Sunday Classic / 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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56 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Guide Dos And Don’ts

  1. I enjoy your posts. I would like to suggest that you refrain from using expletives. The posts on guide/client dos and don’ts are good advice. I would add one more, refrain from using expletives in your conversation. There are many clients who are offended and will not confront, they will simply book someone else so they don’t have to listen to what they consider offensive speech. I no longer trade with a certain fly shop owner because he cannot put two sentences together without using expletives. Thanks

    • And there would start the slippery slope of pandering and watering down which would end in everything I write being worthless. I’m sure you’re tough enough to take it Dave.

      Everyone would do something different but most will do nothing at all.

      • Louis: I’m retired now, but was an editor. Love your articles, but I too would have got rid of the four letter words that are offensive to some. I believe Dave raised a good point. Its not about being “tough enough to take it”, its about being professional. I love your writing and photography, but after all, this column was on being professional, so it would be good for you to lead the way. With respect, Frank

        • This is a blog and I would catagorize that as a form of entertainment. “Professional” can be boring, but not always. Playing it safe isn’t going to interest people. That’s the formula for drawing attention. It’s the same as the news. People like doom, gloom and edginess. Why do you think pop stars use sexuality in entertainment. It have very little to do with musicianship. If you haven’t noticed, G&G regularly use controversial content to create discussion and interest. And that’s smart. Edginess is interesting, playing it safe or “professional” is not.

          • Easy to be “edgy” w/o using profanity. That takes skill. I would expect the authors consider themselves pros and should act accordingly.

          • Its easy to be edgy without profanity and it takes skill? Perplexing theory…There are famous pop stars who don’t take their clothes off in public too. It just ain’t his style, Frank. Louis a working man from the south and I doubt he was raised on a golden throne. Most importantly, Louis wants to curse. He wants to take his clothes off in public. People are people so why should it be you and I should get along so awfully. Different colors, different creeds. Different people have different needs. What makes a Dan hate another Dan.

      • I agree that I expect to see the language in the blog and it’s fine with me but also agree with Dave that you have to keep your audience in mind if you’re guiding and realize that not everyone talks like you or shares your opinions. I cuss plenty but always wait for someone else to do it first in any new business or social situation and I think that definitely applies to guiding.

      • My$0.02: everything is EFF EFF EFF these days. The edginess has kinda dissipated on that one. It gets a little boring, and by a little I mean a lot.

        These points are absolutely dead on otherwise. Excellent things to keep in mind.

    • I too have to disagree, I feel, as I am sure plenty others do, that it makes the author appear more down to earth. Less like he holds himself above everyone else.

  2. I agree. Especially in your preceeding article. I read vulgarity and I think “adolescent.”

    As a guy who likes to fish when I can and knows I am not an expert, if I ever spend money on a guide, I would expect good customer service, respect and a good faith effort to catch fish. That is what clients pay for.

  3. Please don’t anchor-up on someone wade fishing and please do float by a couple of cast away for the wader. You may have to pay for permits, but you don’t own the fish or water.

    • This should be in the top 5 for guides… um… everyone. In fact, let’s make it federal law. Yes, neither boat, guide, residence, schedule, nor wallet size give you priority to the space in the water I already occupy. Go find your own spot or at minimum glide past me 100 yards. Otherwise don’t be surprised when I spook your fish in retaliation. It’s a rare problem, but I consider murder (and sometimes even profanity) when it happens.

  4. Great write up as usual Louis. Narcissistic fucktard! Love it! I’m sure I got that one too behind closed doors. You hit the nail on the head with your observations and posts, it’s great. Profanity isn’t that big of a deal….I had a client that was a pastor, he lit the water up a few times on some misses. Fly Fishing does that. Thanks man


  5. Great write up as usual Louis. Narcissistic fucktard! Love it. Probably been called that behind closed doors too. We are far from adolescent I can tell you that, we’ve seen the hard truth. I had a client that was a pastor and let me tell you….he made the forest animals cringe on his misses! Keep up the good work! Hope to fish with you soon.


  6. pretty sure that most of those guides that think of there client as a DA could easily be made to feel and look like a DA if the Client had them spend a day at work w/him.

  7. Amen to all of that! Great post. I would add that the best guides I’ve ever had were smart enough to push me to be a better fisherman, but in the spirit of teaching. They were good coaches who made me think. And holy crap, nobody works harder than a good river or flats guide….rowing and poling in wind and crummy weather, concentrating on the safety, comfort and success of their client. The best guides are generous with their knowledge and yet acknowledge that it’s the client who’s paying for the day….they let them set the pace and learn quickly what kind of fishing the client wants to do and help them be successful. A great guide is a role model on the river, a benefit to the resource and the community. I have enormous respect for the professionals, and very little patience for the tiny minority of people who call themselves guides but are clueless. And the outfitters who teach guiding deserve a great deal of respect. They are some of the truly impressive people in the industry – wise veterans with skill and patience.

  8. This is spot on, Louis, and a great piece. I would agree with the curse word feedback, especially given the context of this piece; I make a point of not cursing with my anglers as a demonstration of professionalism, and by doing the same in your article you would be leading by example. This is really hard for me at times, but also good policy so worth doing.

    I would also add a ‘Don’t Share Your Country Song Blues/Victimization Story’. Too many guides get way too comfortable telling anglers about all the terrible stuff that has happened to them, and how it’s usually someone else’s fault. Keep it real, but not too real. Folks are on vacation and want to have fun, not hear about your ex-wife’s new boyfriend who stole your truck and your favorite fishin’ hole.

  9. Good read. Along with leading by example is etiquette. With so many people on the water these days I see guides in a cut throat chessmatch out there. I know there is pressure to get clients on fish. But it’s uncomfortable for everyone when the guide low holes someone or jets through someone hooked up on a nice one. Take the high road and remember that some are learning from you how to conduct themselves on the water.

  10. I dislike when flats guides try and fish for you. Yelling strip, strip, stop, strip, set the hook, don’t trout set over and over again all day gets old. I am the one that is fishing – just show me the fish and I can take it from there. The old “Florida Guides” syndrome where the captain yells at you for every misstep is outdated, but you can still find it out there.

  11. I like your articles. They are very informative. You made some really good points. Swearing, if not over done can be the spice of life. In this case it was used primarily in a case where it was a descriptor of yourself witch was meant to make a point and was not gratuitous.

  12. Always, Always remain professional!! Especially when other guides, or river patrons use poor judgement, even during a prolific hatch, if others may encroach on your space, kindly let them know, or send them a text/email the next day. You never know who is the client in the other boat…

  13. Religion is a personal pursuit just as choosing colors for your words are. You are spot on, be who you are, curse, don’t curse, I don’t care. I want you to be you, don’t change for me.

    You bend for one?

    You are forced to your knees.

    I liked what you wrote but it didn’t go far enough. A couple of good points but my point would have been, “Be humble and adjust your knowledge to your client.”

    That would cover everything to the mess to the ultra religious pompass rich that think they know it all but are using you as a Taxi.


    Actions trump words, people embody action. Your job as a guide is to communicate and produce the experience that is fishing. If your fishing with a preacher, don’t get guided. Guiding with a redneck? Heck yeah.

    bla bla blah…

    I read it in your “watered down” comment. Do what you do and be you, thanks for sharing.

    • “You bend for one? You are forced to your knees.”

      Big problem in this country. There are 100 million more people in the US than when I was in elementary school, and nobody thinks they should ever have to compromise anymore. Me first, you second. Avert your eyes, avert your ears, I’m going to order my drive thru hamburger exactly how I want it rather than how they make it while everyone else waits 15 minutes, or I don’t care if the sign says “road construction 1 mile, merge right, I’m going to drive all the way up to the end as fast as I can and force someone to let me in. I can’t imagine anyone who wants to fish with that guy.

  14. Louis,
    You are a vital natural resource. Your writing warms the heart, whether it’s a list of dos and don’t, technique reminders, gear reviews, what have you. When the guides would freeze between casts, the blog becomes my daily talisman – a link to the fish and fishing I love. It is frozen solid here in the northeast – 20 inches of snow tomorrow. That is to say – it’s cold enough today that I found time to read the comment section. Who would have guessed that you were being trolled by a bunch of blowhards about blasphemy – on a GODDAMN fishing blog no less. I tell you what, you keep swearing, cussing, cursing, and writing in that understated gut-shot style of yours, and I’ll keep reading, and grinning, and cheering. But, goddamn it, Louis, if you start putting lipstick on this blog, and turn it into one of those prim and proper, rosy-cheeked self-help fishing confessionals, and I tell you what – you’ll be lower on my list than the pellet fly guys. Write from your gut – I love it.
    Stay outa trouble, Mg

  15. Guys you’ve provided plenty of constructive and nonconstructive criticism. Louis has said his piece. The language is simply his voice, and he’s not going to change any sooner than your taste is. Kindly move along if it’s not your thing; ganging up isn’t going to change anything.

    Back to the blog… I would add that if you plan to take clients to private water, please be sure you’ve got everything worked out with the landowners in advance. It seems a little obvious, but I was caught up in a “misunderstanding” between property owner and guide that could have gone south in a jiffy. Please, please get that sorted out before we’re on my time and dime!

  16. I would actually appreciate an increase in profanity! Don’t change who you are or your writing style…all the people ragging on it are still obviously reading it…so you’re doing something right.

  17. I love that this post got so completely de-railed! It certainly helped take the heat off us fishing guides. When it comes to the curse/don’t curse debate I always let my clients set the bar. If they go all day without cursing then I will do the same (or at least try), and if they drop an f-bomb before the boat is in the water then I will speak more freely. It is their day, and I don’t want to do or say anything that would make the experience less than.

    When it comes to Louis’ writing keep in mind that we don’t pay a dime for the G&G experience. Much like the radio, if you don’t like the content then just change the station. There’s a reason G&G is one of the most popular fly fishing sites, and it may very well be because it is written by a fucktard. Keep up the good work Louis.

  18. I like the colorful language on this post and all other posts, keeps it real. Although, I wouldn’t cuss in front of clients until I read what they are comfortable with. As for here, it is just a post and if you are not intelligent enough to get past the spicey verbage, I’m sure there are other sites you can find delightfully bland, like Orvis. Louis, keep up the good work, the real language and always look forward to the posts. Afterall, I never trust a man who doesn’t drink or cuss.

  19. As a guide myself I like to ask the client to bring a curriculum of what they would like to learn for the time we are together on the water.It gives both a measuring stick in which to judge the days’ activity.It is a checklist that should be followed by the guide to be able to meet the clients needs and expectations.It should help the client for when he/she are alone on the water.Catching a fish after such help becomes so much more rewarding for the client.Without clients you don’t have a guide service!!!!!!!!!

  20. I fish with guides frequently – all over the world – let me add few:

    1) Don’t show up in the morning hungover unless it was me you got drunk with the night before.

    2) Service your motor(s) according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Avoidable mechanical issues stemming from the lack of routine maintenance is inexcuseable. If we need to be towed in because you never change the fuel filter in your outboard, I expect a partial refund.

    3) If you provide gear – it should all work well, have proper line, leader, etc.

    5) If we run out of fuel – I expect a full refund.

    6) Don’t bitch about your job, in fact don’t bitch and moan about anything (maybe the weather or wife is OK) – I’m paying a lot for my trip and the guide can ruin it with incessant complaining.

    7) Unless something truly outlandish occurs – don’t scream, fight or be beligerent to other guides or anglers – it’s just a fish. clients like happy boats.

    8) when I blow a shot – the only shot of the day or the 10th shot of day – DO NOT yell at me, sigh, call your guide buddy on the radio and complain, etc. coach me – speak to me straight about what I F’d up and lets move on.

    7) If fishing or weather conditions are such the fishing will be really bad – be honest about it and cancel or at least give me the option. Don’t play dumb.

    8) Don’t be cheap with gas (within reason). If we have to run to catch I expect to go.

    9) Never be in the position to say “oh yeah, I should have told you that before we left the docks…” Like you said you would have ice for the cooler – but you ran out on yesterday’s trip and forgot to get more…

    • In regards to #7, we book about 200 trips a year and about the only complaints we get are from guests who we cancelled on (or strongly advised to cancel) because of bad weather. This has puzzled us for a while because we thought we were being straight up and doing the right thing by not taking their money for nothing. Turns out what people really want is to give it a try, regardless of the weather. I mean, they’ve been waiting for months for a trip, dreaming about it, posting updates on tying sessions and gear acquisitions on Facebook. When you’re standing there trying to be reasonable and fair, they want to hear something like, “EFF the weather, we’re going fishing!” Someone once said, “There are only two guarantees in saltwater fly fishing: you pays your money, and you go.” I like that.

  21. Definitely, there is a generation gap with regards to profanity. First Amendment rights have nothing to do with being “professional”. I look past it. You get me on the fish, curse up a fucking storm!

  22. Louis – Great post. Good follow up and counter article to the client list of dos and don’ts. Guiding is incredibly hard work, and often you don’t make a killing at it, but as you said, it’s your choice, so please don’t complain. I also like point #1. I would struggle with that if I were a guide, even though I know not everyone would be an idiot. That is one of the many reasons I have never tried my hand at guiding.

  23. Who knew that the profanity would be such a hot button issue?

    Great article, as usual. I don’t mind the profanity. I use a fair bit of it myself. Makes me feel right at home maybe?

  24. Pingback: G & G and the guide list | Bonefish on the Brain

  25. All one has to do is read through the posted comments to realize the most important skills a guide can have: be able to communicate with a wide variety of people; to quickly ascertain a client’s perception of a good day (and whether the client has the skills necessary to achieve that goal or if it’s just a pipe dream that needs some careful compromise); and to be able to adapt to a myriad of situations and personalities.

    So Josie lost the poker game and had to take Smithhammer that day, huh? I think it’s illegal what he’s trying to do to his fly rod. I gotta tell you, I’m worried about the lad.

  26. Great article and good reminders. The only thing I’d add is:

    “Provide Positive Instruction”

    Nobody likes a critic — especially one who criticizes so often it sounds like nagging. Saying thinks like “That cast is looking good, if you stop your back cast earlier that leader will straighten better for you.” Instead of, “You’re laying your rod back. There. See. You did it again.” And for God’s sake, never, ever grab a rod from a clients hand and say, “No. Like this.”

    There are tons of factors out of the guides control that can result in a difficult day on the water, adding to them with things that can be controlled is just bad business.

  27. Since I am a saltwater guide, and most of the points could apply to salt as well as fresh water, I would say that myself, and my father who was an offshore Cappy never complained once about the job. For me it is a privilege to teach people about the sport. As a past environmental engineer it is also my duty to teach people about the water environment so that they can pass on those principles to others. Or as a good friend once said, each one teach one. That also goes for sound fly fishing casting & fishing principles. I was also taught another important principle, which applies in all walks of life, you treat people as you would want to be treated. Any guide worth his salt or (fresh) should live by that principle and you will be OK.

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