Is guideschool or freelance the way to go

Guiding isn't for the faint of heart. From what I see on the outside looking in is that the fly fishing industry is constantly evolving to stay innovative and fresh to keep up with todays standards. Fly shops that have been around for ages are struggling to stay afloat to offer their services to compete with the emerging on line marketplace.

As an up and coming fly fisherman whose looking to make a name for myself and make a future career as a fly fishing guide, whats the best course of action?

We want to guide and contribute to the future growth of fly fishing industry in any way we can. Obviously thats easier said than done. Baby steps.

I have several friends that have gone the guide school route over at Sweetwater and got their state license after. Is guide school and FFF casting instructor certification something an outfitter or fly shop preferably look for in potential guides or do they like to mentor and have new guides shadow your veteran guides in order to sculpt them the way you would want them to guide for your shop?

The big factor I see is the upfront cost. The funds necessary for guide school in contrast would get me a raft or an arsenal of outfits for clients, if guide school isn't necessary or vital to becoming a guide in the fly fishing industry today then what would be the best way to get a foot in the door to start guiding.

Lets say an outfitter or shop owner is comparing prospects for guide jobs where one person has gone to guide school and one hasn't but has a year or two of freelance guide experience. What are guide services looking for?

I feel its safe to say that a fly fishing guide doesn’t work your regular 9-5. with new guides coming up in the industry what is the daily schedule like? is it retail based where they spend 30 hours a week trying to hustle people to buy flies and gear from the shop and busy days are the weekends when people are off work and they try to go out on floats, walk and wades and other trips?

Do guides only guide for their shop or do you see more guides do freelance and go through shops to promote their services and give the shops a cut of profits for trips?

Whats your take on this topic?
 

Brian St

Active Member
Ill offer a few thoughts here. The first is to get a decent education that will give you a chance to earn a good living wage. Guiding is not going to do that through the course of a season unless you own the business. And then still its going to be feast and famine through many seasons.

Being a flyfishing guide is not a career its a lifestyle. In this day and age its becoming ultra competitive and much of this is fueled by social media. This is why you get really shitty guides. There a star on facebook or instagram but dont know a damn thing about reading clients and being able to tune there program for there client. Guiding is being in the entertainment industry and having to be on point 100 percent of the time. If your good at your job and work hard you will build a clientele based off of referral's. A client list is like the perfect garden if you take care of it and pay attention to detail it will reward you.

I cant think of any guide school thats going to teach you what you will need to be a successful guide. Possibly there is one? I think a degree in human psychology would do you better to be honest.

If your dead set on being a guide get on with a good outfitter or shop and work your ass off to be the best you can be. In reguards to FFF certifications I dont think they mean shit these days. Work on your casting constantly to improve and be a student of casting. If you can really cast everyone will take notice. You dont need a certificate for proof the proof is in the cast and your ability to be able to teach it to others. If you decide to take the FFF route do it for the education and not because you think it will give you a leg up in the industry because it wont. Hope this helps? I hope I didnt come off sounding gruff I was just trying to be honest with you.
 

Justin Waters

Active Member
Guiding isn't for the faint of heart. From what I see on the outside looking in is that the fly fishing industry is constantly evolving to stay innovative and fresh to keep up with todays standards. Fly shops that have been around for ages are struggling to stay afloat to offer their services to compete with the emerging on line marketplace.

As an up and coming fly fisherman whose looking to make a name for myself and make a future career as a fly fishing guide, whats the best course of action?

We want to guide and contribute to the future growth of fly fishing industry in any way we can. Obviously thats easier said than done. Baby steps.

I have several friends that have gone the guide school route over at Sweetwater and got their state license after. Is guide school and FFF casting instructor certification something an outfitter or fly shop preferably look for in potential guides or do they like to mentor and have new guides shadow your veteran guides in order to sculpt them the way you would want them to guide for your shop?

The big factor I see is the upfront cost. The funds necessary for guide school in contrast would get me a raft or an arsenal of outfits for clients, if guide school isn't necessary or vital to becoming a guide in the fly fishing industry today then what would be the best way to get a foot in the door to start guiding.

Lets say an outfitter or shop owner is comparing prospects for guide jobs where one person has gone to guide school and one hasn't but has a year or two of freelance guide experience. What are guide services looking for?

I feel its safe to say that a fly fishing guide doesn’t work your regular 9-5. with new guides coming up in the industry what is the daily schedule like? is it retail based where they spend 30 hours a week trying to hustle people to buy flies and gear from the shop and busy days are the weekends when people are off work and they try to go out on floats, walk and wades and other trips?

Do guides only guide for their shop or do you see more guides do freelance and go through shops to promote their services and give the shops a cut of profits for trips?

Whats your take on this topic?


I agree with Brian on much of what he said. I was fortunate to work for Mike Lawson and learn from his crew of veteran river guides. Being around legends like Mike, Bob Lamm, Smitty... The list is truly insane, it's like getting a PHD in how to be a professional (and being young I obviously didn't always get it perfect). Being around professional, respectful, and helpful mentors was unparalleled by anything you can pick up from reading or taking a class. The hustle part of your job is YOUR job as a guide. It's not 9-5 is more like 5am-Passing out of exhaustion type of gig if you do it right the first few years. I started as a kid and still get the "Hey, it's time to close the emails and relax." talk. It's way more work than "Hey, I'm captain jerk off, lets go catch some fish today. Do you have your favorite parachute adams? " Your clients don't care that you stayed up till 1am running around borrowing gear from buddies because your rig got broken into while you were buying them lunch. They worked their ass off to spend their $500 for a day of your best performance. You don't know if they are a catholic school teacher or a heavy metal singer, but you better have good conversation for both of them. I think that all comes with experience (and mistakes made). Again, it's better to learn those things from stories from senior guides than to make them ALL on your own.

Guide school is a ton of fun and Sweetwater has a really cool program. Charlie and Ron have forgotten more about the fly fishing industry than most will ever know. It's also cheeper than hiring a guide and paying for lodging/food for that many days. However you will not be a fishing guide when you get out. Or for your first few years as a fishing guide. I would not recommend going straight into guiding without first working for an outfitter or some form of fly fishing industry. Being around folks like the crew from Sweetwater wont hurt your chances of success though.

You can be an independent guide rather than going through a shop or working with a shop. I will say they both have tradeoffs. Most shop owners are fairly good about treating their guides well because a solid list of guides bring in a ton of business for the shop. As an independent guide you are responsible for 100% of your client list, which is a lot of pressure as a newer guide. Going through a shop you might pick up a few more clients as their customers are a constant crop of new faces. You are still responsible for your client list because that shop owner is dealing with his clients, his other employees, his senior guide staff, and running a business. You as the new guide have to do the work to be added to the list of shit he cares about.

I think being a professional fishing guide is probably the best career in the world, so dive in 100%. It's given me the best life possible. There are plenty of people in the world to take fishing. I would just say work hard, make good choices, and do your best. I do think having good mentors and watching others mistakes is good advise for just about any career. Don't be a bum, guides SHOULD not be fishing bums... That and wear sunglasses... and don't tell Catholic school teachers dirty jokes... and don't tell dick jokes to FFF casting instructors... Okay, know your audience before you tell dick jokes. That's the moral of my way too wordy response.
 

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
Good stuff here. I like these responses. Especially Justin Waters'. It makes sense to get some training. Look for someone who is offering a fishing program that includes what you like to do, and maybe a little more. Try to work for good people. Give yourself a few years of guiding for someone else, before you strike out on your own.

Seek out good safety training for whitewater skills, including water rescue. Get good wilderness emergency medical training and certification. I think that the "Wilderness First Aid" training, offered by Wilderness Medical Associates, is very good, I would recommend that as a minimum. Working fora larger team, or in deeper remote areas, you might consider taking the Wilderness First Responder training.

About half of the drownings, related to boating, are fishermen and hunters. Put together a really good quality first aid kit for your trips, in a boat or in a backpack. Know how to use it. Always have a means of communication with the outside world.

Keep it fun. Keep it safe.
 

Dustin Bise

reformed hot-spotter
id look into learning how to row a whitewater boat as a swamper or whitewater guide for a season. that will teach you about river safety. i imagine a outfitter would rather have a guy who learned the ropes from reputable pros then from a pay to play fishing school that is gonna spend a half day teaching you knots and how to rig fly rods....
 

fivefish

Active Member
Talk to Donn Dale at Clark Fork River Outfitters if you are interested in guide school. He's not a short-winded guy, and has many, many years of knowledge in the industry. He'll probably spend more time with you on the phone answering questions than some of the others, especially this time of year when things are slow.

Make sure that if you call him you have plenty of time for a conversation.
 

Dustin Bise

reformed hot-spotter
Good stuff here. I like these responses. Especially Justin Waters'. It makes sense to get some training. Look for someone who is offering a fishing program that includes what you like to do, and maybe a little more. Try to work for good people. Give yourself a few years of guiding for someone else, before you strike out on your own.

Seek out good safety training for whitewater skills, including water rescue. Get good wilderness emergency medical training and certification. I think that the "Wilderness First Aid" training, offered by Wilderness Medical Associates, is very good, I would recommend that as a minimum. Working fora larger team, or in deeper remote areas, you might consider taking the Wilderness First Responder training.

About half of the drownings, related to boating, are fishermen and hunters. Put together a really good quality first aid kit for your trips, in a boat or in a backpack. Know how to use it. Always have a means of communication with the outside world.

Keep it fun. Keep it safe.


i feel like SWR (swift water rescue) and WFR (Wilderness first responder (a step over WFA) would be good places to start for anyone wanting to guide anything river related. Wading has pretty serious risk (broken ankles/legs/head injuries for someone who takes a swim) and knowing how to handle more complex medical situations wont hurt. It only takes about 80 hours to get a WFR and you will be well suited to help anyone you come across (esp other less prepared groups). I will say that after getting a WFR the first time, i felt like I had been super careless in my wilderness (medical definition) travels. a WEMT is probably overkill for a fishing guide, unless your working as like a medical staff member for a remote lodge or something. Im sure there are some outfitters who seek out people with EMT.
 

Klickrolf

Active Member
I think you should zone in on med school or engineering or something similar that you can get your head around. Fishing ain't no way to make a living in 2018 unless you don't care about dwindling aquatic resources...and fish! Use your brain to get ahead, fish guiding ain't brain work but it will make you dependent...on fish!
 

scifidelity

Active Member
Ill offer a few thoughts here. The first is to get a decent education that will give you a chance to earn a good living wage. Guiding is not going to do that through the course of a season unless you own the business. And then still its going to be feast and famine through many seasons.

Being a flyfishing guide is not a career its a lifestyle. In this day and age its becoming ultra competitive and much of this is fueled by social media. This is why you get really shitty guides. There a star on facebook or instagram but dont know a damn thing about reading clients and being able to tune there program for there client. Guiding is being in the entertainment industry and having to be on point 100 percent of the time. If your good at your job and work hard you will build a clientele based off of referral's. A client list is like the perfect garden if you take care of it and pay attention to detail it will reward you.

I cant think of any guide school thats going to teach you what you will need to be a successful guide. Possibly there is one? I think a degree in human psychology would do you better to be honest.

If your dead set on being a guide get on with a good outfitter or shop and work your ass off to be the best you can be. In reguards to FFF certifications I dont think they mean shit these days. Work on your casting constantly to improve and be a student of casting. If you can really cast everyone will take notice. You dont need a certificate for proof the proof is in the cast and your ability to be able to teach it to others. If you decide to take the FFF route do it for the education and not because you think it will give you a leg up in the industry because it wont. Hope this helps? I hope I didnt come off sounding gruff I was just trying to be honest with you.

This is awesome insight. I'm not a guide, but have a few friends who are and have spent countless days with them and other guides. The two really important things I would add that you need to think very hard on are: 1. How good of a teacher you are in general and specific to fly fishing. I know people who are world class and renown casters, but can't teach it to others to save their life. One has to find a way to relate it to not only clients in general, but every client uniquely. I know a guide that got into it thinking he would be showing experienced anglers around and hanging out with great fishermen. Not the case. Teaching is at least half of the battle. 2. Patience. Again, I would think long and hard on how patient of a person you are. Are you going to get frustrated with a newbie client losing 30 flies in a day on the water? Are you going to get frustrated when the client is frustrated that they aren't landing the fish that you are t-ing them up for perfectly?
 

Salmo_g

WFF Supporter
If you want to be a fly fishing guide, I think your first course of action should be to see a therapist. Find out what's wrong with you that would want to sign yourself up to a job that you can't make a living at and that will require longer hours than a job that will provide you with a living wage or income, not to mention benefits like health insurance and retirement, something that guiding doesn't. A good therapist will help you discover a path that uses your natural talents and learning ability to get a job doing something that you like and yields an income so that you can buy your own fishing gear (at retail) and time off so that you can go fishing for yourself, instead of for someone else, which is what guiding is about.
 

Nick Clayton

WFF Supporter
While I get the thought that someone wanting to become a fishing guide needs therapy, the same can be said for the other side. After spending 10 years working for the federal government in what most would consider a very good job, IT eventually pushed me towards needing therapy. I left that job with the goal of becoming a licensed captain and guide, a goal that recently became a reality.

In the meantime I've worked as a deckhand for a popular charter company off the coast and have loved every second of it. Benefits, nah. But pretty decent pay really and I've spent well over 100 days a year on the ocean seeing things most office dwellers can only dream of.

A high paying job is great for many, probably most, people. But not everyone is wired the same way or prioritizes the same things in life. Myself, I'll never be a wealthy man and I couldnt care less. I never have cared much about money. I've always been able to support myself and my son one way or another and just because I don't have a traditional career or career goals means very little to me.

As I get to watch the sun rise over Grays Harbor or in Puget Sound I am constantly reminded that this is a life I chose and I have zero regrets. Honestly I look at most 9-5ers working away to make someone else a buck and wonder how it is that THEY don't need therapy.

Different strokes and all that, but I say do what makes you happy. I may not die rich, but man I'll have plenty of stories to tell and great memories to comfort my passing when the time comes.
 

Freestone

WFF Supporter
Before you become a guide AND BEFORE you make any investment in the tools of the trade: truck, boat, client rods, reels, flies, insurance, classes, certificates, etc. go talk to a good CPA! First and foremost, you will not be a guide, you will be a business person. A good CPA, especially one who has experience with guides and other outdoor industry people, can help set up everything you need on the financial part of the business and help you plan for and make the most of business expenses. Since many of these expenses will be the same whether you are an employee, independent contractor or start your own guide business, a CPA can help you determine the best way to go: employee vs. contractor vs. your own separate guide business and help you analyze what is best for you with regards to expenses and depreciation vs the various taxes vs. final real take home pay/profit. Ideally, it would be great to decide this before you start spending the money as for instance, some of it could be deducted as a business expense/depreciation if you had a business but as an employee, it is just money spent. From the start, a CPA can help you set up an easy to use system to keep track of every mile driven, every fly bought, etc. And, in the end, you will have a clear idea of what kind of money it takes to be a guide and the "sales" you must generate to keep the business going and provide a living for you.

Trust me, having been in relationships with 3 fly fishing guides, this is the most overlooked thing in the whole puzzle. When I made one guy with his own guide business start doing the above, he was shocked at his costs. He was spending the money already but had not fully taken advantage of the expenses as he wasn't carefully tracking it. Overlooking the business part at first is common with lots of professions and even dental, vet, and med schools are including some business classes now as part of the curriculum. A person could be the best vet or plumber in the world but still know nothing about and suck at running a business. If you are going to go through all the time, trouble and expense to be a guide, why not do the business part as correctly and as professionally as possible too? Again, in the end, you will be running a business.

And BTW, if you are going to be an employee guide, be sure you work out what they will pay for and what you will be reimbursed for upfront, including consumables and vehicle mileage, etc. I've heard of too many shops treating employees like independent contractors with regards to expenses by having too much come out of the employee's pocket. If you get hooked up with a shop like this, you really need to take a hard look at the cost:benefit analysis of being an employee vs. ind. contractor .
 

Nick Clayton

WFF Supporter
Freestone brings up a great point. The business side of becoming a guide, in my opinion, is the toughest aspect of the whole thing.

Most guides who fail don't do so because they can't fish. It's the business aspect that dooms many outfits. There is a ton to learn in regards to running a small business, something I'm reminded of on a daily basis
 

jasmillo

WFF Supporter
Honestly I look at most 9-5ers working away to make someone else a buck and wonder how it is that THEY don't need therapy.

I think most of us do. For me, it’s flyfishing.
Hmmm, just thought of another angle to use with my wife when I want to buy another rod - it’s cheaper than a therapist...
 

Dr. Magill

Active Member
A friend of mine- a very successful home builder- has the same advice as Freestone. He always talks of some of his most talented subs going out of business due to poor business sense/management. Sad but true. How about have a 20 year career and retire early to guide for a shop
 

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