By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
Over the years, I’ve hired my fair share of fly fishing guides. Whether it was for help getting on pink salmon in Alaska, or my first steelhead trip in Idaho, I’ve experienced the whole gamut of guides. On top of that, one of my best fishing buddies is a former guide, and I spend a lot of time in his boat. Even on the worst days of fishing, I haven’t regretted any of the guided trips I’ve done.
One of the most common questions I get in my role as a writer, though, is whether or not fly fishing guides are actually worth the prices they charge.
Good Fly Fishing Guides vs. Not-So-Good Ones
A good guide is worth their weight in gold. They are, first and foremost, teachers – of casting, entomology, of reading water, handling trout. As Phil Monahan said in a post for Orvis, “Being a guide is not just about bringing your clients to the fish. A good guide is also a teacher, a problem-solver, a storyteller, and a cheerleader.”
In simplest terms, a good guide is one who takes an active role in your education and evolution as an angler. The guides who accomplish this are the ones in the highest demand, and these are the guides who earn every penny of their fee.
Notice that I didn’t mention much about actually catching fish. Yes, good guides put their clients on fish, but the key word there is on. Try as they might, even the best guide in the world can’t force a client to get a good drift, set the hook, and land the fish. But if the client feels that they took a huge step forward in their skills as an angler, that’s what truly matters.
I’ll give you an example. Last year, I was guiding two clients on the Weber River here in Utah. We hadn’t been in the river for ten minutes when a big brown – the kind of fish that guides really don’t want their clients to lose – smacked one of my clients’ hoppers.
He set the hook, kept the rod tip up, but as he tried to muscle the fish into calmer water, he pointed the rod right at the fish. One shrug from the brown trout was enough to spit the hook, and we all sat there feeling pretty disappointed.
I’ve reviewed that moment hundreds of times since, trying to decide what I should have done differently, or done better. What matters, though, is that later that day, the same client who lost the big fish landed a good 16-inch brown trout on one of his last casts of the day. The client took the feedback I gave him from the morning, applied it throughout the day, and put a fish in the net. That’s what guiding is all about. The client became a better angler as the day progressed, and he now has more skills he can employ when fishing on his own.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, I promise. I only know what a good guide should do because I’ve had so many wonderful examples of that behavior over the course of my fishing career, and as I’ve started guiding clients of my own, I’ve tried to emulate the best guides I know.
Now, in all honesty, I’ve only ever met one truly “bad” guide. And he was “bad” not just because he showed up hungover and high, or that we got pulled over by river cops straddling jet skis because his boat tags were expired. He was a bad guide because he wasn’t invested in helping me and my buddy become better anglers. Being in his boat felt like we were inconveniencing the guide. No client should ever feel that way.
The good guides are absolutely worth it. You’ll never regret spending a day on the water with guides who truly know what they’re doing, and who absolutely love guiding. Even if the fishing isn’t as fast as you wanted, or the fish are a bit on the small side, you’ll come away feeling more confident in your ability to catch fish by yourself, and I view that as the primary job of a good guide.
The only reason I’m able to go out and catch fish myself these days is due to folks filling that exact role for me over the years. My dad was my first guide, then some other buddies who knew fly fishing, and eventually the real bonafide guides who make their living doing this. Each of them has impacted me in some way – often, in ways that aren’t apparent on the water.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. He’s the Lead Guide for The Utah Fly Fishing Company, the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a columnist for Hatch Magazine. Find him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.