I don't think I have ever enjoyed a fully-guided steelhead trip before. That would be nice, come to think of it. Having a prepared streamside lunch wouldn’t hurt my feeling any. Nor would digging into someone else’s gear bag for a selection of flies and tips and different lines to try out. And it would be satisfying to have someone recommend where to fish and offer up the intricacies of a particular spot, like telling me about where the bucket is and what type of speed on the fly to apply. No I’ve never had a guided steelhead trip, unless I was to count all the ones where I was actually guiding.
If that is the case, then I guess there have been a few. But I’m not entirely sure if I was a great guide all the time. You have your days when things just flow appropriately and you start thinking that it has all come together, and at times, these feelings start settling in just moments before you crash the boat and your client loses his favorite hat. Ebbs and flows, highs and lows… but for the most part, if you are going to guide, you’ve got to roll the best you can with what mother nature and the clashing of fates, has in store. The cards you’re dealt, so to speak. And yes, your clients for the day can have a big influence over what type of hand you will play.
Where am I going? Well, I have been thinking recently about what constitutes a really good steelhead guide, and I thought I would write about that. But now, I think I’ll leave that alone for now and take a different spin. I think I’ll write about what makes a good client, instead. After all, we know a guide should be courteous, helpful, have the appropriate gear, safely put you in the fish zone and show you how best to fish it. A teacher. Yeah, the list goes on and on. But, as a client, you need to understand how to make the most of your day. It’s your money and you do have a large influence over the day’s success. Despite what you might think, your guide is not a miracle worker and no matter how big the smile is on the outside, your guide may not be smiling on the inside. And guess what, if your guide is not smiling on the inside, that is not an ideal situation. Although it might seem silly to assume, the plane fact of the matter is that if your guide does not like you, then your guide will not go the extra mile for you. And it is in this extra mile where it sometimes feels like a miracle has been performed. I know that is bold to say, but I stand by it. Steelhead guides choose their occupation based on the need to be in the environment they love. They are happiest when it does not feel like work, but rather it is just another beautiful day in paradise with good company. You are one of the main variables that determines the success of Their Day, which in turn has a substantial influence over the success of Your Day. What do you call that, Synergy? Maybe, but if you are considering a guide trip, here are some things to take under advisement so as to make the most of this golden opportunity.
Set beneficial goals for the day. Think long-term.
You could go out and bang 10 steelies, but chances are that you will not. In fact, don’t let fish numbers rule your mood, because guide or no guide, steelhead don’t come easy. And for the most part, guides don’t like fish counters. Here’s the thing: Think of steelheading as a big journey that you are a part of. Just like all sorts of fishing, it is a process. Regard your guide trip as one of the greatest investments you can make in your life as a fly angler, because although you are just renting your guide for the day, you may take away practical knowledge that you can apply for the rest of your life. Before you go, think about what you would like to LEARN and make sure you solve some of these questions. When you’re out there, think about why your guide has placed you there and asked you to cast that far. Notice the fly selection and the tip selection. Look around and notice the water that you are not fishing. Notice what all the various types of water that you do fish have in common. Ask your guide questions, but don’t overdo it. Listen. It is important that you chew on every answer that he provides so you’re not repeating yourself or seemingly not investing any thought on your end. Try to connect the dots and be interested and appreciative of what your guide has to say. If he sees that you are generally interested in learning for the long haul, he will take you in and teach you like you are family. Show him that you are using his advice, because there is nothing a guide loves more than to witness the learning process in action and see it pay off. Aside from needing to connect to the river and all else that surrounds it, a guide absolutely loves to see his effort payoff and make a difference in another’s angling progression.
Show an appreciation for the landscape and each and every fish.
This is how you get on their good side. The environment and these fish are what your guide is most in love with. Show appreciation for what they love and you will be rewarded. Although they still love to get a fish to hand themselves, most of them have moved past this to cherish just being immersed in the setting and noticing the nuances of the day. Remember, when you start referring to a fish as a number, let’s say “3 or 4” you remove that fish’s integrity and you will not earn any points with your guide.
Ask your guide to show you how it’s done every now and then.
If you give them the opportunity to physically demonstrate what you are having trouble with, then you make them happy. Many guides feel bad about taking the rod from your hands because they are worried that you might become aggravated. Chances are, they are sitting back watching bad cast after bad cast and just by suggesting that they demonstrate, they will jump at the opportunity. They want to help, but they don’t want to overdo it. But watching your guide fish a few casts can be extremely beneficial, so sometimes you got to let go of the rod. And oh by the way, they love to cast. Many have a serious affinity for the cast and seeing how a rod feels while paired with a certain fly line. Give them a chance to cast a few times over the course of the day, and you will be rewarded.
Nobody wants an uptight person in the boat. In fact most fly guides can hardly believe it when this happens. I mean it's suppossed to be fun, right? Here you are in this extravagant environment, fishing for steelhead and you got your panties in a wad. Acting like this does not make any sense at all to your guide and she will not respect you for it. It’s best to relax, laugh a little and take the day as it comes. Furthermore, steelhead have the uncanny habit of taking a wide birth around folks that are feeling a little too irritable or angry.
Don’t question your guide’s ability.
This is a good way to piss off your guide. Saying things like: “There aren’t any fish here,” or “When are you going to take me to the honey hole?” will not help the mood of your guide or her interest in making sure that your cries are answered. Chances are, a reputable steelhead guide knows the water intimately and all those locations with the highest likelihood of paying off. Rest assured, that even the silent types are confident in the water you are fishing, so you should be too. Although certain locations may be known to hold fish, they might not be ideal for you. A skilled guide must read your wading/casting ability as well as your attitude to fishing some of the more interesting spots. If you keep an open mind and show an interest for fishing all water types – as well as some of the more challenging wading lines – then your chances of catching a fish get much better. Not to mention, these areas help you become a better angler with far more options. Remember, this is a learning experience.
This one should be a given. If you don’t listen, then your guide feels like his words have no purpose, so why even try? Teachers need accepting students. And students need passionate teachers. Even experienced anglers can learn a lot on a guide trip. If you get in the habit of telling your guide that “I am going to do it my way,” and choose to disregard his advice, then he might just nod his head, and end your curriculum right then and there. Ok, best of luck to you Mr. So and So… There is little sense in offering up any more sage advice after all, if it will not be appreciated.
Now the thing that separates a good guide from a great guide is the ability to gel with all types of people. A fishing guide should not only be an expert on fish behavior, but human behavior as well. We all have different strokes and great guides will adapt to your desires, personality, behavior and teach within your limits. They are professionals, but if you help them out a little, you will get the most for your money. Be a good client and it will pay off tremendously, as even the best guides need a good hand now and then.
Have a good time,
The Gorge Fly Shop
"Fly Fish the World with Us"