Guiding Tip: Set Your Client Free to Build Confidence

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Whitney Gould guiding at Alaska West. Photo Louis Cahill

By Kent Klewein

This post is for all the professional guides out there that give their clients Every thing they’ve got each and every day. It’s for the perfectionists, who truly believe fly fishing can never be 100% mastered and always see room for improvement in their own professional teaching skills.

I’ve taken great pride over the years with my hands on style of trout guiding. When you take the time to explain the little details to your clients, and freely share what’s going on in your head, it really makes a big difference in them understanding the big picture. I’ve always believed catching fish should take a back seat to learning the how-tos of fly fishing. I’ve never seen much value in a client catching fish during a guide trip, if they can’t go out and replicate it on their own. It wasn’t until a few months ago, in fact, that I strayed away from my familiar guiding routine of holding onto the reigns.

During this guiding season, I started hearing a voice inside, telling me to give my clients more freedom. This continued for several guide trips before I chose to listen to the advice. When I felt my clients had learned enough of the fundamentals and were ready, I started experimenting with relinquishing the reigns and letting them fly fish on their own. It wasn’t easy at first holding back the urge to stand side by their side and not jabber instructions. However, by setting my clients free to make their own decisions, good or bad, it ended up doing wonders for building their confidence and propelling their fly fishing competency.

Break down of how I give my clients freedom to build their confidence.

1. It’s important to understand that not all clients will be ready for this freedom I’m talking about. If you set them free before they’re ready, it can be counter productive to skill building. I’ve found that the clients that get the most out of this strategy are the intermediate level fly fishers or clients that you’ve got booked for multiple days. Generally, you want to spend the first few hours of the day going over fly casting, line management and fighting fish, before you begin stepping out of the equation and letting them do it all on their own.

2. When the client is ready, find a good piece of water you know holds trout, and tell them to study the water, set their rig according to the spot they’re fishing, and fish it how they see fit. Pay close attention to where they’re positioning themselves to make their presentations and also in the order of how they are covering the water. Take mental notes on anything you see they’re doing wrong. After they’ve finished fly fishing the spot, go over with them what they’ve done right and wrong. Talk about any thing you think they could have done better.

3. Do this exercise a few times at least throughout the day. After a while, you should start to notice that your clients will make fewer mistakes, and start hooking up with fish on their own. I’ve found the best way for clients to deeply engrain fly fishing technique and knowledge, is by forcing them to fish spots on their own and then having the guide critique them. This gets the client ready to fish on their own, and also gets them prepared to one day be the teacher themselves.

This past week, I was fortunate to guide one of my favorite clients, Gary Rogers, for four days. I really made a point to relinquish the reigns with him during the week, and by the end of the trip, he was fly fishing most spots exactly like I would all on his own. It was extremely rewarding to see his confidence shoot threw the roof and know with out a doubt he could fish on his own and find plenty of success. Try this out next time you find a client that is ready to take it to the next level.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Guiding Tip: Set Your Client Free to Build Confidence

  1. This has been a major topic of discussion with our instructors and on stream councilors at our TU youth camp for a number of years. Some of my volunteers are reluctant at first but I encourage all our on stream mentors to carry a rod while on the stream, for a number of reasons. As the week goes by I try to get the mentors to change from an instructor to a companion as the situation allows. It makes no sense to do it any other way.. Great post.

  2. ” I’ve never seen much value in a client catching fish during a guide trip, if they can’t go out and replicate it on their own.” Great statement, Kent. That’s the attitude that separates the guides who spend an entire career working and those who spend a few years. I always like to say my first job as a guide is to play lifeguard and see no one gets hurt. Second is to play psychologist, teacher and storyteller. And lastly, to worry about catching fish. This is why good guides rarely pull a total skunk on their home water. Worrying about catching fish and clients miss all the other much more critical aspects of hooking, playing and landing a fish. Very good piece, my friend!

  3. We’ll said. There is really nothing more annoying to me than a guide who sits on your shoulder and consistently yells ‘set the hook’ a millisecond just before you do. If I enjoyed being micro managed I would stay home and do house chores or go to the office on the weekends.

  4. During my working life I did my share of training of varying sized groups. I was never worried about passing on all of my knowledge during these sessions because I knew that on average after a 35 to 40 minutes session the trainees would walk out retaining 60% of the info passed on. I also knew after 24 hours they would have retained approximately 60% of what they had absorbed at the end of the session. So that still places me 64% ahead of the average group member. Yes you would have to establish what was retained at the beginning of the next session and go over it again. I did not mind doing that as I wanted them to be as good as me once they were fully trained.

    So many things in life are one on one role plays and it takes a lot of skill for the particularly experienced person to pass on information in a language which is understood by the beginner/novice.

    Keep up the good work Kent.

  5. Great post Kent. As an adult educator teaching judges and lawyers, I can tell you that your adjustment follows solid educational principles: engagement, mastery, and retention of information are enhanced by participatory learning. But it is far more important to have someone learning fly fishing to do so by trial and error rather than by micromanagement. Fishing is very much dependent on skill and reaction time as well as knowledge. So much depends on engagement in the process and feel that demonstration and micro-management is actually counterproductive to progress once the basic skills are mastered. In addition, it is more fun for a client or student to accomplish success on their own, which increases their investment in the process. Missing a strike after the guide yells “there he is” can be much more frustrating than missing a strike on your own.

    A young Alaska guide some 20 years ago knew this technique. Going from spot to spot, he would ask me and my son to pick out likely places to fish. When we arrived at his designated spot, he would ask us how we would approach it and he asked why and what other approaches might be better or worse rather than just putting us in a place and directing us where and what to cast. He gave us increasing freedom to fish on my own. He did not fish, but sometimes he let us fish on our own for extended periods without comment except encouragement and cheering our successes. We became hooked on trout fishing, and I know he was wise beyond his years, because I have been with many guides since, few of which lived up to his standard in my eyes.

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