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How to Be a Better Client: Fishing Guides Share Their Perspective

Angler Fishing Guide Fly Fishing

Being a fishing guide is a hard job. Just like any other service industry, you have to put up with all sorts of things—inclement weather, a slow bite, mechanical issues with the boat. But, as it turns out, those aren’t really the hardest part of the job; the hardest part of any guide’s job is the client side of things. They want to make sure it’s a great experience, but sometimes their client simply won’t let them.


In last week’s blog article, we talked about how to find a great fishing guide. This week, though, we thought it’d be interesting to flip the script and ask a few guides their thoughts on how we can be better clients. It’s quite telling that these guides didn’t have a whole lot of horror stories to share—Guide Lionel James even went as far to say that if there’s a problem, it’s always his fault as the guide. It shows how dedicated to service these people really are.


But, it also turns out they have a few things to clear up. A few pet peeves to throw out there. So, let’s hand the mic over to a few fishing guides to learn how we can make for a better day on the water. 


Here are Pro Fishing Guides Dan Towsley and Lionel James. 


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Dan Towsley:


Whether you're meeting your guide at the boat ramp, or meeting them at the river, just to be on time. That's a big one. And also just try to be open, not hard-headed and like, "Oh yeah, I've done that before." I've had people who fish all over the world, and they get a little bit antsy, and they're not really open to listen. They're just like, "Okay, yeah. Put me here, and tie my flies on. I don't want to really talk. I just want to catch fish."

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Just be open. Being outgoing always helps on both sides, just to be able to talk to each other. You're going to be with that person all day, so you might as well try to be friends with each other.


What's the worst experience you've had with a client?


There really aren’t that many bad clients. You’ll get some guys who think they know what they're doing, and they might know what they're doing, but they just want you to know about it. They'll be unruly. When it comes to people like that, I just say, "Here's the spot, go fish." I'll happily spend more time with the person who's willing to be friendly, whether or not they’re doing something wrong. They'll pick that up.


As far as a good client, I'll take the people who’ve fished all over, and they love being out there and they love hearing the tricks of this creek. All rivers and creeks are a little bit different—this bit of flash works better, and they listen. I'll have people catch 80 fish on a trip, and they're like, "Okay, yeah. That was fun. I couldn't have done it by myself."


What’s something people misunderstand about guides?


I think a lot of people think they're always going to catch fish. That's the number-one thing from the client side. If they're getting a fly fishing trip, a lot of them, they're expecting they're going to catch fish all day like River Runs Through It, or something like that. It's very rare I have anybody get skunked, but I always keep my expectations realistic for them, and then exceed it at the end of the day.

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I love when clients say, "Oh, I was so happy just to catch one fish. I didn't think we were going to catch this many. Even for my first day." And that's always the best, to surprise them how easy it can be rather than watching YouTube videos of guys casting 60 feet, 70 feet. A lot of it's just roll casting, and just figuring out what the fish want. Then, you can really start picking those fish out.

Lionel James:


Well, I can tell you one thing right off the bat: Don't take a picture of the sonar machine. Right? Like, what are you doing? I've actually had that happen a couple of times and I'm like, "Bro, if you would have just asked, I would have just given you the information." It’s not like we were fishing anything I had dropped myself; it was pretty public knowledge at this point. 


Another thing: I like my space. I have this foot-and-a-half radius. I'm a people person, so I can manage, but once you cross that bubble you can ease back. Learn your captain's or your guide's space. Feel them out before you get all in their face and stuff.


Oh, and last thing. When we’re fishing on the bottom, we use some heavy weights. To pull the weight out the water and then slam it on the boat, oh my god. I want to scream, man. 


What were some of the worst days you’ve had on the water?


I think they generally happen because of me. Maybe I should’ve taken that turn or I should have seen that weather coverage. But, I’ve had two ladies, two different times, bring infants on board. That whole time I was like, ‘Oh no, I'm going to get sued. Something is going to happen to this baby and I should've put this on a website.’ But, I think they knew. By the time it got to my call, they had asked several charters and said, "Well, I got an infant." With me, they were just like, "Yeah, I got a child. She'll be all right." [Laughs]


When they get to the boat, the baby is strapped to mom. It's a tiny infant. Like, you just had it two weeks ago. That was one of my worst trips. You don't bring an infant on the boat. At least give me a heads up. 


What are some misconceptions about working with a guide?


Just let the guide do their job and just try to listen. Men are a little bit difficult to work with, I'll tell you that. You got to tell them things four or five times, versus the ladies. Here in Florida, we use circle hooks. That is the hardest thing on a fishing trip for the dudes to understand how it works. You’ve got to wait. And I say, "Yo, stop yanking that damn rod, man." After three times, I'm just like, "Oh, man, you just missed him. Sorry. I don't know." [Laughs] And I'll pay attention to somebody else. 

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I understand, though. I'm a guy. But, I'm not going to come to your office and write this article, and just blow you out of the water like that. Right? In the sense of fishing, you don't do this everyday. Unless you listen, you're not going to get this. Women have a lot more patience, a little more understanding. 

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There’s a lot of nuance here, but if you take something away, make it this: Guiding is hard, and fishing isn’t that easy. It may seem like guides are unnecessary sometimes, but that’s by nature—they put in the scouting, fishing, and research to make it look easy. So, next time you work with a guide, remember to keep these thoughts in mind. Be open-minded and listen. Don’t drop your lead weights on the boat. Doing something wrong is better than being a jerk. And, hiring a guide isn’t giving up—in fact, it’s the exact opposite. 




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  • Kevin on

    I tried for years to learn how to fly fish, but it was always a fail. My wife booked me a guide trip on the Green River in Utah, and I learned so much that the next weekend, I went out and caught a bunch of trout on my own. Every time I take a guide trip, I learn so much. The big upside is that my wife went in the boat on that first trip not really intending to fish. The guide gave her a rod and she started catching big browns and having a blast. That was ten years ago, and now she is perhaps even more passionate about fly fishing than me. Fishing together in beautiful places has really strengthened our relationship. Thank goodness for a good guide who got us started in a now life-long pursuit of the perfect cast, rise, and take.

  • Northwest Fly Casting on

    Well done, good insights. I am primarily a wade fisher, but when I’ve had a guide I’ve always appreciated how much effort they put in to making it a good experience, thank you.


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