Fridays on The Fly: 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Guided Fly Fishing Trip

Anglers choose to use the services of a guide or outfitter for reasons that range from a desire to quickly and easily learn the local water, flies, and tactics that work best, to simply having an expert skillfully work the oars so they can concentrate all their efforts on casting to, fighting, and landing fish. Often clients fail to make the most of the experience by focusing on the wrong things (for example, garnering all the “guide’s secrets” or having a “trophy fish or bust” mentality).

Here are some things you can do to make sure your trip is as great as possible.

1. Do your homework.

The first mistake many clients make is to show up unprepared to fish for the day. This may involve anything from arriving late and hungover to simply having a bad attitude because of weather or water conditions that don’t look favorable from the outset. In the latter case, give your guide a chance to succeed before writing off the trip—they often have contingency plans that will save the day even under adverse conditions.

Some simple things you can do to prepare in advance for a trip include cleaning your line and practicing your casting, especially if you are accustomed to roll casting on eastern trout streams and are about to take a trip to salt where your double haul will be tested daily! Read up on the fishery if you are new to it and learn what is expected of you—proper etiquette when you share the bow, for example.

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2. Have realistic expectations.

Just because you are fishing with a guide doesn’t guarantee that you will catch lots of fish or the biggest fish of your life. Much of that depends on your angling abilities—casting, presentation, experience fighting, and playing fish, whether or not you did your homework to start with—as well as a host of other factors the guide has little control over, such as weather and water conditions or simply the time of year you have scheduled to fish.

3. Communication.

Let your guide know what you want out of your trip. If you prefer numbers to size, you need to let the guide know this when you book in order to plan your trip during a season or to a fishery that will optimize your chance to meet your goal. You should also remind the guide when you get started, as it might change the types of flies or water you cover. As a rule of thumb, if you leave it in the guide’s hands, be assured that they will always attempt to make the best call possible for the day, but they won’t know what you want if you don’t tell them.

4. Actively listen.

One would think that if a person hired a guide, they would–at a minimum—be willing to listen and learn from the guide, but that is not always the case. Egos often get in the way. My best advice is to not take the guide’s criticism too personally, even though it is indeed directed at you. Many of the challenges encountered are specific to their unique brand of fishing. There is simply a learning curve involved, and your guide must instruct you on the requisite techniques to be successful—but you must be receptive.

Listening to the guide will not only help you catch more fish on the trip you’re on, but will teach you information that will lead to more success on future trips. So, be prepared to actively learn. My best clients—those who have fished with me for years and are extremely proficient anglers—still ask me why we are doing what we are doing at given times. They have become masterful smallmouth anglers because of that.


5. Tip your guide fairly.

It never ceases to amaze me how often the tip correlates directly to the client’s perceived success at the end of the day (i.e. how many “hero shots” they left with on their cell phone). Anglers who use guides regularly know that a guide actually works harder on days when the fishing is toughest—trying every weapon in the arsenal to put their client on fish. This is actually when booking a guide often pays the greatest dividends. Just ask your buddies who fished without a guide that day and were skunked! There are many days on the New River when I take out at the ramp after a good day and encounter other fishermen who are complaining about a bad bite; never has the opposite occurred.

All guides would love it if every trip they ran was during “prime time” with ideal weather and water conditions, and dream clients who can cast a mile and never miss a fish, but that is rarely the case. The reality is that most days are going to fall to some degree short of that, and it’s the guide’s efforts that will give you the advantage (I often joke that sometimes I feel more like a miracle worker than anything else!). The truth is, a good guide provides a wealth of knowledge and expertise and deserves to be compensated for his or her time, just as a consultant in any other profession would be. Realize too that guides rely on that extra 15 to 20 percent gratuity. Besides the flies and equipment costs they incur on a daily basis, they put in long hours, often drive long distances, and have gas, food, and shuttle expenses. Now, if you feel like the guide was subpar or just put his or her time in on the water (spending lots of it texting) then your tip should also reflect that—but that is a different matter.

So, in order to get the most from your next guided trip remember to do your homework, curb your expectations, be a gracious learner and listen to the guide and you’ll get more out of the experience. Tip generously and ensure you get a prime date on his or her calendar for next year!


Mike is a fly designer, head of programs, and lead smallmouth guru at Flymen Fishing Co., as well as the owner and operator of New River Fly Fishing. He’s written five fly fishing books, known as the Angler’s Guide Series. His signature flies include the Skull Daddy Crayfish, Foxy Shrimp, Forage Fly, Saltwater Forage Fly, River Creature, Salt Creature, and Egg Sucking Flash Minnow.

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