As Troutologists, we take pride in the journey of self discovery. We utilize any tool at our disposal to learn and teach ourselves what we need to become better fishermen. A guide can be a fantastic tool for an on the water crash course. I've only taken a handful of guides in my fishing lifetime. Unfortunately, all guides are not created equal. Half of them have been worth the money I spent while the other half left a bad taste in my mouth. Here's a couple tips for hiring a good fishing guide.
1. Buy Local. Any guide will travel hundreds of miles to work. And they might even do a good job. But the likelihood they are going to out fish someone that's been on that river every day for the last two weeks is minimal. Hire someone that lives in the area or from a fly shop located on or close to the river.
2. Be Specific. Don't just settle for fishing anywhere for anything. Pick a specific style or body of water or a specific type of fish you want to target. Never caught a grayling? Then tell the guide you want to catch grayling on a mountain lake. Don't know much about Steelhead? Then find a guide who specializes in Steelhead. Is the majority of your fishing done by wading? Then go for a float trip. This fall, I am planning a trip targeting Seeforellen Brown Trout. I researched and found a local guide that is an expert in this type of fish. You should know where you are going and what you are fishing for before the day of the trip.
3. Learn. Do not take a guide thinking its just going to be a "fun little fishing trip". Consider the trip an advanced learning experience. The guide is a resource for information. While I might make a little small talk, the reality is I am being guided to learn more than catch fish or chit chat. I want to know techniques, tactics, strategies, tricks, tips and anything else I can learn. I don't want to hear stories or jokes. I want to hear the who, what, when, where, and why of the day we are out. I want to be able to walk away a better fisherman than when I came. This should be your primary reason for taking a guide. I don't want to catch my biggest fish with a guide. I want to learn and understand a fish or a river or a technique so I can use those tools to catch more and bigger fish for the rest of my life.
4. Only you fish. This should go without saying, but I once had a guide take a 23" Brown right in front of me. Why wasn't I in that spot? Why wasn't I the one catching that fish? I paid him $350 to catch one of the biggest fish of his life. He let me take my picture with it though. What a dick! This is your trip and the guide is hired so YOU fish. The only reason he should have a rod in his hand is if he is holding it for you or demonstrating a technique. Aside from that, he should be sitting on the sidelines coaching.
5. Experience is all that matters. Everyone is a guide these days. There are so many people taking guided trips that fly shops can barely keep up. That means there is a wealth of inexperienced guides in the marketplace. Do not settle for whomever the shop decides is free that day. Ask for the most experienced guide. Get his or her name so you know who you will be fishing with and you know they are the best guide the shop has to offer. If the shop won't give you that information then go someplace that will.
6. You're the customer. I cannot express this enough. You are paying for this trip. You should get what you want out of it. If you order a hamburger at McDonald's, and they give you a chicken sandwich, you're going to tell them you wanted a hamburger. That's $1. Your expectations of getting what you want should be ten times higher when you're spending $350. Be engaged in the planning process. Do not spend all this money to just float down a river. Get what you want for your money.