Monday, August 8, 2011

The Guide Experience

Dan Harrison working hard
Midcurrent expert Phillip Monohan responded to a a question about the do's and don'ts of hiring a guide on this week's column. I can't argue with much of what he says. His essential point of view is that you've hired a guide based upon his experience, so listen to him. Sound counsel.

I hire guides a couple of times a year. Mostly to fish water that's new to me while on vacation. I generally get only a brief period on family vacations to fish so I like to make the most of them. I do hire the Harrison Brothers a few times a year to fish the Deerfield River but I think I enjoy their company as much as the fishing.

So here's my thoughts on getting the most out of a guide:
  • Before you hire one, ask around. Internet discussion forums, Facebook, etc. Find someone who's fished with a guide in the locale you're looking to fish. Find one they like. Interrogate them on why they liked the guide. Make sure the things they liked are the things you would like. I once hired Rachel Finn out of the Hungry Trout in Wilmington, NY. She got us on fish. That said, she has a drill instructor personality. We marched a whole bunch and she forced (or shamed) you to make casts that you thought you couldn't but actually could. It was a great day. I'd hire her again; but she might not be for everyone.
  • Find out if you're fishing with the guy you're talking to or someone else. Once, someone whose opinion I highly value gave me a tip on a Delaware River guide. I called the guy and we eventually set a date to fish together. When I got there, I was fishing with one of his guides, not him. The guide I got was okay but was not a great fit personality-wise.  I'd still like to fish with this guy but felt a little bait and switched if you'll pardon the pun. Maybe someday.
  • Have a chat with the guide to set expectations. This is more of a two way street that Phillip lets on in his article. Tell the guide what you'd like from the day. Are you after a trophy -- one monster would make you happy? Do you want to fish natives? If I'm fishing with the boys my goal is fish to the net. I'd rather fish a small creek knowing we're going to get fish to the net with enough frequency to keep everyone interested that to get trophies. Then let the guide manage your expectations. He will recommend water and tactics. Go with them.
  • In that chat, find out what sort of personality the guide has. I've fished with three types: Confident Professional, Intense Angler, Laid Back Rower. Confident Professional is my pick. He's a guy or gal who has good interpersonal skills, talks about his craft without seeming too arrogant and, most importantly, listens. The Intense Angler can be good if you like serious Type A personalities. He's talkative; in fact you don't get to talk. He lets you know when you've missed an opportunity. He may take it personally if you're not catching fish. Some of these guys I can take; most are going in the "jerk" category. Laid Back Rower never seems to work hard enough even though he's doing as much as the other guys. I fished with one of these on the Delaware. We got on fish though I always felt the decisions were mine to make. That said, he did a nice job rowing the boat.
  • Call your guide  a week or so before the trip. Guides work with hundreds of people during the season. He's not going to remember your expectation setting discussion from four months ago. Find out the conditions and how those conditions might require a different play. Adapt.
  • When you meet your guide on the day of the trip, go over these expectations again. Get his read on things. Again, adapt. Even once you're on the water, adapt. I can remember one day when I was after trout we had the opportunity to get into a mess of bass and shad. I wasn't particularly interested but I gave it a try. WHAT A BLAST! Be ready for unexpected opportunities and seize them. Nothing mixes up a day of catching thirteen inch trout like a twenty-two inch shad horsing line from the reel.
  • While the selfish part of your brain will tell you that you've paid someone to help you catch fish, that's not what's going on here. You've paid someone to take you fishing. The catching may well be as fickle as if you'd gone yourself. That's the reality of the situation. I've never been skunked with a guide but I've had one fish days. Of course, that one fish was twenty-one inches long.
  • Most importantly, relax. You're going to feel pressured to meet the guide's expectations of setting the hook at the right time, seeing every dip in the indicator, spotting the fish finning in the cushion in front of every boulder. But you're paying him. So, chill. It's not about meeting the guides expectations. It's about fishing some great water, learning a bit of the craft (ask tons of questions), and perhaps sharing the experience with a buddy.

Who would I fish with again? These folks.

Tom and Dan Harrison, Harrison Anglers, Deerfield River, Massachusetts
Brown Hobson, Brown Trout Fly Fishing, South Fork of the Pigeon, North Carolina
Jimmi Morales, Sierra Fly Fisher, Secret Yosemite Creeks, California
Rachel Finn, Hungry Trout Fly Shop, Ausable River, New York

Folks I wouldn't fish with again? Well, I'm not that kind of sport.


  1. I've only ever fished with one guide (plenty of ghillies), and he was your chap. He wasn't much fun, which is, or would be, my only real prerequisite.

    Perhaps some fruitcake would be nice too.

  2. EJ - I'm fun, and you never paid me a dime for fishing with you. What gives?

  3. EJ - Note he wasn't on the list of recommended guides. Definitely missed out on a personality.
    TJ - I'd say he paid a fair price.

  4. I revise my statement on not getting skunked when with a guide. The day out with Jonny was a skunking for me, though Jonny got on fish cause he fished in a method that would certainly draw scorn across the pond. I must have blotted out that experience. Traumatic.

  5. I noted his omission, of course.

    And also: It was two days. And to me, bottom bouncing has a certain ring to it, as it were. When in Rome.

    I am beginning to muse on dates, by the way.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I believe those adverts are personalized for the viewer based upon previous web history.

  8. And perhaps a comma was missing. Who's to say?

  9. well perhaps I have been eating a lot of red meat.