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How To Prepare for a Guided Fly Fishing Trip

by Philip Monahan

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Question: Okay, so I’m finally going on a couple of guided trips this year. I’ve never paid to fish before, and I’d like to get the most for my money. What can I do to ensure I have the best experience possible?

Carl M., Fort Worth, TX

Guided Fly Fishing Trip

Jacom Stephens photo

Answer: I sent this question out to a bunch of guides from different parts of the U.S. and Canada—asking them to list three things they’d like their clients to do before a trip—and as you might imagine, I received a wide variety of answers. Some guides offered location-specific advice, dealing with things like altitude and weather. But three things appeared on almost every list:

1. Practice casting.This is a no-brainer because the better you can cast the more likely you can put the fly where the guide asks you to put it. Frank Smethurst, who has guided from the Rockies to Baja California, wrote: “The three most important things that would make any guide trip on any waterway better would be casting, casting and casting. The toughest thing to hear before any day of guiding begins is ‘It has been a couple of years since I have picked up one of these’ while vaguely wiggling the rod…. All of the flies tied and articles read will never help as much as an hour spent airing out the line and throwing some yarn around at plates or hoops on the lawn. Taking the time to do this also illuminates the condition of the line and equipment a bit better than a hazy remembrance of how the tackle worked the last time out.”

2. Talk to the guide about your preferences, expectations, and limitations.Fishing guides are not mind readers, and they deal with many different kinds of clients over the course of a season. Bozeman-based Brian Grossenbacher notes, “Any information the client can provide is invaluable in creating a more personal and enjoyable fishing experience. It is their trip after all, not mine. Is it important to catch lots of fish? Big fish? Lots of big fish? Do they prefer fishing dries? Streamers? Do they have any physical limitations? Do they consider themselves to be a beginner, intermediate or expert angler? Do they prefer wade fishing or fishing from the boat?” Then, reinforcing number 1 above, Grossenbacher ends with “Once we are on the same page I would encourage them to head back outside and continue to practice their casting.”

The question of personal limits is one that plagues guides. In general, clients believe that they are fitter, stronger, and better anglers than they actually are. Fly Fish Alberta’s Dave Jensen says, “Clients need to honestly assess their own abilities when it comes to walking, fishing, etc., and then properly communicate them to the guide. ‘I’ve been fly fishing forty-one years!’ sometimes means a guy has been fly fishing forty-one times…in his life. I once had a fellow show up, having booked a backcountry hike-in trip, just months after he’d undergone laser eye surgery and a hip replacement, and he’d never revealed that he’d been on dialysis for three years, was diabetic, and had also had a pair of knee replacements.”

3. Dress appropriately and prepare for the conditions. Check the weather before you arrive and make sure you’ve got all the rain gear and outerwear you may need. Once that drift boat heads down river, there’s no going back to the truck. Sunblock is a must, no matter where or when you fish, and several guides stressed the importance of hydration. Of course, the guide will have fluids, but you can help yourself by getting a head start and not going out on a dehydrating bender the night before.

Ask as many questions as you can think of before the trip. The many varied responses I received from guides showed that they all have their own quirks, expectation, and pet peeves. Some guides provide a fancy shore lunch, while others want you to bring your own food. (“Fishing I do, making snacks I don’t. How the heck am I supposed to know what they want on a sandwich?”) Some guides provide all the flies you’ll need, while other will request that you stock up on specific patterns. Some guides want you to relax and let them take care of everything, while others expect you to share their intensity.

The key to almost all of the above is open and honest communication between the guide and the client, who should ask each other a ton of questions, so they’ll both end up on the same page at the end of the day.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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  • @cw_bice

    Bravo! This helps me as I’m thinking of a guided trip next year.

  • Walt Fulps

    I would add that clients should cut their romanticized expectations in half. Having a guide only pretty much guarantees that you’ll be around fish and have a decent fly on your line, along with someone to coach you in your technique. But guides aren’t magicians. It’s really difficult teaching someone how to see a hit, respond properly or play a fish correctly, all in real-time. And, of course, sometimes the fish just won’t cooperate and bite on cue. Pay for a guide to increase your odds and to learn new stuff, and consider the catch to be gravy.

  • len

    I dont hire a guide to catch more fish. I hire a guide as a teacher. Catching fish is a bonus. If I come home with useful knowledge on reading water, spotting trout (yeah right) and some casting refinement,if possible, I am happy. The knowledge will last a lot longer than than the feeling of catching afish.

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