I think it is an ethical dilemma. It's fraud if a guide takes a client's money and withholds salient information, like the good places to launch and retrieve boats, good reliable pools or spots that produce fish, and how to effectively fish them. Unless he is upfront with his clients and tells them he plans to just take them on a boat ride, floating 6 or 7 miles of river, but doesn't plan on sharing his expertise, given that is often exactly the reason a person hires a guide. With the thread on the main forum indicating that $450 is the going rate for guide fees, how much information can a guide withhold before he's robbing his client. And how much money should a client expect to have to pay to gain information like where good spots are and how to effectively fish them? Everything in America seems to have a price, and fishing guides are pimping a public resource pretty much no matter how you cut it. Having said that, I don't personally think badly of guides, but a little humility and objectivity about just what they do doesn't hurt.
I've known two steelhead guides who don't take locals on local rivers for the very reason that they don't want to reveal information about specific spots and how to fish them, only to have the local show up there on his own the next weekend when the guide comes through that spot with a new client, trying to put him on a fish.
Probably not such a conundrum on a blue ribbon trout stream with lots of trout per mile, but moreso on west coast steelhead rivers where the fish per mile can easily be in the single digits.
I don't think Id expect to learn every secret seam or pocket. Just to get put into some fishy water. Guides are going to know which runs fish best at certain river levels. Guides are going to know which stretch of river to fish during these conditions, as wll as when the run timing will be at its best for upper or lower river. etc etc etc. You're not going to learn all their secrets one time out on the river with them. I understand the need for guides to put people onto fish, but its not their river, and Im pretty sure that every hole and riffle in every river is known pretty well by more than one guide. Its going to get fished by someone. Its just a matter of who gets there first. Having never hired a guide, I can honestly say Ive never stolen a guides secret spot. That doesnt mean that if I went out with a guide on a river I wouldnt remember good water the next time I was there and fish it.
I have a little different take on this issue. Frist as mentioned here in Washington most of our rivers are dynmamic enough that fish holding water is may only be productive until the next flood. If I were to hire a guide to learn local waters I would be up front with the guide that I'm interested in his fish knowledge on how to read water - why the fish are where they are? and why they are doing what they are doing. If an angler learn the art of reading water and predicting where the steelhead will be if they are in the river you can catch steelhead anywhere. In fact learning to read water with a guide may well be best done away from your home water - stressing with guide that yes you want to catch a fish but more importantly you hope to gain knowledge to apply to your home waters.
However be aware that not all guides have top notch river craft. It is one think to know your water just from the time spend on it and quite another matter to be able to the skills to effectiely read new water. It is not the numbers of fish caught or the how pretty the cast looks but rather an angler's ability to walk into new water and immdediately identify the "bucket" that impresses me.
Very interesting thread. It is one of two main reasons I haven't ever guided, even with several offers. I sat at a bar in Montana several years ago BSing an old time hunting guide. He told me about how he would take clients into remote hunting camps. Without fail, the next year one of those clients would be camped with his buddies in the exact same spot. He told me after 30 odd years, it gets old. I see his angle. Even on a big river, it would get old finding last weeks client in the honey holes every week. The only exception for me is Rufus Woods. It seems like the whole river fishes almost equally well, and last weeks fly never works this week. I have been getting alot of pressure from locals to guide on Rufus, but still haven't made up my mind on this issue. I have a business I love, and fly-fishing can remain my passion, not my job. I would love to hear from long time guides on this moral quandry.
When travel to a place that I might only get to fish 2-3 times over a 10 year time period like when I go to Alaska or the Florida Keys, I hire a guide to have my best chance of getting shots at fish. If I hire a guide for local rivers I am just getting a feel for the river and the general flavor. Each day the river levels change and fish hold in different spots as the seasons change. There is no way that I can learn all the holes on any river in just one trip. I am still going to have to pay my dues on any river to be successful with regularity. As far as letting the guide know about my intentions I feel that I am paying for a trip on the water and I want to have an opportunity to get fish and I expect them to work on my behalf regardless of my intentions. For my part I will work with the guide and do as he instructs. I have seen the difference between those who work hard and those who don't. I don't tip based on the amount of fish but what I feel is the level of effort put forth.
Here's my $.02 on the topic - on every trip, with every client I have, we talk about expectations. What is it exactly they want out of the experience, how to communicate with each other, and what to expect given the conditions. I am very up front with information I do know and information I don't know, and then we work through the day. If there's two anglers on the boat, they each may have different expectations, so I work with each, and it's a balance. I set out to not meet expectations, but to exceed them. After each trip, clients get a survey from Orvis about the entire experience - from booking to communication, professionalism, ability to instruct, knowledge, etc. It's my way of checking what I think happened against what the client thinks happened. I am proud to say that over the last three years I have a 100% client satisfaction score.
So, sometimes it's "show me the honey holes" but most of the time it's "I want to learn X, or fish section X because I want to float it safely in my boat later this year" or "I bought a new boat and I need to know how to row it." Either way, I strive to provide a service and I love doing it - always respectful of other anglers, guides, the resources, and the entire community.
Say you move to a new river and hire a guide to show you around. But..... the purpose of hiring the guide is to learn the runs (shorten the learning curve). Basically, you pay $500.00 to learn the water and eliminate months of tooth grinding. As well, do you inform the guide of your intentions? After all, he/she is going to see you in those runs in the days-years to come.
Yes, a lot of my clients want to shorten the learning curve, and there may be little about the river I guide on that isn't already known. I've never (knowingly) had a problem with a client communicating secret spots, nor do I identify them as such. I choose the section or type of water based on the clients expectations and ability, and go from there.
I'm not self-promoting, you simply asked for a guide's perspective, and I'm sharing both that and my experiences.
I'm with Jeff Bandy and Derek Young on this one. I floated with Derek, in an open seat too. Before going out we had a talk about expectations and I told him that I wanted to learn. It was my first venture for trout in flowing water and I also wanted to learn river safety and as much about reading water. He knew I was seeking self sufficiency, and he deliverd so much knowlege. He also had another open seat, and I filled it again, learning more and a different stretch of his home water. I have done sections of the Yakima on my own now, much to his credit of excellent knowledge and teaching. I consider Derek a friend and would fish with him anytime, anywhere. I have even invested some of my hard earned cash to book Derek for two days to take me and my father in law fishing when he visited for a while. I have floated with him for free and as a playing customer. Every one of those days were informative and amazing.
I think that if you are honest with the guide, lay out your expectations and are with the right guide that you will not only learn what you seek but forge a quality relationship. I wish you the best.
Derek, I hear what you're saying, and respect your input. However, you are dismissing the circumstance where a client approaches you with this exact desire.... " I'm new to the river, live here now, and my intention is to use this trip to learn where the steelhead are."