After leading a group of guides in Wyoming over this past season and having to train some of them from square one, I wanted to ingrain into their minds the true purpose of not only guiding but fishing as a whole. These are the shortcuts I wish I had been taught before pursuing a career in a truly patience-testing hobby.
The first attribute of a good guide is passion. Passion for the art of casting, for the beauty of the nature around you, and for the process of that perfect cycle of tying the fly to driving or hiking into the wilderness to find that untouched spot, and putting a good drift in. A passion for any sort of profession is essential for progress to happen and positive retention to occur as the years go on. We’ve all heard the saying “find a job you are passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I think that has a lot of truth in it but the version that I like to tell my guys is; “If you are actually looking forward to that alarm clock going off in the morning and not dreading it, you’ve found your passion for the work you do.” Where we were on a ranch in the middle of Wyoming, you had to put your entire time and energy into your work and if you lacked passion while doing it, you were going to be absolutely miserable. There is also a difference between educated and passionate guides. An educated guide may know everything there is to know under the sun about entomology flow levels but a passionate guide is going to show you his/her knowledge through their actions and attitude the entire time. A good guide is going to outwardly express their excitement to a client when a fish eats or gets hooked, almost to a point when they surpass the actual fisherman.
Personability and Intentionality
A good guide also not only needs to be personable but has to have a great sense of intentionality. When you are paired up with a guest, those first few minutes you have with them at the boat ramp in the morning are going to set the tone for the rest of the day. Being intentional with not only the questions you ask but also the timing in which you ask them is crucial in giving your client the most welcoming and safe environment for them to truly be themselves in. Talking to an absolute stranger for 6-10 hours straight can be very difficult but one thing I’ve found helps keep conversation flowing is asking questions that require the guest to really think about their response instead of a straight yes or no. Another great tool is to have 1-2 answers to your own questions, that way you can follow up their response with one of your own, relating to or just providing your own experiences to the guest so that they feel connected to you at a personal level. Having 2-3 of these intentional questions to keep in your back pocket for when the conversation becomes dry and dragged out is also crucial. Some that I love asking are “If you could go back in time and give your 21 year old self a word of advice, what would it be and why?” and “What’s one thing in your life you’d like to improve upon and how would you go about actually doing it?” Questions like these give your guest the opportunity to really open up and be vulnerable with you, as well as provide you to be in the position to really listen and learn something that may be applicable to yourself.
Instilling The Values and Culture of Fly fishing
As guides, we have a lot of pressure to put our guests on as many fish as possible and are constantly told by others that a great day on the water is determined by your production on your boat. This can’t be further from the truth. Success as a guide is providing your guests with an experience that they’ve never had before and going the extra mile to serve them like they’ve never been served. An example of this is taking the time and effort to cook them lunch on the side of the river when you stop, filling the cooler with a variety of drinks for them to choose from, or even having some nice cigars for them to smoke if they want them. Having an option to have any of these things is going to make your guest feel very taken care of and instill into their mind the effort you put into making their experience unique.
Instilling the knowledge that you have onto them and actually explaining why you are telling them to throw a certain setup in a certain run or explaining exactly what fly it is you are throwing and why is going to give those folks the information they need to grow as an angler and have them coming back to the water. The culture of fly fishing is something that is truly unique and underappreciated by most. Going out on the water with your buddies, goofing off, and experiencing the true beauty of the nature around you is going to fill your body with more serotonin than you’ve ever had before. Taking the time to realize how blessed you really are to be in that stream with the people you love doing what brings you joy is what takes precedence. The actual act of catching the fish is just an added bonus in your overall experience.