Fly Fishing: Don’t Turn Your Cheek, Pay it Forward

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Jamie Hillis, a different client of mine, smiles big after landing a trophy. Photo Rachel Hillis

The other day I had the opportunity to guide a client who previously had put down his fly rod for many years.

As he put on his waders and boots, and I began rigging the rods, he told me that many of his good friends were avid fly fisherman. Problem was, they had made it clear to him that they preferred he didn’t tag along with them, because they didn’t want to waste their precious fly fishing time teaching a beginner. I felt bad for the guy. He had been painted an outcast by his own buddies, and every year that went by, it made it harder and harder for him to pick up his fly rod. With a comforting grin on my face, I replied, “Man, I really wish you would have called me sooner. We could have nipped that in the bud a long time ago.”

During our hike in to the river, I decided my mission for the day was going to be getting my client back up to speed. I was going to teach him everything he needed to know, so that the next time his buddies went fly fishing, he could surprise them with his presence, and put on a clinic. I had a silent laugh going on inside me throughout the day, as I pictured the looks on his buddies faces as they watched their outcast friend out fish them. I used this to fuel my guiding efforts, and it kept me focused during the slow learning process.

Teaching someone to fly fish from square one can sometimes be extremely challenging. Some pick it up quickly, while others seam to move forward at a snails pace. When the going is tough, it’s easy for guides to take the easy way out, and only focus on teaching what is needed to get the rod bent. Prime example of this, would be to just have the client roll cast his nymph rig all day because it would get the job done. For some clients, that’s all they want. They couldn’t care less about learning the intricacies of the sport, they just want to catch fish. That, however, doesn’t make it ok for guides to take the easy way out. The true professionals, teach as much as they can. They uphold the guide honor code of always giving it their all on the water. It’s a guide’s way of paying it forward to the client, and to the next guide down the road. That way the next guide can step in where the last guide left off, and continue to build the skills of the client even further. Guiding as long as I have, and hearing all the first hand testimonies from clients, I’m sad to admit that there’s many guides out there that don’t pay it forward like they should. Doing this, is no different than my client’s buddies giving him the cold shoulder. Not cool, and a sorry excuse for a friend.

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy getting my client back up to speed. I spent the first hour and a half of the day going over the very basics of fly casting, and we didn’t catch any trout. I then moved on to teaching line management, angler positioning and reading water. Half the day went by before I knew it. It wasn’t all that exciting, but I kept at it because I knew if we took the necessary time to develop good technique, it would provide a solid foundation that would support the growth of my client’s fly fishing skills the rest of his life. Eventually, things started to click, as repetition yielded progress, and muscle memory took over. That progress gave me the opportunity to get my client a few hookups and also begin teaching him the art of fighting fish with a fly rod. After releasing a few nice trout from the net, I was rewarded with the look of confidence in my client’s eyes. He no longer looked at his fly rod like he wasn’t good enough to catch fish. It was priceless. That afternoon, we went on to catch another dozen fish or so, and lost a handful of others. Each one my client performed better than the last. At the end of the day we both knew we had accomplished what we had set out for. I had done my job of getting him up to speed, and my client had regained the love of his passion once again, and I got my client ready to put a smack down on his buddies. It was a good day.

Next time you get the opportunity to set aside your own fly fishing time to help a fellow angler in need, please do so. Paying it forward is often more rewarding than bringing a fish to hand, and at some point in all of our fly fishing careers, we were blessed with a mentor.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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36 thoughts on “Fly Fishing: Don’t Turn Your Cheek, Pay it Forward

  1. Awesome stuff Kent. I know many behind a desk think that guides have the best job in the world, but guides have to fight the same malaise in their profession that computer jockeys do…just generally in a nicer setting. Clients pay good money to get out on the water and it sucks when you see or hear about guides that are ‘burnt out’ or just ‘going through the motions’. That’s why I loved reading this and seeing the care that you put in to make sure your guy gets what he needed out of his time with you. Keep up the great work brother!

  2. so true~ keep it real and make every moment on the water special. Besides the opportunity of a great fish, you can also change someone’s outlook and perspective on not only the fly fishing lifestyle, but outdoors and our resources. You never know what battles someone is facing, a good day on the water can lighten anyones load. Very nice Job Kent! Keep it Reel!
    Tight Lines,

  3. Nice post, Kent. I have to stop reading this blog on Fridays because I find myself checking fishing reports and river conditions when I should be working!

    • Chris,

      There’s always time for some fly words over coffee in the morning. Ha

      If we’re getting you distracted from work, we are bringing good content. Hope all is well and you have time to catch some trout up my way soon.


  4. Spot on, Kent. Everyone benefits. Last week I sent a neighbor home with a 4/5 Eagle Claw Featherwight, a borrowed reel, a handfull of flies and accouterments, and an hour’s instruction in the back yard. She was doing stream restoration work on some small Virginia brookie water and decided it would be fun to add an “alternative sampling method” to her process. The next day she called me from the site, excited to have caught her first trout. She’s completely hooked.

    Feels good.

  5. Thanks for that Kent! I’ve been guiding for a little over a year now and never come home satisfied without giving my all on the water with a client. The best days are ones in which they not only learn from you, but you in turn, learn a lot from them. Plus catching fish is nice too:)
    Keep up the guiding posts, would love to see more stories, tips, suggestions, etc. about guiding. Thanks

    • Scott,

      That is great feedback. Wasn’t sure if today’s post would hit home with a lot of folks. Its awesome to hear from another guide that enjoys this kind of subject. I really enjoy talking about time on the water guiding. Thanks for your feedback and props to guiding 110% on the water every trip.


  6. Great post! I gotta say, right now, there isn’t a better maintained, better written, more relevant blog out there. I’m not just talking about fly-fishing blogs, I’m talking about blogs period. And I read a bunch of them on a variety of topics everyday; from politics to foreign policy to business to fatherhood. Some of the stories you and Louis write are about fly fishing and that’s it. But the majority of them, are about life with a fly-fishing twist to it. Please keep up the great work! I recommend your blog at least once a week, mostly to non-fly-fisherman. And don’t get me started on the photography…simply amazing.

    • Scott,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave this comment. You made my day! We work extremely hard to bring quality content to our G&G community every day of the year. I spend more nights than I care to admit in the a.m hours of the night writing and after I get off the water guiding dog tired. Hearing appreciation from our fans makes it all worth it.

      Thank you for spreading the word about G&G. We are grateful for it. On the water, this minute, we are fly fishing for bass on Lake Guntersville getting content. Cheers!


  7. If anyone has ever had the pleasure of being on the water with Kent, they know that this is his everyday work ethic. Being a client, I know first hand that he goes above and beyond what most guides would consider being “great”. He notices the little things that make the big difference. A day on the water with him, and you won’t only catch fish, but learn how to do it on your own and take away an arsenal of new skills. Kent truly gives his all to his clients and has a true passion for guiding, and this shows on (and off) the water. Kudos to you for helping this guy stick it to some nice trout. He’ll probably end up being the one all his buddies want to go fishing with later down the road.

    • Justin,

      Wow, what a genuine testimonial from a client and great friend. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time that I’ve spent guiding and fishing with you, and very much look forward to fishing with you next weekend on some of your home water. It’s Going to be pretty cool having you guide us. I’m chomping at the bit!


  8. Thanks Kent, I really needed that post. Calling the old man right now and seeing if he wants to tag along this weekend. I’m going to make it my job to not just get him on fish, but to also make sure he understands why he was able to get those fish. Give a man a fish… Teach a man to fish…

    Keep it up!

  9. I am so happy for your clients. I know, because I am one of the lucky guys who have fished with you and learned. You are such a gentleman, even to us who work 90 hrs/week, not casting a line, but wishing we were. I just love being outdoors, breathing fresh air, spending time with a friend, wading cool waters. Catching fish is great, but learning is the best. The search for knowledge. Learning new skills, rehabilitating lost ones. You are fortunate to have the ability to deliver dreams. Keep it up!

    • Gary,

      Thank you so much for those words. You’ve become a good friend and I can’t wait to guide you in the next couple of weeks for four days. It’s going to be awesome man. Get ready. Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts and testimony. It means a lot to me.


  10. Way to go Kent!!!! A true teacher and sportsman. You surely gave that guy more than a good day on the water!

  11. My greatest satisfaction in fly fishing is teaching people how to fly fish especialy young people.

    But when you run into guys like his supposed friends it just goes up my you know where. They are not friends they are not what I would consider fly fisherman there just jerks


  12. Kent, not to sound like a nay-sayer, but good intentions are not enough. I’ve had a couple of experiences where I’ve tried to teach a friend the rudiments of fly fishing, and I’ve failed miserably. Being a fly fisherman, and being able to teach fly fishing are two very distinct skills.

    • Ron,

      I understand where you’re coming from. If you try and fail that is ok. Its the effort that counts. The next thing to do is recommend telling them to hire a professional to teach them the fundamentals. The casting stuff is the hardest to teach. Once you get past that, its much easier to explain the non-casting tips about fly fishing. Thanks for the comment.


  13. What a real shame it is to NOT teach a newbie. This year alone I’ve introduced four different people to the sport. I’ve taken them all to a privately stocked pay to play spring creek (most times, I’m paying for both of us).

    True, it takes REAL self control to not fish and guide them. But you certainly get back more than what you lose in fishing time.

    a) You learn more by teaching it. At least you get to validate a few things.
    b) You might create new fishing buddies.
    c) You make great memories.
    d) You experience a real happiness—making someone else happy!

    Besides, most of the time those fish will be right where you leave them next time.

    I’m no guide but putting a rod and reel in a newbie’s hand, tying on a bugger, teaching a basic cast, some tips on handling line, putting them on open water filled with fish and helping them net one isn’t that hard.

    I’m glad I did it. And look forward to doing it for anyone that has the slightest interest. Heck, most of them will pay for the next one!

    My proudest moment last year was getting one of those newbies completely hooked on fly fishing. He will pass it on to his young son. I even gave him a rod and reel…it was the most selfish thing I could do ;-)…..he’ll fish just as much or more than me. He’ll learn his home waters and he’ll teach me a thing or two ;-).

  14. Great Article Kent,

    I just got 2 of my buddies into fly fishing a few weeks ago. It’s tough to teach them things that seem to come naturally. But, for me, it’s really fun seeing my friends have a good time out on the water. I had as much fun seeing them catch fish, and then ask the next day “When are we going out again” as I did catching fish myself.

    Again – thanks for a great Article, and great comments by others as well.


    • Joe,

      I feel the same way you do about watching others catch fish. It’s very rewarding when you teach and the student puts it all together and gas success. It makes my job heaven on earth.


  15. Enjoyed reading this, and it reminded me that I had gotten discouraged with fly fishing last year. I’m relatively new to it, I don’t get out often enough, and the success rate reflects that. My wife gave me a guided trip for my 60th and my guide worked really hard to get me into fish and show me some tricks (I.e., correct some of my self-taught mistakes). He revived my joy for the sport, and it’s very easy to imagine what a great–life-changing–day your client had, too. Nice work. We probably don’t tell you all “Thanks” enough.

    • Winston,

      I’m happy you enjoyed reading and it reminded you of that day on the water with your guide. I appreciate you taking the time to let us how you feel about this subject. We don’t you guys like you enough either. Thanks. Guiding clients that appreciate our help feels really good.


  16. 15 years ago I taught a co-worker and his son to nymph below an indicator. They matched my skill level quickly. Life happened I had to take a step away from fly fishing to care for a sick family member. Fast forward 7 years I haven’t touched my rod, he picked up Euro Nymphing. His son, and my family member have passed away. He starts teaches me a few tricks Euro Nymphing. Couple months ago we each caught 50+ in an afternoon. That’s what a great friends do. Saved my sanity in 2020. Now we go out as much as we can.

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