What Makes a Great Fishing Guide?

Every spring, I get a handful of notes from young men and women who have decided they want to try to be a fishing guide, and are looking for advice on where to start. Whether they want to take a summer or two and work in the outdoors before joining the “real” work world, or just cannot shake that call to be on the water and want to make that a full-time career of guiding, I say, “Good for you.” I think the world of most fishing guides. To a large degree, guides are the living conscience of the fishing world. They’re stewards of the resources, advocates for the sport, and in the best cases, they’re great teachers.

In fact, I’d say that teaching is what separates a great guide from the others. I have been fortunate enough in my writing career to have spent a lot of time on many boats with guides — from offshore charter captains in the Carolinas, to steelhead guides in Alaska, to bass guides in California, and others in many places in-between. And there’s one unmistakably consistent trait among the very best guides I fish with: They all look at teaching lessons as not only an opportunity, rather as an obligation.

Guiding is about a lot more than scooping fish in a net, tying knots, taking photographs, and patting clients on the back. To be blunt: If you go on a guided fishing trip, and you don’t learn at least one thing that day that makes you a smarter and better angler, the guide hasn’t really done his or her job. At least not in my opinion.

A guide can never control the quality of the fishing. There are good days, and there are bad days, and Mother Nature dictates what the bite will be. But the guide does dictate the quality of the overall experience. Some of my best days with guides involved very few fish, and sometimes none at all. And some of my most disappointing days happened when I lost track of how many fish we caught, but felt like we were going through the motions.

So my advice to all you would-be guides out there is simple: It doesn’t matter how old you are. But it does matter what kind of a teacher, and listener, and steward you think you can be. Guiding is about people, not just fish.

And for those of you who have an opportunity to fish with a great guide this season, go for it. If you're looking for a guide, the takemefishing.org state info page is a great resource to help you get started. Be sure to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment and information out of the day. Fishing with a guide is one of the best things you can do to make yourself a better angler.

Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream, and he co-wrote The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing with the late Charlie Meyers.