Fly Fishing: Is Guide Competition Good or Bad?

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It’s never too late to burry the hatchet and extend the hand of friendship. Photo Louis Cahill

A few weeks ago, I chose to do something I never would have done, when I first started guiding.

I made a point to accept an invitation from one of my local competitors to go fly fishing together. In the past, I would have passed the invitation up, thinking the competitor was trying to learn secrets of mine, or worse, had a hidden agenda aimed at harming my business, but that wasn’t the case at all. For a welcome change, we set aside all the nonsense of us worrying about being competitors, and for the first time, we genuinely got to know one another. We spent the day working our way up a beautiful section of wild trout water, and we took turns fly fishing, while the other watched and told memorable guide trip stories. It turned out to be a really fun day on the water. One I’m confident I won’t forget for a very long time.

In the end, ten years of insecurities and false perceptions had been put to rest after just four hours on the water fly fishing together. We both realized that we’d done nothing positive for our businesses by black balling and avoiding each other. In fact, we agreed that we probably ended up doing more harm, since there had been plenty of times over the years when we could have helped each other out in a pinch. During my 45-minute drive back home, I reflected on the day’s events and it made me think about how much stress I could have avoided over the years guiding, if I wouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about my competitors. It’s ok every now and again to keep track of what your competitors are up to, but you should never lose sight of the most important element of your business, which is the services you’re providing to your customers.

As I pulled into my driveway, parked the truck and started to unload my gear, I thought about all the guides across the country that could capitalize on what the two of us had learned, if they to extended a couple friendly invitations of their own. You never know when you might need to depend on a fellow guide to help you out in a bind. Equipment failures happen, car keys are forgotten, and critical pieces of gear, sometimes go unpacked. If you maintain respectful working relationships with your fellow guides, there’s a much better chance they’ll come to your aid when you find yourself in need of assistance. Not only that, but think about how much better etiquette will be on the water for everyone when the atmosphere is friendly and respectful. My days of being selfish and turning a cheek to my competitors are long gone. I only wish it would have happened much earlier on in my career.

What’s your stand on this subject? It’s not just intended for guides, but for all fly anglers who share water.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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25 thoughts on “Fly Fishing: Is Guide Competition Good or Bad?

  1. Great article! I agree that by networking with fellow guides in/on your home waters can pay off. I’m so thankfull that years ago I was kind of taken under one of the old guides in my areas wing. I learned a ton and now have a wonderfull friendship. We used to end up on the same section of river many days-so I started calling him before trips to see where he planed to fish. We worked it so neither of us would be on the same water. That earned me more respect than anything I could have done. He is retired now and has been sending his customers my way. There are also another group of guides that we are always checking in on to see what/how they are working the waters. It’s great getting to know and respect each other-makes life fun. It has brought a lot of friendships my way. Happy New Year!!

  2. Excellent point man! This is one that all can learn from, be you a guide, competitor, free fisherman or whatever. Time, energy and you as a whole are too valuable to waste on worry about what or where the next guy might be doing or going. Get to know them! Fish with them! You are sure to learn something new. I learned this lesson the hard way also, and what a change it makes to let go off all that foolishness. As Jesus even said in the Bible,” Matt 6:27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” It is hard to keep focus on your fishing and enjoyment of your time fishing if you are always worrying about the next person upstream. Kent, this one is not just a fishing tip, but it is a good life lesson! I’m glad you are finding this freedom for yourself and I hope others do also! Your welcome to fish with me anytime.

  3. The essence of selecting a guide is to have a positive experience regardless of conditions. You want a guide who cares enough to be prepared and be good but is not negative. It’s a tough balance, but those who master it are the most successful in the long run because there will be good and bad conditions on the water. When I hear a guide badmouthing the competition, it reflects back on them. It makes me uncomfortable.

    When I was a lawyer, I was friends with those on my side of the case and the opposing lawyers. In the courtroom we fought hard. Afterward, we left the arguments behind (except for good-natured war stories) and enjoyed each other’s company. I have life long friends who were my opponents in court. They referred me clients then; and now that I am retired, they hire me to mediate their cases. What goes around certainly comes around: good and bad. In guiding and in life.

    • Ralph,

      So true and glad you brought up the business relationships you kept tight despite having to battle it out in the courtroom. It sure makes life easier when you learn to compete with respect.


  4. Great post and may get your readers (that pay attention) more time on the water.You guys are turning into way more than a fishing blog I am not a guide but part of my business is service. It is a myth that you have to beat your competition to be successful. Some of my best friends and fishing partners are in the same business I am. We always have a great time when we are together, send each other customers, and consult with each other when things get sideways, even work on stream project together. They and I keep some tricks of the trade to ourselves but for the most part we are pretty open. When My wife got really sick and needed a lung transplant these guys were there for us. Over the years what has hurt my business the most has been loss of a good competitor to my market not the addition of one. I do think, like you found out, you have to be pretty confident in your own skills and those of your competitior/friend to be able to build these kind of relaionships.

  5. I can certainly see where guides would want to be skeptical of each other. However, when it comes to people, I believe in giving them the benefit of the doubt. Like you said, you never know when you might some help out on the water, or help before you even get to the water. And it goes beyond guiding. I think its great you guys put things aside and enjoyed some time just being two dudes out fishing. In the end, I believe only good fish karma could come from this.

  6. What a great write-up, Kent. It was a long-overdue day of fishing for us both. One of my favorite realizations was that we had no “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” moments. Just a great day of fishing. Let’s do it again soon.

  7. Well done and well said.

    I am a luthier in Portland, Oregon and a fly fisherman. Portland is gifted to have the largest number of highly respected luthiers in the country. Instead of harbor in ill will, they have learned to embrace they talents they share, and share new techniques. I have been organizing monthly lunches together for over a year, with usually 20 joining.
    It breeds trust and respect, but it also allows each of us to improve our craft, and to offer a hand up to others just learning the unique trade.

  8. Having guided for over 25 years in various locations from Alaska to Chile I can tell you that competition will certainly bring out both good and bad in guides. It keeps us on our toes and pushing our own envelope to become better. I’ve also seen pushy guides, fist fights over holes, the showing of guns and knives to drive others off, dirty business practices designed to take over certain waters and bribery of land owners to disallow others to cross land that was once open to any who asked. I look at competitive guiding as a personal challenge for myself, not against others. If the popular water is too busy then I target the secondary spots. They may not have as many fish normally but pressured fish from the big holes often retreat to the smaller secondary spots, combined with the fish that normally live there often produce great fishing when the popular holes are being pounded too hard. I also try a few calculated moves such as early starts or late days. If someone books for 2 or more days, I’ll ask them if they want to go to some out of the way places that will have less pressure but longer drives to get to. If they are healthy, I’ll hike clients far away from the easy access spots. I tie flies every night to replace what was lost to tweak the patterns until I’m happy with their performance and to create something new to show the fish. The reason people hire guides is to get an edge on the fishing, to be taught and to have companionship. I don’t know anyone who hires a guide to bully others and those who do get a bad reputation quickly. I love to fish with other guides. We learn from each other and generally have a blast sharing funny stories and showing off a little.

    • Larry,

      Thanks for all those great points of how you keep it reel on the water and provide your clients excellent service by going the extra mile. That’s why you’ve been successful guiding for so long.


  9. Kent this is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite post of yours. I’ve personally worked on a highly competitive river here in the Pacific NW. During that time I worked hard to maintain good working relationships with all of my competitors, reminding myself and them that we were all just trying to live the good life and provide a high level of service to our clients. Now that I’ve moved on from guiding into a different area of the fly fishing industry I enjoy a solid working relationship as well as friendship with the majority of those guides. I am sincerely heartened to hear that you had this experience and are willing to share it with the rest of us. Kudos to you, the positive energy you’re putting out there will come back to you in spades.

    • Chuckdee,

      I think that’s one of the nicest comments I’ve gotten from a retired guide so far. It’s an honor to hear those words and I’m glad to hear that although you’ve moved on from guiding you’re still in the industry. Even cooler that you’re still friends with the guides you once shared the water with clients with. That warms my heart man. Cheers and happy New Year.


  10. This is a great article (like I expected anything else). I wish this mentality was the norm on some of my local rivers. I am not a guide nor do call my self an expert, but simply being nice and respectful to everyone on the river can change the feeling of any float and add to the experience.

  11. Great article. I had a steelhead guide on the Rogue River and he wasn’t only respectful and friendly to other guides, he was respectful of the general steelheader group that was out and about. There was no fighting for the honey hole or anything of the sorts. There was good conversations about conditions, locations, etc. The Upper Rogue doesn’t really have any secret spots so everyone was open to communication. By the time you hear about a fishing report you are usually too late to get there. But it’s nice that the knowledge and friendly behavior was everywhere on that river. Makes for a much more enjoyable time as a paying customer.

    • Bob,

      Yes, indeed it does. I’ll be one of the positive communicators moving forward. Plus, I always have Louis, the giant to keep things civilized if it ever comes to that. People usually bow down when they see the size of his hammer fists. 🙂


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