and get your deposit back because the weather is bad or your wife is pissed that you’re fishing too much. Don’t expect a guide to hold days for you without a deposit. Know your schedule before you book. Don’t call the guide to change your days three times while you shop for a cheap flight.

•Don’t be late

This one should speak for itself. It’s not only rude but your start time is tied to the hatch or the tides. You may miss the best fishing.

•Don’t set your expectations out of reach

Be honest with yourself. If you’ve never hooked a tarpon let’s hold off on going for a tippet class record. If your best dry fly cast is thirty feet don’t tell your guide you want to catch a huge fish on a streamer. Make your goals challenging but attainable. Learn the lessons at hand and in time you’ll get to where you want to be.

•Don’t be stubborn

Don’t tell your guide that you only fish dry flies if the fish aren’t rising. Be flexible and ready to learn and adapt to the conditions.

•Don’t be sensitive

Don’t take your guides comments personally. If he tells you your casting needs work, it probably does. If he tells you your gear isn’t up to the job, fish his. Your guide is there to help. He can help you more if you’re not defensive.

•Don’t blame your guide for the weather

If the weather sucks there’s nothing to be done about it. Keep a positive attitude. If the fishing is slow, stick with it, you may only catch one fish but maybe it’ll be a great fish. If the fishing is dead, maybe you get a personal casting lesson. If your guide suggests you fish for shark instead of bonefish, maybe you should listen. There are a lot of ways to salvage the day.

•Don’t talk politics

You can do that shit on Facebook for free. You can’t fish and argue at the same time and even if you agree at first, it always turns into an argument.

•Don’t tell your guide how to fish

Just because you caught fish on hoppers last time doesn’t mean it’s going to happen today. Your guide is out there every day. If you have a hunch, run it past him. If he says no, don’t wast your time.

•Don’t bring bananas

I like bananas too, but just don’t do it.

•Don’t bring the wife and kids

If your wife and kids don’t want to fish, don’t bring them along. They’ll hate it and they’ll get in the way. Take a day off and do something they will enjoy.

•Don’t rock the boat

Literally, don’t rock the boat. Shifting your wait around makes it tough on the guide. It’s hard to row a drift boat that’s pitched to one side. Distribute your weight evenly. It’s worse on a flats boat. Try standing on a poling platform with a guy rocking the boat when he casts. Your guide isn’t there to swim. What’s worse is, it spooks fish.

•Don’t mistreat gear

If you are using the guide’s gear, treat it right. Be careful with the rod, don’t stand on the line, don’t charge through blackberries in borrowed waders. This stuff costs money and it needs to last. Most fly rods have lifetime guaranties but repairs still cost money. Usually about a hundred bucks with shipping. If you break a rod, pay for the repair.

•Don’t bring drugs

This is serious guys. If you are caught with drugs on the boat that boat and all the gear can be confiscated. We are talking about a man’s livelihood here. Have a beer instead.

•Don’t whip out your GPS

Not only is it rude as hell, it might be dangerous. If you mark a spot and try to come back without knowing the river or the flats you just might end up on Gilligan’s Island, or dead.


Hopefully this sheds some light on the mysterious inner workings of your guide’s head. Follow this list of dos and don’ts and you’ll be a dream client. You’ll have a better day and you’ll feel like you’re fishing with a friend. Choose not to take my advice and…well it’s like a guide friend of mine says, “you don’t pay for the ride out, you pay for the ride back.”

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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48 thoughts on “Dos and Don’ts For Guided Fishing

    • Old superstition , bananas on boats are considered seriously bad juju
      Most likely comes from the host of poisonous critters , spiders and snakes that can often be found hitchhiking from the tropics in bunches of bananas . If you could imagine what it mustve been like to set sail on a long voyage in the 1800s.. Now imagine getting nailed by a tarantula or viper while out on such a voyage,, goner for sure

      • I have fished with a number of guides that will not allow you to bring Banana Boat brand sunscreen on the boat. They literally ask to see your sunscreen. I have never encountered this superstition with freshwater guides, however.

  1. Never, ever even consider bringing bananas. It’s just bad ju-ju. Most captains/guides won’t allow them on the boat and if you sneak them on, we’ll make you eat the entire bunch at once to get rid of them.

    “Don’t Bring Drugs” – possibly the best tip of them all. Ever see a guide go Incredible Hulk on a client? Bring pot on the boat and you will see it first hand.

    Great write-up Louis, keep up the good work guys!

    • Dude, I’m glad I asked! I just looked up the history… What about Banana republic clothes or Banana Boat sunscreen?

      • NO BANAAS of any kind! Banana Boat Sunscreen, BR Shirt, Banana Bread, Banana flavored chap stick, trail mix with banana chips or my favorite way for a banana to get on a boat……… The super fit athlete guy or gal….. who brings Banana Power Gel!
        Bananas are a bad idea on a boat!

    • I needed this article about 7 years ago. I’d never heard about the bananas. I made the mistake of packing one in my lunch.

      My guide saw it, instantly grabbed it from my hand, and whipped it as far as possible from the boat into the river. I was completely baffled and beside myself. It took him a while to calm down, and eventually he was able to explain to me what I’d done. Then he proceeded to tell every other guide/boat we passed the rest of the day…and carried on ribbing me about it (in a good natured way) in between.

      Lesson learned.

  2. As usual another FREAKING AWESOME post. Kent – you’re an awesome guide that I always enjoy fishing with. You take me to the next level on each trip, it doesn’t get any better than that. My birthday trip with you is a special day and event in my life. Thanks for the great times and guidance.

  3. Great post. It’s pretty simple. Respect gets respect and communication is key. Love that you got bananas in there. That’s really important. They do not belong anywhere near a fishing boat. You might enjoy a post I ran about 12 Ways to Test Your Fly Fishing Guide. Looking forward to reading about the other view. Tight Lines.

  4. Pingback: Guide Dos And Don'ts | Gink and Gasoline, The Blog home of Kent Klewein and Louis Cahill-Fly Fishing photography, video, tips and news.

  5. Tipping…

    I have had a few discussions about this with friends, specifically, whether to tip based on the full day rate or the guide’s cut, assuming they are working for a shop/outfitter.

    I’m all for paying good tips for good guides, do you have any thoughts/details on this? What is a typical split for a guide and the outfitter/shop?

    • I say tip on the full rate. Just like I’d tip a waiter in a restaurant if I had a coupon. If I’m with a guide solo it’s generally about $100. If I’m splitting a trip with a buddy I’ll put in $60 and he’ll do the same. That’s a starting point. If the guide is really busting his ass it goes up from their.

  6. Thanks Louis for reminding us all, clients and guides, what it’s all about. And, of course, that’s having fun and learning about what we’re there for in the first place. If you can afford to hire a guide (and they’re not that expensive…try hiring a plumber, electrician or builder for 8-10 hours and see what that bill comes to. And, you will likely learn nothing except humility), you can afford to learn and enjoy a great day on the water and spend it with someone (get this), that spends almost everyday on the water and likes nothing more than to walk away at the end of the day feeling like his client got his monies worth, and had FUN. A very special client/sport, is someone who knows how to row and wants to share the rod and the oars and have a cold one latter.
    Best regards,
    Cap’n Bob

  7. Another good post. Still like this site, it’s one of the few sites I’ll jump off my RSS reader to visit. Usually when there’s a teaser I just say fuck it and move on. But I like this one!


  8. Sure wish every greenhorn guide and every person hiring a guide for the first time had to learn their respective lists here. Another great piece, Guys!!!

    • Tip whoever is guiding you regardless. Tip on the amount of the trip. The split is irrelevant and varies from guide to guide. Tip on the amount you paid. 20% is good start.

  9. Great List~
    Also to add..
    don’t air out your dirty laundry on the river,
    call, e-mail, text, facebook message your fellow guide if you think you have been wronged on the river by a guide with a client fishing ‘too close’ during hex hatch…. pulling up and dropping anchor next to guide/buddy and dropping your waders to urinate in the river exposes more than poor etiquette…
    especially if it is waters the other guide already passed up.
    Tight Lines,

  10. This is a genuine, honest question: why is it “rude as hell” to mark a spot you want to come back and fish on your own? As long as the water you’re fishing is public, I don’t see the problem.

    • The problem is very simple. The guide has spent a long time finding spots to give you, the client, the best chance at a great time. If everyone had that mindset, he’d very soon have no spots left as they’d be fished out or he’d find you there when he turns up with another client. Very bloody rude i’d say – just common sense.

  11. Good stuff. As a long time hunting and fishing guide I think your tips for clients r good. But…

    Remember who is writing the check at the end of the day.

    Forget that it is THEIR day not yours. If they want to bring the less tan fishy kid/wife, it’s more important than catching a million fish your way.

    Just sayin.

  12. Great article and well written. As someone who has found himself, at times, on the other side of the coin with guides I think you should write the reciprocal article as well. I think you would be surprised how many people have horror stories on the other side, though it is tough to top a deuce tracker on your boat!

  13. Please tell your guide IF YOU HAVE ANY HEALTH PROBLEMS!
    There’s been times that halfway through a trip, a client won’t be doing/looking real well, and come to find out, they’re diabetic… and they didn’t bring their stuff (one reason we now carry glucose tablets with us along with crystallized aspirin, we are guides, not doctors nor EMT’s). We’ve had one trip after walking a mile to a nice stretch that we find out it’s a “Bucket List” trip. We’re happy and mostly; honored, to do a bucket list, but would approached these trips in a completely different way.
    ~The Angler’s Edge ~ Gardnerville, NV

  14. Thanks for the post! I will be using it as a reference for my clients in the future. You nailed it bang on. As a 30 year steelhead guide, I have seen and encountered every possible situation and still every year, there is a new twist. Tipping is one – because I own the business and guide as well, some anglers feel that they should not tip the owner? Second is bad water conditions – anglers who feel that I should refund or credit them because the river is high and dirty or unfishable. Then they don’t tip the other guide because of this. Anyone else encounter this? I’m waiting for part two. Thanks again. Denise

  15. Pingback: Tippets: Farm Runoff, Pine & Kimmel Talk Fishing, Dos and Don’ts for Guided Trips | MidCurrent

  16. I like this post a lot – some variation of it is always an ongoing conversation on most fly fishing forums that I am on. Good, solid info.

    I have used guides, male and female, young and old, good and BAD for decades now and, by far, the majority are darned nice people on top of being good teachers, conversationalists and environmentalists and they have taught me a LOT about fly fishing. But, I have to say that a bad trip isn’t always the clients fault and ignorance and civility is not strictly a clients responsibility. Just sayin’…


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  18. Bananas are always welcome with me. Used to eat a banana every morning on the way to the flats, still caught fish. Of course, my guide partner would completely disagree. The guy’s so superstitious he thinks cameras are unlucky. Catches fish, mind, but so do I… cameras, BananaBoat™ chapstick and all. And I get the occasional pic.

    • I’m with you, Wind Knot. I’ve had great days and lousy days with a banana in my lunch pack. Until science proves it otherwise, its just a superstition.

      That being said, it being such a commonly held belief, to me its just not a hill worth dying on, so I eat them at home.

  19. In a sense of fair play, there should also be a list of dos and don’ts for guides as well. I’ve had some great guides; they tend to be the younger ones. And, I’ve had some bad guides; they tend to be the older ones who think they’re god’s gift to fly fishing. Guides also need appropriate expectations; I don’t get to spend a hundred or two hundred days of the year on the water. Telling me to do something is not the same as teaching me to do something. Use your client’s name. Don’t constantly talk about your tip.

  20. Pingback: Dos and Don'ts For Guided Fishing | MidCurrent

  21. You speak of a lot guides being educated and with degrees that can take your job but yet they are into juju about bananas? I wonder where they went to school!

  22. I tip generously, I think–far more than 20%, anyway. And some of my guides have become good friends. But not all guides have been pleasant, or helpful. And I’ve fished with some very good guides and had unproductive days. I’ve always evaluated the guide by how hard he or she works to help us catch fish. Drift boat guides work hard just to get us from place to place. But not all of them have worked hard to help us catch fish. I have enjoyed most those guides who help me understand the water, and the environment around me. And who don’t fuss when I mess up. I try my best to do repeat business with those guides who work hard and make it an enjoyable day. (No guide has ever said the word “banana” to me.)

  23. I like that you pointed out that we should listen to our guide so that we can learn something from them and not question their methods because they have the knowledge and experience for that industry. Personally, I will definitely follow them once I book an inshore fishing charter and include a guide in the package. In my opinion, before our safety, especially when we are out on the sea and there are various types of circumstances that we might face.

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