Buster Wants to be a Fly Fishing Guide

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One from my early years guiding. Photo Charlie Madrerohon

Every couple of months, for about the last ten years, I’ve been contacted by recreational fly fisherman around the country, asking me to give them advice on how to go about becoming a fly fishing guide.

Choosing to become a full-time fly fishing guide is a big decision to make, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Yes, there’s lots of perks that come with the job, but there’s also plenty of hardships. For starters, guiding can prove to be very stressful at times, so don’t think by you making the move to step away from your current job (to become a fly fishing guide), that you’ll be saying goodbye to all the stresses of everyday life (remember, it’s up to you to get fish in the net). There’s no doubt, as a guide, you’ll have the luxury of calling the beautiful outdoors your private office. It beats the hell out of crunching numbers in a tiny cubicle or doing a job that you absolutely hate, but it still doesn’t change the fact that guiding is still a job.

Most importantly, guiding doesn’t come with a retirement plan, it doesn’t usually provide health insurance, and it generally compensates you with variable pay. If you’re the kind of person that has a hard time saving or managing your long-term investments, guiding might not be a good fit. You also should understand, no matter how hard you work or how successful of a fly fishing guide you become, you won’t get rich. The majority of guides hack it for four or five years, then move on to jobs that pay an annual salary and have the potential for higher earnings. A very small percentage of full-time fly fishing guides figure out a way to sustain a long career, and make a good living. That being said, when done correctly, guiding can make you feel like you’ve got the greatest job on the planet. You’ll make wonderful friends and you’ll regularly feel the blissful rewards of creating life-long memories and teaching your fellow fly fisherman. You’ll find it a little easier to maintain your health, from the active lifestyle that guiding demands, and you’ll carry pride knowing you’re one of the local experts on your home waters. If you’re dead set on becoming a guide, I wish you the best of luck, and you’ve got an open invitation to contact me by email if you need further assistance. That being said, before you start chasing down the dream of becoming a fly fishing guide, I highly recommend you first review a comprehensive list of questions and facts that I’ve put together, which explains what being a full-time fly fishing guide is all about. You’ll need to ask yourself the question, “Will I honestly enjoy guiding if I have to put up with this every day on the water?” If your answer is yes, to all of them of course, then you’re probably ready to move forward and review my next series of suggestions that you’ll need to think about before you become a full-time fly fishing guide.

Do you feel like you have a calling to become a fly fishing guide?

The most successful guides, that I’ve met over the years, didn’t just wake up one day in their 30s, 40s or 50s, and decide that they were going to become a fly fishing guide. Almost all of them knew they wanted to be a guide at a very young age, and they started the process of learning the myriad of skills needed to make the dream a reality. I’m not saying that you can’t quit your job now and become a fly fishing guide, all I’m saying is the odds are probably going to be stacked up against you. Every year, the competition among guides gets higher and you have to really want it, if you stand any chance at all of becoming a successful guide. You need to carry a passion for guiding that’s unwavering, and you should have no doubts in your mind that guiding is what you want to do for a living.

Do you think you can be a good teacher and Maintain a patient personality?

Just because you’re a great fly fisherman doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good guide. In a nutshell, guiding is teaching out of the classroom. For you to be a good guide, you have to be talented at teaching, entertaining others, and above all, you need to be able to maintain your patience from the first cast of the day, until the very last. You’ll also need to be ready to explain and instruct clients in a number of different ways to get the job done on the water. No two clients are the same. Some are a dream come true, while others are a nightmare.

Are you ready to teach first timers and veterans that have lots of bad habits?

I remember thinking as a kid, that being a guide must mean that you get to spend your days guiding exceptional anglers and fly casters. After almost 14 years of guiding, I can tell you with absolute certainty, that the majority of your clients that will be hiring you will be novice. Many of the will not have picked up a fly rod before in their life, and a great deal of them will end up making you want to pull your hair out trying to teach them. I only bring this up, because there’s a lot of people out there that want to guide, but don’t want to put up with the challenges of teaching beginners. So do yourself a favor and ask yourself this question, “Can I be happy with teaching beginners for the majority of my trips and be content with only the occasional fly fisherman that knows what they’re doing?”

Are you willing to work 7 days a week and work 12-14 hours shifts?

There’s lots of preparations prior to getting on the water that add to the overall work day of full-time guides. A guide’s day begins well before a line is wet or a drift boat dropped into the water. You’ve got to tie lots of flies prior to the trip, you have to clean and organize your gear (tackle and boat), you’ve got to prepare lunches for clients, and you can’t forget about scouting water or doing recon to make sure you’ll be putting your clients on the best water. All of these chores add to the work day, and although you may only be on the water for eight hours, you still have to count the time on the road and the time spent prepping before the trips. When all of your time has been accounted for, and your expenses are taken out, you’ll find out that the pay for a fly fishing guide isn’t as much as the price tag of a brochure suggests. Last but not least, if you have a family, you have to be ready to sacrifice your time with them. Weekends are popular times for clients to book trips with guides, and that means you won’t be available to spend quality time with the family throughout the year.

Are you willing to move away from your family and friends?

This isn’t the case if you already happen to live where there’s great fly fishing opportunities, but most soon-to-be guides will have to be cool with the idea of moving away from family and friends to guide full-time. I learned the importance of this, first hand, and it’s one I wish someone would have forewarned me about, before I chose where I was going to guide for my career. I live and guide where there’s marginal trout water, but I chose to stay close to my family and friends because they’re very important to me. Unfortunately, choosing to do so ended up really hurting my ability to build a strong guide service. I’ve built up a loyal following of repeat clients but the majority of my clients book one day at a time. It takes a lot to clients to fill up the calendar year. This is for a couple reasons, the first being that my location isn’t a destination fishery. People don’t flock from all areas of the country to come fish my waters. They mostly come from neighboring cities and states, and although it provides me with pretty steady work, it’s not enough for me to fill my calendar a year in advance, like a lot of my guide buddies around the country have no problems doing.  A key critical success factor if you choose to become a fly fishing guide, is choosing the correct location to guide. I’ll talk more about this subject later on in the post.

If the above didn’t scare the idea out of your head of becoming a guide, you may have what it takes! Below are my next recommendations if you’re legitimately ready to move forward becoming a guide.

Suggestion #1: Go to a fly fishing guide school

This is mostly for guys/gals wanting to become a trout guide, but I’m sure you could find a professional saltwater outfitter/shop to put together a similar saltwater fly fishing school if you looked hard enough. Going to a professional fly fishing school is important for three reasons. One, it allows you to spend valuable time with other professional guides and learn from them. Two, a certification from a respected school will provide you some street credit, which will come in very handy when it comes time to look for a guide position. Three, in a lot of cases, the school will help you find your first paying gig and get your foot in the door. That’s, of course, as long as you’ve proven to them that you have what it takes to be a guide. If you’re not willing to spend the money or time to go to a professional fly fishing school, there’s a really good chance that you’re not cut out for guiding.

Suggestion #2: Sacrifice a minimum of a full year to learn the water you want to guide on. 

Time and experience on the water are invaluable when it comes to getting you ready to start taking paying clients. Furthermore, it will go a long ways with earning respect from  other guides in the area, since they’ll see that you’re paying your dues. Your time on the water will allow you to learn the water, but it will also give you plenty of time to show your respect (through good etiquette on the water) with other guides. You never know, if you build a good reputation for yourself you might get hired on by another guide, or at the very least, get called by them for help.

Suggestion #3: Get a job at a fly shop

You might not work at the shop forever, but it’s a great way for you to network and learn the fly fishing business. If you work hard and prove yourself to be dependable, it shouldn’t be too long before you start getting overflow trips. And that’s perfect for you to start getting some guiding experience under your belt. Plus, it’s a great way for you to make friends and learn from other guides. When I look back, I really didn’t start becoming a good fly fisherman or guide until I started spending time hanging out with other professional guides.

Suggestion #4: Submit some applications for some fly fishing lodges

One of the best things I ever did was work a season as a fly fishing guide in Alaska. Guiding and working seven days a week for four months straight, not only allowed me to really improve my fishing and guide skills, but it also demonstrated to me how hard I could work if I put my mind to it. Guiding at a prestigious lodge also strengthened my resume and opened many doors in the fly fishing industry that previously were locked.

Suggetion #5: Make a goal to become an independent guide with your own business

One of the biggest mistakes I made, other than choosing to guide in the wrong location, was not building my own guide service from the very get go. I got to the point where I was dependent on the fly shop for 100% of my work. What happens if the fly shop goes under?  What happens if you have a falling out with a manager or owner? If you don’t have your own clients or business that you’re building in the process of taking referrals from other outfitters, you can very easily paint yourself into a corner. As soon as you’ve got some experience guiding and you’ve figured out this is something you want to do full-time, your next objective is to create your own website and guide business. If successful, one day you’ll be able to hire on your own guide staff, and that will allow you to increase your annual income.

Suggestion #6: When possible, guide where you don’t need permits on your home waters

I’ve got a good friend that lives out west who’s a phenomenal guide. Problem is, where he guides, permits are extremely limited. It would cost him thousands and thousands of dollars to get a permit, and that’s only feasible if one actually became available, which its not. He recently had a falling out when a fly shop was sold, and he was forced to get hired on by another outfitter. It doesn’t matter that he’s one of the best guides on the river or that he has well over a decade of experience guiding, because he’s now being forced to start at the bottom of the totem pole and work his way up in the company. Soon-to-be guides need to think about this, when they’re choosing where they’re going to guide. If you don’t have the ability to ever start up your own guide service and will always be forced to hand over 1/3 or more of your daily rate to the middle man, you may be better off choosing somewhere else to guide.

Sugesstion #7 If you want to make the best money in guiding you need to go saltwater

My first love is guiding for trout, so if you’re dead set on chasing trout, by all means go for it. All I want you to know is saltwater guides have it pretty damn good. Yes, they have to pole their asses off on the flats, but they also don’t have clients come to fish their water without hiring them either (for safety reasons and lack of location knowledge). Saltwater guides charge the most in the business, and they also book the most days on average per client. So when my average booking for each client is two days, my saltwater buddies book 5-7 days at a time. That makes it a whole lot easier to fill your calendar, and for the most part, repeat business for saltwater guides is very high. The guide season also is very long, which means they don’t have to sit out during the winter like a lot of trout guides.

Sugesstion #8: Have a good looking website, that stays updated, and utilize the blogosphere.

With today’s technology, you can’t always depend on word of mouth, and most of us can’t afford to set up a brick and mortar business to get walk-in traffic. The best way to grow your guide business and spread the word about yourself is to have a quality website and blog that’s regularly updated. It’s also a great way for you to network.

That’s my advice to all of you thinking about becoming a full-time fly fishing guide. I’d request that all of you guides out there that follow G&G to comment with your own advice and tips. In the end, I hope this post will help us attract or replace the retiring professionals into our industry and deter the wannabe’s that cause all of us headaches on the water.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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67 thoughts on “Buster Wants to be a Fly Fishing Guide

  1. Wow! Thanks Kent. This article really hit home as I am just about to launch my first full season as an independent, hanging out my shingle and giving it a go. We are set up on some of the midwest’s if not the countries top trout waters here in Northern Michigan, Au Sable and Manistee Rivers. I am very excited for this venture and reading through the article feel more confident than ever.

    I will echo the comment about time spent on the water. Both through my own experiences and advice from other guides nothing can get you the skills you need like being on the water. Not just those fun easy days but hard days and in all conditions as you really will not have control over the weather or time of bookings and will be expected to get your guests into fish regardless.

    Thank you for the article. You and Louis keep up the good work, always enjoy reading your blog.

    You can check us out at http://www.fishbumadventures.com

    Take care,

    Tim Riley
    Grayling, Michigan

  2. Kent, Exceptional post. I fielded an email yesterday from a gentleman asking about guiding full time. I could have saved keyboard time by waiting a day after reading this.

    One aspect of guiding (any type) that is overlooked is the amount of different personalities one will encounter. Having the skills to quickly develop common ground is not something easily obtained. Personalities range from high powered CEOs, multi millionaires, plumbers, Dead Heads to Fundamentalist Baptist Ministers. Some are difficult, all are memorable.

    I was very fortunate to serve under some very experienced guides early on. Having a mentor/journeyman to help guide you is a gift. One great way to see if guiding is right for you is to shadow a guide for a day or two to really see first hand what the job entails. It can be a real eye opener for many people.

    Independent all the way. Your business, your decisions, your successes, your losses. Much more creative and custom trips compared to the average cookie cutter eight hour trip.

    Networking. Here is how it works. I’m due to write a blog post this week(one per week). What I’m going to do is post this onto our blog giving G&G full credit, saving me thought process and most importantly helping people out with some knowledge.

    Great work again and thanks, Todd

    • Todd,

      Save it and put your name on it for all I care 🙂 its amazing how many emails guides get from rookie prospects. Hopefully many of them will read this and it will help them determine yeh or neh.


      • Kent,

        I’ll post this as your work and point out to the newer guides that ethics in this business is everything. Saving text and publishing photos that are not yours is the same as low holing as far as I’m concerned. That high road may seem tough but it will be paid back at some point.

        • Todd,

          I think you know what I meant. Just saying I didn’t care if you copy and pasting it into the reply email every time you get the “need advice” email. I agree with you 100% though and it shows you have integrity. If you don’t have respect from other guides and show it to others you won’t make it very far, that’s for sure.


  3. Kent,

    Great topic and awesome write up man. You hit every point that comes into play being a guide and more importantly wanting to be a guide. It is demanding and morphing yourself into your clients personas and managing skill sets every day is not easily done. I’m not a veteran guide in the game yet but I do know it’s gonna be a hell of a ride. The rewards from guiding go beyond the monetary value and fuel my fire to make it my life. Guiding is a learning process every day as new clients make the challenge even better. Thanks for the great post man!


    • Brian,

      You sound like you have what it takes. And yes, it is going to be a hell of a ride. Just remember you can get off the ride at any time.

      I’ve always told myself I will hang it up when I lose the passion or can’t make ends meet with the family. Keep it up Brian, and bring your best everyday.


  4. If you read these question, be honest with yourself on how you answer them. All that glitters isn’t gold. I love to guide and teach as I feel God put me here to be an encourager, so that fits in to my guiding. But, It’s hard work. As with anything in life, the harder your work at it the more successful you will be at it. The prep part of the job and the afterward are the easy parts in my mind because you are working with yourself at that point. Having those people skills is the BIG BIG part of the job you have got to master! If you don’t have patience for all kinds of people you might think twice. Remember, you might have the patience to tie a knot ,but do you have the patience to untie a birdnest?

  5. I have a lot of respect for guides.As a passionate fisherman I’ve had thoughts of becoming a guide, but it’s not for me. I couldn’t do it. Kudos to you for doing it right.

  6. Great Post!

    Back in high school my only dream was to be a fly fishing guide. I got to live out my dreams at an Alaska fly-in lodge. Those were some of the best summers of my life. I started as the tackle shop manager/guide apprentice, but was soon guiding 4-6 days a week my first summer. While I loved the lifestyle, all the extra off-water work, and certainly flying daily to the most beautiful places on Earth, I learned I’m only a middling guide. Mostly, I never mastered the people skills mentioned above to truly excel at it. It’s truly not for everyone. I’m glad I did it for a time, but glad I had the wherewithal to realize that it wasn’t the right path for me. I still will take friends out who’ve never touched a fly rod and catch them fish. And I daydream about guiding the odd wade trip on my local waters, but I don’t think I could ever hack it full time.

  7. Here’s a question that might catch some flak: I know you said recently in a different blog post that you try to personally avoid referring people to guides who aren’t strictly flyfisherman, for fear that they will try to persuade the client from the fly rod. Does this mean you would argue that aspiring fly guides shouldn’t take clients who aren’t fly anglers, (i.e., want to use bait or spinning tackle)? As someone who fishes all styles of fishing, and is working towards guiding someday, I feel like I, personally, would have the restraint to not encourage a client away from how they want to target fish for the day. I just feel like turning away clients who want to fish with conventional gear would be a bad idea for people just starting in the business.

    • Dan,

      I believe everyone has the right to fish however they want as long as they abide by the regulations however, i choose to run fly fishing only trips. In many instances it a little easier on fish (many lures have multiple hooks) and you also have to think about your reputation among your peers. A lot of guides will bad mouth you if tou guide gear fisherman. Furthermore, if you want to promote the sport of fly fishing you have to put a fly rod in the person’s hand. I’ve found that when you give the client an ultimatum, they will try fly fishing when they normally wouldn’t if they had the option to fish gear. Less than 5% of my inquiries ask for gear and the majority of those I end up teaching them how to fly fish. Thanks for your comment and I hope you find my respectful reply helpful for your future guiding.


      • Kent, Your advice is always appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to reply with your point of view, I think it makes sense. Also, thanks for yet another awesome post on this awesome blog. Happy Holidays, man (All this applies to you too, Cahill!)

  8. I’ve had the dream of retiring from the rat-work race and supplementing my income by guiding. Have had several opportunities but could never truly make it work. This article is good stuff. One day…..

  9. Great piece, should be required read at guide schools!
    Great line: Justice Sandra Day O’Conner to guide friend of mine:”Don’t you realize there are only 365 days in a year?”
    From another guide friend: “in July, you can spot the new guides at the Murray Bar, they’re the ones buying rounds for the house. In October, they’re the ones trying to sell drift boats, fly rods, other gear for pennies on the dollar.”

  10. Happy Thanksgiving! Kent great post. You hit on a bunch of good points, one you forgot is – guiding is HARD work. Rowing +150 days a year is tough stuff, there’s a reason most guides are 25 to 50 years old. Long days, lots of sun, cold fingers, sore shoulders maintaining equipment and sometimes getting an A$$ sitting in the front seat. I’m sure the good days are spectacular though! For those clients reading this – TIP WELL a good guide is a gift.

    • David,

      Happy Thanksgiving to you. I didn’t forget, I knew one of my guide followers would bring “Hard Work” up 🙂 and I’m happy you did. Some locations are easier to guide than others but if you give 110% you will always be worn out at the end of the day. Thanks for commenting today.


  11. Kent,

    Great post! You hit the nail on the head.There’s many more aspects to being a great guide than just enjoying fishing. Sadly there are lot of guides that are on the water who haven’t figured that out yet.

    You are right, most long time guides have wanted to do this since they were kids. I was 10 years old when my dad FINALLY took me to a fly shop. I had been fly fishing since 6 with my own stuff, and tagging along with dad and grandpa since I could walk. But when I stepped into that shop I saw the most amazing sight, to me anyway, a guide getting his clients fitted up with their gear for the day. I had no idea there was such a job and immediately I wanted to be a guide when I grew up. Most kids at that age wanted to be doctors, firemen, police officers, but not me. I wanted to be a fly fishing guide. Heck most folks didn’t even know what that was at the time, at least not around here anyway.
    My folks would quickly try and squash that notion, stating I was going to college and get an education. Years went by and I never wanted anything more than to guide and spend my days in the mountains I grew up in and loved. I went on to college, earned two degrees, graduated with honors, despite cutting class on a regular basis to fish. Even still, I didn’t want to do anything but guide. Shortly after graduation, my parents gave me that gentle nudge that sent me into guiding. They knew I wanted this all my life and now that I had something to fall back on, I was ready to get started on making my childhood dream a reality.
    I just finished up my 16th year guiding back in September and I have to say it hasn’t been easy. Its actually been filled with stumbles and many trials. I’ve been kicked down and beat up, but never whipped. If you want it, you better be willing to sacrifice, and you better be willing to work your tail off to the point of exhaustion everyday. To be successful that’s what it takes.

  12. I am a new guide but I think I am in a unique situation. I didn’t go to a guide school, I have a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science/water resources/stream ecology. Basically I went to a Big Ten school to learn fishing. I have not been mentored or taught by any established guides, I am a 4th generation fly fisherman(that I know of) so the fish run deep in my veins. I haven’t had to move to guide, in fact, quite the opposite. The fish I target are in front of my house on one of America’s top 100 bass lakes, an 18,000 acre lake that’s connected to numerous streams, rivers and other lakes…including the Lake Huron. I work for myself, set up and maintain my own website, which I think is the best guide site I have seen. Granted, I have not seen that many..I am in a bubble for sure. I did not want to start guiding as a youngster, I did not want to start guiding because it’s trendy…I started all of this because the DNR wasn’t hiring, and thank god for that. My environment pressured me into being a guide because I am in possession of a skill set that is profitable, I can teach, and what I am doing is not your typical, go to the stream and catch trout…its, “see that 5 pounder over there? okay, cast 20 feet in front him….” This is Northern Michigan smallmouth fishing with a fly rod on the biggest, most beautiful lakes you’ve ever seen, out of the boat you always wanted to get on.
    Okay, here’s my advice from my short lived career thus far.
    Get a job that teaches, like ski/snowboard instruction. Not only is it an off season way of making money, it gets you the very valuable experience of TEACHING a wide range of PERSONALITIES and ABILITIES. The way I see it, guiding is customer service. Most of the people you get are newbies, just like snowboarding, and all they really want is a teacher. They don’t need a hot shot fly fisherman. They want a personable, patient, and fun teacher.
    If it can’t be full time, let it be part time. That seems to be a good way to get into things. Other guides I know are part timers and so am I. Not that you don’t want to be full time, but its what’s attainable at this point in time.
    Lastly, let your interests and passions lead your life for they are some of the greatest motivators we know of.

  13. Hi Kent,

    I am a first time (but not last time) reader of your website. Is was made aware of your article by Jay Shields who is a guide up in Beverly, MA. He has an amazing passion for fishing and it shows through in his work ethic, and he fulfills all of the things you stated above.

    I appreciate you taking the time to set up that list of questions as I have been constantly considering the pluses/minuses of trying to guide. I am a teacher by trade, but fish any chance I get, and have realized over time that I get the greatest joy when fishing with other people and putting them on their first fish.

    I think I have the people part and teaching part down pat, but am not sure of the business plan, or feasibility of guiding part time during the spring and fall and full time in the summer when I’m off from teaching.

    I will continue to refer to this set of guidelines and questions as I make my decision in the future.

    Thank you!

    — Joe

  14. I’m considering starting a guide business — seasonal, local. Patience and teaching are skills I have. What worries me is having to entertain folks. My question is this: do you think an introvert be a decent fly-fishing guide? Do you have to talk all the time?

    Thanks for another great piece.

  15. If you really love fishing on your own and catching fish, guiding might not be for you as “play days” are far and few in between.

  16. Dear Kent! I just want to confirm to you that your post is spot-on also here on the other side of the pond – Sweden, Europe. We face the exact same up- and downsides of running a guide service, as you mention in your post. I have a quite wide selection of waters where I guide, and I also let people use light spinning gear if wind and weather gets rough, but preferably with single hooks. The reason – to fill the book as I also have many one-day clients and small incentive groups. My five cent to your exceptional advices – educate yourself about other things surrounding your fishing waters; birds, animals, history, environment, local people & places etc. If the fishing is good, the day will run smoothly. With hard fishing or/and bad weather you need to use the aces – and I would say that good anecdotes about the local area and good food are the best.

    • The last advice by Henrik is spot on. Even if I am pulling in fish hand over hand, I truly appreciate a guide who can also tell me what’s happening around me. Of course we want to learn about the target fish and their prey. But there is opportunity for a richer experience. Many times in the salt and in the Everglades I had guides show me things I would have missed on my own re bird life, reptiles, dolphins, sharks, manatees, etc. Out west and in AK, knowing the names and habits of raptors, ducks, swans, moose, etc., or some of the local history (like Buffalo jumps out west), added to an already awesome experience. Most fishermen are tourists as well. It earns my respect and I would expect that goes for other clients as well.

  17. Another good one Kent —

    I’m a certified HS Biology teacher and I’ve occasionally *thought* about guiding since I love the fly fishing hobby so much. People regularly comment that I explain things well and have enthusiasm, and my wife sometimes mentions that guiding would be something I’d excel at (at which I would excel? Clearly I’m not an English major).

    However — after a few years teaching in the public school system, I sought a different career and will remain a ‘certified’, but not ‘practicing’ teacher from here on out (and will likewise never make fly fishing into a career). Though I still feel like I have the *ability* to teach students well, it’s just too exhausting to me to do it full-time. I know this with 100% certainty. Mostly, the constant socializing (I have very limited ‘social energy’) and my over-developed desire to put SO much of myself into it would kill the fun of fly fishing.

    I have a very healthy amount of respect for all teachers, and I include guides under this. I just straight-up don’t have it in me to do it myself, and I’m comfortable with that. I love it as a hobby (obsession) and don’t want to change anything. 😉


  18. This is my 31st year of guiding. I love my job and all has worked out to a great lifestyle. I believe your post will provide a reality check for many potential guides. I am in the same boat as you. I tell many fishermen that the saltwater or dual season guides are the ones who will struggle less with the career of guiding. You have totally knocked this one out of the park. I will refer young guides to this for years to come. Thanks for being the reality check.

  19. Great post yet again Kent.

    One more question an aspiring guide should ask him or herself is “do you really want to to take the thing you love and are passionate about and turn it into just your job?” It sounds great at the beginning but I think few people realize just how much work and pressure it can be.

    Over my 20+ years guiding fishermen and hunters, I have had a number of friends ask me to get them jobs guiding. Fact is very few of them stick it out for more than a few weeks. The pressure is just too much for many them. Anyone can be a good guide when the fishing is easy, and in fact it is often the fishing conditions that make you look good rather than your personal skill and knowledge. It’s when the fishing is hard that the real guides shine through. Being able to stay confident and positive, and instilling that confidence in your clients even when you’re not catching fish is one of the hallmarks of a true professional guide I think.

    And aspiring guides need to remember that when a day is booked they HAVE to go fishing. Even if the weather sucks and you already know the fishing will be tough that day. It’s just not the same as fishing for fun.

    With that said, if you do have the level of passion that it takes, and you like meeting and teaching new people, it can be the most wonderful lifestyle imaginable.

    Thanks again for the great post Kent and keep up your great work with Gink and Gasoline…..it is certainly one of the best blogs on the web!

    Paul Stone

    • Paul,

      That was a wonderful comment to read from you. Great advice from a veteran guide. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and show your appreciation for G&G. Cheers.


  20. Kent,you could not have said it better.
    You will have good days.And you will
    have bad days.Focus more on the bad
    days to become a better guide.Great
    advise.Tight lines and keep up the
    good work.

  21. As far as attending a fly fishing guide school, are there both reputable and disreputable schools? If so, could you list a few good schools and are there any in the southeast?

    Since I first took up fly fishing about 12 years ago I have often thought I would enjoy being a guide, although honestly I still don’t know if I’m “good enough” or know enough of a wide range of techniques. However, I am good at teaching people to fly fish and I enjoy it. I have taken a few novices out on the water this year who were basically complete strangers and helped them learn to fish on my own personal time for free. I get a lot of joy out of helping people get into this sport and I enjoy seeing other people catch fish about as much as I enjoy catching fish myself. The one catch up there that I see is there is no way I could guide seven days a week. I’d probably be more interested in doing it part time. I don’t want to get rich, I just think I would like being a guide. I took one friend of mine to a tough trophy stream this year and it was his first time with a fly rod. We fished for about five hours, and although he only caught two fish, and missed several strikes, one fish he landed was 18 inches. So I guess the thing I don’t know is how to know if you’re good enough to be a guide. I certainly know that I can help people and I enjoy it.

    I have actually written Joe at the top up there and asked him about being a guide, so it’s funny that he commented here.

  22. Kent,

    Just now getting around to reading this, luckily I had a float trip that day.
    So my first year as a full time IDE is wrapping up and I can honestly say the majority of this post hit home with me.
    The short version: I taught high school severe needs special Ed before I was a guide, before that I worked for the Ga dept of juvenile justice. Patience?! Peace of cake. However, uncontrolled variables that you’ve covered are painfully accurate. Needless to say, this game ain’t for the faint of heart. It truly is day in and day out. I never imagined how much stress would inevitably occur

    • Contd:

      … daily. Then guess what? It’s the same routine the next day. Broken rods, mid-day rain on a full day float. Clients are late with an early generation, client gets sick, client want to bring dog, client brings 4 year old child to trophy stream. Haven’t seen my wife awake in 5 days, my dog forgets who I am because I haven’t shaved and lost 25 lbs.
      Need I say more? You’ve been there and seen more of what’s coming to me I’m certain.

      All in all, I wouldn’t change my decision for the world and my eagerness to progress within the industry is growing.
      Kent, I was one of those aspiring guides who contacted you a few years back attempting to harbor in your pool of experience because I knew without asking that guiding was your true calling. Now that I’m in the loop and experiencing those transitional periods of “ok, how do I deal with this crap?” It’s even more alluring to lose myself in this lifestyle.

      I could write this all night but I have to finish working. As I’m sure you’ve been in my shoes many times before.

      Thanks for posting this and laying it down clear and simple. I owe you a float for this one.

      Best, Chase

  23. My late son, Anthony, was a fly fishing guide on the Green River for Flaming Gorge Resort and he absolutely loved it — he thoroughly enjoyed taking people out to be on the river and to get them into fish. So, I definitely can relate to guiding being a “calling”, as I very much can attest to that’s what it was for my son.


    Mark Greer
    South Jordan, UT

  24. Pingback: Fly Shop Employment | The Current Seam

  25. Good article Kent, I’ve been guiding part-time for 7 years in my own business and it’s been a struggle at time as we don’t live in a traditional fly fishing area but it is building slowly goal is to finish out my working career guiding full-time. Thanks, Doug

  26. Great article! I was wondering if you have any advice on the best way to keep track of bookings. Is there a software program out there that makes it easy to document dates, names, locations, wader sizes, etc.? Thanks, Jill

  27. Hello, this is my first time on the site. I’ve been seriously thinking about guiding as a future as we are relocating to the north western coast next year and prospects for work for me are proving difficult. I’ve hardly any post high school education and have been a janitor for too long and am completely tired of it. I’ve been fishing most of my life, but never owned a boat. Also, I’ve been having trouble finding decent articles on the day to day life of a fishing guide. I was wondering if you could outline your daily duties including maintenance of your gear and boat, or if you know of good resources or have an article here, if you could point me in the right direction? Any help would be huge. Thank you!

  28. Well Buster is going to Guide School in two weeks. I’ve got some time until I could actually retire and pick this up full time. But I swear I hate not being able to articulate everything I see or know and translate it into instruction for friends on the water when they say “I want to learn how to fly fish,” or “take me with you.” So for now I’m going to be a better angler for them. I love to teach but I know how to Army teach and classroom teach. So far for fly fishing I’ve learned monkey see monkey do and countless hours on the river. I hope guide school will give me the tools to articulate better what I know- to bring more fish to hand for those I take on the water. And then to the point where they have learned to do it on their own. “Teach a man to fish”- ha literally.
    See you on the high ground!

  29. Pingback: Five Common Misconceptions About the Guide Life – GuideTurbo Blog

  30. Pingback: Five Common Misconceptions About the Guide Life - Guide Turbo Blog

  31. ginkandgasoline Okay, here’s my advice from my short lived career thus far.
    Get a job that teaches, like ski/snowboard instruction. Not only is it an off season way of making money, it gets you the very valuable experience of TEACHING a wide range of PERSONALITIES and ABILITIES. The way I see it, guiding is customer service. Most of the people you get are newbies, just like snowboarding, and all they really want is a teacher. They don’t need a hot shot fly fisherman. They want a personable, patient, and fun teacher. it is worang

  32. I want to learn how to fly fish, since it seems really fun. It makes sense that I would want to find someone to mentor me! They would be able to ensure that I learn how to do it properly.

  33. It’s good to learn that you have to be talented at teaching to become a good fishing guide. My brother is wanting to become a fishing guide and he was wondering how he could be effective at his job. I’ll be sure to tell him that he should learn how to be a good teacher to be an effective fishing guide.

  34. My father and brothers want to go on a fly fishing trip next year. Thanks for explaining that it would be smart to consider getting a good guide. It does seem like a good thing to get a good idea to gt an expert to take them out on the trip so they don’t get lost and find fish.

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