Fly Fishing: Respect Thy Tarpon Guide

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It’s not all peaches and creme being a tarpon guide. Photos by: Louis Cahill

I respect tarpon guides a great deal.

As a trout guide, I run into many of the same struggles they do on the water, but tarpon guides have to deal with managing them at the extreme level. They spend their days on the water guiding in some of the most demanding and technical fly fishing conditions on the planet, and to make things worse, many of their clients have never experienced the saltwater fishing conditions before in their life. Getting the job done, day in and day out, is rarely easy for a tarpon guide. I imagine there’s plenty of silent prayers being made on those poling platforms, begging for a starving fish to show itself at just the right angle, and that a good presentation follows.

Friends that guide for tarpon tell me of occasional periods where the skunk doesn’t leave the boat for days at a time. Hookups that are short lived, are the only thing that keep them sane and focused on the prize. It’s not that they aren’t spotting fish and getting plenty of opportunities during the day. Most of the time, their hands are clean and the skunk falls on the operators standing on the bow. It’s hard to hit your targets if you haven’t taken the time to sight-in your fly rod before you begin the hunt (pre-trip casting preparation). Consequently, a large percentage of the fish catching opportunities witnessed by tarpon guides fizzle out before they can materialize, from presentations missing their intended targets. And don’t get me started on the unstable emotions that plague newcomers to chasing tarpon on the fly. That’s a whole-nother can of worms. I’ve been on the bow many times, where I completely fell apart after locking eyes with a 100+ pound poon.

They also tell me that many times when they’re fortunate enough to get an experienced fly caster on the bow of their boat, they often get dealt the shitty weather card. A cold front will show up out of no where and most of the fish will run for their lives to deep water. When a cold fronts aren’t the problem, strong winds blowing the wrong direction, end up depriving them access to prime water. Focus, patience, and persistence are three attributes you better have if you want to hack it guiding in the salt. For myself, I’m glad I’m a trout guide, I don’t think I’m cut out for the saltwater game. I’ve gotten way too used to being able to consistently bring fish to the net for my clients. Plus, it’s safe to say that my horrendous case of A.D.D would create serious safety issues. Props to all you tarpon guides out there that work hard to make the miracles happen.

On the bright side, when everything does come together for tarpon guides, they usually end up walking away with the “first place guide trophy” for providing the fondest fishing memory of their client’s life. When you land a mature tarpon on the fly, it’s a life changing event. One, that my pretty 18-inch trout, can’t come close to living up to. Respect thy tarpon guide. They deserve every bit of it for what they endure and bring to the table.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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8 thoughts on “Fly Fishing: Respect Thy Tarpon Guide

  1. Amen. I’ll stick to trout. I don’t have to worry about tides, sharks, getting a good lead at 80ft, or catching a 3/0 hook in the back of the head. Kudos to these guys who do it day in and day out!

  2. I too thank you for posting this piece – I especially like the fact that you posted this on my birthday! As I read this, I questioned myself (and thought of my friends) for a reason for taking on such an admittedly difficult job. This is certainly the very definition of “A Labor of Love”. Pain in the ass? – Yes, a lot of the time, but it’s the opportunity to spend every day of the season in the company of these magnificent fish that makes it totally worthwhile! The good days are well …Great! And the tough days send you home wondering what you could have done to make it easier for your client. And crap weather days are put there by God to teach you humility, and patience! The payoff is seeing it all; the good, the bad, and the UGLY!! Making great friends, and indelible memories with them! …Oh and uh then there’s always the coveted “day off”! You know where I’ll be when one of those comes along!!!

    • Cole,

      Happy Birthday my friend! It’s great to hear from a tarpon guide about this post. Great comments by the way. Hopefully, I’ll find a way to get on the water with you this coming year. You know your always welcome to head to the mountains to fish with me for trout.


    • Amen, Cole. A lot of life lessons are learned out on the water but could think of no better place to learn them. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be than a Tarpon guide. Happy B-Day buddy

  3. Anybody who hires a guide should have to spend a day working as a guide. I don’t care of you hire a guy to put you on some bullheads…..he’s working really hard at it and is earning every dime he makes. You only see one part of the effort he puts in on the job. I have a lot of respect for anyone who guides for anything.

  4. I totally concur 100% with the sentiments shared above.
    ….. particularly about when you finally get someone up to the task – and the weather throws you a big curveball. It’s almost without fail. It’s uncanny!
    After 3 weeks hiding my clients in the mangroves fishing baby tarpon from float tubes because of 20-30kt winds raking the shoreline – i am eager to hit the flats to once again share the thrill of some real sight fishing. Great blog btw. love you guys! Tight lines in 2014 all!!!

  5. I love all of these comment that are here because they are all true. There is nothing better than a day on the water fly fishing for tarpon and getting an angler hooked up. But most of these people don’t understand the work involved in just getting ready to go fishing. You have to have your boat and gear ready to go every day. That means being up before the sun, loading your gear because the anglers can tell you they have fly rods and they have stuff that just won’t work for tarpon fishing. And there are many other thing that the guide has to do just so your day is a good one. Sitting up after fishing at night tying flies, preparing leaders, checking fly lines and backing, and reels. Then he is getting you to a good spot and poling a load of boat and anglers around all day long and looking for fish at the same time. Then trying to position the boat at just the right angle for the cast while fight winds and the tides running and that is a task all in itself while trying not to spook the fish. After a day on the boat the guide just want to relax but that never happens even though he has been baking in the heat,sweating all day, and has kept the conversation going all day long. So thank the guide for all that he has done for you in a day, because he is grateful that you were an angler that listen to him and not been one of those know it all that never listen to what he has told you about the fish,casting,presentation of the fly, stripping the line just right, and reminding you to bow to the fish when he jumps. He is just another human that work hard to help you have a great day fishing and hopes that he will see you again next season.

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