Guides Gone Wild… You’re Slowly, Steadily Killing the Sport of Fly Fishing

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I’m firmly on record, in fact, I’m quoted, saying that “the sun rises, and sets, on the fly fishing industry, where professional guides say it does.”  And I’ll always believe that.  Guides drive the techniques.  Guides are stewards for the waters.  Guides’ opinions on gear dictate what gets sold what doesn’t.  They are the gatekeepers.  They are the ambassadors.  They are who will decide the future of fly fishing.  I am a guide myself… if only because I understand that guiding keeps me “real” and in touch with the target audience, as I endeavor to write stories about fly fishing.  Without guide boots in the water, there is no substance.  Without substance, there is no true understanding, and thus, no stories.

And yet, as much as I envy guides and try to fit in among the ranks… as much as I think this industry, as a whole, under-appreciates guides, and can/should do so much more to support the grassroots ambassadors, I also think we’ve reached a time of reckoning where we must separate the leaders and best from the dopes who are peeing in the fly fishing industry’s bowl of Cheerios.

I had an experience in Cheesman Canyon (in Colorado) the other day  that made me really wonder about the effects (good or bad) guides have on this industry.  I wrote about it on “Fly Talk,” at www.field&stream.com.  Maybe Field & Stream isn’t the most focused fly demographic in the world… but it does command the largest “outdoors” audience in the world.  And that post, and more specifically the comment thread it contains, should be an eye-opener for anyone in the fly business.  Read the comments, I’m not the only one upset about poor guide etiquette.

With all the challenges this industry faces, vis a vis stream access, economic pressures, and so forth… in what way does it make sense for guides to adhere to the “production fishing” mantra?

In my last Angling Trade column, I wondered aloud if nymph fishing, with the indicator, and dragging two flies through a run (watching a bobber) was really the end-all, be-all for this sport.  Sure, nymphing has a place… but is that it?  Is that the best foot forward?  What about the traditions… the dry flies… the teaching… the challenges… the inherent beauties of fly fishing that captivated most of us in the first place?

And what about the ethics?

Is “catch at all costs” really what guiding is about now… and really, well, worth the cost to the sport as a whole?

Do we need to self-regulate in ways that are tighter, stronger, and with more impact?  “Regulation” is a dirty word, admittedly.  But I’m not seeing a common goal… a shared commitment to the guide ethic being nurtured through shops and manufacturers, at least not to the level it could and should be.

Don’t get me wrong… the vast majority of guides… and fly shops… and manufacturers, embrace, embody, and promote exactly what can and should be said and done in the fly fishing world.  But there are loose ends that we all, collectively, need to address.

Is fly fishing really getting the most “bang for the buck” from working guides?  Conversely, are guides getting the support they deserve from the industry?  Collectively, are we making the manufacturer-shop-guide-angler connection as tight and effective is it can and should be?

The answer is no.  How we fix the problem to mutual benefit may well be the most important and pressing business challenge the fly fishing industry faces today.

Kirk Deeter
Editor, Angling Trade

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34 Comments

  1. I think alot of newbies are driven by numbers of fish caught and thus in turn guides are driven to produce numbers for clients. This often means crowding and bobber fishing in reliable holes. I snarl and will say something about crowding to the guide right in front of his clients…its rude and the client should be treated better too and and I let them(the client) know that.
    That being said…I know very few outfitters can guide in Cheeseman. If the situation is as bad as you say, you need to go to the outfitter…report the guide and if that doesnt do anything I would go to the permitting authority and file a complaint(that should get the outfitters attention).
    The only thing the guide seems to care about is the $. I will say I dont necessarily blame them, its a tough way to make a living but they are starting to bite the hands that feed them.

    • I think you are spot on. I fished last year with three groups (guided) on the Snake River, Idaho. It was a competition between the guides…bragging rights for the most fish. I had to put my foot down and say I want fish the riffles …out of the boat, and forget about numbers but enjoy casting to fish and on the dry.

      The other guides headed out nymphing, fishing back eddies, etc. I can do that anywhere. It was kind of sad.
      John
      T

  2. Kirk-

    I could not agree with you more. I have been a guide since 1996, an industry rep for Sage, Simms, Umpqua, SA, etc. and have witnessed a steady decline in ethics and professionalism. There are a number guides that do not even have their minimal state licensing requirements, let alone good river stewardship or etiquette.

    I now own a shop in Northern Lower Michigan and have guides working for me that will continue to pass along proper stream etiquette and river stewardship. We want to set the standards for guide behavior, introducing beginners and children to the sport and giving back to the resources that we are so lucky to call our “office.”

    Furthermore, I can rant about all the “social media guides” putting nothing but trophy photos of monster trout that they, or their buddies have landed on a day off making for a tough day of fishing with a client with limited abilities when they don’t land a fish over 20″ like the ones they see on Facebook. Our average trout in Michigan are 8-10″ and a mid to upper teen fish is something to behold-a fish over 20″ is considered by many a trophy trout. This is ruining the sport in many ways.

    I try to post kids with bluegills, normal sized brookies and browns with CLIENTS holding them, not me or my hardcore fishing buddies.

    Thanks for your efforts…
    Brian

    Brian Pitser
    The Northern Angler Fly Shop
    426 W. Front Street
    Traverse City, MI 49684
    231-933-4730

    • Amen Briam. Guiding shuld be about introducing new anglers to fly fishing, educating anglers new to our area the nuances of our waters, and teaching the expereinced ones “new tricks”. In my years of guiding, I’ve found the vast majority of my clients to be beginners looking to get started in fly fishing and they hire me to learn. I tell them right away that our average fish is 10-12″and fish over 14″ are big fish. Their reply is often that catching a fish will be a bonus-they want to learn how to make good presentations, how to read the stream etc. If we set reasonable expectations for clients such as catching average size fish, not fish that are caught twice a season and adding 10 extra feet to their cast we’ve made the trip more fun. Clients also have to set reasonable expectations for themselves based on their current abilities and the average size fish in that river system to make the trip more fun for themselves. The last time I checked, we were in the business of selling fun. My best reward came today. I guided 2 clients from out of town on Tuesday and Wednesday, and had 2 successful days. They fished on their own today at a spot I recommended to them with flies I left them, and they caught several fish.

      Craig Amacker
      Fly Fishing Manager
      Fontana Sports Specialties
      231 Junction RD
      Madison, WI 53717
      608-833-9191

  3. Kirk you make a very interesting point.
    Here in the UK we see more and more people setting up websites and calling themselves guides.
    They take people out charge top dollar and then proceed to fish themselves and offer the client very little in the way of teaching and help.
    As with all businesses the cream will always float to the top and there are some superb guides that not only teach and educate but also go that extra step to making sure the client has a great day and gets out of it what THEY wanted.
    Of course when guiding we all want to make sure the client catches fish but that is a small part of the whole experience.
    They way good guides know they are doing the right thing is when they get repeat business time and again from the same people wanting to do something slightly different and learn a new technique or river.

    Toby Merigan
    FunkyFlyTying

  4. I guided full-on, between Alaska and Argentina, for 27 seasons, sat out for a few years to catch my breath, and now I’m back at it again. Needless to say, most of the guides I work with are a lot younger than me, and I’m often asked to share my perspective about the life.

    Regardless of how the conversation begins, it inevitably ends with this bit of advice.

    “Learn to enjoy the people you’re with… enjoy teaching them and being a positive part of their experience. A good guide will catch them a lot of fish… A great guide will give them a memorable day with surprisingly few. Learn to enjoy yourself as well. People who are having fun are likeable… and that’s important.”

  5. All excellent comments. As a guide and outdoor communicator, I’m fortunate to have some great relationships in the fly tackle and greater fishing tackle industry. My loyalty, however, has everything to do with specific people and little to nothing to do with any particular manufacturer. Brian is a great example. When he was a rep I would have used whatever he was peddling because he was a good guy and I respected him. Manufacturers should view and form relationships with guides in the same way and work with the people they respect — not necessarily the ones who work the most days on the water. In my opinion, a lot of manufacturers make a serious mistake when they require a guide to work a minimum number of days per year, have a certain shop affiliation or fish exclusively with fly tackle. I understand the intent, but by doing so in most cases they are promoting the very questionable ethical behavior Kirk is discussing. 150 days on the water is fine in Northern Michigan or the Keys, but here in SW Michigan and Northern Indiana, I would be a crook if I took 150 people’s money to take 150 people fishing in a year’s time — especially if I claimed to solely be a fly fishing guide. You cannot be a full-time fishing guide where I live and work — despite having some great fishing. The ones who try are the ones who consistently push the ethics envelope. Again, great topic and great thread worthy of more discussion. Thanks!

  6. John M. Jones on

    Brian has this right. There are guides that entertain and educate you as needed all day. They share info on the surroundings, not only the fishing. They show you why the fish hold where they do. They let you know why the presentation is critical and what the fish sees when your fly is in the water. They teach you enough to be able to pick your own water and flies. They get you casting well enough to fish on your own.They teach you to enjoy to art of fly fishing during the course of your day.
    The flip side of this is the guide that needs to get you into fish. Period. Yes, some clients demand this, but not all. Some guides set the fish count as the goal. Fish pictures? This is a tough one. IMHO, I do not care much for fish pictures from guides. I see a picture (s) of clients with gigantic fish and I think that some folks are intimidated. I used to go into music stores and ask to see a particular guitar. The clerk would pull it off the wall and rip off some incredible riffs and then hand me the instrument while watching. How relaxed do you think I felt? Same with guides. Rip off all the fly line and then procede to cast it all and you can bet that I am impressed, but you can also bet that I am intimidated. Not what I was hoping for in fly fishing. Guides are the gateway… and the manner in which they handle their clients is going to be a major influence in how they treat the resource if they decide to immerse themselves in this sport or not. I always had some clients that wanted to keep fish, and I never said no (if it was legal), but I always explained the ethics of why I never kept fish for myself. Never had a client that actually kept a fish. The ones that returned or stayed in contact with myself held to the catch and release standard, even for planted fish (you may be suprised to know how many people really have no need to kill fish).To a lesser degree, guides are able to influence even seasoned anglers in ethics and skills. And it should go without saying that guides should and need to be selling fly fishing equipment. When the novice asks if this Brand X rod they are using is a good one, and the guide smiles and says “it is one of the best you can find” you can rest assured that he has set the mark for the client in the future. This is a fact. Guides are able to sell gear with very little effort, if they choose to do so.
    Guiding is a CUSTOMER SERVICE business for most. These are the guides that are busy all of the time.
    I know of a few guides that perhaps should be restricted from the river, but I see no method in which to do this. I know of guides that are blatent in their lack of ethics, and have complaints lodged against them, but I have yet to be made aware of any disiplinary action taken.

  7. Kirk,
    Thanks for raising the issue, you make some great points. I had some good and some bad experiences with guides. But I would like to raise an additional point. The fly fishing industry itself is somewhat to blame for this by promoting the idea with countless “grip and grin” pics and stories of 30 fish days. Many clients that hire guides have the expectations that they will hook into tons of fish, instead of learning about a river system and god forbid stream etiquette. I think guides are under extreme pressure to hook their clients into fish, especially since many clients are novice anglers. I don’t want to come across as defending bad behavior, believe me, I had my share of run ins with bad guides, but the truth is that a guide that does not get the clients into fish will most likely not get hired next time around. I think the industry should do more to promote the idea of the “zen of the sport”, compared to what technique or which fly catches the most and biggest fish. Maybe when clients expectations change, guide behavior might too.

    All the best,

    Marcel

  8. Infinite-Fish on

    I am glad that Kirk has touched upon this subject as it is something that is very important to our industry and likely to the majority of the readers personal income. Guides are absolutely the ambassadors of this sport, and this sport, even here in southwest Montana (the alleged ‘Mecca’ of fly-fishing) is hurting.

    Montana is one of the few states that fly-fishing is a significant part of the state’s economy. Approximately 20% of those directly employed by fly-fishing in the US work in the state of Montana with a total overall economic impact from outfitted fly-fishing trips alone in excess of $50-million annually. 87% of this amount is a result of non-resident anglers.

    We have unparalleled public access to over 175,000 miles of rivers and countless lakes, many with densities of fish higher than anywhere else in the world and our habit and conservation efforts have only been improving. However, our resident and non-resident licenses have been steadily declining over the past 10-years while general tourism is increasing annually. Our water access laws have not changed and that length of time is enough to have weathered numerous economic storms. So why are our numbers of anglers declining?

    In Montana there are over 3,000 fly fishing guides and outfitters, over 400 alone in Bozeman. Fly-fishing is predominately a male dominated industry, and whenever that many men are competing for the same slice of pie a pissing match is all but inevitable. In any competition tangible results are what are measured, unfortunately in fly-fishing the only measurable results are numbers and size of fish. This is factor driven by ego and inexperience, pretty basic attributes to younger men (and women) in any aspect of life. It is no different than the actions of young investment bankers/ brokers in the cities- except with fly-fishing our actions are seen by the consumer.

    The professional guides and outfitters who have been in the business a while out here generally run a 70%+ return clientele rate leaving a very small, and declining, number of non-resident anglers for the newer outfitters and guides to compete over. Yet, the number of new guides and outfitters are increasing annually. As a result overall consumer experience is often forgotten in exchange for the opportunity to brag at the bar about how many fish a guide’s clients caught that day.

    There seems to be a general sentiment out here among the established outfitters that this younger generation of guides will eventually blow themselves out. Unfortunately, they seem to be dragging local economies and businesses down with them. Since 2000, there has been a 37% decrease in non-resident fishing licenses here in MT- a big enough number to cause serious concern.

    We also seem to have forgotten who our primary consumer is in favor for our much more vocal and apparent younger consumers. Of course everyone wants to be ‘cool’ and trend more to action sports attitudes (and economics), but the fact of the matter is that the ‘extreme’ demographic is not who keeps shops, manufacturers, and the travel business afloat. Wealthy, older, white guys are still who drive the industry- guys that expect professionalism.

    As an industry we need to step back and remember why we love this sport and to share this passion with our visitors. Every aspect of this industry is service related, and with any service industry you can pretty much count on a client telling at least 10-friends of any bad experience they may have and telling only a few of the positive. We all have to be on our ‘A’ game in order to get the economics of this business back where it was. Few anglers will ever remember how many fish they caught in a day. All will remember playing bumper-boats while drifting a bobber and getting yelled at by a hung-over guide. Or, they can leave remembering the unspoiled nature and camaraderie experienced as provided by true fly-fishing professionals- even if they didn’t catch a lot of fish.

    It is not something we can regulate and we can’t exactly vote people off the island. To my knowledge the only thing we can do is educate rather than avoid. Yes, the unprofessional guides will eventually drive themselves out of business but as the ambassadors to fly-fishing they are likely to impact the entirety of the industry in the process of doing so.

    • I-F: Glad our phone conversation provided some fact/figures you could use in your comments above. I couldn’t agree more with your last thought: ” . . . they are likely to impact the entirety of the industry . . .”

      To counteract that effect, the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana, FOAM, has long maintained stated ethical standards as part of membership in our association. We struggle daily with the question of guide/outfitter behavior on the water, and we welcome feedback and suggestions from the general and guided public on how to achieve quality standards without “voting someone off the island.”

      Robin Cunningham
      Executive Director
      FOAM
      http://www.foam-mt.org

  9. Kirk,

    I believe what you’re seeing is a new generation of guides that grew up fishing on the Internet. Very much like many of their prospective “instant experts” clients have. They are self promoting hot spoters and bragards. They don’t possess the true skills of the veterans that put in years of mentoring. They post pics of every fish they ever caught and it’s all about fishcount.
    As a veteran I can tell you that they have no concept of what a quality angling experience is let alone can work to preserve it. Shame

    • In my state guides must be licensed through an outfitter. Outfitters are responsible for making sure that their guides are professional fisherman and professional guides.I would say the majority of Outfitters insure that their guide staff meet this requirement. I can only think of one outfitter in my area that has a bad reputation for putting inexperienced guides on the water…and those are very few examples.

      Nothing beats good experience on the water but that doesn’t mean a young guide is not as good as an older guide. In fact I would venture to say that the veteran guides are just as much to fault for the demise of the client/guide/public relationship as much as a young guide. Veterans always talk about the old days and how much better the fishing was back in the day. Veterans are tend to get more upset when someone crowds them on a crowded river and they are always willing to get into a shouting match.

      Seriously who cares if people put pictures on facebook. How is that any different than the bragging board at every fly shop? Or what about the bragging boards with the online forums. From the invention of the camera people are going to take photos of big fish.

      You see there is always 2 sides to every story. I would be interested to here the guides point of view from Kirk’s experience. Kirk if you were really this upset why didn’t you get the guides name and talk to him about it later. Maybe he was clueless to what you were doing. Maybe he just had to listen to his clients complain about the last time they went out with a guide and all he did was make the throw dry flies and they didn’t catch anything. You don’t know what he was dealing with up to the point he stepped in front of you in the river. As a guide I can’t tell you how many times the general public has cut me off or floated over rising fish clients were working. When I am not wearing my guide hat I have had the same thing happen to me with guides and the general public.

      Face it! This stuff happens and you can let it go or you can dwell on it forever but I can promise you it is not the first time and it certainly will not be the last.

    • Markus, as a newer guide, I disagree with your statement to a degree. Sure you have the knuckle heads out there who spend more time on YouTube than they do on the river, but there are a lot of new guides, myself included, that have put in a lot of hard work and money to learn and get noticed by clients or outfitters. Before deciding to be a guide, I requested countless times to shadow, intern, or assist veteran guides such as yourself all over the country so I could learn every aspect of the sport. I even offered to work for free. They all declined, and in some cases were pretty rude about it. Sadly this is the case most of the time. At least thats what I gather from all the newer guides in my area. Shame that the veteran guides don’t really seem to care about the future of the sport. Or maybe they do, they just want all the so called proper practices to die with them. Like I said, there are dumb guides out there, I know a few of them. They don’t know what they are doing, and they don’t really care. But do not lump my generation of guides into the same category. Many of us have put in so much to get where we are and we genuinely care about what we do.

  10. I’m glad the comments are going further into discussing the “problem” as the article itself, as written, simply says there’s a problem and asks lots of questions. Great to start a discussion, but short on solutions.

    The solutions begin to take shape when guides, fly shops, and fly shop employees start being honest and upfront with clients about what their experience might be on the water. As a best practice, the guide works to discover the clients ability, goals for the day, and what the client defines as “success” on the water, then instructs accordingly. Understanding how people learn goes a long way in making a successful day for all.

    When the developing angler understands why the day’s events unfold as they do, there’s learning that takes place. In my opinion, there’s a lot more teaching that everyone in the industry can do, and a lot less selling of grip and grin shots. Less “guide speak” and more real conversations. Pictures of fish will always have a place, it’s human nature. Shaping that is the industry’s role.

    In my experience, clients get much more out of a day when they’ve learned how to confidently return on their own to the water, understand what they’re doing and why. As well as how to tell the difference between someone trying to sell them something, and someone who recognizes that a guided day is a big investment and willingly shares their time and expertise on the water. My clients want to learn from me, and I’m happy to teach them. Guides aren’t steadily killing the sport of fly fishing – not bringing more people into the sport in the right way is.

    Derek Young
    2011 Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide Of The Year
    Emerging Rivers Guide Services

  11. I personally have not hired a guide to aid me in my fishing excursions, but i have ran into a few in NY fishing for Lake run Steel bows and Lake run Brown trout. I have met some guides that are friendly, asked if I minded them (their clients) fishing right below me. I have no problem with people stepping below me or above me if they are polite and ask. But I’ve actually seen guides that will actually have their clients walk right in the water and get shoulder to shoulder with a guy that they don’t want to fish there, and then have the nerve to ask that person to move up because he is crowding his clients. Sad to see how a few bad apples can ruin what in some cases is truly necessary.

  12. A very thoughtful piece. I agree with the sentiments of most of the posters above. I would, however, like to speak from the position as someone new to fly fishing. I love fly fishing and have gone into with the enthusiasm of a convert, but I do see some rather troubling trends in the sport. Subscribing to five outdoor magazines, three dedicated to fly fishing, I find the focus on big fish, limited coverage of species other than trout and salmon, and the professionalization of the sport to be off-putting. By the standards of these magazines, I’m a complete failure. I fish only about 25 days a year, mostly for warmater species and often for course fish – most of which are well within the average size for their species. I exclusively fish waters within an afternoon’s drive from my home. I have never purchased a rod costing more than $150, and I can’t cast like Lefty – not even close. In general, I look at fly fishing as an experience that one that can enjoy without having it turn into a competition or the central focus of your existence. I know there a thousands of fishers like myself who would love to pick up a fly rod and give it chance; people who would love it as much as I do, but they are under the false impression that fly fishing requires you to be a retired orthodontist, a trust fund kid, or a full-time guide to fully enjoy what it has to offer. This, of course, does not fully address the lack of ethics among guides, but I do believe it is part of a larger framework of moving the sport from a personal challenge to a commodity.

  13. “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. ~Confucius”

    I’ve been fishing for the better half of my life and I can’t say there is a greater joy than teaching someone about what you are passionate about. Conservation is a major part of teaching fly fishing. My mantra has been teach fly fishing, not catching. The angler has got to put in the time.

    I have worked with some guides that are the best in the world…just ask them. They bait flies, they “catch them all” and they work as if it is an assembly line operation. They complain of being broke, overworked and above it all “but that’s the life of a trout bum”. Really? Well, I disagree.

    This only makes me realize that it is people like us that will change the industry in time and as Toby Merigan wrote, ” the cream will always float to the top”.

    “We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.” – John Maxwell

  14. Dale Crawford on

    Good topic for discussion.

    I will start out by saying I have employed a number of guides over the years – fresh and salt water. The ‘worst’ of them was good. The best were incredible! And – the very good outnumber the ‘less good ones’ by maybe 10 to 1.

    I had the opportunity to head to UT, WY, ID and MT this past summer and fish several good streams – some we had fished before and some new ones as well. I was fortunate to be fishing with an old buddy from MI and my oldest grandson. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of incidences of ‘dope-ish’ behavior I have encountred on trout streams over my near 50 years of flyfishing. This trip ‘out west’ was different. I encountered two examples of what I consider really bad angler behavior – one on the Madison and one on Nelson’s Spring Creek. One situation was another angler entering the water within 10 – 15 feet on where I was paused to tie on a new fly. This on the Madison – give me a break! There was lots of water available – so I moved. My grandson was curious why I maybe didn’t ‘punch this guy out’. I tried my best to explain the other angler being a jerk did NOT give me an excuse for adding more bad behavior to the situation. He seemed to ‘buy’ that explanation. The other experience was a group of three anglers ‘staking out’ a section of Nelson’s for several hours. If any one got within a couple of hundred feet of them – they began wading towards the other angling – clearly claiming the water as their own. They did not seem to be interested in discussing the situation.

    I had not run into that kind of behavior anywhere in the West before.

    Maybe we all need to work on our manners AND educating all we can to good flyfishing behavior.

  15. Your article has some good points, but I can’t help but wince at the headline. Plenty of things are killing the fly fishing industry, but I’m not sure that a few bad guides can bear that responsibility. Over the years good guides will take far more anglers fishing because they stick with the job longer and are more likely to stay in business. I know that since we’ve been in business we’ve seen several guide services come and go.

    Here in East Tennessee we have a ton of wild mountain trout streams and a good number of tailwaters. If we put a tape measure to a fish it’s pretty hard to crack the 12″ mark on the mountain streams and unusual to go over 16″ on a float, though we get a few up to and maybe over 20″ in a season. We can’t stress big fish as the goal for the day or our customers will be disappointed. Although a trophy sized fish is exciting, we like to focus on the task of helping the client become a better angler.

    We teach conservation principles and etiquette everyday, often avoiding the most crowded sections of river or stream. This is so we don’t get in the way of other anglers and also give our customers the best time on the water. We always want to put our people on fish, but also try to make it as much about the place and point out the numerous natural features around them.

    This guides opinion on what’s killing the industry? The focus on exotic fisheries. When places like the Missouri River or Alaska become the baseline it does a tremendous disservice to all of us. I actually had a customer catch several 18″ trout on small dry flies last season only to tell me that they wouldn’t have rated on his trips to Argentina and New Zealand. While that may be true (I’ve never fished either of those destinations) that seemed like a poor attitude to what was a superb day on that river. I let the comments go, but tried to let him know gently that he wasn’t in Patagonia and that he was catching quality fish.

    As much as I’d like it to be, every day can’t be like that so we focus on more than fish. We focus on the overall experience. Our goal as guides is to give our anglers excellent service and information as well as a good day on the water. Fortunately our customers have rewarded us, our fisheries are healthy and our business is thriving.

    Ian Rutter
    Owner/Guide
    R&R Fly Fishing Smoky Mountain Guide Service
    Townsend, Tennessee

  16. I guess I should be thankful, as the only “guides” I ever worked with were my Dad and older brother who took the time to nurture a youngster in the fine art of Fly Fishing, and what role it played in being a well rounded Outdoorsman.
    If it’s true, if in fact “the sun rises, and sets, on the Fly Fishing Industry, where Professional Guides say it does” and that “Guides drive the techniques.. are the Stewards for the waters”.. and that their opinions “on gear dictate what gets sold and what doesn’t”… that they are somehow the “gatekeepers, ambassadors” and the (only?) ones who will “decide the future of Fly Fishing” sounds like, smells like, and looks like a hot steaming pile of arrogant Bullshit.
    “Without Guide boots in the water, there is no substance… without substance, there is no true understanding, and thus, no stories”
    Funny… I have been writing Fly Fishing related stories and articles for years, doing my own Photography as well… and I dare say to what I see as a happy readership. No, I don’t “Guide”.. or own any “Guide boots”… not sayin, jus sayin.
    But there is one thing I will agree upon. The Fly Fishing Industry suffers from a lot of self centeredness, and will continue to drift like an old boat in an eddy until some one taps it gently up side the head with the stick of “reality”.
    This Sport has been around way to long for a bunch of “newbs” to decide there now going to take over. I own my equipment, I don’t “rent”. I also continue to research and find my own Fly Fishing destinations… no need to “rent” there either.
    Sorry, but I’ve not experienced any planets revolving around any guides… only water

  17. Part of the problem with the guiding industry is lack of regulation ,sure in some places you have to be licensed but at the end of the day any one with $150 can become a guide and in some places hang up a sign declaring to be an Outfitter.I operate on several Classified Waters in B.C. at first i thought the process was a joke but now looking at what goes on in the industry I relish the fact that my rod days are worth a lot of $ ,and now to become an outfitter on those rivers you have to buy an existing outfitter out . When this system was implemented there where 25 Outfitter Licenses now it is down to 7. The guys that are holding the rod days pay a lot of money to do so ,(it costs me $9000 per year) subsequently it has driven the price of guided trips up to $595 per day .Over in Alberta where I also operate the guide scene is a joke.Due to lack of regulation anyone with a drift boat can call themselves an Outfitter or a Guide , the result a lot of hacks or “want to be’s” that should stick to their day jobs.
    I have been guiding since 1988 and Outfitting since 1992 with Guide /Outfitting Licenses in Arizona (hunting) British Columbia (fishing) and Saskatchewan (hunting) and although I now live in the United States and love this country I will say that from what I have witnessed in my travels throughout, the “American Way ” of free enterprise does not work when it comes to the use of resources re. Wildlife or Fisheries , the result is a “S**t Show “.
    If regulations are in place a lot of the “chest thumping ” by guides and Outfitters would go away because their business would to some extent would be relatively secure .A guided trip would no longer have to be a “numbers game ” to impress other boats or clients. Guides could actually spend sometime trying to teach or encouraging clients to get out of the boat and stalk snouts or better yet teach clients how to cast and other fundamentals of our sport.
    At the end of the day ,if you feel that there are to many guides ,to many outfitters and not enough clients to go around then it is time to question your State Guide regulations and have them “raise the bar” which like in B.C. will separate the men from the boys .

  18. Kirk, I don’t think I coulod agree more with what you said here and kudos to you for saying it. Hard for many to hear and most will deny they fall into this category but the almighty buck and I am too cool for school attitude doesn’t do anyone any good. And as I guide myself, I HATE having to regain our professional status with new clients who had terrible experiences or introductions to the sport by another guide. Makes our jobs that much harder.

  19. Guiding, at least when many begin doing it, is a lot like ski instructing. Newbies are young, hot at the sport, and for that time in their lives, these vocations offer decent money and benefits such as guide deals and ski pass deals. But time passes while everyone’s having fun, until the money and bennies actually aren’t so relatively great anymore, and that career some guide was expecting to pursue in advertising or software design required an advanced degree, etc. Apathy sets in, a jaded sense of repetition that begins every day. Clients suck. Other guides suck. Who cares?
    This is what happens when a lot of guides, who didn’t plan on guiding being a career, stay with it too long. Then there are those who get into it because it’s cool and they’re young. These types stink at it, and I’m afraid they’ll be with us until it’s not cool to behave this way. I think articles in the mags and blogs might help here. For way too long, the mystique of “guiding as cool” has needed to be pummeled to within an inch of its life.
    The true professionals can be seen from miles away; they don’t care how cool guiding is, because guiding’s just a job to them. Because the pay isn’t super great, they take their part of their compensation in the pride of doing the job right. These guys and girls sell experiences, not fish.

  20. Jonathan Lee Wright on

    Provocative Hate Speech has no place on either the water, in this industry, or the media that represents it.

  21. Kirk,
    I have been guiding now for 18 years and do it less now than I used to because of other work taking its place and not wanting to suffer burn out. I too keep at it to stay in touch with all levels of the fly fishing market. I agree that there are some problems with the guides that are out there. However I do not think it stops right at the guide, but can be traced to the outfitter (shop) or how the guide was taught. I have personally worked for several outfitters and have never once fished with the owners or ever been trained. Never shown what was private water or public, never explained the typical day that the outfitter offers. I was just thrown in to the mess. I recall doing my first float trip with an outfitter and based my day on what I was used to. When I returned with a very happy client, I was in nothing but trouble with the other guides and the boss because I went later than I was supposed to, but was never told the times. I also got into trouble with this outfitter for getting requests my first year, because this wasn’t possible if it was my first year. So much for putting forth an effort. My first point is we need to look at the training the guides receive.
    I always start my trips by asking the client what type of experience they are looking for, from size of fish, numbers, scenery, remoteness, etc. I also follow with “I can’t guarantee how the fishing will be, but I can guarantee you will learn something and have a good time.” Trips should be tailored to meet the clients desires. Often they will do whatever you think is best and that is where a good guide can read the client. I always teach the ethics of fly fishing to my clients, but also explain that these may vary from location. So my second point is that guides need to teach more ethics. I rarely even hear a guide explain why he my pinch the barbs or how to handle a fish.
    The last improvement we need in the guiding world is regulation. I just returned from a trip to Baja fishing for roosterfish. Nearly all of the (american) guides there are all unlicensed and with little experience in the area. Most went down one year and returned the next as a “guide”. Or worse yet, went with a legit guide then returned the next season to fish that guides spots and techniques. The fish were over pressured, over chummed, and it was a sad experience. This isn’t limited to that area, but surely a global problem. Tighter regulation would thin out the problem of guides who want a quick buck. In Baja, for example, it was so obvious who was getting guided that the fines collected from an officer patrolling the beach would easily pay his salary.
    Guides are very important to the industry and represent the first experience many anglers get in the sport. I recommend a good guide to any person starting or trying a new area or species of fish. You will learn more than you can imagine, but guides need to be trained and regulated better.
    By the way, I rarely fish with an indicator and enjoy any type of fish on the end of my line. Keep up the good work.

  22. Jon Barrett on

    Guides are like any other industry, some average, great and not so great. Guiding is a service based industry thats client driven so I dont know how much belief I have in guides driving the fly fishing industry. I feel the larger manufacturers and shops have much more steering force on this one.

    To me the culture has shifted somewhat from people wanting to learn a sport and become really good at it to now more of a “experiance” or something to try casually for bragging rights. The focus is off conservation and ethics because thats not what sells.

    Sadly where I live there’s no closed season for fishing. This means spawning bass are targeted all spring, some snagged or harrased everyday. I know other guides who specialize is this type of fishing and the clients line up for it because they couldnt catch a bass any other time of year. So yes, in situations like this one I think the guides are at fault for not refusing this type of trip. But then again the clients also are requestiing it because the bottom line is all they care about is getting a photo with a big fish. We have way too many guides locally and they are all trying to make a lifestyle out of fishing. Most of them dont need the money, they see some sort of fame or ego boost in being a guide so its not aout the client, its about them.
    I’ve had my insurance, permits fee structures and so on in place form day one but there’s no regulation or enforcement, or consequences for those who are guiding illegally. Somehow guiding has turned into a self serving ego boost for some.

    To me Guiding is a seperate issue that needs a major renovation with limits on working guides and more inspection. Fly shops locally ( what few there are, 2 if you count Orvis) seem to shy away from guides when it comes to seminars, open houses etc because the perception is a Guide will get in the way of a sale…Maybe instead of that H2 the guy who cant throw 20 feet of line would be better served with casting lessons.

  23. Reading this article and all of the great comments above really makes me think and consider much about fly fishing. Where is the sport going? How is it getting there? What is the goal? The answer to these questions of course will vary from individual to individual. I am a beginner by all standards, having only little more than two years in fly fishing. I would love to be a guide if for nothing more than the office space but realize there is so much more to the occupation, and more still to the overall sport of fly fishing. I’m glad that I realize that honestly because not many of the guides I encounter do. There are a lot of fisherman whose concentration is on size and numbers rather than having a dedicated focus on educating clients and having the clients they guide see the result of that education in the fish they catch during a guided trip. Many make the promise “let us put you on to some hogs” or “lets us get you on to BIG FISH”. Its great to have a trophy catch at some point during your fly fishing but I think that focus is partly what misguides a lot of the behaviors seen on rivers and lakes. What I mean is I see people handling fish as if they’re trash because they’re “only” a little brown trout or “just a cookie cutter fish”. They value big adventure big fish. They value numbers. They value the education and experience they could offer their guided clients much less than the previous mentioned. As long as that continues to be the norm I fear that fly fishing will become this simply trivialized and devalued thrill sport that many magazines seem to advertise for the sake of selling their products. I hope to continue to learn more and more about the sport in order to contribute to it as much as it has contributed to my own life. I really appreciate this article and conversation its really provided some good food for thought. Thank you.

  24. Fishing guides are pricing themselves out of the market. They rarely deliver on promises. Nymphing is an abomination to the sport, and indeed that is what most guides promote. I have been on guided trips from Alaska to the Keys, and there is not a single guide that I can look back on who did not fill the description of asshole. Full of themselves, barely hiding their profit agenda, abusive to a tee (calling them overzealous would be lying). And the idea of a tip added to what adds up to an executive salary for giving people boat rides is beyond the pale. To hell with fishing guides.

    • Bob, you’re a touch rough in your comments but not much. I’ve fished with many guides who respect the waters and coach everyone to take “wet pictures”. I’ve fished with old and young and an asshole is an asshole regardless of age. I fished with one guide in MT only to find out later he was fishing outside of his outfitter’s log. He put his customers at risk as well as himself. It seems about 20% on the day is the minimum and if it’s a great day it should be up from there. I tip well and sometimes generously but it is about attitude and work. I hate nymphs and “thingamabobbers” but this seems to now be stock and trade for guides and fisherman both demanding instant results. As for all the pictures, I just wish some guys had longer arms so their heads would be the size of an orange behind their ” H U G E” fish. LOL.

      • Steven wolinski on

        Not sure why so many people hate nymph fishing?My favorite way to fish but I do it the correct way no bobbers feel the force keep a tight line and know what a fish feels like on a light strike.Seems no one fishes like that anymore.I agree the indicators take a lot away from nymph fishing but fishing without one you better have a feel for it or you won’t hook many.

  25. Frankie Kimberlin on

    I am in Northern Virginia. I always wanted to be a guide for backcountry fly fishing. I love dry flies and brook trout. I prefer to get young kids out on the water to learn the art of fly fishing. While I learnt the hard way (self taught) I have come a long way in my 20+years of fly fishing. I have enjoyed being a Cub Scout leader and teaching the boys fly fishing. I have told them its not about numbers but about the experience.

  26. I learned to fly fish from a female guide 12 years ago. We had a great time fishing on numerous occasions and are friends to this day. Whenever I have occasion to hire a guide I seek out a female guide. Additionally, hiring a guide has gotten extremely expensive and the expected gratuity has also. I have also notice that when you stop at some fly shops buys flies then ask for possible locations to fish they give you bogus information pointing you in questionable directions. I guess the bottom line in my opinion is that we all need to be better stewards of our sport and better gentlemen on the river.

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