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Do’s & Don’ts of Guided Fishing Trips

by Philip Monahan

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Fly Fishing GuideSearching for redfish. Photo Tim Romano

Question: In a few weeks, I am fishing with a guide for the first time ever and don’t want to make an ass of myself or be “that guy”—the one whom the guide makes fun of with his buddies later on. Got any “do’s” and “don’ts” for how to be a good client?

Robert S., San Francisco

Answer: First of all, having worked with and for many guides, I can assure you that plenty of them are asses and “that guy,” so don’t get worked up thinking that every guide is part of some cool crowd that you want to be part of. They may occasionally get the rock star treatment in the angling press and films, but the vast majority of guides are just regular folk trying to make a living doing something they love. Don’t feel like you have to act the part of the “cool client”; just be yourself.

That said, there are a few things you can do to make your guide think highly of you:

1. Before you fish with the guide, offer an honest assessment of your skills. It will help the guide tailor the day to give you the best chances for success. When I guided in Yellowstone National Park, I had several anglers tell me that they were experts and wanted to test their skills against the wily trout of Slough Creek. Once we got there and they started slapping the water, I knew that we were in for a long, unproductive day. Had they been honest, I could have taken them to waters where the water wasn’t so low and clear and the fish were less wary.

2. Don’t tell the guide what your expectations are; instead ask him (or her) what reasonable expectations should be. You are showing up to fish the guide’s water on a single day. The guide has probably been fishing it all season and knows what to expect. Ask about the conditions/weather/river flow/hatches/etc. and actually listen to what the guide says. This will help you get in the right mindset for the day ahead. I once had a client who insisted that we float the Yellowstone, through Paradise Valley, even though the river was the color of chocolate milk from several days of heavy rain. He asked me what his chances of catching a fish were, and I said, “Zero to none.” I was right, but he was still pissed at me at the end of the day—so neither of us was happy.

3. Listen to the guide’s instructions and suggestions, and then follow them. See above. The guide knows the water better than you; that’s why you’re paying him. I was always astonished when a client would ask what fly to use and then ignore my advice altogether—despite the fact that my advice was based on weeks of observation. For instance, once the sockeyes were on their redds on Alaska’s Copper River, you had three fly choices for rainbows—eggs, eggs, or eggs. Yet clients would insist on casting their “hot” patterns from back home. Eventually, they’d come around, but they caught fewer fish because of their belief that they knew better.

4. Have a smile on your face. Fishing is supposed to be fun, but it’s tough for a guide to enjoy a day when his client can’t enjoy it. Look around, enjoy the scenery, rejoice in the opportunity to be on the water—no matter what the conditions. You could be back in the office, you know.

Trust me, the vast majority of guides would rather spend the day helping a beginning angler who observes these four rules catch one fish than with a know-it-all grumbler who catches two dozen big trout.

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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  • Dave Kumlien

    I think this is great advice, but I have one minor disagreement.  Having outfitted and guided for close to 40 years, I would suggest to any client that the discussion of “expectations” should be a two way street.  In other words, as a client, I would let the guide know EXACLTLY what your expectations are for the trip.  This information will help your guide plan what to do, maybe chose what section of river to fish, how long a float to plan, what particular techniques to focus on.  A thorough discussion of expectations will also allow the guide to clarify potential problem areas.  For example, I’ve had folks tell me they’d “like to catch a lot of big trout on dries.” This is a tall order, and acheiving this goal is dependent on many variables not the least of which is the skill level of the client which the guide probably doesn’t have a great deal of control over. I guess the deal for me is that over the many years I’ve done this outfitting/guide deal, the few problems I’ve encountered have had to do with unspoken expectations.  I say go ahead and communicate.    

  • lilrhodes

    Very Good information, and I’ll listen to all of your suggestions in the future. I’ve done mostly what you have  recommended already in the past with hiring guides, only day trips, and if anything under rated my skill level. So, an accurate assessment is great advice.  You did not mention anything about tips, being prepared to tip to be thought highly of.  .  . I remember reading an article about tipping once with guides, and not tipping enough can be taken as an insult. The story was about a fly fisherman on a guided trip “down under” and at the end of the trip, the customer offered his tip, which was refused referring it to buying a round for the guys at the bar? That customer must have felt like a fool? As a guide/professional, what’s your take on tips and suggestions?

    • Krissuplee

      As a  20 year guide in the Keys and in Montana I have a comment about tipping.  I certainly dont rate clients on their tipping. The rate I charge per day is what I need to make to continue to stay in the buisness and support my family. With that being said a nice tip goes along way with helping to assure you will get higher up on the list for the following year on choice of the best tides or hatches etc. I have clients that tip very generously and clients that dont tip at all. as long as they are enjoyable to spend the day with that all that really counts to me.

  • Fred Rickson

    Fish the way you want to. I’ll bet nearly 100% of the guides on the Madison River want their client to fish a bobber and nymph. But, if you want to cast a dry all day, do it and enjoy yourself your way.

  • Vonnex SEO222

    This information will help your guide plan what to do, maybe chose what
    section of river to fish, how long a float to plan, what particular
    techniques to focus on.  A thorough discussion of expectations will also
    allow the guide to clarify potential problem areas.
    Fishing Equipment

  • Jay Melzer

    Most guides can be a tremendous resource. Take the opportunity to pick your guide’s brain. Ask about whatever interests you, the flora and fauna, local economics, best watering holes, or perhaps how you can improve your presentation. A guided trip is about more than sticking a few fish. Learn something new or correct an old problem, it’s your nickel.

  • Excellent post, however I agree with Dave Kumlien (below) I like to know exactly what my new clients expectations are and then discuss them in as much detail as possible.  In discussing them I’ve often gained insight into the clients actual “assessment of their skills”.  All of the guides I work with and most of the ones I know certainly don’t do job for the money, they do it because they love it and like to share it with others.

  • Walt Chastain

    Since you have been a guide in the Yellowstone region; what areas would you suggest to fish ? I plan on making a return trip to the Tetons and Yellowstone mid July. I have never fished out west and this is going to be a “bucket list” trip for me. I want to purchase my rod, wadders, and boots in Cody. By now you now who I’m going to visit to make my purchases. I have had numerous e-mails to Tim and I hope that I can trust his advice as to purchase a Sage One or your favorite the Helios by Orvis. I have owned Orvis rods in the past and never been disappointed. 
    Obviously, I will need a guide at least for one day and here is my question. Should I fish outside of the park on the Shoshone or a different stream. It’s been many years since I have fly fished and I think this will be a learning curve again. So, I’m going to heed any advice who ever is my guide.

  • Creeker

    All good advice. As a year round guide in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, I find that managing expectations is a big part of making sure my clients get what they want out of their trip.
    I especially like the part about being honest about your abilities. I cannot help but cringe when someone says they are an “expert” fly fisherman. On the other hand the guy who says “I have done a bit of fly fishing but I am not very good” is usually a pleasure to spend the day with and they always learn a lot.

  • I’m fairly new to fly fishing (almost three years, and self-taught). I recently took my first dream trip to the Bitterroot Valley and fished two days (overnight camp) with a guide. I had no idea what to expect from my first guided trip. In fact, I was somewhat intimidated at the thought of having this seasoned veteran looking over my shoulder. Was I doing anything right? Would he laugh? I had read so much of the perceived pretentiousness of the experienced fly fisher, and you never know what to believe. Let’s just say I was a little nervous .

    All of these worries were, of course, for nothing. My guide was down-to-earth and we had an open, continuous dialogue about expectations. I had been completely honest with him prior to the trip, which I know helped him to give me a great experience. He quickly helped me make a couple of adjustments to my cast when we first hit the water, then seemed to be delighted as he said I was “coachable” and didn’t already think I knew it all. A couple of hours into the morning he went so far as to say he recognized natural talent when he saw it. Now he may say that to all the clients, after all we’re paying him. However judging from the way he handled himself, the sincerity and helpfulness he offered me, I believe he just may have been sincere. Let it also be said, “I know a great guide when I see one.”

    I fished the rest of the week in different forks of the river and mountain streams that I wandered off to find, all with astounding results. I don’t think it would have been quite the same had I not learned from him before-hand. Everyone should be so lucky as to have guided trips as educational and enjoyable as my first. In fact, I hope I’m that lucky again.

  • Paul Arnold

    I find that I get the most out of a guided trip by telling the guide that I’m primarily interested in learning. If I manage to catch some fish in the process, that is fine, but mainly I want to learn. If I make a mistake, tell me how to do it right. If my casting can be improved, tell me how. When you suggest patterns, tell me why you chose them. Tell me about good spots to fish because I plan to come back on this water and fish it by myself. Of course, if the guy hiring a guide considers catching more fish on the trip to be more important than learning, he should not follow my example.

  • Suzanne Dansby

    I know the emphasis of this article is about having realistic expectations and communicating with your guide. On the flip side, it is also important, that no mater what, at the end of your experience, if your guide tried really hard to do a good job, tip them!