Guide Dos And Don’ts

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Josie Sands Guides Bruce Smithhammer Photo by Louis Cahill

I fully expect to catch some heat for this.

When I wrote the list of client dos and don’ts I quoted my friend Kirk and agreed whole heartedly with the glowing things he had to say about fishing guides. I took that one step farther by emailing a bunch of my friends who guide and putting together a list of the stuff they would like to tell their clients but don’t feel like they can. I’m sure there were some things on that list a lot of guys didn’t want to hear so, in the interest of fair play, today the guides get their list of dos and don’ts.

I fully expect to catch some heat for this, so please try to understand where it’s coming from. I’m a big fan of fishing guides. As I’ve said most of my friends are fishing guides and I have a great deal of respect for the men and women who do that job. I will quote Kirk Deeter again, “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 have however fished with guides who were less than stellar, for one reason or another. Since I did a list of dos and don’ts for clients, it seems only fair to do the same for guides.

I expect most of the guides who read this will agree with what I have to say. Most of it is very obvious and simple. If you do not, I encourage you to look at it from the other side of the boat. I’ve seen everything on this list happen, so there’s somebody out there who needs to hear it.

Guide dos and don’ts

•Don’t assume your client is an idiot

Your last hundred clients may have been complete idiots but that doesn’t mean today’s guy is. Even if he is he deserves the chance to prove it. It’s a shitty feeling when you know the guy on the oars thinks your a dumb ass, whether you are or not. Everybody will have a better day if you can give a little instruction and encouragement without the eye rolling and heavy sigh. The first time I ever stepped foot on a flats boat was with my buddy Joel. Joel brought a friend along, another guide. Knowing nothing about salt water species, when I spotted a cudda I asked Joel what kind of fish it was. Before Joel could answer the other guide said, “if you saw it, it wasn’t a fish.” Joel has been on a bunch of magazine covers now as a result of fishing with me and the other guy has not.

•Do let your client be self sufficient

It’s frustrating to have a guide who insists on doing simple tasks like tying on flies. Sometimes it’s important. If you’re tarpon fishing for example and your client is a fresh water guy he may need a little help but if he’s comfortable tying on his fly, let him. He will see that you respect him, he’ll have more confidence and he’ll fish better.

•Don’t pressure your client

Remember that clients have different goals for a day of fishing. If your client doesn’t enjoy working a tough fish for thirty minutes, don’t make him. I know a guy who has a regular client who sits on the bank as much as he fishes but that’s what he wants to do and it makes him happy. A good day means something different to different people.

•Do understand your client’s objectives

This is a tough one. People often don’t know what they want. They may say they want to catch a trophy fish and they don’t care if they just catch one and then start complaining about slow fishing in the first hour. Still, it’s good to talk about what they want from the day. For example, most guides consider themselves teachers and I think it’s the most important part of the job, but not everyone wants to be taught, or at least to be treated like a student.

•Don’t give up on your client

I was driving along the Snake River one day and stopped to check out the water. I saw a drift boat coming with a guide and an older couple fishing. The man was casting his ass off and putting out about ten feet of line. About every ten false casts his fly would hit the water for five seconds. The woman was hopelessly pulling at a bird’s nest in her line and the guide was looking at the cooler and pushing down river as fast as he could. It just made me sad.

•Do adapt to your clients needs

Every angler has different needs. I for example have a significant hearing loss. I sometimes spend the better part of a day on a flats boat saying, “WHAT?” I know you don’t want to yell and spook fish but if your client can’t hear you, what does it matter? A buddy of mine has a client, a good tarpon angler, who is completely deaf. They have worked out a system where, when the guide sees a fish, he rocks the boat hard to that side. The angler finds the fish and makes the cast. They do really well.

•Don’t talk politics

I covered this in the client don’ts but it bears repeating. It doesn’t generally end in repeat business.

•Do lead by example

Be enthusiastic and positive. Show confidence in your client. Show extra care with fish. Don’t fish pellet flies or other cheap shit. Clients watch your every move. On their own they will only be half as good as what they learn from you.

•Don’t get cranky

It’s hard not to get bitchy at the end of the season when the sugar’s been gone for months but you owe it to your client to keep a positive attitude. I actually had a guide smart off to me for taking photos. It was September and I know he was worn down, but seriously. WTF?

•Don’t complain about your job

Every guide I know complains about their job. I know it’s work, hell, it’s hard work but it’s a really cool job. That’s why you wanted to do it in the first place, remember? Millions of people work at Wal-Mart of McDonalds or chicken processing plants or plenty of shit worse than that. Don’t lose sight of why you’re out there and take a minute to tell yourself how lucky you are.


OK, hopefully I wasn’t too hard on you. If I was, well, it’s been a while since I was called a narcissist fucktard. That’s what the comments link is for. Hopefully everyone can take it in the spirit it’s intended. Remember, the idea is for everyone to have a good time. It’s fishing, right?

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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20 thoughts on “Guide Dos And Don’ts

  1. Not too hard on a bunch of incredibly lucky individuals who get call water home. Never loose sight of that last bit of information. When the season starts to wear me down, I remember these words: “Paper or plastic”? Recharged after those simple words.

  2. Both the client and guide do’s and don’t are great.

    Just a shame that there’s a need to actually create a list.

  3. Good stuff Louis. I see no reason to give any heat over this article because it’s all spot on. I’ve been guilty of some of these on occasion and I have fished with guides that have as well. Even when faced with “the whiney kid”, “drunk rich guy”, or “the know-it-all”, we’re still making a living in the setting that we love and that should be enough to get through the hard days.

    “Paper or Plastic?” Ha! Todd that’s great!

    • I’ve never had a job where there wasn’t some ass hole to put up with. I told a problem client once, “my patience is what your paying for, the photography is free.”

  4. Don’t mistake someone that’s not a good fly fisher as someone that doesn’t know how to fish or read water. I have fished all over including 5 years in AK with my own boat, but am only a marginal fly fisher. Was on a corporate trip and the guide knew they were paying and assumed that by our skill level with a fly rod that we knew little to nothing about fishing and was blowing through great water. After about three holes I called him on it and he blew me off with an “I fish here all the time and know where the fish are”. We caught a few fish, but fewer trout and about a third of what another boat in our group with less experienced fishers did. I really wanted to use the experience to become a better fly fisher but did get the opportunity fishing the “easy” water. Needless to say we didn’t use him for the remainder of the trip. You have a great blog and provide excellent info, thanks.

  5. I agree with your points, and I’m speaking of one who has had both good and bad guide experiences. These are just good concepts to have in business anyway.

    Great blog too, I’m a newer reader.

  6. Was a guide for 2 summers in montana, and wintertime a fly shop manager untill i was 21….As an 18 year old guide I would get frustrated with the majority of my clients, but learned a lot from veteran guides over the years to get over my ego and be a teacher to the people….A good guide is a steward of the waters he guides on, and a teacher of a great sport that can impact peoples lives in great ways.

    A lot of what you said is about maturity and patience, and I may have not learned it until I enlisted in the army….the patience part Im still learning but adapting well on a 9 month deployment to afghanistan…. But i remember the good days and the bad days and cant wait to get back to them once I get out of the army….Currently in afghanistan but my home station is ft. benning ga…..Would love to get out with you guys and smoke some fish… Great blog though I really enjoy reading it….. Tight lines.

    • Peter,

      We’d love to meet up and fish man. Thanks for your service. We pray you stay safe and come home soon.

      Thanks for commenting on the guide piece. Its great to hear from others on this topic. Great honest input. I know what you are talking about 🙂

      Glad you are enjoying the blog. Hope it gives you some peace and relaxation when you have time to view it.


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