Thursday, May 17, 2018

Getting Guided: A Non Politically Correct Primer on Booking a Guided Fly Fishing Trip

Just got back from a quick steelhead trip up to the U.P., fishing with Capt. Brad Petzke of Rivers North Guide Service.  We had kind of a double whammy going against us, as far as steelhead are concerned, a one day cold front and clear skies.  Luckily, Brad has been doing what he does for a long time and was still able to put me on fish and show me a good time on one of the most beautiful rivers I've fished in Michigan. 

On the way home, I thought it would be fun to write a piece helping someone get the most out of their guided fly fishing trip. 

Choosing a Guide

Perhaps I'm stating the obvious, but a prospective guide should be familiar with the water you want to fish.  They should know where the fish are, what the fish are looking for, and what to do if they're not cooperating.  They should be a capable teacher, meaning they should know how to help you get your angling skills to a level good enough to catch fish if you're a beginner, or to that next level if you're an intermediate or advanced angler.  Good guides can usually teach you a little bit about the area's history, too.  And finally, and most importantly, they should make the trip fun. 

But how do you know who can do all that, and how do you know you are going to get your money's worth?

My whole tenure as a guide was in the age of social media, and having been "behind the curtain,"  there was a stark difference between the "real deal" guides who were on the water every day and the ones who played great guides on facebook.  The worst mistake a person could ever make-- at least if they want to catch fish-- is to book a guide trip with someone because they have a killer social media presence.  You want to know who the best guides are in an area?  Ask other guides or the guys who work for fly shops local to that area (not a shop 3 hours away), they all know who is the real deal and who isn't. 

There is a respect thing amongst guides, and if a guide is worth booking, other guides will give them the respect they deserve and give an honest assessment to a prospective client.  In my experience, a guide isn't going to say anything negative about another guide publicly, so if you ask a guide about another guide and he says something like, "I've never fished with him," or, "He's a nice guy," that should speak volumes.  The two exceptions that jump out at me here are: if someone is a new guide, and word hasn't gotten out on them yet, or guides who work through an outfitter or fly shop and have someone back at the office doing the marketing for them while they are out fishing.

And I can tell you, one of the crazy things about the guides who are head and shoulders above the rest, its that they don't do a lot of posting on social media.  They don't need to, most of their business comes from word of mouth referrals and repeat business.  I won't go so far as to say a social media presence indicates someone is a wannabe, I think all guides share a pic every now and then, but if your guide's facebook page is posting multiple times a day or sharing pics of the same fish they caught two years ago over and over again, that might be a red flag. 

Setting up Your Trip

Once you've found a guide, its time to book your trip.  When you book, your guide should be able to tell you what to expect for the dates you're fishing as far as hatches, typical weather conditions, how you should dress, what to bring, what they provide, etc.  If they can't, call someone else.  If your guide is playing conditions by ear as far as what particular piece of water you're going to fish, they should contact you again after you've booked, but a week or so before your trip to dial in where and what time to meet for your trip.  This is particularly common for independent guides who won't be meeting you at a fly shop or outfitter. 

This is also where you want to tell your guide what you want to do, what you expect, etc.  Its important that you're both on the same page to get the most out of your experience.  If you just wanted to fish dry flies but you never tell your guide that, and are booking a trip in October, you might be disappointed when there are no significant hatches and you spend all day throwing streamers.  If you tell your guide you want to fish dry flies, he should steer you to a time of the year favorable for that type of fishing. 

Taking Your Trip

This is the fun part, but it can be less fun if you didn't do your homework up front or get on the same page with your guide beforehand.  I can tell you from experience both as a guide and as a client, that its really important that you listen to your guide.  If your guide keeps telling you to keep your rod tip low and you aren't, and you're missing hooksets because of it, that's not your guide's fault.  Do what your guide says to do and you will have more fun, its really as simple as that.  Not only that, but you will learn more from your guide, and you get to take that knowledge with you on every fishing trip you take for the rest of your life.  And that's the real value in taking a guided fly fishing trip-- the knowledge you gain from it. 

If your guide is chumming, he probably isn't worth booking with again.  If your guide is following other boats/anglers around all day, he probably isn't worth booking again-- guides worth booking are the ones other anglers are following.  If you aren't catching fish and your guide isn't making constant adjustments to your tackle or location to try and get you into fish, he probably isn't worth booking again.  Keep in mind, they're guides, not gods, they can't make the fish eat, but they should be doing everything in their power to try and figure out what is working on that particular day.

If your guide is talking about stoneflies hatching in the middle of the river (stoneflies crawl out of the water onto logs and rocks or the shore to hatch), he probably isn't worth booking again.  If your guide has you doing things considered to be unethical-- purposely fishing to actively spawning trout (this is unethical, but the line gets blurry, particularly when fishing for spawning warmwater species), high or low holing other anglers, etc., he probably isn't worth booking with again. 

If your guide shows you a good time and didn't do any of the stuff mentioned above, tip them.  And if your guide did a really stand up job, book another trip with them as quickly as possible, good guides book up fast, particularly during the best fishing times. 

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