How to Become A Fly Fishing Guide

How to Become A Fly Fishing Guide

Are you thinking about becoming a fly fishing guide? Fly fishing can be a great summer job and eventually a fantastic career path. You can either work for a business or you can branch out as an independent guide. There’s certainly profits to gain here, particularly if you are passionate and you are a skilled fisherman. But what will it take for you to succeed here and become a guide that clients love and trust?

Are you thinking about becoming a fly fishing guide? Fly fishing can be a great summer job and eventually a fantastic career path. You can either work for a business or you can branch out as an independent guide. There’s certainly profits to gain here, particularly if you are passionate and you are a skilled fisherman. But what will it take for you to succeed here and become a guide that clients love and trust?

1. Build Your Fisherman Skills

The first step is always going to be making sure that you are the best fisherman possible. As we’re going to discuss a little further down, clients want to learn from a pro. If they think you’re an amateur, you won’t be hired by businesses and you won’t be able to pick up clients independently either.

You need to make sure that you understand the different techniques and tactics used in modern fishing. Don’t forget that fly fishing can cover a range of different species. You’ll need to decide what species you are going to be fishing for. You should then learn everything you can about that species. Think about both behavior and biology. This will ensure that you are able to provide knowledge to clients and it’s a great way to show that you are a professional.

Guide Fly Fisher

2. Get As Much experience As You Can

Clients and employers alike will be interested in your level of experience. As such, you should make sure that you are gaining as many hours in the water as possible. Specifically, this needs to be experience working as or with a guide such as a mentor. This is going to ensure that you are able to learn the ins and outs of the industry, even before you have really begun your journey into the fly fishing industry.

3. Invest in The Right Gear

As well as looking the part, it’s worth noting that your clients are probably going to have nothing with them. Don’t forget, a lot of clients will be completely new to this experience. One of the easiest ways to earn a negative review is by failing to provide everything a client needs for a great day on the water.

4. Become Licenced

It doesn’t matter where you are planning to fly fish in America. Virtually every state has a standard set of regulations and steps that you must take to become a guide. For instance, you might need to sign up for a water safety course. Alternatively, it’s possible that you need a CPR class or there could be particular permits for certain water ships. In some states, you could freelance and in others, you may need to have an association with a lodge. You must understand all the requirements before you start otherwise, you’re going to be in deep water immediately. You should do this before you even think about seeking out clients.

Get Liscenced

5. Know What It’s Not And What It Is

People who want to become fly fishing guides are commonly confused about the role they will be taking on. A fly fishing guide is not about fishing. The clue is in the name - it’s about guiding. You’re going to need to show people how to fish the right way and that does mean that you’re probably not going to spend that much time casting a line yourself.

Instead, you will need to cheer them on, instruct them and in some cases actually provide them with very basic assistance. This could including choosing the fly, tying the knots, teaching them how to cast the right way and then showing them where the fish are. You may also need to watch patiently as they proceed to take all the wrong steps.

Guide School

For this reason, it can be worth going to a guiding school. There, you will gain different points of training in these areas. Do be aware that guiding isn’t going to come naturally to everyone. The good news is that you can learn to be a teacher and that’s exactly the role that you will be fulfilling. Remember, there are elements of this that you probably haven’t considered, including how to make sure that people remain safe on the water. Your school will teach you all about these important details.

6. Be More Than A Guide

A fly fishing guide can live and die in the industry based on the reviews. Particularly, in a world where it’s easy to quickly build up a bad reputation online. That’s why it’s so important to understand what clients expect and what they want from you. You need to make sure that you are providing everything for a fantastic and safe trip. This could impact the tip but it’s also going to help with the review and that’s what you want. You need to make sure that you are providing an experience that they will talk about for years.

More than a guide

7. Do You Need A Guide School?

It’s not always necessary to attend a guide school, however, it will make you more valuable to potential employers. It shows key evidence that you have the skills that they require to ensure that clients have a great time on the water and perhaps more importantly, will be safe. It’s not uncommon for younger applicants to be turned away from these positions because they don’t have the right skills in this particular area, despite being great anglers.

The good news is that there are countless opportunities to join one of these schools. They are typically held on an annual basis and anyone who shows up on the day and has paid the fee can join. These schools typically have instructors that are the top talent in the local area and as such will be able to provide you with the support that you need to succeed.

Do you need guide school?

8. Key Traits Of A Great Fly Fishing Guide

There are a few key traits that employers will be looking for when they are searching for a particular fly fishing guide. You need to make sure that you present yourself as a candidate that possesses these traits.

This includes a high level of maturity. You can run into some tough situations as a fly fishing guide in America. Don’t forget if a client has an issue and is unable to gain the results they want, there’s a good chance that they are going to blame you. You’ll have to handle a situation like this, without getting overwhelmed or losing your temper.

If you are going to work for a business, they will also want to know that you are going to be dependable. You need to show up on time each day, help with the work at the end of the day and prepare correctly for the trip with the right equipment and wear including waders.

Of course, you also need to be a top angler. Don’t forget, clients aren’t going to want to learn from someone who is an amateur. So, this is as much about the theory as the practical aspect of the role. You must make sure that you know the quarry and that you are up to date with the latest angling techniques.

Ideally, you are also going to be passionate about fly fishing. Employers will be searching for this and will pick up on a passion for the job almost immediately. It highlights that you will be able to provide clients with the right type of experience.

These traits are going to be useful regardless of what type of fly fishing guide you want to be. It doesn’t matter whether you are going to be a salmon guide in the heart of Alaska or a trout guide deep in Montana, these are the traits to focus on.

9. Don’t Focus On Tips

You might be wondering about the level of pay you can gain as a fly fishing guide. For instance, you could be planning on working for fantastic tips. However, as with many jobs, a great or even a fair tip isn’t a guarantee. The average tip is between $50 and $60 per person. They can exceed this however you can also end up with no tip. It largely depends on the client. For instance, some people are unaware that in a C & R stream you won’t be able to keep any of the fish that are caught. They could be frustrated by this, thus leading to no tip. In other cases, you could find someone who catches no fish but is thrilled by the experience regardless.

Tip Jar

10. Learn To Market Yourself

As mentioned in some states it is legal to work as a fly fishing guide as a freelancer. This means that you won’t be attached to an established business. While this does mean that you will get more of the profits, it also requires that you are able to market yourself. If you can’t do this, you won’t be able to maintain a high level of profitability. These days, you can focus on online marketing and even set up a website. However, you should also aim to explore local promotion and make sure that you are targeting tourists in the area.

We hope this helps you understand everything you need to become an awesome and successful fly fishing guide.

Man with two thumbs up 

About the Author

Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.

By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.

When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there. 


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