Guiding Tip: Set Your Client Free to Build Confidence

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Whitney Gould guiding at Alaska West. Photo Louis Cahill

This post is for all the professional guides out there who give their clients Every thing they’ve got each and every day. It’s for the perfectionists, who truly believe fly fishing can never be 100% mastered and always see room for improvement in their own professional teaching skills.

I’ve taken great pride over the years with my hands on style of trout guiding. When you take the time to explain the little details to your clients, and freely share what’s going on in your head, it really makes a big difference in them understanding the big picture. I’ve always believed catching fish should take a back seat to learning the how-tos of fly fishing. I’ve never seen much value in a client catching fish during a guide trip, if they can’t go out and replicate it on their own. It wasn’t until a few months ago, in fact, that I strayed away from my familiar guiding routine of holding onto the reigns.

During this guiding season, I started hearing a voice inside, telling me to give my clients more freedom. This continued for several guide trips before I chose to listen to the advice. When I felt my clients had learned enough of the fundamentals and were ready, I started experimenting with relinquishing the reigns and letting them fly fish on their own. It wasn’t easy at first holding back the urge to stand side by their side and not jabber instructions. However, by setting my clients free to make their own decisions, good or bad, it ended up doing wonders for building their confidence and propelling their fly fishing competency.

Break down of how I give my clients freedom to build their confidence.

1. It’s important to understand that not all clients will be ready for this freedom I’m talking about. If you set them free before they’re ready, it can be counter productive to skill building. I’ve found that the clients that get the most out of this strategy are the intermediate level fly fishers or clients that you’ve got booked for multiple days. Generally, you want to spend the first few hours of the day going over fly casting, line management and fighting fish, before you begin stepping out of the equation and letting them do it all on their own.

2. When the client is ready, find a good piece of water you know holds trout, and tell them to study the water, set their rig according to the spot they’re fishing, and fish it how they see fit. Pay close attention to where they’re positioning themselves to make their presentations and also in the order of how they are covering the water. Take mental notes on anything you see they’re doing wrong. After they’ve finished fly fishing the spot, go over with them what they’ve done right and wrong. Talk about any thing you think they could have done better.

3. Do this exercise a few times at least throughout the day. After a while, you should start to notice that your clients will make fewer mistakes, and start hooking up with fish on their own. I’ve found the best way for clients to deeply engrain fly fishing technique and knowledge, is by forcing them to fish spots on their own and then having the guide critique them. This gets the client ready to fish on their own, and also gets them prepared to one day be the teacher themselves.

This past week, I was fortunate to guide one of my favorite clients, Gary Rogers, for four days. I really made a point to relinquish the reigns with him during the week, and by the end of the trip, he was fly fishing most spots exactly like I would all on his own. It was extremely rewarding to see his confidence shoot threw the roof and know with out a doubt he could fish on his own and find plenty of success. Try this out next time you find a client that is ready to take it to the next level.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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8 thoughts on “Guiding Tip: Set Your Client Free to Build Confidence

  1. Kent,

    Great advice to guides. As an adult educator myself, I know folks learn by interaction rather than being told something. Years ago, when I was learning to river fish for trout with my son in Alaska (we were Florida flats guys to start), our guide Brad gave us both the initial input and gradually loosened the reins for the independence we needed for success. You are exactly right: it builds confidence. Perhaps more importantly, catching fish is more rewarding if someone else did not choose the tactics, the fly, and the fish to throw to and was not correcting your technique. I fondly recall the fish I got “on my own terms” and still rerun some of those memories in my mind from time to time. Frankly, it’s just more fun for both the fisherman and the guide, especially with the attaboy the client gets for getting the job done on your own and the appreciation the client has for the guide for imparting real knowledge you can apply yourself.

  2. Just wanted everybody to know that I believe that Kent was born to be a teacher. He is the best at understanding the faults and the goodness we all have inside. He knew that all he had to do with me was to correct me sternly and I would comply. I just want to LEARN how to fly fish and he was there for me. I believe that knowledge is power, and he provided that for me. He made me fish in difficult situations, never screaming at me for grass catching on the back cast, or for squirrel fishing in the trees. He made me decide if the rig was right for the water BEFORE I fished it. I love this guy, so does my wife, because he is honest, and friendly at the same time. We have built a relationship that surpasses all others, he is a TRUE TEACHER, accepting my faults and making me get through them. If you can ever book a trip with Kent, do so, you will NEVER BE DISAPPOINTED! He is the BEST! I can’t wait to go with him again.

    • Gary,

      Thank you for those very kind words. You’re so much fun to guide and I’m grateful for our friendship. Thank Lisa for that beautiful trout chicken pot pie again for me. It was artwork and very tasty.

      I can’t wait to hear about all the fish you catch on your own next time you are up here. Looking forward to netting some more trout for you when you can find time to get away from work. Congrats on all those beauties this past week. It was an honor to fish with you.

      God Bless,


  3. Kent, remember that there’s another side to this idea. Not that many years ago, I was taking a lesson from a “name” guide. Talked with him a bit, did my practicing, caught a couple and knew which flies would work here and how… Started to do my own thing, and when I turned to talk to the guide, he was gone! He took that as his invitation to go fishing on his own! Saw him at lunch, he was real interested in how I was doing, then as soon as I started fishing in the afternoon, away he went again! Never been so disappointed with a guide, …. ever!

    • Mark,

      Don’t take this the wrong way but I was in no way saying the guide should walk away from the client during a trip. What I meant was to let the client make decisions on his own so he can build confidence.

      I also had a guide in Canada on my honeymoon that pretty much did the same thing. I was really upset as well. Giving freedom and walking away are two different things.


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