Fly Fishing Guide Referral Gone Bad

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I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to guide lots of wonderful clients over the years. A large portion of those clients, that I now call friends, originally came to me through referrals from other fishing guides. When I get a client referral from another guide, I always make a point to take extra care of the client, and I do that for two reasons. First, because a referral by one of my peers is an honor, and second, it’s not just my reputation on the line, it’s also the reputation of the guide who recommended my services. The reason I’m bringing this subject up today, is because not too long ago, I had one of my favorite clients ask me to recommend a redfish guide to him for an upcoming vacation with his wife. The only two guidelines he gave me were that the guide needed to be based out of a specific city on the Georgia coast, and he only wanted to focus on fly fishing. I let my client know I’d be in touch with him shortly with a credible redfish guide.

The first thing I did was get on the internet and google redfish guides in the area. One thing that I made sure to steer clear of, were guides that marketed conventional tackle first, and fly fishing gear second. If you’re wanting to book a guide solely for fly fishing, it’s usually a good idea to search out a guide that focuses primarily on fly fishing. In the past, I’ve found out the hard way, that fishing guides that market both types of gear (especially in saltwater and warm-water lakes), sometimes end up keeping the fly gear locked up, and out of reach. I don’t mean this literally, of course, although I’m sure it happens, I just mean those guides tend to push fishing with conventional gear over fly gear, because it’s less technical and easier for them to put clients on fish. So keep that in mind next time you’re looking to hire an inshore saltwater or warm-water lake fly fishing guide.

Long story short, I found a well known veteran fishing guide in the area that advertised redfish and other species on the fly. Everything seemed to check out, so I called him up, introduced myself, and gave him the break down on what my client wanted. Next, I gave him the background of my client and his fishing skills. I let him know he was one of my favorite clients, that he was a ton of fun to guide, and also that he’d probably become a regular for him if they hit it off. Lastly, and most importantly, I stressed to the redfish guide that all the client truly cared about, was improving his saltwater fly fishing skills (specifically his fly casting technique and double-haul). I ended our conversation thanking the guide for accommodating my client, and I wished them a grand time together on the water.

About a month later, I got an email from my client who had booked four days with the redfish guide I’d recommended to him. Attached to his email, was a photo of him holding a respectable redfish landed during the trip. I immediately replied back congratulating him and asked, “How’d the redfish trip go, my friend?” Shortly after, I received a reply that read….

“The guide pretty much gave up on teaching me after the first day. He told me that my fly casting sucked, I was casting in an arc, and that the brand new saltwater fly rod and reel that I bought ($1200), was a piece of junk and needed to be sold on Ebay.”

My jaw dropped wide open when I read the reply, and my fists clinched up tight as hell, as I looked for something close by to punch. I’m telling you right now, hearing that information from my friend, really pissed me off in a bad way. How dare someone treat a client of mine referred to them, who booked four days for that matter, be so unprofessional and unaccommodating of a client’s request to learn. It’s not like the redfish guide didn’t know going in what the plan was. I told him straight up, as well as my client, he was dealing with a newbie in saltwater, and improving fly fishing and casting skills was far more important than catching fish.

A few minutes passed, and I thought to myself, “He’s got to be blowing this thing out of proportion. Those can’t be the words that came out of the redfish guide’s mouth.” So, I called him up to clarify, and sure enough, those words did come out of the redfish guide’s mouth. He explained to me that he had told the guide to be blunt and honest with him, but damn, any professional guide will tell you, it’s always a good idea to maintain some level of  censoring (what comes out of your mouth) with your clients on the water. I’ll tell you one thing, that redfish guide doesn’t have to worry about me referring him anymore trips, and he’s lucky I’m still on good terms with my client since I was the one who recommended him. The only reason I didn’t call that redfish guide up and speak my mind, was I had to respect my client’s wishes to stand down.

I took the time to tell this story of a guide referral gone bad, because in my opinion, it’s too important not to share. It’s important for the rookie guides trying to make a name for themselves and build their clientele. It’s important for the anglers hiring guides to understand this isn’t normal practice, and it’s important that we band together and don’t allow our sport to be poorly represented in this way. My client told me straight up, that he would have sold all of his fly fishing gear if he wouldn’t have been guided by me. I’m very lucky he visited me first and not that redfish guide.

Furthermore, it makes me wonder how many people have left the sport of fly fishing, and no longer hiring guides or spending money in fly shops, because their first experience was dealing with an unprofessional jackass guide, like the one in this post. There’s far too many good guide’s out there that bust their ass every day on the water, struggling to make a living, to have this kind of thing going on. Give your business to the companies and guides that appreciate your business and work their tail off to give you the best customer service they can provide.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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33 thoughts on “Fly Fishing Guide Referral Gone Bad

  1. A good post. I am in a position to frequently recommend fishing guides in our area. for the most part I have had no bad experiences like you discuss but there are some guides that are just not good with their “people skills” and that’s where they get into trouble mostly. When you recommend someone it puts your own reputation at stake. I always tell them to say to the Captain that I recommended them to him for what it’s worth. Problem is also that the Captain was probably right, sometimes the truth hurts.

      • Paul,

        Thanks for commenting. Just remember the job of the guide isn’t to break the client’s confidence and spirit, it’s to diagnose the problem and do everything in their power to fix it, so the client leave a better fisherman when they get off the water.


        • Kent,
          Having fished with a lot of guides in many places, mostly good, some great, and a few quite bad, I believe the number one objective is to make sure the client(s) are having fun, regardless of goals for the trip. Sometimes expectations are beyond any guide’s capabilities, given fishing conditions or client abilities. If so, the guide must be a good enough people person to salvage the day (or 4 days). That takes people skills, perseverance, and an ability to adjust the plan (with the client’s consent) so adjusted expectations can be met. The only times I have been disappointed with my guide is when I feel the guide is not working hard or being a butt (like yelling at the client’s kid for putting a rod on the deck instead of politely correcting the kid and explaining why that rule must be followed). I have returned to guides when we were skunked the first time if I liked them and trusted them. All but the most focused clients are there to enjoy themselves. The only time I feel cheated is when I pay money for me and my kids to have an enjoyable day and I feel worse after the trip than going in.

  2. Out him! I understand if your reluctant to do so here (not really), but I hope you did in your personal network. The internet and social networking is a double edge sword. It vastly increases pressure on our vocation and avocation’s resources, reducing learning curves and increasing the reachable audience. The other edge of the sword must be used just as quickly, the policing of the industry and the increased speed in which people who shouldn’t be in business reach their inevitable professional arc.

  3. You did it right. Owning a business that provides products and services for over 30 years we have a policy of never speaking bad of our competition, unless they are in the room and we can piss them off in person. Unfortunately I have seen fun and profitable segments of my own market trashed by morons and bad actors.

    In defense of the guide, there are some clients, that are great people, but you just don’t mesh on a professional or personal level, and there has been some top of the line fly fishing equipment sold over the years that is crap.

  4. Great post! I have client who’s first experience with a guide was on the salt and he was there just to have fun and learn to cast a fly rod. The guide screamed at him and told him he was inept! It took me a while to talk this client into going out with me but he eventually did and kept thing light and fun and the fish played nice. He now loves the sport and I can’t image what kind of person the other guide was as this client is one of the nicest guys on earth! Sure would be nice to get rid of the jerks…

    • Joel,

      I’ve guided my fair share of extremely challenging clients. Had one a couple weeks ago that I probably will not ever take out again b/c he was disrespectful and a total jerk despite us catching a ton of fish. That being said you would have never known I was discouraged on the water. I kept it professional and got through the trip. the client I refer to in this post doesn’t come close to falling into that category. He’s so fun/laid back and genuine that he actually reinvigorated my look on guiding. Thanks for comment. This was really meant for everyone that responded.


  5. Wow dude… Not cool. I can totally agree that some personalities just don’t mesh. Some could argue that your client asked for it by wanting the guide to be brunt about his abilities. However, giving up on teaching a man that is interested in improving his fly casting and saltwater angling skills, after being told that was the primary reason for the trip, is total BS. This guy just dropped some serious coin on 4 days of guided fishing, not to mention the brand new rod/reel/line he bought as well. This client of yours just made an investment in improving and expanding his fly fishing skills and knowledge, and to not get a return on that because of an asshole guide is horrible. I would have a hard time not roasting this guy, but I completely understand where you stand in this matter. He’s your client, and you always want what’s best for them, especially a regular client. I know he doesn’t hold you responsible for it, but it still sucks. Anyone who knows you, knows you wouldn’t intentionally recommend a guide that acted like this. Like Greg said above, you did it right. The guide just failed to follow through.


  7. I’m hear to tell you in any line of work that if you give a crap product to your client, you will not be in business long! What that dude said to that client was insulting! There are ways to tell people the truth and get a point across without leaving a bad taste in there mouth. Be civil and kuthful! Clients pay good money to HAVE FUN , LEARN, and hook up with fish. The first two being the most important. Even if I don’t “mesh” well with my clients, they are treated with respect as you should to any person everyday, and tought with the best I can give every trip even if they do not have the best skills. That’s apart of what they are there for , to sharpen there skills. Not everyone is born with God given talent and even the best guides have room for improvements. This post got to me at heart. Sorry that it turned out that way for you and your client, Kent. I feel your anger on that one bud. God Bless

  8. I feel that guiding in flyfishing is a task requiring a high degree of patience and encouragement. I’m not a guide, but I would imagine assessment of the client’s casting abilities are particularly important in how the guide determines how best he or she guides that particular client. However, I have taught plenty of people to cast and have always tried to “encourage”, whatever the student’s casting abilities are. This approach is, in my opinion, essential to encourage budding flyfisherman to keep going. Let’s be honest our sport, passion, is unquestionably one hobby that is true “Lifelong Learning”.

    On the question of guides. My first Stateside experience was, as pleasant as my guide was, that my technical knowledge (probably due to my age and experience :-)) was well in advance of his. That didn’t really matter, what I felt he didn’t do really well was leverage his local knowledge well enough. I did okay, but I felt that there was just a guy who was escorting me up the river with the odd comment and I was just representing a few dollars to him and his company. It didn’t feel like a personalised effort to me.

    • Rob,

      I understand where you’re coming from with that trout experience. Hopefully you’re not talking about me. I don’t think I’ve guided you, have I? Maybe he was new to guiding, maybe he felt like he needed to give you your freedom since it sounds like you’re an experienced trout angler. Then again, maybe he didn’t bring his A-Game with you. I always tell my clients that the communication goes both ways. That we can’t read each other’s mind and that in reality, we’re basically a team fishing together. If one of us doesn’t like how things are unfolding during the trip, then I say speak up in a respectful way and make it right, that way, at least, the rest of the day can be as enjoyable as possible. When you don’t speak up, the day of fishing can end up being a disappointment, even if the fishing is really good. Thanks for the comment.


  9. Kent, ask yourself why a client will come back after being on a trip and getting skunked. It’s about the relationship or as you said friendship. 20 % of the time I fish with a guide even on water I know. Enjoying the day, improving my chances and convenience are the reasons I hire a friend. Recommendations are tough, like you said, you work twice as hard because an endorsement from another guide has tremendous value. Don’t sweat this to much, just serve up a special lunch for that friend/client next time you hook up.

  10. “you Suck” is not constructive criticism; you’re not allowing your backcast to straighten is. Many people have become assholes these days; evidently feel it is the go-to way. We as people need to be spreadfing the word; being an asshole is not OK. (This is NOT defined as “blunt/brunt”!!)

  11. Not sure I’d make a recommendation on a guide I personally haven’t fished with.

    I have witnessed alot of attitude at fly shops towards new budding aspirers to the sport. Have seen this in most specialty shops at one time or another, wether is by fly shops, camera shops and most of all bicycle shops. They seem to be a haven for attitude!

  12. Kent, I feel your pain! After guiding here in Alaska for 23 years, I’ve developed super tight friendships with so many of my clients. It fires me up when on the very rare occasion they return from a trip with one of my sub contractors with similar stories of less than enjoyable experiences. So many guides forget that it is a privilege to take a person fishing…we are there to serve the client, not yell, act cocky or be disrespectful. The client not only puts food in my childrens mouth, but they also allow our family to enjoy a lifestyle and carrer path that completes us. Thanks for sharing your story, Reubin Payne

    • Reubin,

      You bet man. I know you get what I’m talking about. You run a very successful guide service and I hope to have you guide me in the near future. I’ve heard great things about you from Louis. Thanks for chiming in my friend.


  13. Kent, I learn so much from your blog about fishing as well as how to be a good client and look for good characteristics for a guide. I love this post as I have had some great guide experiences, mediocre and poor ones and it just doesn’t revolve around catching fish. One of the best guides and experiences I had was a full day float with NO fish caught! I fish with my wife who fishes rarely, my son(s) who are pretty new and we have diverse needs. The good and great guides help everyone get the most from the experience. I feel better prepared to interview my potential guides before booking after reading this. Thanks for educating us.

    • Very true Gordon. This blog is one of two sites I look at before I have my coffee. G&G guys are great. I imagined this site would get more commercialized and less friendly as the site became more popular. It hasn’t, it has become even better. The guys keep it real and keep cranking out entertaining and informational stuff day after day. Very informative stuff when looking for a guide. I will be looking one for one this summer in Aspen and will put the info to good use. Was gonna try to pull off a bonefishing trip this spring, but looks like I am headed to the Rockies. Thanks for the good stuff guys.

      • LMR,

        Having such friendly and loyal readers means the world to Louis and I. We pour our heart and soul into G&G, and it’s so great to hear that people appreciate what we’re doing and respect us. The honor is all ours. Thanks for the comment and the support.


    • Gordon,

      You’re very welcome my friend. I’m really happy to hear that what Louis and I are writing is helping you out, and you’re picking up some tips. It’s great to be able to write to everyone without having to hold back my emotions. I was upset and felt strong that I needed to defend my client (and all the others who’ve been worked over in the past) and stick up for all the hard working guides, that struggle just like me to make a living in the industry they love. Knowing I have readers that have my back, is a damn good feeling, and I thank each and every one of you.


  14. Kent,
    Can you send me an email with the offending creature’s name… I’ll be heading down to So. Georgia and looking for a guide, and I want to know who to avoid

  15. Dear “guide”,

    I have tried to give you an honest assessment of my current skills and experience. I am a 59 year old who still considers himself to be on the novice side of the curve … both in the salt and on trout rivers. I had no one who taught me when I was young, and didn’t renew my childhood interest in fly fishing until late in life. I am largely self taught … thank heavens for good casting DVDs! I can be a little self-conscious (silly, isn’t it?) but there it is.

    I’ve made it clear that I would love to be “tutored” by someone with the years of experience that you have, since I haven’t had a life that allowed me to be on the water 200+ days per year for several years, nor have I been able to afford multiple trips per year to great locations, etc. One suggestion … before we start actively chasing fish, ask me to make some casts … help me get comfortable … tell me how you’ll communicate with me … will you give me clock face directions, point with the push pole or another fly rod … show me how far 40 feet, 60 feet, etc. are to you … generally let me know what you expect under the normal circumstances we can expect for the day.

    I try to be very clear that I will hold myself accountable for the limitations that my skills bring to the day … not you. If you work hard, are patient, have fun with me so that I can have fun with you, all will be good. (Oh, I am a generous tipper … but you don’t know that until the end of the day.)

    So … if I have a day with you where I catch my 1st large redfish (having missed many others) but have learned more about where to place the fly, tips to get the fish to eat, maybe got on tip on improving my cast that I can take home and practice, then I will have had a great day.

    Unless you happen to really like my personality, we”ll probably not become best friends nor will I become a “regular”client … because I can’t take guided trips on a regular basis … as much as I would love to! However, I will promise to be a great reference so that you might reap rewards beyond the day we spend together.

    Now … I don’t know much about the “universe” of fly fishing clients. But I suspect that I may be closer to the norm than I once thought. If so, then perhaps there will be something here that you can learn from me?

  16. It always surprises me how many people with horrible interpersonal skills are in lines of work which are essentially personal service industry fields.

  17. It’s extremely common for guides to lose perspective over time… my point being that this isn’t a rookie guide thing. In my experience rookie guides are often some of the best with people because they have to make up for their lack of experience, plus they haven’t developed the arrogance that some guys get from being one of the senior guides in their area.
    Far too often, guides lose perspective and begin to think their clients are fishing for them. How dare they not perform up to the guide’s expectations! After all, they need to get back to the dock and gloat about all the fish caught on their boat, and the client’s lack of experience and expertise is putting that plan in jeopardy… But as you and I both know, this is not what fly fishing, or guiding, is all about. It’s about having a positive experience in an unfamiliar location, learning, and having a great time in the process.

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