Sunday Classic / Guiding Tip: Set Your Client Free to Build Confidence

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Whitney Gould guiding at Alaska West. Photo Louis Cahill

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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2 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Guiding Tip: Set Your Client Free to Build Confidence

  1. Nothing spoils the serenity of fly fishing as the constant drone of over instruction. you must “give up the wheel” for a while and let them fish. As you say, Most will not master the sport; they have jobs to go to and can’t fish every day. If I have a client for 4 hours, I try to limit to one tip, or observation, per hour unless asked. If they make a good cast, I’ll tell them so. If they drop a pile of linguine 10 feet from the boat, i’ll tell them, there could be a fish there. Let ’em fish. Good article.

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